Thanks to creative teachers and innovative technology, 80 students improved their reading skills this summer through SUNY Buffalo State’s literacy specialist program. Under the guidance of program coordinator Keli Garas-York, associate professor of elementary education and reading, 26 Buffalo State graduate students taught students at the Charter School for Applied Technologies (CSAT).
“This is our third year at CSAT, which is one of our professional development schools,” said Garas-York. “The partnership is terrific.”
The three-week program was a clinical practicum course that provided the graduate students with the opportunity to work with participants from grades 1 through 12. “Three alumni came back to mentor and guide our current students,” said Garas-York.
The CSAT students were divided by grade, and then divided up further into what Garas-York calls flexible groups.
“We practice diagnostic teaching,” said Garas-York. “Every day, our teachers assess each of their students. Depending on what the student’s needs are, he or she may be reassigned to one of the small flexible groups.”
The youngest children worked on phonics to develop their understanding of letters and the sounds they make. “But we also worked on their reading skills, including comprehension and vocabulary,” said Garas-York. Writing is also part of the curriculum.
“One of the tools we tried this year in the third-grade group was LiveScribe pens,” said Garas-York. The third-graders used the pens to draw pictures that helped them think about their story, and to keep track of their ideas by using the pen as a recorder. “When they start to write the story, they can tap on a point on the tablet to hear their original ideas,” explained Garas-York.
Another aspect of the language arts is fluency, in speech as well as in reading and writing. “Our goal is for students to speak clearly, at an appropriate pace, and expressively,” she said, “and to listen, too.”
Seven participants from grades 7 through 12 worked with four Buffalo State students—Madison Ackerman, Jenna Rocco, Jonna Fiegel, and Katie Silvestri. It wasn’t long before the teaching group discovered that their seven students had common needs, including better fluency and better writing skills.
Silvestri said, “We wanted to do something that would engage the students and also address their needs. There’s a teaching tool called Reader’s Theater, in which students read a script out loud to develop oral fluency. We decided to try that, and maybe even have the students act it out. And then we thought, ‘Why not ask them to write a movie?’ That would help their writing skills as well as help them develop their oral fluency.”
Using literacy skills such as plot diagramming, dialogue writing, and narrative writing, the students developed a 27-page script for a 12-minute murder mystery, The Unknown. As the students read the script and acted it out, they put into practice the skills involved in fluency, including expressiveness, tone of voice, and understanding how to apply both word cues—“sighed,” “exclaimed”—and punctuation cues such as exclamation points and commas.
“They really got into it,” said Rocco. “They decided they wanted to have a car chase scene, and so someone brought in a remote-controlled car.”
How did it go?
“It was fantastic,” said Rocco. “We had a great group of very motivated students who were willing to learn.”
“When the teachers put their hearts into their work, students succeed,” said Silvestri. “As corny as it sounds, that’s what happened.”