Summer Literacy Clinic Engages Teachers, Parents and Children
For nearly 70 K-12 students and their parents, literacy learning will become a summer journey that helps them define their world. The children will be working at the Summer Literacy Clinic with approximately 25 UMSL College of Education teachers in the Master of Arts in Elementary Education program to discover deeper understanding of their lives through critical literacy.
“We are operating the summer clinics at two of our three reading clinic sites,” said Rebecca Rogers, professor and director of the Burnett Literacy Clinic in the College of Education. “One will be held at Ashland Elementary in St. Louis Public Schools and the other at our home base here in the Burnett clinic.” The literacy clinic, including the summer program, is free to participants and forms a powerful practicum experience for the education students in the graduate courses that correspond with their work in the clinic. The first session of the Summer Clinic will be held June 15 – July 15. The second Clinic session is set for July 15 – Aug. 15.
The summer clinic is an intense four-week program in which students meet four days a week with their teacher who is enrolled in the MEd program. Teachers in the clinic use a variety of assessments to determine the reading, writing and spelling levels of the students and then develop an instructional program designed to accelerate the student’s literacy development. Parents and teachers work closely to communicate and help the student’s reading ability grow.
“Our approach goes well beyond word identification, spelling and basic reading comprehension to improve children’s reading scores,” Rogers explained. “We are teaching critical literacy which encourages readers to actively analyze texts and use various strategies for uncovering meaning.”
Methods taught in the clinic follow evidence based practices for literacy education presented in Rogers’ 2005 book (with Cheryl Dozier and Peter Johnston) called, “Critical Literacy/Critical Teaching: Tools for Preparing Responsive Teachers.” Rooted in the dual traditions of accelerative literacy instruction and critical literacy, teachers are encouraged to view the clinic as a “laboratory of practice” where they can experiment with evidence-based practices.
The clinic features a multicultural leveled book room which includes text sets on issues that may be relevant to students’ lives (e.g. environment, diverse families, sports). “Our collections are arranged so that we can have children of different ages and skill levels reading about and then discussing the topic together,” Rogers said. Children and teachers alike gain a broader cultural understanding from discussions that reflect the diversity of students’ various ages, reading levels and perspectives.
Rogers takes pride in the clinic’s family literacy programming. Teachers are encouraged to extend the notions of the literacy spectrum to include visual arts, song lyrics, and various forms emerging in social media.
“The teachers in the clinic meet for 20-30 minutes with the parents and/or family members to think broadly about what counts as family literacy,” she said. “We urge them to think much farther than simply reading a storybook to their kids at night.” Parents’ many ideas for supporting their children’s literacy education are reported on in an article conducted in the clinic (Rogers & Brefeld, 2014).
Family photos are one example of what can count as part of family literacy. Parents and children sharing their family photos at home becomes the basis for storytelling and the student then narrates their stories for a writing assignment.
Community mapping is another popular exercise for students and their families to pinpoint important places in their neighborhoods. This exercise helps identify the “funds of knowledge” in their community. Funds of knowledge are the historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being. Studies have suggested that drawing on the experiences that students have accumulated in their households with siblings, peers, friends, communities, and parents are not only valuable to students’ lives, but can assist teachers in understanding the ways in which these experiences can be practically and meaningfully connected to classroom curriculum (e.g., Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 2001).
“Parents love the clinic and teachers really try to find out what the learning style of each student is and make a connection with them,” Rogers said. Once that happens, the teachers are able to work with each student to reach their potential. Parents are given a case study that documents their child’s strengths and growth in literacy which they can use to advocate for their child’s continued literacy education.
The literacy teaching in the clinic includes but extends much farther than Common Core rubrics. “The coursework and clinic practicum support teachers’ professional expertise as literacy specialist so that teachers can see themselves as agents of instruction and assessment,” Rogers said. “Education in the U.S. has seen an increasingly diverse k-12 student population with a majority teaching corps of white young women. So critical literacy education offers teachers avenues to genuinely experience and learn their students’ cultural identity, perspectives and world views.”
Rogers noted that the teachers in the program can experience trepidation with practices that are not standardized and scripted. “But the results are worth it for everyone involved – it has a positive ripple effect for the teachers, children, families and ultimately the community,” she said, “and we’ve found that our teachers welcome and embrace the deeper aspects of what it means to be critically literate participants in a global society.”
Pre- and post-assessments show that after a 10-12 session block (covering either a summer literacy clinic or sessions during an academic year semester) on average, students move up a half grade level for reading, a half stage in spelling development, plus a broadened experience writing in multiple genres. The students generally experience improved fluency, mechanics and extended voices in their writing skills. As importantly, the students start to see themselves as readers and writers.
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