Improving Literacy Through Undergraduate Research
Becoming a mentor, making a positive difference, improving literacy. Three undergraduates with three different reasons for taking part in an undergraduate research project focused on reluctant readers in middle school.
Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics shows between 20 percent and 30 percent of school-aged children read below the basic level of achievement.
“Research shows that middle school students, particularly boys, no longer read for pleasure. They’re reading for purpose and even then it is very minimal,” explained Dr. Robin Rackley. “We know that the more they read the more fluent they become. It impacts all areas of their lives.”
The research project was developed by Drs. Rackley and Radhika Viruru, both clinical professors in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture. It is based on the idea of a booktalk, first used by author Aidan Chambers to refer to the idea that talking about reading is an important part of reading itself.
This project involves a digital booktalk – a short video about a book that introduces readers to the highlights and encourages them to find out more about the book by reading it.
Each of the undergraduates involved in the project will work with two fifth-grade students from Cypress Grove Intermediate to create a digital booktalk. After reading the book, the three will meet to create an outline and plan a script. During multiple meetings throughout the semester, the three will record their booktalk and then convert it into augmented reality presentations. Each booktalk will be embedded into the cover of the book meaning students can simply scan the book and get a preview of what it is about.
Cypress Grove selects the students to be involved in the project and focuses on the students that are just getting by. “The students aren’t doing badly but our goal is not for kids to just not do badly. We want them to excel, to love to read and to explore,” added Dr. Viruru.
“I want students who feel they are behind in the realm of reading to feel hope that reading is for them too,” said Jeanne Cochran, reading specialist at College Station ISD.
“A child may not be good academically but is really talented in visual production. They get that recognition, build their self-esteem, have a reason to get up and come to school. They feel a sense of belonging and know that someone is counting on them,” added Dr. Rackley.
Drs. Rackley and Viruru developed this research to improve literacy for those students and to also engage pre-service undergraduate teachers. The goal is to give pre-service teachers the ability to conduct impactful research and become successful classroom teachers.
After the project is complete, Drs. Rackley and Viruru will work with the students to find out what interested them most and what their own research would look like. They will guide the students as much or as little as needed in order for them to get a presentation, whether at a conference or a paper publication.
“We recognize the job market is so tight and competitive that you have to have something on your resume that makes you stand out. We’ve been really trying to find these experiences that will give our undergraduates that edge,” added Dr. Viruru.
For Drs. Rackley and Viruru, this project is also about showing undergraduates what goes on behind the scenes of being a professor. They want the students to understand the research and how it can be used in classrooms today and in the future.
“We want them to have a better theoretical understanding than they did when they started. We want them to understand how you can take that theoretical understanding and move it toward practical application in the classroom based on research,” said Dr. Rackley.
Ruben Delgado, a junior interdisciplinary studies major, joined this research because he wanted to make a difference. He is from a low socio-economic background and to him, school was just something you had to do. That all changed in high school when he joined the debate team.
“Being exposed to those graduate-level readings really empowered me and helped me realize that there’s a lot of possibility in the world – possibility to do good, possibility to make a change. That’s when it really hit me that I wanted to make a positive difference in my community and wanted to do it using education,” added Delgado.
For Ghada Zakaria, a senior interdisciplinary studies major, this undergraduate research is about her future career and helping others in the education field.
“I’ve learned that there are a lot of reluctant readers. It’s a problem. Research shows it has a lot to do with their motivation. I want to go into school psychology so motivation has a lot do with that field. If I know that technology has a big role in it, then I might be inclined to do more research on the technology and how different types of technologies might work in the classroom,” explained Zakaria.
The same is true for Amara Ghorbani, a junior interdisciplinary studies major. She plans to become an elementary school teacher and wants to know more about the role of technology in the classrooms of today and the future.
“I want to see if technology has an impact on them and see how we can use this type of thing to impact our future as teachers. I want to see what we can implement in the classroom to make a difference,” added Ghorbani.
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