Literacy center and students suffer in summer

William Gruenberg

Under new supervision, the newly remodeled Los Angeles Times Literacy Center is far from an average tutoring operation providing literacy support for children and serving as clinical training for university teacher candidates.

The literacy center is one of four service units under the umbrella of the teaching, learning and counseling consortium (TLC) in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education. Established in 1972, and renamed in 1992 after a donation from the Times Mirror Foundation, the literacy center has served more than 3,500 children.

During the fall and spring semesters, more than a dozen graduate students in the college of education work as clinicians focusing on two students each from grades 2-12 while being videotaped for evaluation. Teachers are then able to take their tutoring strategies back to their own classes and apply them in a group-learning context.

The center does not look like a classroom setting whatsoever. Instead, the layout consists of a large forum-like conference room with two open ended tables. Smaller rooms provide individual workstations where children can get personal attention.

“One problem that class teachers run into is that they forget they need to adapt,” said Dr. Nancy Prosenjak, literacy center director and professor of elementary education. “Not all children learn at the same pace, struggling readers can really benefit from being able to work one-on-one.”

As an alternative, games and activities are favored. Fluency and comprehension is stressed.

“It gets very exciting when kids can become very motivated. That light bulb goes on and the child becomes a veracious reader,” Dr. Prosenjak said.

Prosenjak has introduced several new components into the curriculum her first year at the center. All students take part in performance poetry, where they recite poems out loud. She says this reinforces the concepts of practice and interaction with literature.

“The kids come in and are hesitant to read. We have poetry and plays. It doesn’t just get them reading but gets them wanting to read,” center clinician and CSUN graduate student Jennifer Karey said. “They want to sound good in front of their peers, they become excited to read.”

Another new addition is the celebration of reading. This event takes place at the end of each semester, students gather and play learning games such as vocabulary golf, traffic cone concentration, and reading karaoke.

Summertime presents an obvious problem for the center. When most kids are off on break, constant continuation of literacy skills can be difficult to ensure.

According to a 2007 report by the International Reading Association, the impact of summer reading loss on students in general, and on at-risk students in particular is significant. A review of 13 empirical studies representing 40,000 students found, on average, the reading proficiency of students from lower income families declined over the summer months, while the reading proficiency levels of students from middle income families improved modestly.

With no graduate students on campus, a lack of staffing prevents ongoing sessions. Time is taken out at the celebration to encourage summer reading by setting summer reading goals and promoting the use of public libraries.

Students attending the center are from local public and private schools and are usually referred by teachers.

?One obstacle?clinicians must overcome is?that?almost half of the students are still learning English. Prosenjak still has high hopes, “literacy happens in every language.”

Through the center, some children have found new interests through reading and literacy. Karey said her most memorable experiences last semester came while working with a tenth grade student who primarily spoke Spanish. The student did not like school because she was not involved. Once Karey learned of her interests, such as immigration rights, she was able to tailor a specific curriculum for the student.

“As she began to read about people like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, I saw the learning process really empower her to make more sense of life,” Karey said. “It allowed her to question her role as a female, her place in her family, and the choices she wanted to make.”