Words line every hallway and wall in Nazareth College's Marie Callahan Reading Clinic. Much more than graffiti, the handwritten notes are messages from past graduate students and youngsters, offering encouragement, congratulations, even book recommendations. They serve as a reminder of why everyone is there, but they also serve to help create a child-friendly, kid-centered atmosphere.
The note-covered walls are only part of what makes the Reading Clinic unique. "We are extremely fortunate to have a well equipped, dedicated space," explains Naomi Erdmann, Ed.D., director of graduate literacy programs. "A friend, who teaches at an out-of-state research university with a nationally known literacy program, recently visited the clinic. She remarked their faculty would be envious of our clinic because their graduate students tutor in a hallway."
For more than 30 years, the clinic has welcomed elementary and secondary students, as well as the occasional adult from the community, to receive support in learning to read and write. Nazareth graduate students in the literacy programs assess the individual with whom they work to determine strengths and needs, design an instructional program to overcome or compensate for those needs, and provide one-on-one instruction.
"A lot of other schools have tried to develop programs based on this model," says Dean of the School of Education Timothy Glander, Ph.D. "They're all smaller, and I think it's safe to say their quality of work is not up to what we do here."
Rows of study carrels hum with concentrated energy whenever the Reading Clinic is in session. Students have their own carrels in which to work, furnished also with cushions for more informal lessons. Book displays offer tempting selections, and large tables provide classroom space for students' post-lesson seminars.
Because literacy is an additional certification area, all the students in the program are certified teachers. In addition to receiving their M.S.Ed. in literacy education, graduates of the program will be eligible for state certification as literacy specialists. "Not all the students in this program want to be reading specialists," clarifies Erdmann. "Many want to expand their expertise as a classroom teacher."
The number of students in the practicum courses determines the number of children, and the clinic's slots are always full. Once children have begun in the program, they can stay until they're self-supporting readers and writers.
"And we spoil them," says Erdmann. "We cater to their interests, as well as their needs. If they like tigers, we have books on tigers, and I shop for more books on tigers." Each child chooses something on which to become an expert—whether it be magic tricks or skateboards or Coco Chanel—and then shares this knowledge with the group at the end of the semester. "We want these children to know how it feels to be an expert," says Erdmann. "We want them to develop self-efficacy and see themselves as learners."
Teaching strategies are learner-oriented and always tailored to address each youngster's particular challenges. Graduate students make progress tangible for the readers, keeping track of books read and words learned and using props to support the learning process. Recently, a stuffed animal in glamorous garb helped build the vocabulary of a young girl by adding words such as gorgeous, imitation, and celebrity. "I asked her the other day if she thought I were a celebrity," says Erdmann with a smile, "and she said, 'I don't want to hurt your feelings, but no.'" Erdmann knew the girl had mastered the meaning of her new word.
Reading is its own reward, Erdmann believes, and the proclamations on the walls would indicate the youngsters agree. Decorating one study carrel is a note that sums up many of the Reading Clinic's handwritten endorsements: "Reading rocks!"