Books, lines and thinkers

July 28, 2009

The way 10-year-old Anna Lignelli sees it, not bringing in the mail can cause serious complications.

If you don’t bring in the mail, you won’t know what’s happening in the world. You won’t know which bills to pay. And, to get the attention it deserves, the mail will come to life. Before you know it, it’ll start flowing through the streets, knocking over trash cans, and causing a big stink in town.

Or so that’s how the story goes, according to Anna, who is one of more than 80 Carroll County children who participated in a reading clinic sponsored by faculty and graduate students in McDaniel College’s Graduate Reading Specialist Program.

For her story, Anna – who is a rising fifth-grader at Mechanicsville Elementary in Sykesville – had to make up a rule and state the official reason that adults provide for the rule’s existence. She then had to draw a picture that represented the “real reason” for the rule, from a child’s perspective, which prompted some fairly imaginative consequences.

“The idea is to get the children to visualize the story before they start writing,” said Jenny Barnes, one of 30 McDaniel graduate students – or clinicians – working with the students. “We’re teaching them to brainstorm to generate ideas and think creatively as they plan the writing of their stories.”

Barnes said she planned to compile the stories into a book for the children to keep as mementos of their experience with the reading clinic.

Graduate student Wynter Lloyd, who teaches at William Winchester Elementary School in Westminster, reads a book with Cole Dettman, a rising fourth-grader at Robert Moton Elementary School in Westminster.

Dubbed Camp McDaniel by the first- through eighth-grade participants, the program was initiated 36 years ago by renowned reading expert Joan Develin Coley, now president of the college.

The camp is geared toward students from Carroll County Public Schools who have been referred by their schools for extra assistance in reading and writing. Campers met for three hours daily Monday through Thursday throughout the four-week clinic, which ended July 16.

This year, the program included a new and exciting initiative with Elmer Wolfe Elementary in Union Bridge, which sent 26 of its students through a collaborative relationship with their current principal, Robin Townsend and Title I support.

For the third time in four years, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation has supported the clinic with a $10,000 grant, according to Associate Professor of Education Debra Miller, who has directed the program since 1995.

Miller said the reading clinic is a required part of the Graduate Reading Specialist program and students – all certified teachers who are in the final phase of earning their master’s degrees – earn six credit hours for the work.

She said that while the goal is to improve the children’s reading abilities, the program is designed to ensure that McDaniel is graduating high-quality reading specialists.

“They are here to learn how to be better reading professionals,” said Miller, who has more than two decades’ experience as a reading specialist and is the Reading Specialist Program coordinator for McDaniel College.

Julie Armstrong (standing) is teaching some of the second graders. Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun Media Group.

The program reflects a three-phase sequence of coursework including: foundational knowledge, diagnostic teaching and research practices, and literacy leadership and professional development.

To earn the master’s degree, students must fulfill the practicum requirement by working with the summer reading clinic, complete the 36-credit course requirements with a grade point average of 3.0, and pass a written Comprehensive Examination.

Because students in the graduate program come from counties across the region as well as Pennsylvania, the skills that the clinicians are learning at McDaniel will benefit thousands of students, not just those in Carroll County, Miller said.

Through the reading clinic, the graduate students are learning intervention skills for working with children who are struggling with reading. The clinicians are also learning how to be reading coaches for other teachers, as they do team planning, problem solving and share ideas for lesson planning.

The clinicians hone their skills at assessing students’ reading abilities and developing instruction that matches those abilities.

“The goal is to let our graduate candidates apply what they have learned in their coursework,” Miller said. “It’s an opportunity for them to practice the theoretical concepts in a practical setting.”