Education Students Boost Reading Skills of English Language Learners at Elementary School

University of Arkansas student Mattie Milani gives a book to the third-grade student she tutored this semester.
Photo by Heidi Wells

University of Arkansas student Mattie Milani gives a book to the third-grade student she tutored this semester.

University of Arkansas students gave gifts of reading to children at Linda Childers Knapp Elementary School in Springdale this year, both by helping them improve their reading and giving them a book to take home.

Tina Howlett, an assistant professor of teaching English to speakers of other languages, had noticed that many of her students did not have direct experiences working with diverse student populations. So, she built a service-learning component into one of her courses. "Understanding Cultures in the Classroom" focuses on providing knowledge and skills necessary for educating ethnically and linguistically diverse classrooms. She partnered with the Childers Knapp elementary school because its population is 70 percent English language learners.

The U of A students tutored some of those English language learners in reading over 10 sessions of 30 minutes during the fall semester. Howlett received a $2,500 grant from the university's Teaching and Faculty Support Center to buy iPads to increase the use of technology.

Sarah McCrary, a childhood education major, said she saw growth in the fourth-grader she worked with. She used a free interactive book app with a fantasy story that helped him understand and say words he might never have been able to say otherwise, she said. Games on the app required reading and understanding the instructions and using logic, she said.

In early December, Howlett invited the parents of the children who received tutoring to come to the school to meet the university students. The students presented gifts of books to the children they tutored.

Afterward, in class, the students described lesson plans they created based on children's books they chose to teach children about cultural diversity. Some of the comments students made about their experiences at the school:

  • You have to build a relationship with students before starting the work.
  • Not everyone learns the same way.
  • Don't force someone to be loud if they want to be quiet.
  • Reading below grade level affects students in content areas.
  • One person can make a difference.
  • Some students struggle because they don't have shared experiences.
Contacts

Heidi S. Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
479-575-3138, heidisw@uark.edu

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