The University of Oregon’s Reading Clinic offers K-8 students the chance to learn how to read

With one finger skimming the words, “The fat fox and his brother,” and the other supporting his head, one-third grade boy, Todd*, carefully says each word, occasionally sounding out a few. He knows that with each word he says correctly and quickly, he gains a point. He stumbles on a couple but catches his mistake, earning himself another point and praise from his tutor, Liz Johnson. But points are just a treat; the real reward is learning how to read.

In a secluded section of HEDCO’s brick walls, the Reading Clinic strives to support children reading below their grade level in the Eugene, Springfield, and Bethel area. But the clinic doesn’t just offer support within the HEDCO walls; the reading clinic offers support for the child’s school and parents in order to give the child the best intervention efforts possible.

In order to achieve the best outcome for the student, the clinic works with the parents and the school. “I think that when you have those three pieces in place then you can expect to see the most progress in the child’s reading,” Dr. Carrie Thomas Beck, director at the Reading Clinic says.

Todd is considered significantly under the literacy benchmark for third graders. When his mother, Lisa Keevers, began the process of catching him up, it was difficult at first.

“The start was hard for me. I didn’t’ know where to start because he was in third grade so I was always like ‘Okay, let’s try second grade books’ and they were so hard he would become frustrated,” says Keevers.

Todd should be reading Judy Blume books like, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or Fudge, but Todd is still reading at a first grade level, where books have simpler sentences like, “A little man had a fat dog.”

Through word of mouth, Keevers heard of the Reading Clinic from a friend and she enrolled her son. After waiting a year on the waitlist, he enrolled in the fall of 2011.

The clinic takes the first steps in catching the student up to his grade’s benchmark through one-on-one, one-hour sessions with a tutor, students from the University of Oregon, mainly the College of Education, but they accept different majors. Benchmarks are tools used to measure children’s level of reading. Through utilizing nearly a dozen reading programs, like Horizon, Phonics, and Reading Mastery, among a few, the clinic uses these programs that fit individual students.

These programs are about building not only reading skills but also confidence. The programs start at the level the child reads and then builds on top of

their reading skills slowly. By slowly building these skills, the students do not feel frustrated. “You would never throw them into a lesson where they would be unsuccessful,” Thomas Beck says.

Along with the appropriate program for each student, tutors, like Johnson, reward students with points, tally marks on a sheet to record a variety of successful performances. The point system the clinic uses is a tool to keep students engaged, feeling successful, and motivated. Each point gets them closer to earning a prize from the treasure chest, or, for the older students a gift card at the clinic.

The clinic opened its door September 2008 and has since been serving 30 K-8 students each academic term. The service is free for any family in the area with a student below the reading benchmark. The clinic is funded by the DIBELS Data System housed in the Center on Teaching and Learning (CLT), the system used at the clinic to assess the appropriate reading intervention. The CLT is also the host of the Reading Clinic.

During the summer term, there is a six-week camp where students are not one-on-one but in small group sessions. They have several new students during the off-season but some students during the academic year continue through the summer.  However, the service is no longer free, but full or partial scholarships are available for parents.  The summer sessions also provide special sessions for certain reading difficulties.

With the clinic open year round, more students are learning the essential five “Big Ideas” needed to be successful readers, according to experts.

The five “Big Ideas” are part of a large research project conducted by the National Reading Panel, called “The Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read.” In this extensive research that was released in April 13, 2000, the five “Big Ideas” are five tools for successful reading. These areas include: phonemic awareness, alphabet understanding, reading fluency and accuracy, vocabulary development, and compression.

Todd, under his breath, sounds out the word stumping him in his short reading. “S-t-o-p. Stop,” he says. He continues, but “fox” becomes “box” when he reads over the word just a little too quickly.

Todd is struggling with phonemic awareness or understanding what sounds go with what letters, decoding or applying knowledge of letter-sound relationships to pronounce written words, and automaticity or being able to read words he already knows and being able to read quickly and efficiently.

He has a lot of perseverance and he keeps working at it. With a lot of repetition and practice he gets it then,” Johnson says.

Despite still being below the reading benchmark, Todd has made progress. “He can read now, not at grade level, but he couldn’t read before. He could read seven words a minute and now he can read about 44,” says Keevers. Currently they are finishing up their third term with Johnson.

The Reading Clinic allows students up to five academic terms in the clinic. For some students, they graduate from the clinic before their time is up, but other need extra assistance.

