Southeast Missouri State University’s Read to Succeed Plus (R2S+) Reading Academy has expanded its outreach to elementary students in the Sikeston, Kennett and Poplar Bluff communities.
Under the auspices of Southeast’s Department of Elementary, Early and Special Education, the Academy provides struggling readers in grades 1-5 an environment to take risks and build confidence as they develop literary skills to become proficient readers. While the program is only offered during the fall semester, now is a good time for parents to learn about the program and begin making plans for their child for the next school year.
“We are excited to expand our services and offer more help to students,” said Dr. Debra Porter, associate professor and coordinator of Southeast’s R2S+ program.
The academy launched in 2016 and currently provides services to elementary children in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City public schools on the Southeast campus during the spring and fall semesters. Expanding the academy will help meet a growing need throughout the southeast Missouri region for tutoring services without having to travel to Cape Girardeau, Porter said.
This past fall, the academy began offering an hour of instruction once a week to students at Lee Hunter Elementary School in Sikeston, Missouri; Oak Grove Elementary School in Poplar Bluff, Missouri; and H. Byron Masterson Elementary School in Kennett, Missouri.
The weekly instruction was conducted by Southeast teacher candidates who are majoring in elementary, early childhood or exceptional child education and are in the last semester before they student teach. The instructional sessions and teacher candidates were supervised by University instructors.
“The academy is a good opportunity for our teacher candidates to take what they’ve learned at Southeast and apply it in a classroom setting,” said Laura Hurley, instructor of elementary and early childhood education. “By expanding the Academy, we are also providing hands-on experiences for the teacher candidates completing their degrees at our regional campuses.”
In addition to one-on-one tutoring sessions and instruction with teacher candidates, the Academy features individualized assessment and instruction based on the specific reading needs for each child; progress reports to families on the work of their child; recommendations at the end of the semester; and end of the semester conferences.
To provide best tutoring experience, each child takes a series of literacy assessments.
“After completing a series of assessments, we created lessons plans that we use to guide our session with the student and their specific instructional level,” said Mackenzie Moore, a senior early childhood education major at Southeast’s Poplar Bluff Delivery Site who tutored at Oak Grove Elementary School.
Teacher candidates use technology and iPads along with their individualized instruction plans to help the children hone their skills over the nine-week period. Throughout the fall, teacher candidates would track the children’s progress in an online data management program used in schools across the country.
“The program is dedicated to not only testing the students, but making intentional plans and actions based on the data each week,” Porter said. “Our teacher candidates then graph and analyze the data to help identify what and where each child’s need is and track their progress throughout the academy.”
The tutoring sessions are modeled on a Balanced Literacy approach that includes guided reading, phonemic awareness, word work and phonics instruction, writing about reading, fluency, speaking and listening, comprehension and vocabulary instruction.
“During each session, we started out focusing on sight words and would have students read and pronounce a series of words based upon high-frequency exams and assessments. After working on pronunciation, we would then have the students begin reading a story, where we would focus on fluency and comprehension,” Moore said. “While the children were reading, I would correct any mispronounced words, demonstrate expression and ask prompting questions to informally assess their comprehension of the story. After reading, the students would be given the opportunity to draw alternate endings to stories or read their library book.”
Southeast early childhood education major Libby Sutton of East Prairie, Missouri, also worked in the Academy last fall at Lee Hunter Elementary School.
“In the beginning of tutoring, my student’s reading was very choppy and was very monotone,” said Sutton, who attends classes at Southeast’s Sikeston Regional Campus. “We worked on reading with more expression in her voice and paying attention to punctuation to help us figure out what our tone should be. I usually had to remind her to use expression after a few sentences. But my favorite day was when she began to read with expression without a reminder. It was incredible to see how our students progressed throughout our time in tutoring.”
Melinda Webster’s second-grade daughter Ariel attended the tutoring sessions at Masterson Elementary School, and she saw first-hand how Ariel’s skills improved over time.
“Her oral reading fluency improved, but more than anything I noticed her confidence and willingness to read tremendously improved,” Webster said. “The program was a very positive experience. Ariel’s tutors were very welcoming and friendly, and the provided useful feedback and offered suggestions for activities to try at home.”
For Moore, the one-on-one sessions have underscored why she wants to be a teacher.
“On the first day of tutoring, we were given a series of questions to ask our student in order to develop a better sense of their interest and personality. One of the questions I asked her was about her interest and excitement for reading. She said, ‘I love reading because it helps me understand things that I don’t know a lot about and I like to learn new things.’ To see this excitement from a second grader really ignited my passion for teaching and still continues to impact my outlook in the classroom,” Moore said.
While the Academy is designed to improve children’s reading skills, R2S+ also helps Southeast teacher candidates develop exemplary teaching practices in literacy instruction while working with children who are not reading at their given grade level.
“This experience allowed me to see first-hand some of the things that must be done behind the scenes as an elementary teacher,” Moore said. “I have been given the opportunity to work on some assessments prior, but never given complete responsibility for the entire process. I loved having this experience to understand how to assess students, but also what to do with this data and information to benefit the student.”
Sutton says the Academy also helped her in learning how to analyze a student’s progress over time and think outside the box when helping a student improve his or her reading skills.
“I learned how to analyze a student’s reading by coding their progress in our online data program, and that there are so many things that can be done to help a student’s reading improve,” Sutton said.
Together, the R2S+ program and their field experiences help the Southeast teacher candidates’ understanding of the children’s curriculum and behavior, and prepares them to be successful and influential teachers, Porter said.
The R2S+ Reading Academy returns to the Sikeston, Kennett and Poplar Bluff areas this fall.
To learn more about how to participate in the program next fall, visit http://www.semo.edu/eese/reading-clinic.html.