Tiny Tots Help Teach Real-Classroom Concepts

A little lesson for education majors in John Romig’s course is helping Mavericks learn the foundational skills children need for classroom success.

Monday, Apr 08, 2024 • Written by Monique Bird :

Dr. Romig talking to a group of students in his class. One of the “littlest” projects in the College of Education is having a big impact in the classroom.

Dr. John Romig, an assistant professor of special education, recently began inviting his young children to campus to help UTA students learn. Among the concepts, “SPED 4301: Strategies for Teaching Individuals with High Incidence Disabilities: Reading and Writing” teaches UTA students to explicitly teach basic reading and writing skills and administer curriculum-based measurements – a method of monitoring a child’s progress – as that child learns to read and write.

Often lacking children to work with, the UTA students were typically asked to practice with one another. However, starting last year with a campus visit from now 5-year-old Jack, Romig’s students can train in more meaningful ways. 

“Having a real kid made the practice more authentic because he made mistakes like real kids make,” said Romig. “When they practice with each other, they don't make the mistakes that a kid would make. Because they each got to practice with him, they were able to see how his scores fluctuated from administration to administration, discuss why that might be happening, and learn about various data principles.”

A U T A student gives 5-year-old Jack a high five. “I prefer days where we actually get to see things and practice,” said Crystal Tillman, a junior completing her certification in special education. “It makes more sense to see him do it versus just being told it, so it’s definitely more helpful. I enjoyed it.”

The unique project is becoming a small tradition.

The latest visit in March marked Jacks’ third campus visit and 3-year-old Will’s first visit.

“Textbook reading tells me what I’m going to be doing or learning, but I don’t see how it’s going to happen in real life,” continued Tillman. With the kids’ visits, “I get to see how the student is not always going to give me the response that the textbook has.”

During the lesson, the UTA students got hands-on practice teaching phonemic awareness to Will. For Jack, Romig asked his class to teach him a lesson using scripted activities in the textbook, “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.” The goal was to help Jack develop the skills needed for a strong reading foundation – phonics, fluency, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and comprehension – as well as writing, Romig told his classroom.

“Writing is not one of the five building blocks, but research shows that if you can spell a word then you can read it,” added Romig. “And you can read every word you can spell, but it doesn’t work the other way around.”

Photo of the instructor, Dr. John Romig, working with 3-year-old Will. For Will, the lesson gave him the opportunity to complete basic matching to identify similar sounds and rhyming words. For example, the words “sun” and “snake” both share the starting sound of “s.” The words “bat” and “cat” both rhyme and share the ending sound of “at.”

“I love the idea of having the lessons be scripted,” said Tillman. “Being a first-time teacher, I’m feeling very nervous about what I am supposed to be doing.”

Separately, Romig had his students practice collecting data to monitor Jack and Will’s progress.

“Collecting this data is kind of cognitively overwhelming,” added Romig. “You have to read standardized instructions, time the student, listen to what they are saying, and record their responses. So, it's challenging for beginning teachers to keep it all straight. The practice was for them to become more comfortable with administering and scoring the assessments.”

Romig's students, who are pursuing special education teacher certification through UTA’s Bachelor of Science in Education, also get experience with content planning, curriculum development, instruction, assessment, and data collection for elementary and secondary students with mild disabilities.

As for the kids’ thoughts on the activity, Romig said his sons’ experiences on campus have been exciting.

“They took a little while to warm up to the students at the beginning, but they definitely enjoyed it in the end,” Romig said. “Jack still talks about ‘the college students with the letters,’ as he calls them.”