There may be no better way of encouraging children to read than by allowing them to choose a stack of new books for their home collections. On Wednesday evening, with the help of Elon University students, that’s just what 22 elementary school students did with their tutors from the School of Education.
For the third year in a row, Elon students in a fall semester course to help future educators teach struggling readers joined with local elementary school children as part of the curriculum. The Elon students spent the first half of the semester in the classroom before they traveled once a week to the May Memorial Library in downtown Burlington to meet with their young pupils.
The class concluded with a Dec. 8 reception at Barnes & Noble in Alamance Crossing, where the college students helped their younger charges select up to $50 of books to take home at no cost to the families.
Assistant professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr led the course, which is popular among parents who attended the weekly tutoring sessions with their children. It’s also popular among educators. The Switzerland-based Oak Foundation awarded Rattigan-Rohr a grant of more than $200,000 earlier this year to grow the program by partnering with universities in North Carolina and Oregon.
The course provides teacher candidates a chance to test theories taught in their own classrooms, and it gives them time to work with parents, including some who don’t speak English. Together, the education majors, Rohr and interpreters diagnose reading challenges and help the children overcome those hurdles, while showing parents what to do at home during the week.
“I’ve gotten more progress here than anything we’ve tried. The last several weeks? Leaps and bounds,” said Andy Curtis or Gibsonville, whose son, Andrew, is in third grade at Gibsonville Elementary School. “I can’t say why, other than maybe the setting and the students.”
Brittany Hallberg, an education major and senior on the women’s soccer team, worked with a fourth grade student who shared with her his own love of the game. Hallberg created reading prompts based on clips of the Elon Phoenix women’s soccer games this fall and had her student, Edward, read as though he were a broadcaster.
“He told me he liked sports, especially soccer, so we had that connection,” Hallberg said. “Rather than just correct his reading mistakes, I wanted to make our lessons engaging.”
The class benefits teacher candidates in other ways, too. It’s uncommon for education majors at many universities to have a significant period of time to interact with parents, a skill they need almost as soon as they step into the classroom for the first time after graduation.
Rattigan-Rohr will teach the course again in the spring. She anticipates even greater interest from the community and is already planning ahead to the day when the number of local parents who contact her to enroll their child exceeds the number of students and volunteers in the class.
“The net is so small,” she laughed, “and the fish are jumping everywhere!”
So far, the net has snagged all the fish. It’s still holding strong.