An Advising Tool for UTPA Students

By Readingintheborderlands

Degree Works is here! Degree Works is a new advising tool for UTPA students, available through ASSIST. It will show you what courses you have already taken and what you still need to complete your degree. This is going to be SO MUCH easier than the old paper degree plans!

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Reading M.Ed. Information for Spring 2012

By Readingintheborderlands

As we start the new semester, I want to update our readers who are current or future UTPA Reading M.Ed. students about some changes and events related to our program.

Internship Hours 

The state of Texas has changed its laws regarding teacher certification. Since the current Reading M.Ed. is a certification program along with a degree program, these changes affect us. Most importantly, students who want to be certified as Reading Specialists must now have 160 hours of internship. Since our current program really isn’t set up to support 160 hours of internship, we are working to revise the program. We believe that all these changes will result in a stronger Master’s degree. Our hope is that the new degree plan will be approved to begin fall 2012.

We are not being allowed to grandfather in students, so anyone who is currently a Reading M.Ed. student will have to complete the internship (with the exception of a few current students who took READ 6325 last  year). In addition, people who graduated from our program already but did not get certified for some reason may run into some certification difficulties. If you are in this situation–you graduated last semester or a year ago or two years ago and did not pursue certification–and you want to get your Reading Specialist certificate, do it RIGHT AWAY. At some point soon, possibly this fall, the certification office will begin enforcing the law for you and and you will have to go back and take two internship courses.

TExES Review Sessions

Another fairly recent change is that the state of Texas now requires everyone who gets a teaching certification to have six hours of test preparation. You will not qualify for certification if you don’t have those hours, even if you pass the test without them!

There are two Reading Specialist and Master Reading Teacher test preparation sessions scheduled for spring. The first will be March 24 from 9:00-12:00. The second will be April 14 from 9:00-12:00.

Written Comprehensive Exam

Current students who anticipate graduating this May or August must pass the written comprehensive exam. The exam will be on April 21 from 9:00-12:00. This is the only time the exam will be offered until next fall. Dr. Schall will be in contact with eligible students, but if you don’t here from her soon and you think you should be taking the comps, let her know.

Once a student passes their written comprehensive exam and completes six hours of test preparation, they are eligible to take the Reading Specialist TExES.

Requesting Letters of Recommendation

By Readingintheborderlands

Part of my job as a professor is writing letters of recommendation for students and former students who are looking for work or who are applying to doctoral programs. I get a lot of these requests, and generally I’m happy to write the letters. However, some students seem unfamiliar with the professional etiquette and practical aspects surrounding letters of recommendation.

As someone requesting a letter of recommendation, you have a few responsibilities:

  • Ask the right person. It needs to be someone you have a good professional relationship with and someone who can be positive about your qualities for the job/program that you are applying to. It’s usually best to ask someone that you’ve had several courses with or who has known you over several years, though I realize that’s not always possible.
  • Some applications now ask for recommender information then contact the recommender through an online system or a phone call. DO NOT give out a professor’s name, address or email for a recommendation unless you have already asked if they would be willing to do one.
  • Ask someone you think will actually write the letter. Unfortunately, some professors will enthusiastically agree to do a recommendation, then never follow through.  It’s unprofessional, but happens.
  • Request the letter of recommendation AT LEAST two weeks before it is due. Your letter is only one of dozens of tasks the professor needs to complete, so give plenty of time for the professor to fit in into their schedule.
  • Once the professor has agreed to write the letter, send them an email with the following information: a short description of the position/program that you are applying to, an updated resume/vita, the name and address of who the letter should be sent to, and a reminder of the deadline. You also might want to remind the professor of that brilliant class project you completed or other achievements related to whatever you are applying to. A pre-addressed envelope is always nice, too.
  • Follow up with the professor as the deadline approaches. This isn’t rude or presumptuous—it’s practical. Professors forget things. Also, ask the professor to inform you when they’ve sent off the letter.
  • Say thank you!

Finally, most professors really appreciate it when you let them know if you’ve been accepted or rejected from whatever you’re applying for.

As a professor I also have some responsibilities in this process. These include:

  • Only agreeing to do a recommendation if I feel I can write a positive letter.  If I don’t have good things to say about the student, I tell the student they need to ask someone else.
  • Meeting the deadline.

Follow these steps and you should get enthusiastic recommendation letters!

Why Choose the Reading M.Ed. program at UTPA?

By Readingintheborderlands

It’s application season at the Reading M.Ed. program at UTPA. As I looked through applications today, I started thinking about why people choose to come to our program.

 For many students it’s simply a matter of proximity. Other than UTPA, there are very few places that offer on-campus graduate literacy courses. UTPA is close by, it’s relatively inexpensive for a graduate program, and many people are already familiar with the campus since they did their undergraduate degrees here.

