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Focus Walks and Pedagogical Workshops

Dr. Valerie Harrison's Focus Walks and Pedagogical Workshops

The QEP Selection Committee realized early that faculty and staff development would be key to the improvement of student performance. Nevertheless, the Committee wanted to know if and/or how Norfolk State faculty members were teaching reading comprehension and/or writing competency across the disciplines. Accordingly, in March and April 2018, the Provost's Office hired a nationally-known educational consultant – Dr. Valerie Harrison – to help the QEP Selection Committee to determine the frequency and quality of current faculty strategies in teaching reading and writing.  With permission from interested professors in a wide array of programs (yet still mainly within the general education core), Harrison conducted focus walks or intentional classroom visitations of self-selected faculty members' classrooms in order to assess professorial competence and confidence in teaching reading and writing.  Harrison and her team of classroom visitors --mainly taken from the QEP Selection Committee-- observed the most ambitious and dedicated faculty members engaging students in reading and writing activities, but they did not observe many intentional or sustained strategies, such as close reading. The expectations for student competency were present, but the pedagogical support to get the students to the level where the faculty thought they should be was lacking.  These observations indicated the acute need for CREW and its sustained pathways. Harrison also led workshops on teaching reading comprehension that revealed a wide range of faculty knowledge about and adoption of pedagogical strategies to inculcate more analytical understandings of academic materials and texts. For example, on March 22, 2018, she offered "The Nature of the Adult Reader" symposium that examined the dialectic connection between adult student reading behaviors and informed pedagogy.  As she promised in her handouts, "participants were equipped with research-based strategies, diagnoses, and prescriptions to address nine common adult reading behaviors and a profile of their teaching style." As Dr. Harrison noted later, "the attendees indicated that the information acquired was very revealing and increased their understanding of adult readers." The next symposium that she offered, on April 18, 2018, was "Effective Reading Strategies for Adult Learners," which showcased student-centered instructional pedagogy that included close reading and revealed the need for faculty training in and practice with those CREW strategies. Finally, at the end-of-semester faculty development programming in May 2018, Harrison offered two more symposia that attracted even more faculty and staff members than before.  The symposia titles were "Reading Doesn't Have a Content Area:  Using Expository Text Structures to Read across the Curriculum” and "Effective Reading Strategies to Improve Comprehension."  These symposia exposed  participants to an array of analytical tips and devices that close reading could encompass, such as vocabulary development, questioning, reciprocal reading, literature circles, summarizing, and previewing and predicting. The feedback from participants and their enthusiasm in embracing Harrison's research-based suggestions indicated to the Committee that many more such workshops would have a significant impact on faculty and staff effectiveness.