We put top literacy organizations in 1 room with 1 goal

Our communities’ top literacy organizations have been working together with Generation Next over the past six months. The goal is to find a way to pool their knowledge to meet our goal of every young person meeting benchmarks in reading by 3rd grade. Part of that involves funding the work of the Tutoring Partnership which is using data to help these groups bring out the best in each other. It’s about our philosophy at Generation Next that 1 + 1 = 3. This blog outlines their very exciting work.  — R.T. Rybak

We have all heard the expression: first a child must learn to read and then read to learn. Ensuring that all young people can read proficiently by the end of third grade is a goal of Generation Next. We have this goal because we know reading to learn is essential for success in school and in life.

Here in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, there is a significant effort underway to support children’s literacy skill development — to ensure that more children are learning because they are reading at grade level. In addition to the host of strategies that schools and teachers are implementing, the community is also stepping up to help. Our communities are home to many nonprofit programs that exist to accelerate academic skill-building in the area of literacy. Many of these programs rely on volunteers to serve as tutors, working alongside children to facilitate additional time spent on developing literacy skills.

Unlike other volunteer roles, being a volunteer tutor requires very specific training. This is because volunteer tutors need to create a safe, supportive, engaging experience for young people to learn. A tutor’s toolkit needs to include skills in relationship building, guided learning and literacy development. Depending on the student’s needs, the tutor could be working on anything from phonemic awareness to comprehension. The exciting thing is that everything a tutor needs to learn can be taught through training and coaching.

Whether tutors are experienced teachers or community volunteers, training is critical to the success of these programs. A local evaluation by Wilder Research demonstrates that programs utilizing volunteer tutors can ensure quality by requiring training prior to and throughout the tutoring experience. In addition, the study shows that volunteer tutors need consistent feedback as a part of their on-going professional development. [1] Other research conducted across the nation confirms the importance of training to achieve the ambitious goals of tutoring.[2],[3],[4] In sum, tutors can be successful regardless of their education level and tutoring experience when the program provides substantive ongoing training. [5],[6]

For this reason, the work of the Generation Next 3rd Grade Reading Action Network is currently focused on tutor training. A group of program leaders from 11 organizations across Minneapolis and Saint Paul is coming together every month to develop their knowledge and implementation of best practices in tutor training.

Facilitating this network comes naturally to us given the seven plus years we have been running the Tutoring Partnership—a program of the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation. The Tutoring Partnership is a network of academic skill-building programs, many with a footprint in both Saint Paul and Minneapolis. The Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation fundraises in order to provide a variety of free capacity-building services to the network, including tutor training, with the goal of improving program quality and academic outcomes for our kids.

Generation Next gives our community a local framework for bringing together many organizations around a shared vision, goals and values to ensure that all of our children are prepared to succeed in life. As the network continues to move forward with improving tutor training, we ask the community to support the vision we have articulated:

We believe in the power of collective impact—that we are stronger together than on our own. With Generation Next as our backbone, we seek to align our work with the tenants of collective impact: a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities and continuous communication. Our network goal is to increase 3rd grade reading proficiency, knowing that reading skills are a means to a greater end. We are committed to developing confident, competent, motivated and respected young readers.

You can help support this work by becoming a high-quality trained tutor with one of our network partners. Visit www.sppsfoundation.org/volunteer to learn how you can make an impact.

[1] Wilder Research. (2007). Evaluation of the East Side Learning Center tutoring program. St. Paul, MN: Schultz, J. L., & Mueller, D., 11.
[2] Jacob, R.T.; Smith, T.J.; Willard, J.A.; & Rifkin, R.E. (June 2014). Reading partners: The implementation and effectiveness of a one-on-one tutoring program delivered by community volunteers. MDRC, New York, NY.
[3] Abt Associates, Inc. (2001). AmeriCorps tutoring outcomes study. Cambridge, MA: Moss, M., Swartz, J., Obeidallah, D., Stewart, G., & Greene, D.
[4] Cook, P. J. et al. (2014). The (surprising) efficacy of academic and behavioral intervention with disadvantaged youth: results from a randomized experiment in Chicago. National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.
[5] Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk. (1997). Volunteer tutoring programs: A review of research on achievement outcomes. Baltimore, MD: Wasik, B. A.
[6] The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center. (1997). On the road to reading: A guide for community partners. Vienna, VA: Koralek, D., & Collins, R., 90-93.

SIF 2015