Reading can be a challenge at any age. With the school year in full swing, many parents are trying to find programs to help their children improve their reading skills. Read to Succeed Plus Reading Academy, a program at Southeast Missouri State University is doing just that. KRCU's Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with two of the programs facilitators Dr. Debra Porter and Dr. Dixie McCollum from the department of Elementary, Early and Special Education.
Lewis-Thompson: I’ll start with you, Dr. Porter. Tell me how the Read to Succeed Plus Reading Academy came about.
Porter: It was really based on a need in the community. I had been associated with the Read to Succeed through the United Way and we recognized that only students that were in kindergarten were getting services. And so, we started thinking about how could we help some of the other students who are in grades 1-6. And it was one of those ideas with the dean, talking with her about starting a clinic or a reading academy and addressing some of the community needs that some students were needing some support and they weren't getting it. And so we started planning this reading academy.
Lewis-Thompson: So Dr. McCollum, what is the role of the teacher candidates in this program?
McCollum: Our teacher candidates they're enrolled in a course, and it's meeting the needs of struggling readers. And they are responsible for doing a student case study. And in the past it had been more of kind of contrived assignment, but now it's more authentic in that, as students come to the [reading academy] then they are assigned students. And they assess those students needs on various levels. Their interests. Their attitudes. Their skill proficiency . And based on that they develop a plan of intervention for that student. At current, we have two teacher candidates per P-6 student who comes in and gets services. And then services are provided once a week for a 60 minute session. And those students, it's a two teacher candidate per student have that individualized session.
Lewis-Thompson: How does the program work? How do you all do your assessments? Do they do some type of software program while they are there? How does that work?
Porter: Well parents have the opportunity to apply. There's an online application. In the past, we sent fliers home through the school districts. Once we get some background information from the parents. We contact the parents and ask them to bring the child to the reading academy. At that time, the students, our teacher candidates, they do an interest inventory and attitude survey to see what the child really likes about reading. What they don't like about reading, and where their interest may lie. They then go based on the teacher, the classroom teacher that the child has, some of the information, they get background information from the parent too. Some of the things that the parents have seen in the past, and what the classroom teacher has seen. And they do an assessment called Fountas and Pinnell. It's a benchmark assessment system. And we look at their various reading levels. Their word attack skills. How they problem solve in their comprehension [and] their fluency. That information is then evaluated. They look at the results and then they plan the intervention plan. And then, start those tutoring sessions.
Lewis-Thompson: This program is still somewhat in its infancy. It started last year and you worked with Alma Schrader elementary school here in Cape. Why did you start with that school in particular?
Porter: At the time, Alma Schrader did not receive any federal funding through Title I. I worked with Dr. Orr who is the principal, and I felt like because they did not have the extra funds that they probably had more of a need to provide services for students that were not receiving any services for our support in reading. And so, that's the reason why we choose Alma Schrader. It was our first year obviously and our pilot year. And so, we wanted to start small. And so, that's what we did. And it was only with one course at that time. And now, we've included all of our courses at the university, EL 354, which is meeting the needs of struggling readers. All sections of those courses are now part of the reading academy.
Lewis-Thompson: Are there any particular books that have become class favorites?
Porter: Usually series books. They'll come up with, 'oh I like the Magic Tree House series. I like the Harry Potter series.' It really depends on the child and the level that they're reading. I do have to say that going back to them coming to the university. They're in the Edvolution Center, which is in [the] Scully Building. And it is such a wonderful opportunity for these little guys to see how we use technology. And we do incorporate technology into our tutoring sessions. And the parents stay there. They have an area where they sit. And some of the siblings are there and they even get on the computers too.
McCollum: I'm going to add one more thing, because I found Harry Potter is a really good one they really like. But for our younger ones, what I found is the request over and over again when they do the last part of the tutoring session is just children's lit, where they try to increase their listening comprehension. And Skippyjon Jones is a favorite.
McCollum: Oh they just love that group of books. And I have several requests to check out those books for students as they come in.
Lewis-Thompson: Now do they get to take books home to keep?
Porter: No. We have a researched based program that we use. It's also Fountas and Pinnell. And we have leveled readers that we provide the students to read. And they reread and read and reread. And then we do have books that are available if they do want to check out a book they possibly can. But right now, we don't have anything that we are sending home on a weekly basis. That's something we could possibly include. This is just our second year with the program. And so we're learning and changing things and altering things as we go along to find out what's working and what's not.
Lewis-Thompson: What have the responses been from the students who are getting the help?
McCollum: I think they really enjoy it. They try to gear their reading around things that actually interest them instead of just you know here's a set, a reading program we're going to reading. What's kind of scripted to us or dictated to us. But the students, they really our students, the teacher candidates really try to identify interest levels for them, and try to focus all their interventions based around that interest. So the students are really excited to come there. The first couple of days they're kind of just getting use to thing, but after that they really look forward to seeing their teacher candidates. And they kind of feel like 'oh I get to go to college and take courses.' And so, they get really excited about it. And it's kind of like an honor for them to come to the university and take courses.
Lewis-Thompson: So, it’s like their first steps into the college world?
McCollum: It is. For many of them it is. They've never been to a university campus before. And we all know that those open the doors to future college students. And so, that's a plus of the program. Having it actually here on our campus and for those little ones to come and see what college life is all about.
Lewis-Thompson: So one thing this program is trying to do is intervene before a student fails in the classroom. Tell me more about that.
Porter: Well, currently students would have to, or in the past they would have to be failing before they would get any interventions. But now, we look at were they having some difficulties? Look at their strengths and their needs and then addressing those now. And then not waiting until they fail to get that extra service or get that support. They need to be getting those interventions early, so that they don't fail. And in the past that's what we would observe. We would see students not receiving any of that extra support until they were failing and then they could get it. And sometimes that would be third grade and they've had three years of school where they've been doing poorly in. And their attitude towards school has dropped, and you know why not start early. Why not provide that support? And I think through the reading academy, it's after school. So students are not being pulled from their classroom regular instruction. They're getting additional support, and that's the key. Additional support not in place.
Lewis-Thompson: What have the parents been saying about all this?
McCollum: I think my most prized comment, not mine, but one of the teacher candidates came in and the teacher candidates are talking to me and said 'you know, I really don't know if I was making a difference with that student or not.' But the parent came in the last day when they reviewed their end of the semester progress with a parent. And they said 'you know, he loves to read now. And that's all he wants to do.' And I reassured the teacher candidate 'you know, we may not have made a lot of difference in his skill level at this time. But if you've just instilled the love of reading in him, as you read you become a better reader. And I said you've given him a very valuable gift.' And that was probably the best comment that we had gotten from parents was that 'my child loves to read now.'
Porter: And the teacher candidates are models for these little guys. They really look up to them. They admire them. And they enjoy coming. They're excited when they come in. So, I think the teacher candidates make a big difference too. They're young. Most of them are fairly young. And I think that modeling really does promote that love of reading.
Applications for the Read to Succeed Plus Reading Academy are due September 7. Click here for more information on the free reading program.