Kentwood — Townline Elementary School third-grader Nazier Townsend laid Uno cards face down as he prepared for his 20-minute tutoring session with academic interventionist Kristen Lobbes.
He had unfinished business from the day before. “We have to read 84 words!” Nazier reminded Lobbes.
The once reluctant reader was excited to take on the dozens of words he tallied up to read during a game he invented all on his own. Nazier, who was struggling to focus during tutoring, came up with the game to make the sessions more fun.
It works like this: He and Lobbes take turns drawing cards. For whatever number they pull, they have to read that many words. They get a point for each word they read, and whoever has the most points in the end wins. Nazier had chosen several Draw Two cards in a row, ending his previous session with 84 words to read.
“He’s really going to beat me!” Lobbes said. “Let’s start with 40.” She pointed to a paragraph on a worksheet where she had counted out 40 words.
Nazier steadily read. He followed the section with another 40-word paragraph and then — with a beaming smile — added 40 tally marks to his scorecard.
After that, Lobbes drew seven and read her words. Then, Nazier drew eight and read eight more. The game went on until the session ended — Nazier gaining points, fluency and confidence.
Daily Doses of Tutoring
Kentwood Public Schools began a pilot “high-dosage” tutoring effort in February at Townline that provides one-on-one daily tutoring focused on reading fluency for 14 third-graders. The purpose is to provide consistent and continuous sessions to help close learning gaps that widened during the pandemic.
Students are pulled out of class every school day for the sessions with Lobbes and, on Tuesdays, four student teachers from Ferris State University.
“You can see the evidence of that learning loss due to the pandemic. We’re not talking about one year, we’re not talking about two years; we are talking about three years of learning loss,” said Principal Angelia Coleman. “For each student, that opportunity to catch up is going to vary. The additional support is essential.”
Townline uses a specific curriculum through Michigan Education Corps for tutoring, which aligns with the standardized M-STEP tests students take for the first time in third grade. Assessment tests in class and teacher input helped identify students who could most benefit.
The focus is on fluency because as it improves, comprehension does as well, Coleman said.
Hoping to Expand District-wide
The district is using federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to pay for tutoring, with hopes to expand it.
“I don’t just want it at Townline Elementary; I want it at every elementary,” said Jason Lawson, executive director of elementary education and instruction.
Research on tutoring programs, according to The EdSearch for Recovery Project, shows high-dosage tutoring increased achievement by roughly an additional three to 15 months of learning across grade levels. It also found that high-dosage tutoring — defined as more than three days per week or at a rate of at least 50 hours over 36 weeks — is one of the few school-based interventions with demonstrated large positive effects on both math and reading achievement.
“We want to close that achievement gap. Kids lost a lot of learning during the pandemic. A lot of it is just foundational skills that kids need to gain to master other skills,” Lawson said.
The Townline pilot will provide information for the district on the impact of the sessions on students’ reading. “I am excited to see the benefits of this to see where we might go with it,” he said.
‘You can see the evidence of that learning loss due to the pandemic. We’re not talking about one year, we’re not talking about two years; we are talking about three years of learning loss.’— Principal Angelia Coleman
A barrier is finding tutors due to a shortage of applicants for school support positions, he said, so administrators are exploring other sources including college students and East Kentwood High School students in the Educators Rising class, where students learn about the teaching profession.
A Student Twist on Tutoring
Another key piece to supporting Townline students is helping them believe they can achieve. Coleman is focused on instilling that mentality by giving students a voice and sense of ownership — like with Nazier and his Uno game. “My true belief is that there’s a genius in every child,” she said.
As for Nazier, he just wanted to make reading more fun.
“We were just doing regular reading and I wanted to play a reading game,” he said. “I just made this game up because I was bored reading and it’s fun to use this game. It’s fun to flip cards over, have skips, pick Draw Two cards and Draw Four cards.”
His game caught the interest of other students too, who are also using it in their sessions.
Nazier led Lobbes by 100 points — 160 to 60 words read — as they neared the end of the session. He made a keen observation: “Every time when you get more than me and I get less, I just come right back up so fast!” he told his tutor.
“I know. How do you do that?” she asked.
Nazier explained: “It’s brain-thinkin’.”