Zoom-based program connects young students with one-on-one reading tutors – right in their own classrooms – The 74
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When it comes to academic interventions, when given a choice between technology and a human being, “we always choose a person,” says Megan Murphy, principal of the Circle City Prep school in Indianapolis. That’s why this spring, instead of introducing some kind of artificial intelligence app to help students learn to read, Murphy turned to an online resource that brings live tutors to its classrooms. class.
Ignite! Reading trains its instructors – mostly students pursuing a teaching qualification – using materials from the National Council on Teacher Quality. They are then paired with young students from across the country to host daily 15-minute tutorial sessions via Zoom.
Murphy says the program not only provides reading support, but a personal connection that helps kids stay engaged — each session begins with a simple “how are you?” and “tell me about your day?” And unlike artificial intelligence and similar apps that require teacher involvement, Ignite! Reading does not require their time or attention.
“We wouldn’t want to add anything for teachers to do,” Murphy says, noting that adaptive and responsive computer programs still require regular teacher involvement. “The autonomy of [Ignite! Reading] program is important. It works on its own and we are looking for tutors to answer it. Our job is to make sure students are present and online.
Jessica Sliwerski, CEO of the nonprofit Open Up Resource, says the pandemic has exacerbated the nation’s literacy problem and that the key to fluency is for young students, ideally first graders, “to decipher the code” of the English language. To help, she launched the Ignite! Reading Concept at Zoom, and the tech company has funded a pilot program for summer 2021. During this time, while working with low-income, multilingual, and special education students, “we’ve found that we could surpass the reading instruction they would receive in a regular classroom setting,” says Sliwerski. The nine-week program showed an improvement 2½ that of a regular classroom setting. This success led to the first partnership school in fall 2021 with KIPP Bridge Academy in Oakland, CA, helping Ignite!Reading learn to work directly with schools, build a corps of trained tutors, and grow.
“Teachers talk about how it empowered students who otherwise wouldn’t get the intensive one-to-one instruction they need,” says Sliwerski. As students improve their understanding of literacy, she says, they also feel socially and emotionally supported and can better understand what the teacher is teaching in other subjects. “Imagine being a third grader who can’t read the word ‘mug’ and go from not reading a word to reading paragraphs of text and how that fundamentally changes their learning ideas and feelings themselves,” she said.
In January, the association Ignite! The reading was extended to 325 students in six schools in three states. April marked the next phase of expansion, adding seven more schools, now with 13 schools serving 630 students across California, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, North Carolina and Indiana. This fall it will expand to around 20 schools, focusing on young learners, particularly in the first year.
Ignite! Reading currently has 90 tutors and this spring has partnered with Eastern Oregon University to further expand its reach. Tutors all receive a week of initial training, followed by a nine-week certification process that mixes additional instruction, coaching, and their first live tutoring sessions with students, which are recorded and reviewed. Once certified, tutors can begin to undertake as much work as they wish. “Tutors are paid, it’s work, and they’re expected to implement real-time feedback,” Sliwerski says. “We find that our tutors are getting really good at teaching reading very quickly.”
In the model, backed by Open Up Resources, schools pay for tutors’ time, while the nonprofit, through grants and philanthropy, funds administrative, training and other costs. Sliwerski says it’s important that schools invest in the process to treat literacy with the urgency it needs.
Circle City Prep connected to Ignite! Read a recommendation from a colleague of Murphy’s and get a grant to try it out. “What was compelling about the program,” Murphy says, “is that you set it up during the school year, get going, and don’t disrupt the flow of the day because it didn’t last. only 15 minutes, is virtual and individual. It’s quite easy to take off and identify the kids you need to shoot.
Circle City Prep started with 10 students, all in second or third grade, who had the greatest need to develop foundational literacy skills. While it’s still too early to get any data from Circle City on potential literacy improvements, Murphy says not only have the logistics of adding the program been smooth, but teachers have found an increase in confidence in their students. She expects the data to show that the program has improved children’s reading ability.
“We are thrilled to see the impact this is having on the students and have enjoyed working with them,” Murphy says. “I think the idea is strong and we’re excited to see the impact.”