Thomas Beck offers support for those families and their children in order to make sure what they have learned will continue after the clinic. Often Thomas Beck selects tutors that have worked with the clinic or tutors she’s worked with before.

Throughout the students five terms, the tutors write weekly parent reports and at the end of each term, reports for parents and teachers. These reports help keep both the teachers and the parents on track with how the student is learning.

The teacher’s material is also taken into consideration, Thomas Beck says. She calls the teachers and figures out what program the student’s teacher is using. By understanding what the student is learning in school during the day, after school the tutors can work with those programs.

Johnson believes the clinic is important for public schools. “The fact that people can come and get their service and help their kids come up to grade level is such a support for public schools because now they’re getting this extra help the school is unable to provide,” she says.

At home Keevers home schools Todd. In the morning, afternoon, and evening they read 25-minutes, use flashcards and complete homework given from the tutor.

“I think we’ve developed some great relationships with families as well as with teachers at schools,” says Nicole Kaye, the clinics Graduate Teaching Fellow (GTF) for two years.

Keevers, like her friend before her, recommends the clinic to parent’s with children below the benchmark. She recommended her friend enroll her son, who’s a seventh grade student, however, he may not be able to join once he passes the eighth grade, the Reading Clinic’s grade limit.

That doesn’t mean the clinic won’t try to help. “We’ve had a mother come in about her adult son, who’s 22, and about to get married, and he was struggling with reading,” Thomas Beck says. Even though the clinic does not offer lessons for adults, the clinic has become a valuable to the community.

Keever’s knows just how valuable it has been for her and her son. “It’s wonderful, I’m very happy for everything that they’ve done,” she says.

Johnson writes on the white board. She holds it up for Todd to see, “stop,” “box,” ”fox,” “hand,” and “love.”  But even when “stop,” “box,” and “fox” stump him, his tutor is there to catch his mistakes, that is, if he doesn’t catch them himself first.

*Name has been changed

Sidebar One:

In the Springfield area, 21.8 percent of students do not meet the grade level; in Eugene 14.5 percent and in Bethel 19.2 percent do not meet the grade level. These numbers have dropped considerably since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, which aimed to provide impoverished schools with poor reading scores. Oregon Reading First was a piece of the 1 billion dollar grant, giving 50 schools in Oregon 7 million dollars total to work with.

While the Oregon Reading First funds never touched the Reading Clinic, Thomas Beck was co-director of Oregon Reading First and together with co-director Scott Baker and others.

The funds went towards hiring reading coaches, a specialist in the school, purchase reading programs and material, and better assistance in aiding current teachers for K-3 students. Research shows that third grade is the point where reading becomes a tool for learning, whereas K-3 is learning how to read. If students are behind still by third grade, then learning becomes more difficult.

After the seven to eight year fund ended, the clinic developed a website. “A lot of tools that we developed through that work then went on a website called the Oregon Reading First…there’s a lot of great things on that website,” she says.

The website, hosted by the University of Oregon’s Center on Teaching and Learning (CTL), is meant for the 50 schools given aid to, however, Dr. Carrie Thomas Beck says it can be a resource to all schools.

The Reading Clinic uses the tools to educate tutors as well as use in the sessions with students. “We access those tools and will pull them in and we’ll use them at the clinic for many students,” Thomas Beck says.

Sidebar Two:

The Reading Clinic has University of Oregon students from a variety of majors as their tutors. Most of the students are from the College of Education, but other majors like English are common, Thomas Beck says.

New tutors will have a four-hour training session in order to get oriented with the clinics policies, student and other cliental confidentiality, and learning the lessons.

That’s a lot to take in in only four hours and Thomas Beck knows it’s tough. “We do our best to provide as much up-front training as we can in the time that we have, but then our expectation is that the tutor will need ongoing training after that,” she says.

Throughout the term, the tutors will have their supervisor help out and offer advice to tutors. However, tutors are given programs that are tailored to the student and, Thomas Beck says.

Tutors can join for a variety of reason. The clinic offers credits, experience in the field, or volunteer for tutors. Liz Johnson and Brittany Inman are two students, who are license teachers, and are both completing endorsements.

Reading endorsements program recently became available in the fall of 2011. The program allows licensed teachers the ability to be a specialist in their field. For Johnson and Inman, they participated in the Reading Clinic in order to complete part of the requirement to their endorsement, but they stayed because of the students.

“I decided to stay because I really connected with that student,” Inman says.

“I think you’ll see tutors and students connecting and I often have tutors wanting to come back the next term and the next term so that they can continue working with that student,” Thomas Beck says.

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