Judging by the rapt expressions on their faces, the teacher perched on a desk reading aloud to her class had captured her students’ imaginations.
With smiles spread wide, laughing out loud at the funny parts, the entire room gets swept up in the enchantment she weaves as she turns the pages of the children’s book.
But this is no ordinary classroom. The students are enrolled in Rollins College, not kindergarten. The teacher, Diane Doyle, while no less happy to be reading to her students, normally reads this way to preschoolers at Rollins’ Child Development Center, not college students.
The reason for this unlikely story time is to bring the message of the importance of early literacy intervention to undergraduate students in the hopes of encouraging them to go into the community and give back what they have learned.
Inspired by her own research and work to end the social injustice of illiteracy, Dr. Sharon Carnahan began Rollins Readers to equip college students with the skills to read to young children in ways that both educate and entertain.
The small meeting room where the workshop is held sits filled to capacity, about half the attendees education majors, there to acquire another skill set for the classroom.
Others, such as biochemistry major Eric Yao, came to learn how to reach out to children both now and in his future career as a pediatrician.
“I love my little cousins, all kids really, and I want to connect to them better, I am thinking about going into pediatrics, so I felt like this would help me do that,” he said.
Reaching out to children on their level is what the workshop is focused on. Emphasis is placed on reading age-appropriate material and engaging the audience with voice intonation, creative sound effects and dramatic flair.
Using guffaws of laughter, excited squeals and theatric pauses, Doyle reads aloud as she would to preschoolers, to demonstrate these techniques. She also pauses to ask questions and offer insight into the character’s thoughts and emotions; teaching the Rollins’ students to draw the listener in, as they would a captive audience of children.
When the demonstration was complete, students formed small groups and tried out the skills for themselves.
“This really helped me,” said future education major Abby Goecker. “I never know what questions to ask when I’m reading to kids.”
Goecker, who volunteers at the Grand Avenue Primary Learning Center near Parramore, hopes to use her new skills both at home now and abroad next spring during Rollins’ trip to Costa Rica. A group of students headed by Dr. Carnahan and Dr. Margot Fadool will spend three weeks there learning and volunteering in both urban and rural areas, including working with local schools to develop literacy programs.
Having mastered the skill of reading with fluency and expression, the newest batch of Rollins Readers were invited to go out and share what they have learned with community partners such as Fern Creek Elementary School, the Winter Park Day Nursery and Orange County Public Schools’ Read2Succeed program, which are all eager for qualified volunteer readers.
“Our goal for this program is to use the teaching practices that we use at the [Child Development Center] and show undergraduate students at Rollins how to use [these skills] in their daily lives, perhaps with their own children or with the work that they do in the future,” said the Center’s lead teacher, Caitlin Mason.