Melissa Leisner loves Language Arts and sharing her contagious passion with her seventh-grader students and colleagues at Prairie Knolls Middle School in Elgin, IL. Constantly creating fresh, exciting lessons and seeking students' opinions on new approaches; Leisner's classroom is "a culture of student engagement, collaboration, high expectations and fun," in the words of one admirer.
It’s easy to see why kids are often heard talking excitedly about her class; by tailoring the reading to their interests she instills a sense of confidence and ownership even in struggling learners. One student proudly shared with Leisner that he'd read three books over the summer—a great accomplishment considering that he had never finished a novel prior to taking her class. She makes a point of getting to know her students as individuals, too, assessing their prior knowledge and building from there. Leisner even attends students’ out-of-school activities and her interest in students continues well after they've moved on.
Leisner's efforts have paid off in test scores. Overall, 65% of her students reach the mid-high to high level of achievement as measured by NWEA-MAP testing.
Her "YA Café," in which staff come to read a book aloud and discuss it with the students, became a permanent program handled by the school’s library media specialist. She's even persuaded the entire staff to post signs on their doors announcing what they're currently reading, sparking conversations with students.
A lifelong learner herself, Leisner has completed two master's programs and is contemplating a doctorate. When she shared her graduate research on verse novels—a genre she'd previously avoided—with her seventh graders, the experience turned into a presentation used to train local teachers and then into invitations to present at the Illinois Reading Council Conference and the Arkansas Reading Association Conference.
Adults are caught up in her enthusiasm, too. Leisner started a book club of language arts teachers; they read from a professional book and discuss how to use the ideas in their classrooms. She is a generous mentor and welcomes student teachers to observe her classes. Leisner is known for her energetic and persuasive leadership on numerous committees, including the district's language arts curriculum team, where she has been instrumental in writing curriculum and assessments and articulating needs for her grade level in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Though she is modest about her accomplishments, peers see Melissa Leisner as an expert and an inspiration to be better educators.
Nov 22, 2013
NIU Today | Northern Illinois University | Nov 20 , 2013 | DeKalb, IL
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