Oct. 26, 1999 Writer: Kristin Harmel
Source: Jeannette Schiffbauer, Nancy Dean, (352) 392-1554
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- High school students struggling with reading can improve their skills significantly over short periods of time by becoming tutors to younger students, a University of Florida study has found.
In the seven-month span that students were tested last year, the tutors' reading comprehension grew as much as it would have in two years without the program, and their reading skills grew as much as they would have in a year and four months, the study shows. Their vocabulary skills and attitudes toward reading also improved.
"Learning to tutor younger children helps students with their own reading skills by allowing them to learn strategies in nonthreatening ways," said Jeanette Schiffbauer, a researcher and teacher at UF's P.K. Yonge Developmental School and one of the developers of the ongoing study.
"Everybody learns: the tutors, the students who are tutored and even the teachers," said Nancy Dean, also a P.K. Yonge teacher and researcher, who developed the program with Schiffbauer. "The tutors' attitudes have gotten better, too. They believe in themselves more than before."
The program, called Everyone Reads, currently is in its second full year at P.K. Yonge, where there are 52 student tutors, and its first year at Dunnellon High School in Marion County, where there are 30 tutors.
Students who scored lower than 300 on a scale of 100 to 500 on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, a statewide measure of reading skills and comprehension, were selected to participate in the program. To assess how much the students' reading abilities changed during the study, Dean and Schiffbauer administered the Gates-MacGinitie reading test in the fall, before the program began, and again in the spring. Student tutors' test scores improved significantly over that period of time.
While the program was being tested at P.K. Yonge, Dean and Schiffbauer trained 62 teachers from seven Florida school districts to implement the program. Teachers first refreshed their own tutoring skills, then learned to isolate reading problems and develop strategies to fight them. Eventually, those skills will be passed on to the high school students they teach.
High school students in the program are assigned to work with either kindergartners and first-graders or sixth-graders. Tutors for the lower grades spend most of their time reading stories and talking about letters and words to the youngsters. Tutors assigned to work with sixth-graders create word games and develop lesson plans to explain more complex concepts such as prefixes, suffixes and syllables.
"These kids are learning the importance of taking things seriously and doing them carefully," Schiffbauer said. "It builds up their self-esteem and makes them feel like they have an important skill, which they do."
High school student tutors also receive training in the fundamentals of reading, such as phonics, oral techniques and comprehension strategies. When they are paired with younger students, they have a chance to develop those skills in a situation that provides less pressure than a classroom, Dean said.
"Programs like this give kids an opportunity to succeed themselves," said Margaret Monsour, the director of programs at the Washington, D.C.-based Reading is Fundamental, a broad-based reading organization that serves 3.75 million children nationwide. "Their reading skills are improved, and they are able to help the younger kids. Learning goes on at both levels." A similar program is in place at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Ariz., Monsour said.
The program's effectiveness is due in part to the way it teaches students to believe in themselves, Dean said.
"We live in a world that is so technology-driven, but what really endures is that human contact," she said. "When you see that little face smiling up at you and trusting you, it makes a very big difference."
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