I know that this post of mine may not appear to be all that important to college students like you! Clearly illiteracy is not a problem for you if you’re reading this blog, and if you’re as bookish as the rest of us. However, you’re EXTREMELY lucky to be reading this post without the help of someone else. Sadly, illiteracy is a growing problem, with the ever-rising popularity of video games, movies inspired by books, books on CD, and software that reads books to you. You can now make it to college without learning how to read efficiently enough to get anything out of it.
As some of you already know, I work in an elementary school. We’re a Title 1 school, which means that the U.S. Department of Education provides supplemental funding to our school to meet the needs of at-risk and low-income students. Many of the children who attend this school are ELL (English Language Learner) or ESL (English Second Language) students. They also come from poverty-stricken families and spend more time raising their younger siblings while their parents are at work, than learning the things children are supposed to learn in elementary school. Due to these underlying factors, our test scores are quite low and children struggle to keep up with other children their age in other schools. It all boils down to the fact that these children do not know how to read, or they don’t understand what they read due to language barriers or comprehension deficiencies. Yes, they can sound out the words. Yes, they can say their ABC’s and maybe even tell you what sounds these letters make. But retaining and comprehending are in a whole different category, and make or break a child’s ability to learn. With the new “no child left behind” policy, it now takes an act of congress to hold a child back in school. Thus, many children fall through the cracks and are lost. They move up through school with other children their age, and sometimes suffer for that. Many times, their struggle in reading is caught so late that reversing the effect is extremely difficult.
When I graduated college in December of last year, I felt very lost. I didn’t have a job yet, I didn’t have a specific direction I wanted to go in, and I didn’t even know what directions I COULD go in. When I learned of this reading problem at a local school, I decided to volunteer and try to help these children while I searched for where I should go with my own life. This school was different. They had a special program I’d never heard of, called STAR, which stands for Student Achievement in Reading, paid for with the Title 1 money from the government. It was developed by the Utah State Office of Education, and is based off of Utah’s curriculum. The STAR tutor manual contains explicit 30-minute lessons that address fluency, comprehension, vocabulary/phonics, and beginning literacy skills as needed. I was immediately trained and began working with these students several mornings a week. The differences I saw were amazing. Since then, I was hired and given even more students. It’s a totally and completely gratifying job.
Whether or not a child comes to STAR is dependent upon a reading assessment given to them by their teachers. Once that child’s reading level is established, we take children based on the severity of their reading inability. Just over 1/3rd of our school is in the program, but there are more who need it. Our school can’t afford to hire more people.
After we work on reading comprehension, we work on developing reading fluency. There are leveled lists of commonly used phrases that I teach the child. Once the child can read the entire list accurately, and with varied expression in under a minute they pass it off and move on to the next list. There are approximately 75 words on these lists. I can read a list in just under 15 seconds, but most children work to get under a minute in about a week. We do have more struggling readers who find this incredibly difficult. I work with one child in 1st grade who took 9 minutes and 40 seconds to read the list. He and I have gone back to the basics of Kindergarten, so as not to discourage him. I’m sure we will re-visit this list in a few weeks, when he’s reading at a higher level.
After fluency, we work on phonemic awareness. The students love this part the best. We play rhyming games, count consonants in words, use flash cards for consonant blending, recite poems, and work on letter names and sounds. Then we have a phonics lesson. We have a list of word “chunks,” which are basically parts of words that the child adds letters to in order to make a complete word. We see how many words they can make. We let them create these words using magnetic letters, magna-doodles, water pens on construction paper, neon markers on whiteboards, and let them write with their fingers in colored sand to make this extra fun. The colors and tactile learning really reach the kids, and make them excited to do this. We also work on engraining the most common English words in their minds for instant recognition. Finally, we go over common vocabulary words that will show up on their standardized tests at the end of the year. We make sure they know how to read them, and know what they mean. Many times our test scores are low because the children can’t read the instructions.
Different parts of these lessons can be extremely tricky for some children, and really easy for others. We basically have to gauge what a child is capable of and change the curriculum accordingly. For the higher children we usually abandon the basic phonics lessons and practice writing and spelling.
It sounds like so much for a 30-minute lesson, and the time really does fly! It’s extremely effective, though. As the child experiences the consistency of each tutoring session, the principles are engrained in their minds. As I’ve mentioned before, I have seen some amazing results. In January (last school year), I began working with a 1st grader. In just a few months’ time, she jumped up several reading levels and was essentially kicked out of the program at the beginning of this school year because she is now reading above grade level. I worked with another child just one week after he had arrived here from Mexico. He spoke no English, but was soon communicating with his friends on the playground at school, and joking around with me.
I definitely recommend that you all share your love of reading in some way or another. You could volunteer at a school like I did, you could establish a reading program like this in your own school or community, you could go read to kids at a library or hospital, or you could just sit down with your younger family members or friends and have them read to you. Just reading out loud instead of silently greatly increases their comprehension and their accuracy. I know it will greatly enrich your life, as it has mine. :)
For more information on the STAR reading program, visit This Website. Also, feel free to ask me any questions. I have countless numbers of resources that I would be happy to share with you for your classroom, your library, your children, your siblings, etc. My contact info is on the About page of this blog. :)