College of Education > News and Publications > 2020: 01-03 news > Young students show off literacy learning in self-built museum

Young students show off literacy learning in self-built museum

There are many museums in and around State College, but none are curated by a more passionate and enthusiastic group than the museum organized by children each summer in The College of Education's Summer Reading camp.

There are many museums in and around State College, but none are curated by a more passionate and enthusiastic group than the museum organized by children each summer in The College of Education's Summer Reading camp.

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State College Area School District teachers combined a second-grade study of U.S. symbols and seventh-grade study of symbolism and critical literacy to produce a U.S. Liberty Museum that was on display in late December at Park Forest Elementary School.
The camp helps explore how non-classroom literacy learning can transfer to the classroom and how collaboration between middle-schoolers and second-graders can enhance students’ social experiences at school. Campers discover answers to questions including 'what is reading for?' and 'what can writing do?' and display the results of their project-based literacy learning in the form of a museum that is open to the public at the end of the camp.

Reading Camp, a long-standing outreach program in the Penn State College of Education organized by Karen Eppley, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, serves children entering grades two through seven from State College and surrounding communities. Camp teachers are Penn State master’s of education students who are enrolled in this capstone experience for their Pennsylvania Reading Specialist Certification.

“Camp is an important outreach program of the College, both for local children and the Reading Specialist candidates, because its structure invites pedagogical experimentation and thoughtful analysis of the connections between theory and practice for teachers,” Eppley said. 

“The emphasis on collaboration makes for a supportive space for teachers and children alike to ask new questions and experiment with new ideas. At camp, there aren’t struggling readers or above average readers, there are only readers.”

Marie Kissell, a seventh-grade teacher and reading specialist, assists Eppley with the summer reading camp. And second-grade teacher Caitlyn Ollendyke was involved in Reading Camp last summer while earning her reading specialist certificate as a master’s student. After experiencing Reading Camp during the summer of 2019, the two State College Area School District teachers decided they would replicate Reading Camp structure in their classrooms, while adding the element of elementary-middle school collaboration.  

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State College Area School District teachers combined a second-grade study of U.S. symbols and seventh-grade study of symbolism and critical literacy to produce a U.S. Liberty Museum that was on display in late December at Park Forest Elementary School.
Early last fall, Ollendyke and Kissell combined a second-grade study of U.S. symbols and seventh-grade study of symbolism and critical literacy to produce a U.S. Liberty Museum that was on display in late December at Park Forest Elementary.

The younger students created miniature versions of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and each researched a monument or museum located in the Mall and created a diorama of the outside and inside. 

The older students researched immigrants on Ellis Island, constructed a 12-foot model of the Statue of Liberty and also did footprint poems and picket signs after researching various marches on Washington such as Million Man March, March for Our Lives and the Women’s March.

“While I have done many museums at Penn State’s Reading Camp and with my own seventh-grade class, the collaboration between our Park Forest Middle School students and Park Forest Elementary students was exciting because we had never tried to coordinate our schedules, our curricula, and combine our students in a mutual learning experience,” Kissell said. 

“Of course, the finished product of the museum is always rewarding, but for me, I most love the journey. I love the process and daily interaction with the kids. I love the hands-on learning involved in project-based literacy learning. This process enables me to work closely with kids so that I am there in their moments of struggle and moments of learning and they are present in mine. 

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State College Area School District teachers combined a second-grade study of U.S. symbols and seventh-grade study of symbolism and critical literacy to produce a U.S. Liberty Museum that was on display in late December at Park Forest Elementary School.
“Yes,” Kissell said, “the journey is exciting and I so love the process of learning, of knowing, of telling, of building collaborative relationships where every learner is a valued member of a literacy community.”

Ollendyke said when second-graders were paired with seventh-graders, she watched a mentor/role model relationship. “Both second- and seventh-grade students gained confidence through the partnership, it was really amazing to watch the social impact the project had on them,” she said.

Ollendyke said each of the second-grade students had at least one parent attend the event and that families were invested in the project and the conversations it inspired at home about civil rights and social justice.

“Marie and I were so careful to choose texts that would engage and inspire students and their work,” Ollendyke said. “We taught many different genres which students produced in their written work for their exhibits. Together, art, reading and writing transformed our preexisting curriculums into a collaborative, authentic celebration of learning. The U.S. Liberty Museum was an experience I will never forget and can't wait to plan again.”

Kissell said she was inspired by how Reading Camp is an environment that enables campers to feel safe in taking risks in their daily literacy endeavors, and an environment where teachers tap into children’s curiosities, passions, talents and literacies in order to enhance the more traditional literacies of reading and writing. 

“Essentially, Penn State’s Reading Camp fosters a community of readers and writers where every child is a valued member of a literacy community,” she said. By all accounts, Ollendyke and Kissell successfully built on that model in their own classrooms. 

Parents of children entering grades two through seven interested in learning more about Reading Camp for summer 2020 should contact Eppley at keh118@psu.edu.

Jim Carlson (January 2020)