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Reading courses get CLC students from ‘victims’ to ‘creators’

Janet Bedard, a Central Lakes College reading instructor, has learned more from mistakes than she has by doing things right the first time.

She was raised in a working-class family, the daughter of a mechanic father with only a high school education and a mother whose institutional education ended after 10th grade. Life has taught her to own mistakes and misgivings.

“Living causes learning,” she said in her “Philosophy of Education” statement last year to the board of trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. She was honored in 2010 by MnSCU as one of the state’s 26 outstanding college instructors along with colleague Gary Carson in natural resources.

“Readers who develop critical thinking skills become problem solvers,” Bedard said. “Problem solvers can determine their own course in life without waiting for some outside person or entity to come to the rescue. They move from seeing themselves as victims to being creators. They control their own happiness. Our country needs more creators.”

This philosophy continues to drive her 47 years after entering the teaching profession. She’s driven to help youngsters mature so they may more fully share in what life has to offer. That’s why she teaches by example, reading to campus day care pre-schoolers before turning that duty over to college students.

The CLC students are enrolled in basic reading to improve their comprehension, vocabulary and navigate college textbooks. Bedard’s students are required to read to a group of children at the Early Care and Childhood Education Center on the Brainerd campus. Sessions engage the critical thinking skills enhanced by listening, observing and reading. As each classmate reads, the others fill out a 15-point evaluation sheet.

“Comprehension occurs the same way in pre-schoolers as it does in college students,” Bedard said. “So grading classmates reinforces the process.”

They’re asked to weigh in on voice volume, clarity, pauses to maintain each child’s attention and a follow-up discussion period with the children about what they just heard.

 “It’s such a great feeling to be around the kids,” said Jessica Teague of Little Falls. “They always put a smile on your face.”

Teague and Jayme Reynolds, Deerwood, read aloud from a favorite children’s book to a dozen youngsters surrounded by the “big kids.” Both said it was hard for them to speak in front of a large group for the first time. But the pre-schoolers loved it.

For her developmental reading course, Bedard applies assorted findings from the 20 different courses she has taught. From one she developed called “Thinking, Learning and Communicating,” she meshes the goal of personal empowerment.

Two-year community and technical colleges like CLC are “open access” institutions, meaning that anyone with a high school diploma or GED can be admitted.

Developmental reading has grown as there are more college students entering college who did not anticipate and prepare for college throughout high school. Students out of high school for a year or so also may have lost skills they once had mastered.

Last fall, 14 percent of new enrolling freshmen at CLC needed Reading I, the five-credit developmental course, and 30 percent needed Reading II, the second-level developmental course to equip college learners.

Nationally, 70 percent of developmental reading students don’t complete the course. At CLC, Bedard estimated that about 50 percent make it.

“These students may have stayed in the class long enough to understand the value and process of reading to children. If so, there’s a chance that the multi-generational illiteracy/poverty cycle can be broken for the children, even if it wasn’t for the parents.”

CLC and a majority of the other 31 MnSCU colleges and universities give trial placement tests to 10th- and 11th-grade students so they have time to improve their college preparation.