VKC Reading Clinic identifies struggles, tailors tutoring to make reading fun

Photo of boy reading with tutor and pointing to words in book

You’d never know school was out for the summer by the looks of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Reading Clinic. Despite the break between academic years, tutors and staff members stayed busy serving families during the Reading Clinic’s summer session.

The VKC Reading Clinic provides individualized, one-to-one tutoring using assessments and evidence-based instructional methods shown to promote reading in struggling readers with learning disabilities and dyslexia in grades K-8, including students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“The VKC Reading Clinic serves families all year, but summer break truly provides us with an opportunity to offer a more concentrated lesson plan to our young readers and their families,” said Elise McMillan, J.D., co-director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), director of Community Engagement and Public Policy, and senior associate in Psychiatry. “It’s a joy to see students become more confident in their reading skills and to be able to take their achievements with them into the new school year.”

Over the summer months, 25 students were enrolled, with 12 tutors leading the one-to-one sessions. The Reading Clinic employs Vanderbilt graduate students and Metro Nashville school teachers to lead the tutoring sessions. Throughout the summer session, each student received four 40-minute sessions a week where, through conversations and assessments, reading difficulties were identified and addressed.

“I began working at the VKC Reading Clinic as a clinical practicum student in the spring of 2016,” said tutor Kaitlyn Johnston. “I’m a School of Medicine graduate student studying to be a speech-language pathologist. I chose the VKC Reading Clinic as one of my clinical practicum placements because I wanted to learn more about the relationship between oral and written language development. I quickly became excited about discovering how to help my student’s brain learn to read more efficiently and effectively, and I continued on as a tutor this summer.”

Johnston had the opportunity to work closely with middle school student Teagan Oakes and her mother, Kirsten Krengel-Oakes, over the summer session. Krengel-Oakes learned about the VKC Reading Clinic at Teagan’s school from another parent whose child had been tutored at the Clinic.

“Our experience has been very positive,” said Krengel-Oakes. “The Reading Clinic has done a fabulous job matching Teagan to tutors who best met her needs and could relate to her. Administratively, the Reading Clinic’s communication has been timely, and tutor communication has been extremely informative.”

“Teagan is a delightful young woman in middle school, and she is focusing on improving her reading decoding skills, her reading fluency skills, her vocabulary knowledge, and her spelling skills,” said Johnston. “A typical session often begins with a quick chitchat during which I, and sometimes my student, note interesting words that are said, and then we work on analyzing the interesting words’ spellings together. We then turn to our main lesson on either a specific spelling pattern or a decoding strategy. We often then put our lesson into practice by reading together and discussing words, patterns, and ideas or by doing other activities. Every once in a while, we finish a session by creating a MadLib story using words that we’ve learned together.”

Reading Clinic tutors measure progress in a variety of ways: speech and accuracy measures such as the number of words read correctly per minute, keeping data on improvement in spelling accuracy through formal and informal tests, and descriptively noting progress in reading fluency, among others.

“I believe Teagan’s reading has definitely improved. She is a more confident reader and speller now,” said Krengel-Oakes. “Her reading fluidity and comprehension have greatly improved. While she’s not independently reading on grade level, she’s making huge gains in that direction. Also, Ms. Kaitlyn has been wonderful to include writing in conjunction with Teagan’s reading program.”

Even through the measures and outcomes, tutors are able to build trust and friendship with their students and to make the learning fun.

“The tutoring helped me with my spelling and reading,” said Teagan. “I’m more confident because I’m getting better at reading and faster. Ms. Kaitlyn makes whatever we do fun. I want to have her again!”

“It’s a privilege to learn with Teagan and to celebrate her successes with her,” said Johnston. “I was particularly proud of her this summer because she took more ownership over her learning and also persevered through a difficult but intriguing and meaningful summer reading book that I greatly enjoyed reading with her.”

When asked what advice she would give to parents who may notice their child struggling in reading, Johnston replied, “I would encourage parents to read with and to their child, to celebrate their child’s successes and strengths in other areas of life, and to not be afraid to seek help.”

“My best advice would be to know your parental rights and to be a strong advocate for your child within the school system,” replied Krengel-Oakes. “It may also be beneficial to know what resources outside of the school system are available for struggling readers, such as the VKC Reading Clinic.”

The Fall 2016 session of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Reading Clinic begins on Sept. 6 and is currently at capacity, but applications are being accepted for the Spring 2017 session. To apply, call (615) 936-5118 or e-mail readingclinic@vanderbilt.edu.

Dollar General  Literacy Foundation Renews Support

More families will be able to access Reading Clinic tutoring services thanks to the generosity of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. They have renewed their gift of $50,000 to provide scholarship assistance for tutorial fees for families who would not otherwise be able to take part.

A parent whose son received a Dollar General scholarship in the past wrote, “In an ever-changing world, reading is a fundamental skill that will always be a necessity. So when my rising first grader was having difficulty with his sight word recognition, I enrolled him in the Kennedy Center [Reading Clinic]….While the program was out of my financial means, the scholarship he received made it possible for him to attend. Today, not only is he on a third-grade reading level, but the Kennedy Center [Reading Clinic] ignited the passion he already possessed for reading.”

In addition to funding scholarships, a small portion of the gift is used to support training, education, and compensation costs for tutors.

A tutor wrote, “I am an undergrad at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College studying special education. Working at the Reading Clinic this semester has allowed me to apply many of the methods I have been learning in my classes….It has been so exciting and rewarding to see my two students’ progress and growth….This experience has done nothing but confirm my passion for teaching.”

“Dollar General’s commitment to promoting literacy is extraordinary,” said Jan Rosemergy, Ph.D., VKC Deputy Director. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the gifts of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to our Reading Clinic are changing lives. On behalf of the Reading Clinic’s students, families, and tutors, we express our deep gratitude.”

Elizabeth Turner is the program coordinator for VKC Communications. 

Pictured top of page: VKC Reading Clinic student and tutor

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