Wolfpack Readers Tutoring Program Gives Teachers Hands-on Experience While Students Gain Reading Skills

Becky Dorman and a Wolfpack Reader during a tutoring session at East Bend Elementary School. Photo credit, Jon Holleman.

Ella reads as Becky Dorman points to each word. For the next hour, the second grader will receive systematic, evidence-based instruction in the foundational skills needed for literacy success.

The Wolfpack Readers after school-school tutoring program is part of the Yadkin Wolfpack Literacy Partnership (YWLP) between the NC State College of Education and Yadkin County Schools (YCS) designed to improve reading proficiency in the district by helping teachers become literacy leaders.

Partnership Creates Readers and Leaders

Funded by a two-year $575,000 grant from the Mebane Charitable Foundation in Mocksville, the Yadkin Wolfpack Literacy Partnership is using a cohort-based Master of Education program to enable 18 elementary through high school teachers with YCS to gain the expertise needed to effectively implement evidence-based literacy instruction, assessment, and intervention in their schools —  all expenses paid. The teachers who complete the program will receive a Master of Education degree and gain the knowledge needed to pursue advanced licensure in North Carolina as reading specialists. 

Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation, hopes the partnership will also serve as a pilot test of a literacy leadership development model that can be replicated by other districts in North Carolina looking to cultivate transformative expertise in their schools. 

Program Has Long Term Impact on Classrooms

“This is our second attempt to partner with a college of education and a school system. In 2008, we partnered with Davie County Schools and Appalachian’s Reich College of Education with a similar Master’s cohort group, but at that time, we focused on classroom technology. We believe that program was very successful and to this day many of the teachers who participated remain in the classroom or have moved into leadership roles. It’s my hope that this impressive group of educators from Yadkin County Schools will go on to have a similar impact in their classrooms for years to come.”

Data shows that fewer than 60 percent of students in North Carolina are proficient in reading by the end of third grade. This means that many students ultimately advance to middle school without the necessary reading skills to be successful. Although the project focuses on early literacy, the participation of four middle school teachers and a high school teacher allows for literacy specialists to be available to help older students who need extra support. 

YWLP participants take two classes each semester. This spring they completed courses on content area reading and intervention methods in phonics/decoding which aligned well with the start of Wolfpack Readers. 

Roseanna Laws and her tutoring student use letter tiles to build, sort, and spell words. Photo credit, Jon Holleman.

Beginning in January, nine students selected by the administrators and teachers at East Bend Elementary School received two hours of instruction each week for eleven weeks. The teachers, who were divided into teams of two, each provided one hour of instruction, which allowed them to practice their course work as well as their collaboration skills as they worked with their partner to plan each week’s lessons. 

“The Wolfpack Readers program gives graduate students hands-on experience with a toolkit of evidence-based practices that align with the research they are learning about in their coursework,” explained Dr. Dennis Davis, associate professor of literacy education at the NC State College of Education and director of the program.

He shared the components of each tutoring session. 

Tutoring Sessions Include

~10 minutesKnowledge Building  (KB)
~10 minutesBreaking Words (BW)
~10 minutesReading with Expression (RE)
~30 minutesWord Workshop (WW)

Breaking Down the Intervention Strategies

According to Davis, the purpose of the Knowledge Building (KB) segment is to ensure that the intervention components are connected to meaningful content learning goals while maintaining a priority focus on accelerating their growth in letter-sound knowledge, decoding, and word reading. During this segment, Wolfpack Readers read real books on their topic. 

In the Breaking Words (BW) segment, Wolfpack Readers learn to recognize and structurally analyze complex academic words with multiple syllables related to their topics. The words come from a pre-selected multisyllabic word list that corresponds to their chosen inquiry topic plus teacher-selected words chosen from the book section they are reading each day. The teacher helps the student closely analyze each word using a fast-paced routine that includes identifying the syllable junctures in the word, cutting the word apart into its syllables, re-assembling the word, and adding prefixes or suffixes to make new, related words. 

The Reading with Expression (RE) segment was designed to help students build fluency (defined as accuracy, rate, and prosody) through repeated reading with teacher modeling and feedback.

“Repeated access to shared vocabulary and concepts supports the students’ learning and allows the tutor to ‘stretch’ the students’ reading level by choosing texts that increase in complexity over time,” said Davis. “To ensure that students are able to practice fluency with high word recognition accuracy, the texts are controlled for difficulty using a “stacking” approach; that is, there are four versions of each text, each one slightly more complex than the previous one.”

In the final component, Word Workshop (WW) the Wolfpack Readers engage in systematic instruction to increase their knowledge of letter-sound correspondence. Using letter tiles and carefully chosen words, they build, sort, and spell words using sound-spelling patterns that they have not yet mastered. Teachers focus explicitly on a few specific patterns during the program, chosen for each student based on assessment data they collect at the beginning of the experience. 

Integrated Training Gets High Marks From Teachers

“I have learned so much from participating in the Wolfpack Reader’s program,” said Becky Dorman, who teaches at Forbush High School. “Being a high school English teacher, I did not have the previous training nor experience my peers had when teaching early reading skills. However, my tutoring partner, Paige Clark, was instrumental during this process.”

“It’s interesting to see how these skills translate in my own classroom in which I teach 10th grade. For example, we work with elements of audible craft which include alliteration, assonance, and recognizing hard and soft sounds. These lessons give me the opportunity to review phonemes and blends with my teenagers so they can better understand and identify them when they are reading a text.” 

Dorman said her English language learners (ELL) are also benefiting from her participation in the YWLP project. “The coursework from this semester has given me a lot of tools to better help these students begin their understanding of the written and spoken language. For example, using strategies like decoding by analogy can help ELL students solve unfamiliar words by looking for parts they already know or parts they are familiar with in their native language. Furthermore, understanding and teaching morphemes (a word or part of a word that has meaning) can help these students quickly build a useful vocabulary that’s needed in many situations. Due to the material covered throughout this course, I feel much more confident in my ability to help these students who often know very little English.”

“Overall, the coursework, training, and tutoring have impacted my teaching in ways that I would have never thought possible at this level,” said Dorman. “It’s amazing that once you have been provided with the information, you can easily begin implementing it into your classroom no matter what level you teach.” 

Although already trained in early reading skills, Jennifer Foster, a 4th-grade teacher at East Bend, said the Wolfpack Reader’s program has impacted the way she conducts her reading groups in her classroom. “This allows me to incorporate meaningful strategies throughout my reading groups that are best for that group of students.  I use many of the reading strategies with my whole class and we incorporate those strategies more in-depth in small group settings. I have enjoyed collaborating with Mr. (Jon) Holleman as my tutoring partner this semester. We were able to collaborate each week and developed a plan for the following week.” 

“Since the program was held at my school, I have been able to see how the tutoring program has impacted each student. The students are confident in their reading and the strategies they were taught during the Wolfpack Reader’s program,” said Foster. “Thank you for providing our students with the opportunity to grow and benefit from such an effective program!”

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