A New Path
Try this trick: have a friend hold a mirror over a sheet of paper while you write your name using only the image in the mirror as your guide—no peeking at your hand, the pen, or the paper. It’s a disorienting task.
This exercise is one way education professor Nancy Turner tries to help people understand what it is like to live—and try to learn—with dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that affects decoding of words, reading comprehension, and/or spelling.
Students with dyslexia are one segment of those with learning differences whom Turner set out to help when she developed the Mild Intervention program at Saint Mary’s. Turner spent the spring semester of 2008 developing curriculum for pre-service teachers who can now obtain Dual Licensure in Elementary Education and Special Education: Mild Intervention.
One course in the new curriculum Turner currently teaches is Education 368 Elementary Methods for Exceptional Learners: Mild Disabilities. She was awarded a Center for Academic Innovation (CFAI) Faculty Development Teaching Grant for financial support of new materials for the course.
“The new course focuses on teaching methods for students needing mild curricular and instructional interventions, particularly in the area of reading,” says Turner. Throughout the dual licensure program, pre-service teachers work with real students in real classrooms who need these types of interventions.
“The new program offers students choosing this option a career path in special education in addition to elementary education,” says Turner. "Special education is one of several good additions to the elementary license that is offered by the department.” Others include a reading license, English as a New Language (ENL) license, and an early childhood education minor.
Turner’s interest in special education began in her high school years when she taught religious education to a young boy with Down syndrome. The two became good friends. Turner also spent her summers working at camps for children and young adults with disabilities. Her experiences inspired her interest in teaching people with disabilities.
Now, Turner teaches education courses including Foundations of Teaching in a Multicultural Society, Foundations of Special Education in Elementary and Middle School, and Educational Psychology. She also supervises student teachers in the field.
Turner and fellow education professor MaryAnn Traxler collaborated on a book, Children’s Literature for the Primary Inclusive Classroom (Delmar), published in 2000. The duo shared an interest in assisting teachers in the South Bend area and beyond whose classrooms changed to a full inclusion model (in which students with disabilities are integrated into general education classrooms) in the early 1990s.
Turner and Traxler wrote the book together after interviewing teachers and discovering the need for classroom resources. The book includes an annotated bibliography of more than 200 books featuring children with a variety of disabilities and correlating classroom activities.
Teaching continues to be an inspiration for Turner, who says she is honored to be part of shaping the future of education. “My hope is that my students will walk into their classrooms passionate about teaching and prepared to reach all learners.”