Reading Specialist Students Tutor Struggling Elementary School Children

Posted: May 13, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jennifer Edgerly

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of students in Virginia who performed at or above the National Assessment of Educational Progress Basic reading level was 74 percent in 2007, up slightly from 72 percent in 2005.

However, graduate students in Mason’s literacy program are hoping this number will continue to climb. As part of the Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning (ASTL) K-12 Reading Specialist Program, students are required to conduct assessments of and provide instruction to struggling readers.

This spring, a cohort of graduate students who are also teachers in Manassas City Public Schools spent more than 20 hours tutoring fifth and sixth graders. The students, who were identified by their school as struggling readers, met with their tutors for two hours each week for 10 weeks, mostly after school. Two Mason faculty members from the College of Education and Human Development literacy program area were on site for every tutoring session.

The tutors first administered a comprehensive assessment of the students to determine their current reading level. Then the tutors designed lessons that they would work on together to help the students improve their reading, writing and comprehension skills.

“Being required to conduct a reading assessment and viewing and hearing live responses from the students really enabled us as tutors to fully understand the process and reactions to the process,” says Athene Bell, a literacy specialist with Manassas City Public Schools. “This natural, real-life setting provided the framework for the actual classroom setting.”

Student display of dog research program
At the end of the tutoring program, the children proudly displayed the results of their research projects for family and friends to see.
Photo courtesy of Betty Sturtevant

Each student worked one-on-one with a tutor, and each lesson was designed specifically for that student based on their literacy assessment. An important part of the tutoring was using computers to read and write stories, create PowerPoint presentations, conduct web searches and design web sites. The students also spent much of their time reading with their tutor, learning strategies to improve their comprehension and writing about the books they were reading.

Along with learning new strategies, the students spent part of their time every week working with their tutors on a final project. Knowing that motivation to read declines in the upper grades, the tutors allowed the students to select a project topic that interested them. The topics of the final projects ranged from all-terrain vehicles to Chihuahuas.

During a culminating event in April, the students celebrated their success and proudly displayed their projects for parents, siblings and school principals. One of the students even wrote and performed a skit along with two other students at the celebration.

For the graduate students, the highlight of the experience was seeing their grade-school students transformed.

“My most memorable moment was when my student was able to apply a reading strategy independently to a homework assignment,” says Sandra Reynolds, a reading resource teacher with Mayfield Intermediate School. “The pride she felt in being able to tackle an assignment and get it done using a new strategy was so exciting to witness. She had a big smile on her face and felt confident for the first time in a long time that she was ‘a reader’.”

“The tutoring experience has validated the importance of diagnosing reading difficulties among students and developing multifaceted interventions that, with practice, become part of the student’s self-monitoring process,” adds Bell.

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