of America Reads at Tennessee
Tennessee Technological University was among the first 100 colleges and universities in the United States to sign up for America Reads, a federal initiative designed to help ensure that every American child can read well and independently by the end of 3rd grade. To date there are 1,374 colleges and universities participating in America Reads. We began our program in the fall of 1997 using Federal Work Study students as reading tutors. Working closely with the Financial Aid Department at Tennessee Tech, a steering committee composed of Doctors Karen Adams, Gene Talbert, Elinor Ross, and Betty Roe, along with Pam Petty, America Reads Program Director at TTU, developed an initial plan of implementation and a mission statement to guide our focus and define our efforts. Pam Petty attended an America Reads training seminar in Chicago sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. On-line resources were investigated and utilized as part of the start-up process. Meetings were held with steering committee members to discuss the type of tutoring format we would implement. A list of campus resources was made that included the Learning Resource Center in Bartoo Hall. Local AmeriCorp, a sister program to America Reads, leaders were contacted and materials and ideas were shared.
Letters explaining the new campus initiative were sent out from the Financial Aid Department to every Federal Work Study student on campus requesting that those interested in participating in the program meet with us at an appointed time to discuss the details. Over 140 letters indicating interest in the program were returned to the Office of Financial Aid at TTU. We were hoping for about 30 Federal Work Study students for this first year of tutoring, so this response took us by surprise - a pleasant surprise - but a surprise. The contact time requirements were very stringent for the 1997-1998 school term. Those time requirements combined with other features of the program (transportation, training schedules, etc) caused many of those who expressed interest in the program to be unable to sign up for America Reads. Students were asked to participate in a self-evaluation survey developed by the TTU America Reads Program Director. The survey addressed aspects of personal commitments to literacy, long-term goals, service to others, time management, and working with young children. Point values were awarded and a scale was provided so that students might gauge their potential success in this service-oriented program. When all was said and done we had 28 highly-motivated, capable students who would be our first trainees for America Reads tutoring. These students represented several majors inside the University including 17 students majoring in education (elementary, secondary, special education), 2 accounting majors, 1 marketing major, 1 psychology major, 1 business major, 1 agriculture/horticulture major, 1 art major, 2 sociology majors, 1 marine biology major, and 1 criminal justice major.
Our next job was to find local schools who were willing to receive our tutoring services. Tennessee Tech had calls from school systems across the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee requesting this service. The lack of federal funding for transportation negated our being able to place students in school systems outside the city of Cookeville, Tennessee, where TTU is located. Members of the steering committee visited Jere Whitson Elementary School and Cane Creek Elementary School in the spring of 1997 to discuss preliminary plans for implementation of this program. Both schools indicated a strong interest and wanted us to come back to them in the fall with the program design and timetable. Visits were made to both schools in early August and an agreement was made that both schools would welcome America Reads reading tutors. Documentation that outlined our implementation of the program, along with training schedules, permission slips, and other management forms developed by the Program Director were shared with principals of both schools. Meetings were planned at both schools to allow the Program Director to describe the program to teachers. Teachers were given handouts and time to ask questions and make comments. From this meeting, a list of teachers who wanted to participate was developed and matched to Federal Work Study students committed to the America Reads initiative. Since the focus of this initiative is on early elementary reading success, priority was given to first grade teachers, followed by second grade, and then third grade teachers.
Business and Community Support
This being a new initiative on campus we worked hard to make our presence known and to help people understand our function at the University and in the community. Parents were given information packets and asked to sign permission slips that allowed us time during the school day to tutor their child. TTU tutors traded telephone numbers and email addresses with parents and kept in close contact with them regarding their child's progress in reading. Not all parents took advantage of this offer, but many parents developed close ties with the tutors. Social events were planned to include teachers, administrators, parents, TTU tutors, and the students involved. The local television station posted information about our activities and the Program Director participated in a telephone interview for a cable station focusing on America Reads initiatives across the United States.
Mortar Board adopted our elementary students and volunteered to make packets of learning materials for our tutors to give them at Christmas. A TTU alumni generously donated $1000 for ten years to our America Reads effort. This money is to be used for materials and other needs that tutors might have to be able to perform their jobs effectively. Citizens Bank of Cookeville donated portfolio binders and related materials to be used with students. These binders held samples of students' work and other materials generated during the tutoring sessions. During fund raising efforts several local merchants made contributions and helped us with advertising and other revenue generating activities.
Outreach Activities and Special Presentations
During the 1998-1999 school term America Reads students and support personnel decided to go through the steps to become a campus-sanctioned organization. We elected officers, held regular meetings every Tuesday at "dead hour," and developed email newsletters to keep us all informed. Our members have sponsored coat drives and tennis shoe drives at participating elementary schools. Over the course of the last three years America Reads tutors have presented at Phi Delta Kappa meetings and meetings of the TTU Chapter of the International Reading Association. We participated in a "Parents and Reading Fair" sponsored by the local International Reading Association. This event allowed us a venue to display our materials, talk with parents and community members about our organization and to read aloud to children who came with their parents to the fair.
