Emily ~

My school provides one-on-one and small group reading tutoring across the disciplines as well as in-class workshops on textbook reading (SQ3R and a tweaked version of Jim Burke's Textbook Features Analysis), study skills, test taking strategies, annotating,and notetaking, but we also provide academic support for students struggling with writing and English language skills.  Students are welcome to drop in to receive assistance in working on a specific issue or to schedule regular appointments.  I might add that while we do offer small group reading tutoring, few students take advantage of it.  It is my belief that reading assistance carries a certain stigma; students who are not embarrassed about getting writing assistance or math assistance or science assistance (Heck! Doesn't everybody need help with those?) ARE painfully self-conscious about getting help with reading.  It's such a basic thing, after all - everyone can read - why do I have trouble?  We are aware of this negative perception and usually meet with the student in the privacy of a quiet study room.

We also have online resources (Ultimate Speed Reader, Plato) for those who wish to work independently.  It is my opinion, however, that online resources cannot replace the trained ear of the reading tutor, who can administer mental running records while listening to a student read aloud to him or her.  The tutor makes continuous, on-the-spot aural assessments as to the student's starting point and progress, which, in turn, informs his or her decisions about what skill or strategy to move to next (or not).

And for those regularly scheduled seekers of assistance, I have adapted Barbara J. Walker's* diagnostic teaching session to suit my needs, which allows me to tailor a plan for my struggling readers at the community college level.  The plan for a 60- to 90-minute session includes these elements:

 *   10-15 minutes: strategy and skill instruction or assessment
 *   30 minutes (or so): guided contextual reading
 *   10-15 minutes: student choice of text, task, activity

Strategy and skill instruction/assessment can run the gamut from phonics instruction to fluency to finding the main idea to interpretation of whole stories.  Guided reading is just that, of course, but I may choose echo reading or repeated readings as the delivery method.  Student choice may be reading aloud or silently, doing practice worksheets, or writing.  For each element of the session, I record the materials used (title of reading or other text, handout/worksheet, online resource), the tasks/activities done, and the purpose.  It has been my experience that when following the diagnostic teaching session plan, students go from struggling to soaring by semester's end.

One of my favorite success stories following the plan is this:  A 67-year-old man, Mr. B--, was enrolled in the on-campus ABE program and was, therefore, eligible to use all the resources of the college - including the people resources, which turned out to be me.  Mr. B-- had to quit school in the 3rd grade, he said, to help take care of his family; his assessed reading level was as expected - third grade, but his writing level was much lower.  We worked 4x/week with phonics, sight word lists, guided reading with interesting texts, and writing sentences.  We even worked with magnetic letters and moved them around on the whiteboard making letter patterns and words with them.  The first text we read together was called "Fishing with Father"; he was interested in it because he liked to fish, and the author's memoir of his father reminded Mr. B-- of his own mother.  "Fishing with Father" is roughly at a 5th-grade level of difficulty.  At first, Mr. B-- couldn't read even one sentence independently, but we kept working with phonics, sight words, and the rest plus more.  He bought a couple sets of magnetic letters and made letter patterns and words on the side of his truck, he said, and, if it was raining, he put them on the side of his refrigerator.  At the end of the first semester, he could read "Fishing with Father" independently and other slightly more difficult readings with guidance; his sight word base had grown exponentially.  Throughout the second semester, we continued with the plan, and we read selected chapters from Life Is So Good, the story of George Dawson - an African-American man who learned to read at the age of 97; Mr. B-- could relate to much of Dawson's story. Midway through the third semester, I was talking to Mr. B-- about how Malcolm X learned to read and about Sherman Alexie's experiences in the reservation school; Mr. B expressed a particular interest in Malcolm X, so I brought out my ENC1101 reader and turned to "Prison Studies," an excerpt from Malcolm X's autobiography.  I asked Mr. B-- if he would like to have a go at it himself, and - yes, he would like.  Much to my surprise, he read "Prison Studies" on his own with few "nudges" from me.  He was very interested in the copywork that Malcolm X did as a means of growing his vocabulary and writing skills.  At the next session, Mr. B-- reported that he was doing copywriting at home - just like Malcolm X did in prison.  At the end of that third semester, Mr. B-- was reading independently from the reader that I taught in ENC1101; his writing skills, however, pretty much remained at about what I would expect from a first or second grader - right down to the scrawly formation of the letters.  Interesting.

At any rate, Walker's diagnostic teaching method of reading has consistently produced significant results for the students with whom I - and others on our tutoring staff - work regularly.  Her work was influenced by Darrel D. Ray of the Oklahoma State University Reading Clinic; mine is influenced by hers.  It's nice to pass along insights gleaned from others to others still.  Perhaps there is something useful here for you.

Maggie Soff
Communications Skills Specialist
Tallahassee Community College
444 Appleyard Dr.
Tallahassee, FL  32304-


* Walker, Barbara J. Diagnostic Teaching of Reading: Techniques for Instruction and Assessment. 5th ed.  Upper Saddle River: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall, 2004.

From: Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals [[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Blanchard, Emily A [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 2:53 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Reading comprehension

What kinds of assistance do you offer for helping students improve reading comprehension? We already have workshops in place on note-taking and college-level reading strategies.

Thank you!

Emily Blanchard, M.A.
Learning Resource Center Associate
Concordia University Wisconsin
12800 North Lake Shore Drive
Mequon, WI 53097
Ph: (262) 243-4216
Fx: (262) 243-3535
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