`Life changing' literacy tutoring

8th March 2013 at 00:00
Student teachers work one-to-one in trial scheme to boost reading ability

A literacy clinic run by student teachers in a Glasgow primary has "changed the trajectory" of pupils' lives, claims an expert in the field.

After a 10-week intervention by final-year students from the University of Strathclyde, the reading age of the P4 pupils improved by at least six months, and in some cases by a year, said Sue Ellis, a reader in literacy and language at the university's School of Education.

The scheme, which will become a permanent fixture for fourth-year students on Strathclyde's BEd programme, marked a step change in the way universities and schools work together, added Mrs Ellis, who developed the project with colleague Jane Thomson.

Teams of students worked with children on a one-to-one basis to "make a difference". The experience also resulted in "fantastic learning" for students, while giving the school access to up-to-date knowledge about literacy teaching via the university staff, she said.

Balornock Primary serves an area of high deprivation in Glasgow's Springburn district - a recent report found that 52 per cent of children in Springburn were living in poverty.

The school is lucky if 20 per cent of its P1 pupils have a regular bedtime story, said depute head Christine McCandlish. Many arrive at the school with little or no concept of the printed word, she added.

The 11 P4 children in the clinic were non-readers, said Mrs McCandlish.

For 10 weeks, beginning in October, 44 Strathclyde students worked in teams of four, each team coaching an individual pupil; the pupil received one lesson a week from each team member.

"We did not tell the students what to do, we just told them they had to make a difference," said Mrs Ellis.

No particular reading programme was used. Instead, students had to use diagnostic skills to match their teaching to the needs of the child.

"The students had to make a fast judgement about what was going to give the biggest learning pay-off for the child, and then teach it quickly because they only had half-an-hour," said Mrs Ellis.

The scheme has made the students more empathetic and confident teachers, she believed. "What I love is that by doing a tiny little intervention like this now, we can change the trajectory of the child's life."

Mrs McCandlish described the impact of the scheme as "amazing". Even a teacher of a small class would find it impossible to spend half-an-hour a day with one child.

"The huge difference we have seen in pupils has been to their motivation and confidence - they see themselves as readers now. We prioritise reading over everything else because if a child can't read, they're not going to be able to learn very much," she said.



When Sue Ellis invited final-year student teachers at the University of Strathclyde to become involved in a literacy clinic at Balornock Primary in Glasgow, she hoped to get a dozen volunteers. Instead, a third of the year group came forward.

Lisa Girvan was one of the 44 students to offer help. She attended Balornock Primary herself as a child and saw the initiative as a chance to give something back.

Lisa and her team worked with a "lovely boy" who had the ability but not the desire to read.

"He found reading boring," she explained.

By playing games such as word bingo and introducing him to books by authors such as Julia Donaldson, the students changed his attitude and brought on his skills.

Original headline: Intensive literacy tutoring for P4s is `life changing'

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