Academics, Campus wide, College of Education

CSU and elementary students make virtual reading work

By Jenna Johnson | December 7, 2020
Students at Goose Creek Elementary share a virtual Charleston Southern University reading buddy. Photo provided

The mountain of challenges provided by the pandemic did not stop the creativity and drive of Charleston Southern University students and faculty. This semester 19 students from CSU’s  College of Education participated in a virtual reading program for second graders at Goose Creek Elementary.

“We know that successful schools are built with community investment, so we have been very excited to have CSU partner with us over the years as members of our community,” said Deanne Martin, GCE Title I Facilitator and manager of the Reading Buddies program. “When students are excited to read, they will naturally become better readers. Our GCE students read on so many different reading levels, but during buddy time, none of that matters. They are just so excited to read with someone.”

The eight-week program is typically in-person and open to any grade level. However, with health protocols in place, this semester required teachers and students to pivot to an online platform. Since second graders missed out on a lot of that vital instruction due to spring quarantine, the focus moved toward them primarily. 

“The leap from second to third grade is a big transition for many readers. Students in second grade are typically still learning to read, but third graders make the switch to ‘reading to learn,’” Martin said. “We wanted to make sure they have every opportunity possible to gain confidence and become the reader they need to be before moving on to third grade.”

Child development, early childhood and elementary education majors met with their Reading Buddy (or Buddies) on Google Meet once per week for about 30 minutes. Both the college and elementary student would take turns reading to one another; oftentimes, the CSU student brought books to share.

Many of these buddies formed special bonds.

“One of my students told me that he found several pirate storybooks to share with his Reading Buddy, and the student was elated because he dressed up as a pirate for Halloween,” Dr. Amanda Butler, assistant professor of education, said. 

Senior Shana Hyman started with two buddies this semester—one non-English speaker. By the end of the semester, she had a third—a little boy who did not speak much English. She found a way to connect with each one.

“Our conversation always starts by talking about each other. I usually asked what they were going to do for the weekend or what they were learning in class. Often times, I would comment on their face mask if it had something fun (an animal, Frozen, Batman). It helped me to get to know the students a little more,” Hyman said. 

Each week Hyman’s buddies would choose a few books on Epic Books or another online app. Usually they would ask her to read it first. She would also choose texts that could easily translate into Spanish, too.

“I enjoyed the challenge of finding a book that interested all three of my students. I would usually spend the night before looking for a few books online to share,” said Hyman. “When I asked them what their favorite book we read together all year, they said, ‘If you Give a Pig a Pancake,’ which is a book I chose out of my personal library. I’m glad to know at least one of my books will be enjoyed by my future students.”

The partnership is a win-win for CSU and GCE.

“We watch our GCE students gain the excitement and courage to read, and they gain happiness from having another adult invested in their lives,” Martin said. “[CSU students] learn a little more about connecting with students and how investing in the whole child helps the child become successful much faster than just focusing on only academics.” 

Butler said that CSU education majors who participated are just beginning teaching methods courses, so this program eases them into teaching. “For CSU students, it builds their confidence in working with students. They get to have a close relationship with a child, find out what interests them, and learn how to bond with students through sharing books,” Butler said.

For the elementary student, the program fosters a safe and nurturing environment for readers. According to Butler, research shows a positive correlation between motivation and reading one-on-one with someone, which results in improved reading scores. “Human interaction and relationships with others is paramount to academic growth,” said Butler. 

The virtual platform created new opportunities for the buddies from CSU. With the move to a second-grade classroom focus, the college buddies worked with students on a spectrum of learning pathways. Some elementary buddies did not speak English, some received services for special education, some far below grade level and some far above.

“Each buddy group was unique, but it was great to see how they all learned and benefitted from meeting together each week,” Martin said. “It’s a whole new challenge to teach a child to read through a computer screen, but they mastered it!”

Though teachers and students crave a normal classroom experience once again, the virtual program gave them some means of feeling connected.

“This experience was an absolute treat. I looked forward to seeing my buddies every week, and I’m honestly disappointed that I won’t get to continue this in the spring,” said Hyman. “This experience gave us an insight to the technological world. As teachers, we will need to be flexible, and we must continue teaching our students no matter what situation we’ve been thrown into. Knowing that there are ways we can connect with our students with technology makes me feel better prepared in the event of another national emergency. I know that the CSU professors will prepare us for anything that gets thrown at us – including a pandemic.”

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