The school day at Brockton High had ended hours ago, but a dozen or so paraprofessional educators were seated at conference tables located in a study area, heads bent to a handful of grammar-based problems. Word choice, verb tense and other matters comprised the topics of the day.
The afternoon session was part of a program offered by Bridgewater State University geared to helping these educators pass the required Communication and Literacy Skills MTEL (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure). According to the website for Pearson Education, the company that administers the MTEL, “The test assesses a candidate’s proficiency and depth of understanding of the subject at the level required for a baccalaureate major according to Massachusetts standards.”
This particular MTEL focuses on reading and writing skills.
The paraprofessionals in Brockton on this afternoon were getting a refresher on pronouns, examining sentences like “The jury read their verdict,” and diagnosing errors.
The ten-week course, of which the second session concluded in May, was operated by Dr. Melissa Latham Keh, assistant professor of special education, and graduate assistant Dani Swartzendruber. It covered an array of topics, in addition to grammar and general writing skills. It also includes instruction on vocabulary, critical reasoning, reading comprehension, and rhetorical approaches. Each Monday afternoon session included lectures, plenty of examples, and time for the participants to work on assigned problems and their own writing.
“We’ve really tried to dig into the larger piece, focusing on writing skills and grammar,” Dr. Keh said.
She developed the curriculum for the program, while Ms. Swartzendruber worked on creating lesson plans and co-leading the weekly sessions.
After the first program, Dr. Keh and Ms. Swartzendruber realized there was a need for a renewed focus on writing.
“We added more one-on-one coaching in that area,” she said.
Knowing what kind of writing the MTEL calls for, Dr. Keh and Ms. Swartzendruber began to emphasize instruction on how to structure essay-type answers.
The program offers these paraprofessionals more than just instruction, Ms. Swartzendruber said.
“The main thing we’ve noticed is the students here are developing confidence,” she said. “We can see it in the class, there’s more discussion, more volunteering of answers. And, their writing samples have improved.”
Out of the first cohort, Dr. Keh said two educators had recently passed the MTEL, and the feedback from the participants thus far “has been great.” (Story and photos by John Winters, G’11, University News)