Partnering for Education

(June 18, 2013) With help from students in Armstrong's College of Education and two education professors, eleven East Broad Street School middle school students became student leaders this past school year, encouraging their peers to read, in an effort to boost the school's CRCT scores. Anne Katz served as the Armstrong faculty advisor for East Broad Street School's Teens for Literacy, an innovative program designed to boost literacy skills and encourage critical thinking among school children in underperforming schools.

“Teens for Literacy is designed to encourage students to inspire other students to become strong readers,” Katz said of the program. “It helps give students the tools to experience success.”

As part of the program, East Broad Street School student leaders read books, published several school newspapers, wrote and presented a play, launched a Tumblr web site with original book reviews, and distributed reading certificates to star readers across grade levels in the school. Armstrong education majors served as volunteers, mentoring student leaders to encourage literacy throughout the school.

“The students were the architects of the program,” reported Katz. “They generated creative ideas for promoting reading, and Armstrong faculty facilitated their implementation. Student leaders inspired their schoolmates to improve their literacy skills.”

Several Armstrong students participated in volunteer orientation sessions and worked directly with middle school students at East Broad Street School over a period of several months. With the support of teacher candidates from Armstrong's College of Education, Teens for Literacy student leaders created student-generated book reviews using a variety of media.

In April, the Teens for Literacy students visited College of Education Instructor June Erskine's class as part of Shadowing Day at Armstrong. They discussed their favorite books and offered insight into their personal reading preferences. Teacher candidates in Armstrong's Bachelors of Science in Special Education program shared books teens might enjoy and presented digital platforms like Tumblr, Blogger and Wix that can be used to create digital book reviews.

“The students from East Broad Street School led the class and were quite enthusiastic,” said Erskine. “We were extremely impressed with their commitment to reading and to sharing their passion with other teens.”

The peer-to-peer model proved to be quite effective in encouraging reading and cultivating critical thinking skills. In fact, Teens for Literacy was so successful that Katz and Erskine decided to expand the program.

Funded by a College of Education Internal Grant, a new project, “Web-Based Platforms for Presenting Book Reviews,” was implemented by Katz and Erskine this past May and June.

“It's about students encouraging other students to be dedicated readers and writers,” Katz said of the program. “It provides the students with the tools they need to become academically competitive.” As part of the expanded program, East Broad Street School student leaders launched a Wix website and Tumblr blog with original book reviews. Several Armstrong education majors served as volunteers, mentoring the teens to create student-generated book reviews using a variety of media.

For Michalle Ruble, a junior education major at Armstrong, getting involved with Teens for Literacy helped her develop skills to become an effective teacher. She believes in the power of literacy and enjoyed the opportunity to mentor students at East Broad Street School.

“Teens for Literacy combines old school with new school,” she explained. “In today's world, literacy goes beyond the traditional views and expands into our world of technology. This means our students need to develop reading and writing skills that involve digital media.”

Armstrong education major Amy Phillips Williams appreciated the opportunity to work directly with middle school students and to encourage students to become avid readers.

“The students enjoyed the entire process, from reading, to the documentation in notebooks, and especially the creation of their own personal book review website,” Williams said. “Each student read every day, and showed up prepared and excited to create. I believe these students will continue to be successful, lifelong learners.”

At the year-end Teens for Literacy celebration, one seventh grader remarked, “I learned I could do more than I ever thought I could do; I learned that I can be more than I thought I could be.”

Katz and Erskine hope to continue the successful project and expand it beyond just one school in the future.