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Tapping main source for tutoring

Cory Fisher

It’s only been two weeks, but Allison Roach is already seeing progress in her second-grade student.

But that isn’t surprising.

To become a reading tutor, Roach’s qualifications had to be no less than outstanding. After filling out a lengthy job application, Roach braved a rigorous interview with the Sierra House Elementary School principal. She was then required to attend two weeks of intensive training before the group of second-graders ever walked through the door.



“I can tell he’s getting better,” Roach said with a proud smile and a mature glance at her student. “I really like helping younger kids.”

While the measurable progress seen among students who receive individualized instruction may not come as a shock, the average age of the tutors themselves might.



“They’re all fifth-graders,” said instructional aide Susan Hansen, who supervises the school’s reading room. “I definitely see kids responding – they’re getting a lot of one-on-one attention – when a student moves up a level, it really shows that the tutors are doing their job.”

After hearing about cross-age tutoring at a teacher’s conference last year, Hansen accompanied several Sierra House teachers to a school in Rohnert Park, Calif., where the program was already in place.

“We liked what we saw,” said Principal Doug Forte. “We gleaned as much as we could, then came up with our own program and implemented it. It’s a great use of a valuable resource.”

As coordinator of El Dorado County Literacy Services, Barbara Berezin-Kearney says programs like this one – if widely implemented – could “change the way we view literacy.”

“Second grade is a critical age when learning to read,” said Berezin-Kearney, who teaches many adults who are just learning to read. “Attitudes about reading happen early. Many of my students can pinpoint something that happened in the second grade that prevented them from being successful readers. This kind of attention and instruction could really make a difference.”

Hansen said teachers are reporting improvement not only among “tutorees,” but among the fifth-graders as well.

“We purposely wanted a mix of skill levels among student tutors,” she said. “We didn’t want all straight-A students. There’s no question the tutoring helps students on both sides of the table – not only in reading skills, but in self-esteem.”

Forte said the nine-week commitment, which involves sacrificing lunch recess, has given tutors a taste of the real world. Tutors meet weekly with Hansen to discuss student progress.

“They take it very seriously. If they’re going to be sick, they call so a substitute can fill in, ” Forte said. “They’re also getting a sense of community service – they’re giving something very valuable back.”

During the preliminary training, fifth-graders are versed in basic “Reading Recovery” techniques, which are a series of reading instruction strategies implemented districtwide in the early grades.

Each new book begins with a “book walk,” where tutor and student discuss the title, book cover and illustrations before attempting to read.

When reading, students are encouraged to use a variety of clues, like looking at the pictures, sounding out words and determining the context.

With an emphasis on each student feeling successful, reading comprehension is rated by each tutor as “easy, medium or difficult.” Paired with the same student for nine weeks, tutors track each word the student misses.

“Reading is my favorite subject,” said fifth-grader Kim Real. “That’s why I like teaching.”

“I like to make kids laugh,” said tutor Greg Dupree. “That makes it more fun.”

Hansen said making it fun is an essential element for motivation, along with the bonding that occurs over the nine-week period.

“The second-graders love spending time with older kids, and continuity is important,” she said. “It really makes the younger ones want to read.”


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