Struggling Readers and Soon-To-Be Teachers Find Success in UB's Reading Center

By Avery Schneider

Release Date: October 8, 2009 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo's Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction (CLaRI) is the place where struggling readers and aspiring teachers come to find resources for success. Each semester, at CLaRI's reading clinic, graduate students working toward their master's degrees in education as literacy specialists get hands-on experience learning about what it takes to be effective teachers for local students who have trouble with reading.

Twice a year, CLaRI conducts diagnostic programs. They're an assessment of the reading abilities of students in schools around Buffalo, and it's one of the main ways students are brought into the clinic. At CLaRI, the students are offered curriculums specially tailored to meet their individual needs. For 12 weeks a semester, dedicated teams of graduate students -- or, "clinicians," as they're referred to at CLaRI -- work in pairs, using intensive hands-on techniques, real literature and engaging comprehension strategies with the students. Elizabeth Tynan, PhD, and PhD candidate Camille Pontrello supervise the clinicians.

"It's an absolutely phenomenal activity and opportunity for them," says Tynan. "This type of…guided practicum where they can work and get feedback right off the bat with trying different things with children -- it's just absolutely invaluable."

Using existing strengths is a large part of the equation for success at CLaRI, a program of UB's Graduate School of Education. It's not only finding out where the student is lacking, but finding out what he or she excels in. Students' strengths are sought out to be developed and help them learn. "We're always looking for what they can do really well," Pontrello says. Many students arrive stunted by the notion that they can't read, simply because somewhere in their education someone told them they weren't good at it. "When they finally figure out they can do it," says Pontrello, "their motivation turns around. They crank it up a notch."

Tynan calls it the "aha" moment -- the point at which the light turns on for students. "That is probably one of the most rewarding things that we find here," she says. "And sometimes from the clinician's side, it's also that 'aha' moment, too, when you find something that really is going to work."

At CLaRI, the clinicians are more likely to recognize the key moments in their teaching. It's a result of the videos taken of every student's sessions, intended to provide an opportunity for the development of what Pontrello calls "reflective practitioners" amongst the clinicians. The supervisors can observe the sessions without distracting the students and, at the end of the day, the clinicians have a visual play-by-play to think and reflect on. They take turns in their teaching, serving as an instructor one day, and their partner's observer the next. This total combination is the type of tool that teachers rarely have available in the classroom, and it's what makes the experience at CLaRI all the more valuable.

On both sides of the learning experience, the results are clear. For the graduates, it's not only the reward of shaping young minds, it's the increased comfort level with doing so. Some arrive nervous about teaching reading, but grow to be far more at ease with the process. "It's nice because usually we're working with 20-some-odd students [in the classroom]," says clinician Kari Skretny, "and coming to the clinic here, we're working more one-on-one. We can take those ideas and bring it back to the class and be reminded that each student is an individual."

For the students, the proof is in the facts. Research at CLaRI has shown that on average, students gain one to three years of reading growth. While the results vary, students typically make enough progress in a semester that they do not need to come back. "Hardly ever do they not walk out of here with some kind of improvement," says Pontrello. "Someone hands them the keys to reading success."

This semester CLaRI's clinic is filled up with seven students and 14 clinicians. Next semester their numbers are expected to double, with a continued rise to follow. CLaRI's program is certified to teach students from birth through 12th grade. The reading clinic's sessions take place from 4:30-5:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week this semester on the UB North (Amherst) Campus, and again in the spring and summer. For more information, call CLaRI at 716-645-2470, or visit their Web site,