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Reading is essential for getting by in today's society. It's a skill taught to children early and emphasized throughout their education. But what happens when a child falls behind in reading?

The Old Dominion University Reading Center, run by the Department of Educational Curriculum and Instruction, has offered help to many area children with reading difficulties since 1997. The one-on-one instruction students receive can make a difference to those who need a little extra attention in grasping reading concepts.

"Primarily, we are serving the reading education needs of the university and the community by establishing programs and activities that are designed to provide both groups with additional resources and opportunities for literacy learning," said Abha Gupta, director of the Reading Center.

According to Gupta, the center has three main purposes. Education and training, the first, allows graduate and undergraduate students in the reading program an opportunity to apply the knowledge they have learned in class.

The second purpose, diagnosis and instruction, begins with determining a child's strengths and weaknesses. Tutors conduct extensive testing on each child and then develop specific tactics to help the child overcome difficulties in reading.

The final thrust is research, an ongoing study of teaching techniques and assessment measures.

The main service provided by the center is the Reading Clinic, which offers one-on-one instruction by clinical interns (mostly certified elementary or secondary teachers enrolled in the graduate reading program). Each intern has one student for a semester-long program (about 14 to 16 sessions).

During the program, the intern develops an individualized program aimed at teaching strategies and skills of word recognition, decoding and comprehension. At the end of the program, the intern provides a detailed case report to the child's parent.

The Reading Clinic is offered each semester. About 15 children are selected each term based on criteria such as the information provided by the parents or teacher, grades and standardized test scores (if available). The number of children selected varies depending on the number of available tutors, said Gupta.

The Reading Center often receives kudos from parents whose children have attended the clinic. In one letter, a parent wrote, "[My son] enjoyed his time with his tutor and learned many techniques to use when reading for meaning. He and I also have benefited from the resources his tutor made us aware of through the school system and libraries. We appreciated her
flexibility in the session schedules, her professional manner and her interest. This service to the community is truly a blessing."

Currently, the program is offered as a free service. However, the center is in the process of proposing a fee structure based on similar programs at other universities.

The Reading Center also offers a tutoring program called the "America Reads Challenge" to students at Norfolk's Tidewater Park and Lindenwood elementary schools. These schools are a part of the Professional Development School Program in the Darden College of Education and were selected based on students' scores on standardized reading and math tests.

"The America Reads Challenge is President Clinton's initiative to promote literacy," Gupta explained. "The focus is more in the lower elementary grades. By the time a child is in third grade, he or she should be able to read independently."

Tutors in the America Reads Challenge are undergraduate and graduate students trained by the Reading Center. The approximately 60 to 68 tutors spend eight to 20 hours in the schools each week, depending on their own schedules, working one-on-one with an assigned child. "Tutors in the America Reads program ... act more as reading coaches," Gupta said.

Any student with a Federal Work-Study Award is eligible to apply to be a tutor with the program. However, teacher preparation candidates are given priority.

While the Reading Center works mostly with children, it also offers adult literacy programs through partnerships with other local adult-education providers. The center was selected by GTE in December 1997 to represent Old Dominion, along with three other Virginia institutions, in "GTE Links Virginia for Literacy," a program that uses technology to teach basic literacy skills to adults. The focus of the GTE project is to enhance basic literacy skills using computers and specialized software.

"We all know that reading is a cornerstone of success in our society," Gupta said. "Children who have difficulty reading often slip into a downward spiral and it creates poor self-esteem. Yet we know many reading difficulties can be resolved if they are detected early and effective instruction is provided. We really try to focus on early detection and prevention. It's never too late to get additional help."

For more information about the Reading Center, contact Abha Gupta at 683-3283 or agupta@odu.edu, or visit the Web site
web.odu.edu/reading_center.html. To learn about becoming a tutor in the America Reads program, call Renee Johnson at 683-6042.

This article was posted on: September 13, 2000

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