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College of Education

Robertson research building literacy tutoring capacity

A major capacity-building initiative with the potential to significantly expand the literacy resources available to the state’s school children heads toward a pilot phase at the University of Wyoming College of Education.

Dana A. Robertson, UW assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education, leads the initiative and the research underlying it. With the support of a Mary Ellbogen Garland Early Career Fellowship, provided through an endowment from the John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Foundation, Robertson is extending the one-one-one tutoring offered during the school year through the UW Literacy Research Center and Clinic (http://www.uwyo.edu/education/lrcc/) to an intensive summer tutoring program.

“The Garland funds are allowing me to bring eight students in, with stipends for eight teachers,” Robertson explains. Tutors will participate in two days of training focused on the LRCC’s model of clinical literacy instruction before working individually with students during the four-week clinic. That four-week program for runs June 8-July 2 in Laramie.

The Garland Fellowship also funds a research assistant to support Robertson’s ongoing literacy research, which he continues while also serving as LRCC clinical director.

“The research assistant enabled me to catch up on organizing and preparing data that I had already collected – that I have now been able to analyze use for a conference presentation and to prepare a manuscript for publication.”

Perhaps the biggest step that Robertson’s Garland Fellowship is funding is a pilot project exploring the potential of establishing regional literacy clinics around Wyoming.    

“The plan for next year is to start to move towards setting up some satellite tutoring sites, so that the clinic work doesn’t only serve Laramie children,” Robertson says. He will use remaining Garland funds to purchase cameras for remote consultation and training, beginning with a pilot in one to two districts in the state. Coaches and collaborators already are on board in Laramie and Albany Counties.

“While tutoring is happening remotely, I can watch it happen live in the LRCC and talk with the teacher as well,” Robertson says of the observation opportunities that having local cameras will allow.

They also would allow literacy tutors and other school staff to participate in LRCC-based professional development without traveling to Laramie to participate.

Setting up cameras is one tangible step in the pilot and the larger statewide literacy initiative. Even more critical is identifying and supporting tutors who are interested in working under the clinical literacy model adopted by UW faculty. Once identified, connecting them to liaisons ready to train and support their work is part of the process. Ultimately, those liaisons will be local coaches immersed in the clinical model and prepared to build school, district and even regional literacy tutoring capacity under the supervision of Robertson and the other clinical staff.

“Those liaisons will be charged with finding the tutors, matching them up with struggling students, and overseeing the tutoring that’s happening there from a coaching perspective,” Robertson says. “I’ll also have one or two doctoral students who will act as liaisons to the liaisons, as well as myself.”

As plans for creating a statewide network move into the pilot phase, Robertson and LRCC-funded doctoral students continue to research a critical component of the literacy instruction model that underlies everything: the relationship between coach and tutor.

We’ve been doing some discourse analysis of the kinds of things that the coaches say to foster critical self-reflective comments on the part of the tutor,” Robertson says, “as well as analyzing how the coach and tutor position themselves – the stances that they take. Is the coach always the expert that’s telling the tutor what to do, or does the coach facilitate the tutor to engage in more critical self-reflection? How do those stances affect how the tutors take up being reflective?”

“If we understand more about how coaches can be effective, then we can start to work within the school districts, with the instructional facilitators, on how to effectively support the faculty within the schools,” he adds. “We can build instructional capacity within the schools.”

One-on-one tutoring is the primary vehicle for improvement of student learning. However, the principles learned and applied in that setting carry greater potential for the teacher participants.

“As the teachers in those districts are engaging in that professional development opportunity, hopefully, they will be bringing those practices back to their classrooms and to their individual schools,” according to Robertson. “The same approaches that we us in the clinic are applicable in the classroom.”

Potential exists beyond traditional definitions of literacy education. Not only do opportunities exist to embed literacy into instruction of other disciplines (e.g., mathematics and social studies), but there also is the potential to expand the local literacy center model to support broader instructional staff learning needs.

"The satellite clinics will really become like regional professional development centers, for the districts, around literacy instruction,” Robertson says.

Dana Robertson

Dana Robertson
Funds from a Mary Ellbogen Garland Early Career Fellowship support College of Education faculty member Dana A. Robertson's research, including a pilot program expanding the state's K-12 literacy tutoring capacity.

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