To Read or Not To Read, that is the Question

Forty-seven Whitman College Students Promote Early Childhood Literacy in Walla Walla

Whitman College Story Time volunteer readers are once again reading to young children in Walla Walla as a way to augment early childhood literacy. This year marks the thirteenth year of Story Time volunteers reading to young children! Research has demonstrated an extremely high correlation between early childhood literacy and essential skills such as critical thinking, public speaking, and even mathematical and scientific reasoning. It is unfortunate that the most recently available data from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) suggests that Walla Walla children are not graduating from high school college-ready. Research indicates this trend is consistent throughout elementary and middle school and likely exists in kindergarten, first and second grades as well, though the testing data from OSPI is only available for third grade students and older. A minority of Walla Walla third grade students received a score of three or four — considered “passing” — on both the English and math Smarter Balanced Assessment. Story Time is seeking to help change these disappointing statistics.

For Whitman College’s Fall 2016 semester, Story Time has partnered 47 volunteers with 26 participating preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers in Walla Walla. The graph to the right shows that over the course of the semester, Story Time volunteers will collectively dedicate almost 200 hours to promoting early childhood literacy and all of the essential skills associated with it.

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One of the strengths associated with the programmatic organization of Story Time, is the plasticity afforded to teachers and volunteer readers. There is a great deal of flexibility in how volunteers are reading to students. For example, in many kindergarten and first grade classes, volunteers read a story to the entire class. In many second grade classrooms, teachers instead ask volunteers to read a story with a smaller subset of the class, either with or to students. Reading with students encourages students to take a more active role in their own fluency and comprehension. At the same time reading to students gives children the opportunity to listen to an adult read fluently. Neither is superior; both are relevant. This plasticity allows teachers and Whitman volunteers to adapt their specific Story Time reading partnership to best meet the needs of the children being read to.

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As a community service program, Story Time is something Whitman College and the Walla Walla School District should celebrate. The work that Story Time volunteer readers do to augment early childhood literacy is significant; research consistently finds a strong correlation between reading to young children and future school achievement. As Story Time continues to grow and evolve, I would like to see reasonable and attainable goals met that will increase the number of service hours volunteers spend promoting early childhood literacy. This could be done through increasing volunteer recruitment and retention, increasing teacher collaboration, or increasing time dedicated by volunteers. A more systematized approach, working with not only classroom teachers but also building principals and even district staff, could mean targeting Story Time volunteers to the classrooms that are most in need of them. For example, Berney has the second highest number of students being impacted by Story Time volunteers. However, Berney is a relatively white homogenous school, whereas Edison and Blue Ridge are much more diverse. How can Story Time direct volunteers to the classrooms where they will have the greatest impact, per unit time?

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As Dr. Seuss might summarize the current research findings pertaining to early childhood literacy: “The more that you read, the more you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!”

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