Reading improvement clinic brings learning opportunities to elementary, college students


Mary Pautsch/Iowa State Daily

Lagomarcino Hall houses the School of Education and Fred Duffelmeyer Reading Improvement Clinic.

Mary Pautsch

Young and old readers alike are learning how to improve their skills through the Fred Duffelmeyer Reading Improvement Clinic.

The reading clinic offers tutoring services to children in K-12. Students in the School of Education who are earning endorsements in reading work one-on-one with students.

Tutoring for this semester began Tuesday. This year, Iowa State students will tutor either on campus or at Mitchell Elementary School, through a new partnership with the Ames School District.

“I am really excited to be working with the school’s principal as we pilot this new collaborative effort,” Linda Lind, co-director of the clinic, said.

The new availability for tutoring at Mitchell Elementary was created to bring the benefits of tutoring to more students and to better service the more than 100 Iowa State students enrolled in the program.

Lind and her co-director, Emily Hayden, said the reading clinic benefits both Iowa State and Ames students. School districts across Iowa are starting to prioritize hiring teachers with reading endorsements, especially in kindergarten through third grade.

Lind said these new initiatives are most likely due to the No Child Left Behind mandate requiring all students to read at grade level by third grade.

“The Des Moines Public School District has just prioritized a reading endorsement for any new K-3 teacher applicant,” Hayden said. “So an applicant with this endorsement will receive greater consideration than an applicant without a reading endorsement.”

School of Education students who work at the clinic also benefit from gaining hands-on experience. They also are able to create their own lesson plans, assess their own tutees and get immediate feedback from a mentor instructor.

“Many students have walked out of the two classes the last night and state how much they’ve learned and how they feel so much better prepared to work with students struggling in the area of reading and writing,” Lind said.

Ames students who receive tutoring also are improving their education. Students receive tutoring two times a week for nine weeks, usually rising one to three reading levels by the end, Lind said.

“We often see growth in phonemic awareness, phonics, word study, comprehension and writing,” Lind said. “There are so many facets of reading that our tutors are working on that it is hard to not include these other areas when we talk about student success.”

No student who wishes to receive tutoring is turned away from the clinic. While the clinic focuses on students who are reading below grade level, it also gives a wide array of different services related to literacy.

“We also tutor children who are learning English as a second language, children who can read fluently but struggle to comprehend, children who need to build their writing skills, etc.,” Hayden said. “We do our best to meet the needs of any family who requests tutoring.”

These successes are attributed to the clinic’s use of mentoring and research on reading and special education. The clinic said what works for special education students works for all other students. Many strategies for struggling readers are rooted in research on special education, as well.

“If a struggling reader doesn’t receive intervention early on, he or she may end up needing special education services down the road,” Lind said. “Reading researchers have found that those children who get off on a poor start to reading rarely, if ever, catch up to their peers.”

Mentors advise Iowa State students after each 90-minute tutoring session. The mentors are experienced teachers in the School of Education who have graduate-level degrees and specialize in reading and writing.

“The mentoring times provide specific guidance for the ISU students in how to observe learning, how to use results on one assessment or activity to make instructional planning decisions for the next tutoring session, what to do when a lesson plan doesn’t go quite as planned, how to make instruction really engaging for children and a myriad of other questions that come up in the course of teaching,” Hayden said.

Hayden and Lind believe that having a reading endorsement is essential to all teachers. They both said that no matter the content area, reading is present and needs to be addressed.

“Every teacher […] will have a wide array of reading abilities in his or her classroom. For example, a high school history teacher may have students who are reading at a third-grade level to those reading at a college level,” Lind said. “No longer can a teacher say, ‘I am not a reading teacher.'”

The type of reading in each class is different of course, but reading is everywhere,” Hayden added. “For some people it just comes easily, but many children need a bit of extra help, and even strong readers might struggle to do the kind of reading and writing required on state tests.”

Tutoring in the Fred Duffelmeyer Reading Improvement Clinic for the current semester will run until April 9.