Tutoring Individual Children at Risk

In school lunchrooms, public housing projects, church basements, and libraries all across the nation, tutors spend time with children helping them learn to read. But what is the best way to go about this task? How can tutors be put to best use?

Two programs described below have had some significant successes in improving children’s reading success. Both share a commitment to quality, with well-trained tutors, regular monitoring, and coordination with the child’s school.

One program, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, provides one-to-one tutoring by community volunteers in a program that is designed to supplement instruction the child receives in class. First and second grade children are recommended by their classroom teachers. Tutors are trained in research-based methods three times a year during two-hour sessions. At each school, a reading coordinator supervises 15 volunteer tutors and their tutees, and also provides ongoing training and support for the tutors. Two times a year, the coordinator assesses children individually to design an appropriate program, monitor progress, and coordinate with classroom teachers and parents.

The tutoring program consists of 45-minute sessions twice a week. During these sessions, students reread familiar storybooks, read new books, and practice writing. Word study is a unique aspect of the program and gives children practice with letter formation, sound segments within words, letter-sound correspondences, spelling patterns, and meanings. A quasi-experimental research design found significant improvements in alphabet recognition, speech to print abilities, phonemic awareness, word recognition, and reading accuracy of a first grade text.

A Texas-based program uses trained and paid paraprofessional tutors (college students, community residents, teacher aides) to deliver three to five weekly one-on-one tutoring sessions to low-performing readers throughout the school years. Children in grades one to six are recommended by their teachers for the program.

Each child is assessed and placed into an ability level, ranging from those who are still learning their letters to those who are able to read at least the easiest books on their own. The curriculum combines explicit instruction on decoding skills with the use of small books that are ranked by difficulty level—including fiction and nonfiction—from emergent literacy level through fluency level. Sessions last for 45 minutes and always include reading and writing. Children are assessed every fifth session. One evaluation of this program shows that a set of sessions (taking about four to six months) typically raises a child’s grade equivalent score by about a half year.

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