UWF partners with local elementary school to increase reading fluency

University of West Florida | news@uwf.edu

Students at Ferry Pass Elementary School are increasing their reading skills as a result of the collaboration of 5th grade teacher and UWF alumnus Philip Ebert and UWF professor Dr. Keith Whinnery, serving as an example of the strong partnership between the UWF School of Education and the Escambia County School District.

Last year, Ferry Pass officials enlisted the help of the UWF School of Education to research ways to improve reading fluency and integrate special needs students into regular classroom environments. Whinnery suggested the Classwide Peer Tutoring System, an evidence-based practice that provides a high level of student motivation and engagement to increase achievement and positive social interactions, while reducing behavioral problems.

The technique, most commonly used for reading, centers around the idea of students working together to practice reading while identifying and correcting errors.  Studies show that a typical 45-minute reading class provides a student with 1.5 minutes of guided reading practice, while the Classwide Peer Tutoring system provides 22.5 minutes during that same time period.

Ebert, a first year teacher, volunteered to be the first classroom in Escambia County to use the system.

“It was helpful to be able to use all the resources UWF has to offer and stay in contact with my professors,” Ebert said. “These kids are going to be better readers because of what Dr. Whinnery taught me.”

Twice a week for 30-45 minutes, Ebert engages the students in a “Repeated Readings” exercise. He separates students into two teams, and then divides the teams into pairs, one “coach” and one “player.” The students take turns reading a passage three times, and then provide feedback after each reading. The students are given a point system, with the most points earned for reading the passage correctly the first time, and fewer points earned by reading the passage a second or third time and correcting mistakes.

Ebert said turning a reading exercise into a game keeps students engaged throughout the school year. He also motivates them by totaling the points on Fridays and recognizing the winning team with a small reward, such as being first in line.

For Whinnery, the utilization of the Classwide Peer Tutoring system emphasizes the importance of partnering with area schools to share research-based techniques. He also cited the key role UWF School of Education plays in providing qualified teachers who go on to work in Escambia County.

“When we go out to our partnership schools and see the interns and UWF graduates as new teachers, it’s very exciting to see them making such an impact on their students,” he said. “In that way we, as faculty, feel like we have an impact on the students too. It’s very powerful for us.”

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