As part of a fundraising effort America Reads tutors worked at a local Fazoli's restaurant helping to deliver meals and facilitate customers. Tutors also went around the restaurant reading children's books to families with small children. Tutors talked to parents about quality children's literature, about reading at home, and ways that parents can help children learn to read. The tips we earned helped us toward our goal of raising the $3000 needed to take five America Reads tutors to the International Reading Association's Conference in San Diego in May, 1999. We received both cards and telephone calls from parents who saw us at Fazoli's. Our hard work helped bring us closer together as a real team effort moved us toward our goal.
Our greatest struggle that first year was to work out schedules that met the needs of both the college students and their young elementary school reading students. We found that participating teachers were very flexible with the possible tutoring times and that college students who had made this commitment to service made every effort to keep their scheduled tutoring appointments with students. One aspect of college life that makes this program difficult is the fact that college students' schedules change from fall to spring whereas elementary school schedules stay the same. Again, it was the flexibility of teachers and the willingness of the college students to continue the tutoring that spelled success for the scheduling aspect of this program. Keeping the teachers informed of the University's schedule and special breaks was an important aspect of our scheduling. Tutors were asked to keep calendars with accurate records of their tutoring appointments, complete with arrival and departure times. These calendars were turned into the Program Director at the end of each month when timesheets were prepared.
The steering committee met to discuss the reading methods most appropriate for one-on-one tutoring. Several tutoring models were examined and researched. A list of most desired features from several models was developed and a daily tutoring plan was modified by the Program Director. The 1997-1998 school year was the most required stringent adherence to this plan, to the one-on-one tutoring model, and to tutoring sessions five days a week. Feedback from tutors and teachers prompted us to modify each of those aspects of our program in subsequent years. Presently tutors are trained in this model but are allowed to devise other modeling plans that best suit teachers and their students. The result is that some tutors follow this model carefully, some use materials sent from the classroom; some work one-on-one with students, others work in groups no larger than three; some tutors visit schools five days a week and others only go three times a week and stay for longer periods of time. The flexibility has allowed more students to participate in the program, has put teachers and tutors more in control of materials and methods, and has allowed us to serve greater numbers of students. In looking at America Reads models across the United States, the adjustments we have made in our program are very much in line with what is going on around the country.
TTU America Reads tutors received training from the Program Director each week. This training focused on the role of a tutor, mentoring techniques, and sound reading methods. The training sessions were very informal with students "kick starting" each session by discussing their tutoring activities for the week, their student's progress, and any successes or frustrations they had experienced. Extreme care was taken to conceal the identity of each student as tutors described particular strengths and weaknesses. Instead of children's names being called, they were merely referred to as "my little boy" or "my little girl" or as my tutoring student. After a list of problem areas had been developed as future topics of discussion and training, specific training in reading intervention methods were given. Tutors made games that focused on word recognition or comprehension skills and shared them in class. Quality children's literature was shared, as well as techniques for reading aloud, involving students in a story, and questioning methods. Students were given instruction in administering and scoring Informal Reading Inventories, collecting base-line data, and using observation and anecdotal strategies to assess students. Tutors were encouraged to join in discussions and debates regarding tutoring methods that worked and didn't work. Problem-solving sessions were held for tutors whose students were not responding to the tutoring sessions and private conferences with the Program Director were offered to assist tutors through difficult issues. A web site was designed by the Program Director to facilitate tutors and teachers involved in America Reads. This site included on-line resources and other materials available to facilitate reading tutors.
Evaluation of Program
Teachers, parents, and tutors were asked to complete surveys to help identify strengths and weaknesses in the America Reads program at TTU. These surveys were analyzed and used to make adjustments in policy, procedure, and to set goals for the next year's program. Feedback from teachers and tutors proved to be particularly insightful, however few parents returned the surveys. Some feedback was obtained from parents through email correspondence with tutors. The America Reads program at TTU has continued to grow and change. We feel that the changes have made the program more flexible, more in-tune with teacher and student needs, and more rewarding for the college students involved in the program. An interesting footnote to this program has been the life-changing aspects witnessed in the tutors themselves. Most tutors indicate that their own QPA's have gone up while involved in the program. Some attribute this to the metacognitive skills they have developed while involved in America Reads and others link their improved scores to the overall positive attitude they have developed toward learning in general. It has also been noted that the personal relationships developed among America Reads tutors have helped support their success in many areas of their lives.
A tutor hard at work.
This site is designed and maintained by Pam Petty.
04/12/2004 10:03:22 AM