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In Literacy Corner, ‘the curriculum is the children’

Graduate student Allyn Wiggins M’22 (left) works with Augi during the Literacy Corner program.

Last updated June 26, 2022

By Jerry Salley ’90

Some call it EDRD-966: Advanced Practicum in Literacy Coaching. Others know it as Literacy Corner. Whatever the name, the month of June has been an adventure in reading, writing and teaching for eight Furman graduate students and 16 Greenville-area children.

The degree candidates in the Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed) – Literacy program are putting what they’ve learned into action in their final practicum. For Literacy Corner, each degree candidate has been assigned two children from a pool of applications submitted by parents or guardians and the children’s teachers. Most mornings in June, the tutors meet in Duke Library for two one-on-one sessions, one with each child. Children are selected based on financial and academic need.

“In reviewing the applications, we look at reading abilities, writing abilities, speaking and listening, as well,” said Katie Kelly, an associate professor of education and coordinator of the literacy education program. “We want to help those children who may be experiencing some difficulties in the general education setting.”

The one-hour sessions include reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing activities, using “every single material we can come up with,” Kelly said.

“Instead of asking children to take out a piece of paper and pencil and write letters, why not have them make letters with Play-Doh? Why not let them write with dry-erase markers?” she said. “The more hands-on learning we can do, the more stimulating it is. We make it as fun as possible, as engaging as we can.”

Tutor Kristy Buchanan M’22 agreed.

“We’ve been doing anything that actively engages the students,” she said. “Because, you know, it is summer, and they’re antsy. So we do anything we can do that’s hands-on.”

The hands-on engagement includes exploring the surroundings. One group of children enjoyed the Furman tradition of draping the library’s bust of Charlie Peace in colorful attire. They are using the different pieces of the wardrobe to collectively write a story. “It’s going to be called ‘The Magical Adventures of Charlie the Statue,’” said Buchanan.

The tutors interact with their students’ families every day of the program, said Kelly.

“Parents and caregivers are the children’s first teachers, and we want to learn from them,” she said. “We’re all in this together. So, what can we all do together to support each other as we support the children?”

The families helped the tutors tailor the program for each individual child, “making sure we learn who they are as human beings,” Kelly said. “We get to know them as readers and writers, what they like or don’t like. And so, we start to gather books based on their interests. The curriculum is the children.”

The M.A.Ed candidates are all professional teachers. Buchanan, a second- and third-grade teacher at Pelham Road Elementary School in Greenville, and Nicole Carmenates M’22, a fifth-grade teacher at Gateway Elementary School in Travelers Rest, both said the degree will help them achieve the Read to Succeed literacy education requirement from the South Carolina Department of Education.

“Literacy Corner is the time to put the whole master’s program into practice,” said Carmenates. “We’re getting to exercise all of those skills and apply it to our students with the support of Dr. Kelly and the support of each other as well.”

The last day of the program, June 30, is a special event for the teachers, students and families to celebrate their achievements, and for the tutors to offer presentations and information to families about how they can continue the work at home.

“It’s about us working together as partners to say, ‘Here’s what we learned, here’s what works, here’s what didn’t work, and here’s some suggestions of things you might be able to do at home,’” Kelly said.

EDRD-966 is the final practicum of the M.A.Ed – Literacy program, paving the way for the candidates to get their master’s degrees during the Aug. 13 Commencement ceremony.

“We do this at the end of the program intentionally so that the candidates can apply everything that they’ve learned and put it into action” in their classrooms, Kelly said. “It’s a way to give back to the community and share everything that we’ve been learning to really help these children thrive.”

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