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Tutor in a Bag helps students improve reading skills

After tutoring a kindergarten student for a literacy class, WKU junior Lillie Hoskinson wanted to find a way to improve reading skills of other struggling students.

The project came to her in a dream – Tutor in a Bag.

WKU junior Lillie Hoskinson presented her Tutor in a Bag project during Posters-at-the-Capitol on Feb. 25 in Frankfort. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)

WKU junior Lillie Hoskinson presented her Tutor in a Bag project during Posters-at-the-Capitol on Feb. 25 in Frankfort. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)

“One night I was like it would be really cool if I had all the materials in a bag and had training,” she said. “That’s how Tutor in a Bag came about.”

Hoskinson, an elementary education major and a student in the Honors College at WKU, has been working with faculty mentors Dr. Nancy Hulan and Dr. J. Dusteen Knotts, both assistant professors in WKU’s School of Teacher Education, to develop Tutor in a Bag: Reaching Struggling Readers for her Honors thesis. (More: View from the Hill on the project.)

“She did a project in Literacy 320 where she worked with a struggling reader in an elementary school,” Dr. Hulan said. “From that she decided she wanted to do her thesis project based off of that experience. We have been working together a little over a year on developing her tutoring program and making it work in the schools.”

According to data from the Kentucky Department of Education, only 50 percent of students entering kindergarten in 2015-2016 were ready for kindergarten. In schools serving high-poverty populations, that number decreases; in some schools, fewer than 30 percent of students enter kindergarten ready, according to the state assessment that measures academic/cognitive abilities, language development and physical development.

“I am so proud of Lillie,” Dr. Hulan said. “She has done a fabulous job with this project and is very passionate about helping children in need.”

Not only does Tutor in a Bag help students improve their reading skills, it helps community members get involved in their schools and trains them to tutor struggling readers, Dr. Hulan said.

“There are so many students that really could use the extra help and so many community members who are willing to do that and could be fabulous at it but they need a little bit of training, a little bit of support and Lillie’s project has helped develop that,” she said.

The Tutor in a Bag materials include alphabet bingo and puzzles; flash cards with sight words and sounds; and lesson plans with rhyming games, sound games and phonics.

The Tutor in a Bag materials include alphabet bingo and puzzles; flash cards with sight words and sounds; and lesson plans with rhyming games, sound games and phonics.

The Tutor in a Bag backpack includes alphabet bingo and puzzles; flash cards with sight words and sounds; lesson plans with rhyming games, sound games and phonics; and other materials. Tutors also bring a book each week to read with the students.

Using grants from WKU’s Student Government Association and the Honors College, Hoskinson purchased the backpacks and materials.

The pilot project began last fall with four students and four tutors and continues this spring with five students and five tutors.

“The kids most of the time enjoy spending time with their reading buddy,” Hoskinson said. “We call them reading buddies rather than tutors to make it seem that they’re not getting tutoring because it’s just to help build their skills.”

Kindergarten students were selected as high-risk for reading weaknesses; high risk was defined as weak skills in letter recognition, word recognition, letter sounds, phonological segmenting skills, low scores on kindergarten screening, and teacher recommendation. Volunteers completed a two-hour tutor training session demonstrating the components of four reading activities created for 30-minute, after-school tutoring sessions.

Hoskinson selected four types of activities for Tutor in a Bag — phonemic awareness games for manipulation of sounds skills; letter identification and sound relationships; sight words; and reading a book. During each session tutors select a variety of activities to address each of the four components using a brief lesson plan format and a feedback system where the kindergarten students use green, yellow and red smiley faces to show how the feel about that activity.

The kindergarten students “are really excited about the program,” she said.

“We want to make this fun and not ‘Oh I have to go to tutoring this week,’” Hoskinson said. “We want them to enjoy this and learn to love reading in the end.”

Hoskinson presented her Tutor in a Bag project at the Kentucky Reading Association last fall and at the Posters-at-the-Capitol event last month. She will participate in WKU’s Student Research Conference on April 2.

Hoskinson, the daughter of Buddy and Stacy Hoskinson, graduated from Scott County High School in 2013 and plans to graduate from WKU in May 2017. She has always wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but says her love of literacy has grown during this project.

“My favorite grades are first and second grades and through this project my love of literacy has come around and so I want to get my master’s in literacy and maybe one day just work with reading,” she said.

Contact: Nancy Hulan, (270) 745-4324

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