During June and July, when many children are taking a break from school, Auburn undergraduates in the College of Education are providing one-on-one reading tutoring for dozens of area first and second graders. Sponsored by the Department of Curriculum and Teaching in the College of Education, the Summer Reading Program is directed by Associate Professor Bruce Murray, a reading and literacy specialist.
“Our initiative is modeled on the Reading Recovery program developed by New Zealand literacy pioneer Marie Clay, who argued that children who struggle with reading can be helped with early intervention,” Murray said. “If you fall behind in reading and don’t catch up, the long-term consequences are very detrimental. Reading is at the heart of all learning.”
The Summer Reading Program breaks down into four basic activities – assessment, a letterbox lesson, reading a “decodable” book, and writing a message. “After we have assessed the child’s reading with a familiar book, we go to a letterbox lesson,” Murray explained. “In its simplest terms, a letterbox lesson is a hands-on activity for learning the alphabetic code. Children spell words by placing letters in boxes that show the number of phonemes in words, and later they read the words they have spelled. Letterbox lessons help children work out the spellings of words before they try to read them.” A “phoneme” is the smallest unit of speech that can be used to make one word different from another word. For example, in the word “light,” children will learn that the “igh” equates to the sound of the letter “I.”
Murray has written extensively about these concepts in his research, and has trained the student-tutors to use the methodology in the tutoring sessions for struggling readers. Many of these young learners are Korean children who moved to the Auburn area with their families as part of the Hyundai-Kia manufacturing plants. “When we use a ‘decodable’ book, which is vocabulary controlled, the children enjoy a successful reading experience. Our tutors support their readers by giving them some wait time, and then sending them on to finish the sentence to test their decoding attempt in context. If they don’t have the word yet, they can uncover a little at a time. If they still don’t recognize it, the tutor provides the word and has the child reread the sentence. Learning to help in this way is also good advice that parents can use at home.”
The last part of the session is when the children get to write a message themselves using what they have learned. “This is often the most satisfying part of the sessions,” Murray said. “They might write that their favorite food is cake, for example. We wrap up the session by giving the children some kind of reward, usually a learning game.”
Murray said that in addition to helping the young children, the sessions are also a great learning experience for Auburn’s pre-service teachers. There are 24 tutors, all of whom have engaged in a two-week intensive training period to prepare them to assess and teach their young readers. “This is a valuable lab experience for our students,” Murray said. “We take the program into the schools during the academic year, but our campus is the only place we offer it during the summer. Our students are here ready to work before 8:00 a.m., and they are really great with the kids. You can see that the program is helping everyone involved, and our students are coming away from this as better teachers. I’m happy that we are able to offer this valuable program through our Department and through the College.”