Programs - 1999
Learning with a Literature Focus:
Development and Service Learning
by Kaye Anderson, Ph.D.
Department of Teacher Education
California State University Long Beach
With the current crisis in literacy development in the
United States, accompanied by innumerable conditions in our society at
large which detract from optimal literacy development (a general anti-intellectual
mindset, parents who for a variety of reasons may not sufficiently reinforce
literacy practices in the home, large student-teacher ratios in many classrooms
preventing quality guidance for young learners, and in some cases teachers
who are underprepared themselves to teach literacy), I came to the conclusion
along with a growing number of others across the countrythat something
very different is needed to provide students with the support they need
to become motivated learners, skilled in various aspects of literacy,
and knowledgeable of a range of subject matter and the ability to make
connections of that information to their lives and across disciplines.
Proposed solutions often include inviting older students and adult volunteers
to work one-on-one with needy youngsters so they can improve their literacy
skills, devoting time to literacy practices such as in after-school sessions,
and emphasizing reading instruction in classrooms. Research cited in the
America Reads Challenge Resource Kit (http://www.ed.gov/inits/ americareads/resourcekit/misdocs/tutorwork.html)
that tutoring helps improve literacy. Logically, tutoring is more effective
when tutors are trained in helpful practices.
I have been interested in finding out if older elementary students (youngsters
with whom we have direct influence in elementary schools) can be trained
to help youngsters K-2 improve their literacy as a service learning activity.
The purpose of this presentation is to allow others to learn from my action
research involving defining a limited number of helpful practices so that
they are readily accessible to tutors and establishing a peer-tutoring
program. The following information describes four essential activities,
presents insights regarding initiating such a program, and identifies
Four Helpful Lessons
I believe it is necessary for optimal literacy learning
that tutors provide on as regular a basis as possible (daily if possible)
four activities or lessons. Each of the four lessons, which have produced
helpful results whenever they have been implemented, can be modified in
an infinite number of ways to meet the changing needs of youngsters as
they develop in their literacy journey:
1. Real Reading of Good Books. This
lesson includes the tutors reading aloud to children and/or children reading
to tutors accompanied by discussions of the books to enrich childrens
understanding of the material and to encourage interest in other literacy
2. Describing and Labeling Pictures.
In this lesson the tutors (a) lead a discussion of a picture
so children bring meaning to the visual representation, (b) lead children
to spell, with assistance as needed, words and word phrases to label various
elements in the picture (including, as desired, a title for the picture
and a sentence about it) while the tutors write those labels on a chart
to which the picture is affixed and children connect the written labels
with the picture, and (c) periodically during the lesson they help the
children review (name) the words written to help them practice their sight
vocabulary with the assistance of the pictures.
3. A Beginning Research Activity.
This versatile lesson involves children searching for a
limited amount of time in a newspaper, magazine, or various other printed
material (book, phone directory, menu, map, etc.) to find words with a
specific pattern (e.g., words which contain the spelling pattern IE) and/or
words which relate to a specific category (they name things, show action,
have 2 syllables, are related to weather or another topic, etc.). The
items found are recorded (by highlighting, cutting and pasting, or writing
down words) and shared with others searching for the same item(s) in different
4. Studying Words (including Spelling and Writing).
In this tutor-led activity, children first brainstorm words
which conform to a particular pattern (e.g., words which contain, anywhere
in them, the sound at the beginning of the words CITY and SAID and/or
words which relate to a specific category, such as they name things, show
action, have 2 syllables, are related to weather or another topic, etc.)
and tutors write them on a chart. Following that, children look for patterns
among the words brainstormed and they practice spelling words of their
choice and writing words, phrases, and/or sentences which contain words
brainstormed or other similar words.
Insights Regarding Implementing
a Tutoring Program
1. While it is possible to implement lessons #2, #3, and
#4 with individual students, the lessons work even better with groups
of children because students can learn from the experience and knowledge
of others and they are frequently motivated by such group interaction.
Until children have had scores of experiences working with the lessons
as participants where they have observed a leader effectively work with
groups, it is unrealistic to expect them to be able to implement lessons
with more than one child. Therefore, a choice must be made whether these
lessons should be implemented in their less-effective fashion with a tutor
working with one child OR whether these lessons should be reserved for
older students and/or adults working
with groups of children.
2. Youngsters are eager and willing to assist younger students. An impediment,
however, is that their own skills are often severely lacking. When students
misspell words on charts, for example, it is necessary that someone work
with them to help them compare their invented spelling with the standard
form (while simultaneously convincing them by counting the number of letters
they got right that they are good invented spellers and reinforcing the
notion that mistakes can be fixed and we often learn best from our mistakes).
Another problem which arises in the Describing and Labeling Pictures lesson
is that young tutors are sometimes more eager to complete a chart (so
they do much of it themselves) than to provide an opportunity for a child
to use language, make decisions, spell words, and practice sight vocabulary.
Since youngsters are often motivated extrinsically, it may be necessary
to institute a strong incentive program so young tutors develop a sense
of ownership over the notion of helping someone else learn.
3. When a reading specialist institutes a tutoring program and can be
on-site only once a week, it is essential that individuals on site are
familiar with the program so they can encourage continuation of the program
on other days. A regular schedule, including which student tutors which
child or which lessons will be implemented at which time slots, can be
a useful tool to ensure that the program continues and to assure tutors
that they still have time for activities which they enjoy engaging in,
such as eating snacks and visiting with their friends.
4. In order for there to be the greatest continuity of a child's learning
journey, it is advantageous to enlist the support of parents to support
and reinforce a tutoring program (by showing interest in their child's
progress, by reading to/listening to their child read 20-30 minutes daily,
by sharing with caregivers in an after-school program the topics the child
is studying at school, etc.) so these programs can enhance learning in
regular school programs. Additionally, it is helpful for children to see
a description of developmental growth in various aspects of literacy (such
as is available when districts identify academic standards, such as those
of the Long Beach Unified School District) to encourage children to become
responsible for their own growth and development.
5. It is extremely difficult to describe these lessons in such a way that
someone unfamiliar with teaching can readily implement them while simultaneously
describing multiple variations to meet the growing needs of children.
Too much information can obscure the relative simplicity of the lessons
and can inhibit tutors from implementing them. Simultaneously, in some
after-school programs (such as those the YMCA conducts in the greater
Phoenix area), program coordinators are seeking canned programs
which can be readily implemented in multiple sites simultaneously. Possibly
the easiest way to accommodate these seemingly contradictory perspectives
is for someone very familiar with the four lessons and ways to modify
them to work directly with adults who then directly implement the lessons
with groups of students. In this way a limited amount of information can
be provided to tutors initially and, in meeting regularly with an experienced
practitioner to reflect on their experience, tutors can refine their knowledge
of varying lessons as they themselves have questions.
At this time I am continuing to refine descriptions of
the lessons so many people can implement them. Next fall I am planning
to train adult tutors who will begin implementing the program in several
YMCAs next year. I am also eager to find others around the nation interested
in using these techniques and sharing experiences (Please contact me).
I continue to believe that it is possible for older elementary students
to help children improve their literacy skills, but such experimentation
at this time must be conducted with those who have more direct influence
with such students than I do. It is my hope that ties with Federal programs
can be made in the future so children who tutor in such programs can earn
credit for college.