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Grad Student Keeps Children ‘Bookin’ Through the Summer’ Using Mystery Readers, Social Media

On a 90-degree day during one of the last precious weeks of summer break, nearly 30 children gathered at the Bedford Public Library to read together, sing, dance and scavenger hunt.

“The worst thing about going to the library is when I have to leave the library,” said 7-year-old Gunnar Talley, who is entering second grade at Monroe Road Elementary School in Bedford, Mich.

Amy Kochendoerfer, UToledo Ph.D. student, read “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” by Iza Trapani to children participating in “Bookin’ Through the Summer” at the Bedford Public Library in Michigan.

That’s music to Amy Kochendoerfer’s ears.

The Ph.D. student in The University of Toledo Judith Herb College of Education and assistant principal of Monroe Road Elementary School is focused on getting and keeping children hooked on books through her innovative, 12-week summer reading program, which debuted 11 weeks ago.

“This is an incredible turnout today — almost half of the children participating in our program — because we’re competing with football and cheerleading practices and end-of-summer vacations,” Kochendoerfer said. “Every week we’ve averaged about 40 children at the library.”

She and Dawn Henderson, a speech pathologist for Monroe County, spent the summer piloting their program to help the youngest children at Monroe Road Elementary School avoid the “summer slide,” the term used to describe how reading and academic skills regress over summer break.

The two raised $4,300 from organizations in Bedford to fund “Bookin’ Through The Summer,” an intervention project blending free books, mystery readers, parents, social media and library adventures.

“We want them to go back to school ready to start at the point they left off,” Henderson said. “This has been a true community-wide effort.”

It stems from Michigan’s Read by Grade Three Law, which goes into effect this school year.

“I created this new spin on how to keep kids reading over the summer because the state of Michigan passed a law that if a child can’t read by third grade, he or she will be retained and have to repeat third grade,” Kochendoerfer said. “They need to catch that bug for books to keep growing, so we created a way to turn reading from a boring task into something fun and interactive.”

Talley is one of the 68 children in kindergarten, first, second and third grades participating in the program who received a book every week in the mail with a flyer for parents outlining suggestions to make reading the book together more engaging.

Aside from the optional meetings once a week at the library, the key ingredients that make this recipe sing are Facebook and mystery readers.

The organizers created a private Facebook page where parents interacted and shared photos and videos of their children’s thoughts or crafts stemming from the books, including puppet shows.

Mystery readers from throughout the community also popped up regularly on the page reading and discussing the book of the week.

“Everyone we approached was excited to shoot a video of themselves reading the book and talking about the book in order to help keep the children motivated. The mystery readers sent us their videos, we posted them, and the parents sat down and watched them with their kids,” Kochendoerfer said. “We had varsity football players, cheerleaders, our state representative, a sheriff’s deputy and teachers reading to our children on social media. The buy-in from the community was incredible.”

Especially from the parents.

“These moms and dads understand the importance of literacy, but we know how difficult it can be in the summer when you’re out of the school routine,” Henderson said. “They took this opportunity to help their children discover the love of reading by sitting down with them and modeling these weekly habits.”

Kochendoerfer, who is already coming up with creative ways to enhance the project next summer, believes this program also allowed parents to model responsible social media interaction.

“You see so much how social media is a negative influence on children, but our summer reading program was all about encouragement,” Kochendoerfer said. “Kids are able to contribute and share their ideas through their parents in a forum that is not threatening. Our secret group is a safe environment to receive immediate, supportive feedback. That’s critical.”

“Amy’s work to encourage children to have fun and enjoy reading books together is yielding great results,” said Dr. Susanna Hapgood, associate professor in the UToledo Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “We know even just 10 to 15 minutes a day of reading to children can give them a boost in terms of vocabulary knowledge and motivation for reading that has long-lasting repercussions.”

Though the data comparing student testing results from the end of the last school year to the beginning of this school year aren’t available yet, Gunnar Talley’s dad already calls the program a success.

“This experience is helping my son because it’s not such a drudgery to get him to read anymore,” Edward Talley said. “It still can sometimes be a battle, but not what it used to be.”

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