Phyllis Cohen Stevens
Deputy Director of News Services
QUEENS COLLEGE’S INNOVATIVE LITERACY PROGRAM
HELPS PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS IMPROVE THEIR READING ABILITY
FLUSHING, NY, June 15, 2007—At Queens College’s literacy labs, gifted teachers are developing a new formula for improving the reading and writing skills of teenagers: Intensive tutoring, creative educational methods, and a little bit of Broadway razzle-dazzle.
The labs, launched two years ago in three neighborhood schools, are designed to help middle and secondary school students who have failed the English Regents exam or otherwise lack competence in reading and writing. Secondary literacy education graduate students—themselves public school teachers from all disciplines—tutor these struggling readers and writers individually and in small groups, using innovative reading strategies and tools.
Supported by grants for innovative teaching awarded by Queens College President James Muyskens, the reading clinics offer a valuable free service to the community while providing public school teachers with opportunities for professional growth and skill development in literacy education. So far this program has reached nearly 50 students.
“Local inner-city school children benefit by receiving the critical literacy skills necessary for success in the 21st century,” says Professor Carole S. Rhodes, Secondary Literacy Education Program Director at Queens College. “Through the literacy project, we hope to open doors to a whole new world of books and help students become thoughtful, creative and insightful individuals.”
Last fall the Queens College literacy program at Robert F. Kennedy Community High School in Flushing explored Hamlet in tandem with The Lion King. A high point of the curriculum was a free field trip to attend the Disney musical—a wonderful experience for these students, who had never seen a Broadway play. Youngsters who would normally be turned off to Shakespeare were better able to understand the characters, plots, and themes in Hamlet by relating these literary elements to their counterparts in The Lion King.
“Hamlet is not taught this way in traditional high school classrooms, where youngsters typically read the play aloud, act out the scenes and discuss the symbolism and metaphors, which they often find too abstract and frustrating to comprehend,” notes Jacqueline Darvin, a Queens College education professor and recipient of the 2006 President’s Grant for Innovative Teaching. “The lessons our teachers have designed are different. They focus on the youngsters’ strengths and build in many reading strategies that can be used outside the classroom in their daily lives.
“Because this project is relatively new, it’s too soon to see leaps and bounds in academic achievement,” Darvin continues. “But we’ve been encouraged by the changes in the attitudes and self-perception exhibited by these youngsters.”
RFK students and their parents give high marks to Queens College’s program. “You need to know how to read a manual to operate a plane,” commented one participant, a 16-year-old who wants to become a pilot. “I used to hate reading, but lately I’ve been reading more. My skills are getting better, I can do my homework more easily, and I don’t fall asleep in class like I used to. I feel better about myself, and my test grades have started going up, too.”