However, there are other reasons our program is a good choice:

  • The people who teach in the program understand the Rio Grande Valley and the children who live here. This area and the local schools have some unique characteristics related to border life, language issues, and culture. We have extensive experience working with local schools and families and we bring that experience into our classrooms.
  • In addition, most people who teach in this program are actively involved in research that explores the local educational context and how that context can be improved. Again, we bring this research and what we’ve learned into our classrooms to share with our students.
  • Because we recognize that teaching can be a very isolating profession and because we know that teachers can learn a great deal from each other, our program promotes connections with other literacy teachers. We encourage a great deal of productive student talk in our classrooms because we know that it helps people learn. We also support a continued literacy community even after graduation through this blog and through our Facebook page (look for us on Facebook under “Schall Reading”).
  • We encourage students to pursue questions important to their teaching. Most classes have some sort of student choice built in so that students can explore what they are interested in—within the confines of the course subject, of course. This might mean that the student chooses the topic of their final research paper, or that the student chooses how to respond to an assigned course reading, or that the professor offers two professional books and the student chooses which to read.

Find out more about the Reading M.Ed. program at http://www.utpa.edu/dept/curr_ins/graduate/read/read.html.

Get more information about the Master Reading Teacher certificate program at http://www.utpa.edu/dept/curr_ins/graduate/mrt/mrt.html.

Taking on the Scary, Scary Thesis

By Readingintheborderlands

Yesterday I attended a thesis proposal meeting. Congratulations to Abel Lopez, Jr. for successfully presenting his proposal and moving on to the data collection stage of his research!

 The Reading M.Ed. program added a thesis option a couple of years ago and we now have three students somewhere in the thesis process. Our goal is to get more students completing a thesis and to build a research community within our graduate program. So…what is a thesis and why do we care about it?

A thesis is an independent research project that a master’s degree student plans and completes under the guidance of their professors. Thesis hours replace two courses in the degree plan. A thesis usually takes a year and a half to two years to complete and will end up being anywhere from 90-150 pages long.

Because we don’t yet have a history and expectation of thesis work within our master’s degree program, students sometimes find the idea of a thesis rather frightening. It sounds like a lot of work. Ok, it is a lot of work. But for many students it’s worth it! Why?

The most important reason is that doing a thesis allows a student to explore a burning question in ways that they just can’t during regular coursework. For example, if you are wildly interested in how daily shared reading experiences can help your English Language Learners become better readers, you will probably get a few reading assignments and class experiences on the topic during your program. A thesis, on the other hand, allows you to really go in depth on the subject through designing and completing your own research project.

A thesis also allows you freedom as a student. While you are working under the guidance of a committee of professors, ultimately you alone are responsible for the success of your thesis project. Many people relish the chance to take over their own learning.

Another important reason is that an excellent thesis will add to the research knowledge that the local educational community has access to. There’s a huge gap in what we know about the local educational community—your work on a thesis can help fill that gap.

Finally, doing a thesis is excellent research practice if you intend to enter a doctoral program. It gives you experience in every aspect of research. All doctoral programs will be glad to see a completed thesis on your application—and some doctoral programs will be hesitant to accept you without it.

So, yes, a thesis is a big project but there are excellent reasons for doing one. And remember, in the Reading M.Ed. program you have professors who will support you through each step of the process.

Tangible Benefits of Graduate Education in Reading

By readingintheborderlands

Previously I talked about why graduate education in reading is a good idea for anyone interested in literacy learning and teaching.  That post mostly focused on teacher knowledge and expertise. But in times of economic distress, greater amounts of knowledge can seem like an expensive luxury. So what are some of the tangible rewards you can expect from the graduate reading program at UTPA?

There are two tracks in the graduate reading program at UTPA. The shortest is the Master Reading Teacher (MRT) certification program. This is a six course (18 hour) sequence. Once the student successfully completes the coursework, they take the state MRT exam. If passed, they are eligible for certification as a Master Reading Teacher. The second (and longer) track is the Reading Specialist M.Ed. program. This is a 12 course (36 hour) program that leads toward a Master’s degree. Once program requirements are completed, the student can choose to take the state Reading Specialist TExES exam. If passed, they become both certified Reading Specialists and certified MRTs.

 Tangible benefits of this degree and both certifications can include:

  • Becoming a teacher leader through serving as grade level chair (often for an additional stipend) or developing literacy curriculum for your grade level.
  • Moving into new positions; program completers can be hired as a reading specialist or literacy coach. Some districts will also hire program completers for central office positions related to literacy.
  • Increased marketability when job searching in new districts across the state.
  • For the MRT program only: Filling the MRT position at many Texas schools; if chosen for this slot, the MRT takes on some extra responsibility and receives a generous stipend.
  • For the M.Ed. program only: Many districts pay an extra stipend to employees who earn a master’s degree.

Of course, there are no guarantees that completing the graduate reading program will lead to any of these things, but there’s no question that it opens up possibilities and opportunities.