Persell Social Studies Teachers Team Up With SUNY Fredonia

To help enhance literacy in social studies, Persell Middle School’s seventh-grade team, Jayme Genco, Jason Kathman, Jeff Kresge and Allyson Smith, are working with professors Dr. Kathleen Magiera, of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Dr. Jennifer Ro, of the Department of Language, Learning and Leadership of the College of Education at SUNY Fredonia, and Dr. Mary Kay Szwejbka of the Human Services and Education Department at Jamestown Community College, through a SUNY 4E grant.

As the pilot teachers for the grant, the Persell team is not only learning research-based practices to increase literacy in social studies, but are also the subjects of a study by the SUNY researchers to see how the literacy strategies work in a real-life classroom. The results of the study will be shared with other social studies teachers in the area to help students improve their academic writing, especially argumentative writing, and critical thinking skills.

“The new Common Core Learning Standards are asking all content areas to teach literacy as part of their curriculum,” said the Persell team. “However, as we are social studies experts, we recognize that we need help and more information on how to infuse literacy into our curriculum. With Dr. Magiera and Dr. Ro’s guidance, we are learning the best research-based strategies that will work with our school population, which will hopefully equate to stronger students both in literacy and in social studies.”

The collaboration began in September with the SUNY professors visiting Persell once a week but also communicating with teachers on a regular basis. The project targets middle school students’ research-based learning and writing by focusing on their community and how they can write about it. Academic writing has historically been a challenge for middle school students and teachers. The SUNY team’s expertise in teaching inquiry-based writing skills to deepen content area learning of middle school students is expected to help prepare students for college and career readiness.

“Sometimes content area teachers are reluctant to use literacy strategies but we are so lucky to work with such an excellent team of teachers who really are content experts but also equally passionate about learning how to better infuse into their curriculum both critical thinking and literacy, which will be important for their students’ future success,” said Magiera and Ro. “As researchers, we could not have asked for a better group to study and use those results to help other social studies teachers.”

Along with the academic collaboration of deepening students’ literacy skills, the teams hope that the connection between public schools and colleges is deepened. The cooperation between pre-and post high school graduation has been limited at very best. By working together, educators from Persell and SUNY Fredonia are hoping to address not only a desire on behalf of the middle school teachers to become better literacy teachers, but to have their students see that there is a world outside of the school walls that is paying attention to them and their work.

“We are hoping that Jamestown students benefit from face-to-face interactions with Drs. Magiera and Ro,” said the Persell team. “Likewise, we are hopeful that Drs. Ro and Magiera can take their experiences back to their campus to improve the quality of education to their pre-service teachers.”