The familiar slogan for the eponymous organization that champions childhood literary declares reading is fundamental.
Fundamental, but not always easy.
Particularly for the students who learn differently and attend Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., America’s first accredited college or university to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and other learning differences.
That reality played out earlier this year. Staff tested students enrolled in the college’s reading strategies course. Ninety-four percent of the 36 freshmen read below 11th grade levels.
The struggle is real. That makes the gains students posted when retested in November all the more significant — and stunning. By November 82 percent of students read at better than 11th grade level.
Credit Dr. Bonni Boschee and her literacy-boosting elixir.
Called “Read to Soar,” a program she developed during her post-doctoral studies at the University of South Dakota. Her three-pronged system employs diagnostic tests to gauge current reading, spelling, and phonics prowess to establish baselines.
Boschee, an assistant professor of humanities, reviewed freshmen files and discovered few were tested to diagnose their zone of proximal development — is the variance between what a student can do without help and what they can’t do — to determine where their brains stood as readers.
After testing here, Boschee split students into three reading strategies classes — and welcomed them to literacy boot camp.
“We’re going to train like we’re training [for sports] for 12 weeks,” she warned students.
Their heavy lifting included multiple reps of multisensory phonics lessons geared to their baseline levels. It also included reading at their current levels and listening to literature two levels above their zones.
Students trained 30 minutes daily, six days a week, listening and reading.
Despite Boschee’s steadfast confidence in the program, students at first greeted her efforts with skepticism.
“Smokescreens went up,” Boschee said, “because if you’ve read at the 4th grade level since you were in fourth grade or third grade you don’t trust too many people who tell you this is going to change for you.”
Trust came slower than the gains.
In addition to the vigorous mental calisthenics, students met with Boschee for mandatory 30-minute weekly visits for a pep talk and to review each pupil’s progress.
Each time when they came in and were told they had advance three or four months up the reading developmental chart “they couldn’t believe it,” Boschee said. “They were like, ‘how?’ Because when you are waking up your brain, which is a muscle, [it’s similar to] when I’m going to the gym and trying to wake up my muscles, too, and I had to start with two-pound [weights] — I couldn’t start with 20 [pounders].”
Students enjoy a two-fold payoff.
If they soar to higher than 11th grade reading level, students can skip the Reading Strategies II course.
More important is the sense of empowerment boosting their literacy brings.
Students realize “I can read something when I go to class,” Boschee said. “I don’t feel inadequate. For the first time in my life, I believe I can do this.”