COE Reading Clinic Boosts Literacy Learning in Normandy
“Why are we here?” asks a first year elementary education major after her first day helping first graders with reading difficulties in the Literacy Clinic at Lucas Crossing Elementary School. The clinic is part of UMSL COE’s undergraduate coursework for elementary education.
Rebecca Rogers along with COE faculty colleague Nicholas Husbye partnered with leaders and teachers in the Normandy School District to start the program in fall of 2013. Once weekly, Pre-service teachers from ELED ED 3337 (Teaching and Learning Literacy in the Elementary Classroom) provide reading, writing and spelling assessment and instruction to first and second grade students who are struggling in these skills.
The clinic connects with the course work and the articles our students read as part of their assignments can be directly applied to the experience of teaching in a clinical setting. “I want our students to go beyond the romance of teaching,” said Husbye, who along with Rogers teach the course and supervise the student tutors in their work. “When asked why they chose teaching, so many say things like ‘I just want to be with kids,’ or ‘I want learning to be fun.’ That’s certainly not a bad start, but it’s only a start.”
At the core of the learning process is a teacher’s understanding of how to assess children’s skills and then figuring out the best ways to increase those skills. That takes a deeper knowledge and, as Husbye explains, an “addiction to data analysis.”
Husbye gives the example of a teacher candidate who came back after a tutoring session saying the student was reading too “fast” and missing several words and meaning. After coaching from her university faculty, the teacher candidate was then able to go back and apply more assessments and identify specific problems, which included phonemic awareness –the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words. She learned firsthand how to drill down and target the child’s fundamental reading problems, and by the end of the semester, with weekly tutoring, the child was able to read his first book.
The teacher candidate determined the student’s topics of interest, analyzed the text and what the book demanded of the reader. She was able to bridge that information and help the child have a major success by reading his first book.
“Why are we here?” That’s a question that Husbye has gotten from pre-service teachers after their first tutoring session in the clinic. He says that students often come with preconceived notions that tutoring low performing students will do little to improve their own teaching knowledge. “It’s interesting to see how their views change with the challenges they face in the clinic,” he said.
“They not only find out the mechanics of teaching reading, but also gain an understanding of the structural and political impacts the school faces,” he said. “They see children come in wearing the same clothes for a week, or realize they are homeless – and start to think through why a school might have trouble with accreditation.”
He strives for his students to see teaching as a profession that can have a large impact on communities. One can only do that through a deeper understanding of the issues of schools, teaching, students and communities. Husbye believes the experience at the clinic helps students recognize what it means to be an advocate for the teaching profession – regardless of where they teach. He is an engaged educator and the reading clinic is an innovation that is focused on preparing high quality educators and impacting student learning.
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