“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark” — Victor Hugo

What could be more heartwarming than a young child beaming with pride as she reads a book aloud to friends and family? Nearly a dozen young authors reading books they wrote themselves.

At the Kathleen Muth Reading Center’s recent Literacy Celebration, local schoolchildren, their families, and Chapman University students and faculty came together to celebrate a joy of reading and the amazing success they achieved working together.

A part of Chapman’s Donna Ford Attallah College of Educational Studies, the Kathleen Muth Reading Center (KMRC) has been serving approximately 50 at-risk K-5 students per year since 1975. Every semester, during a 12-week course, Chapman credential candidates (tutors) are paired with local children (tutees). The often struggling tutees receive valuable one-on-one instruction, while the tutors are given the opportunity to work with real students in a classroom environment, applying their coursework and knowledge into practice.

The overall goal of the tutoring program is to move the tutees’ reading and writing skills closer to grade level.

“Even after 10 years of teaching this course, I am always amazed what children — initially described as ‘struggling’ and at risk — can accomplish when they are tutored in a strengths-based learning environment,” said Chapman course professor Margie Curwen.

KMRC tutoring pairThe KMRC literacy tutoring is an intensive intervention with multiple layers. As part of their coursework, the Chapman tutors get immediate feedback from KMRC reading supervisors and instructors. The teacher education program strives to provide credential candidates with a solid understanding of a balanced literacy instruction using assessment to drive their instructional decision-making.

The Literacy Celebration is the culminating experience of the tutor-tutee pair’s partnership. During the semester, the tutees are encouraged to select an area of interest and, with the help of their tutor, write their own book. This year, one child wrote about her life goal of becoming a doctor and what she needed to accomplish at each step along the way. Another child interviewed and wrote about four members of the Chapman KMRC to learn more about them. And one second grader even wrote a 10-chapter book about school bullying and how to resolve it.

Chapman student and tutor Lindsay Billings ’18 reflected on the celebration: “It was an amazing opportunity to see the parents interact with their children, sharing and celebrating their children’s work. The parents had smiles on their faces and were so proud to see what their children had accomplished. Multiple parents also shared their experiences, talking about how their children now read independently and were excited to read and write at home.”

Throughout the semester-long process, the children and their Chapman tutors build strong relationships. This coupled with individualized tutoring often fosters dramatic improvements in reading and writing skills.

Lindsay Billings explained, “My favorite part of working with my tutee was seeing him become increasingly confident as the weeks progressed. By the end of the program, he told me that he felt like a better reader and like a ‘real author.’”