Published: August 4, 2014
“Before attending Literacy Camp, I was a first-year teacher who felt pressured to stick solely to the “one size fits all” reading basics. After attending Literacy Camp Level 1, I felt confident that I had the strategies and research to support teaching my students to read according to their individual needs, strengths, and interests.”
At Camp Courage, educators think about literacy differently. Located in Maple Lake, Camp Courage is a camp for children and adults with disabilities. For one week every summer, Camp Courage hosts a professional development session where educators learn new strategies to support literacy skills for students with significant disabilities. The camp is a collaboration between the Minnesota Department of Education and the Center for Literacy and Disabilities Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
So far, MDE has sponsored five cohorts at Camp Courage. The groups of 20 include teachers, speech-language pathologists, reading specialists, college instructors, and others. We love sponsoring teams from the same school or district, because then they can depend on each other for support when they go back to work. We also ask school administrators to promise to support the team and share the lessons learned at camp.
Educators nominate themselves to attend Literacy Camp, and commit time and energy to the training. They are open to being challenged and changing their practice. They learn instructional strategies like word recognition through decoding and automaticity, listening and silent reading comprehension, writing without standards, and self-selected writing topics.
As the educators learn new skills, they work daily with student campers. At last summer’s camp, 33 middle school and high school students attended Camp Courage and got 30 hours of instruction and 15 hours of hands-on learning. These students had a variety of disabilities including physical disabilities, autism, vision impairments, and Down syndrome.
Teams of three to four teachers from the same school and/or district were assigned to work with five to seven students. The groups developed supportive and trusting relationships over the course of the week.
As Camp Courage gets ready for its sixth year, we reflect on lessons learned:
1. Teams are important. When teams from the same school or district go to camp together, they support each other for the rest of the year.
2. Buy-in is important. Teachers won’t be able to apply what they learned at camp if the school administration doesn’t support them. Require administrator support.
3. Educators need resources. Educators leave Camp Courage with a library of books at appropriate reading levels, and materials to use during the school year. They also get access to a campers-only wiki where they can ask and answer questions, network, and find resources.