When elementary education major Lillie Hoskinson was assigned to tutor a kindergartner struggling with reading at a local school, she felt overwhelmed at first and didn't know how to help.
The class prompted Hoskinson, who is an Honors College student at Western Kentucky University, to put tutoring materials into the hands of interested volunteers, calling the initiative Tutor in a Bag.
"It’s been a great project for me to work on," said Hoskinson, a junior from Georgetown. "It seems to be working with students in the school.”
Hoskinson worked with Nancy Hulan and J. Dusteen Knotts, two professors in WKU's School of Teacher Education, to develop the project for her honors thesis.
"I think it’s a great tool for people who maybe want to provide assistance to struggling readers but don't think they know how to do it," said Hulan, who specializes in literacy.
The project pairs students in need with "reading buddies," who use alphabet bingo puzzles, flash cards with words that can't be sounded out and other games to sharpen reading skills. Hoskinson used grants from the Honors College and WKU's Student Government Association to purchase backpacks and supplies.
Only about half of children entering kindergarten in 2015 were academically ready, according to data from the Kentucky Department of Education.
That has consequences for young students, Hulan said.
"We find that students who come without those things struggle a lot more in learning to read at an early age," she said.
Students were chosen for the program based on having a high-risk for reading weaknesses, such as weak skills in letter recognition, word recognition and letter sounds, among others. Volunteers completed a two-hour training session for a 30-minute after-school lesson, according to a news release.
Hulan said she placed Hoskinson with the student to teach her how tough reaching students can be.
"A lot of people think that anybody can teach a child to read, and it’s actually really hard,” she said.
The experience has changed Hoskinson's perspective on literacy education.
"It’s my favorite subject to teach now,” she said, adding she wants to get her master's in literacy and become a school's expert in literacy education.