Indiana State University Newsroom

Sycamores provide reading tutoring

March 1, 2012

Brianna Walker leaned forward to quiz the young girl sitting beside her.

"Who makes webs?" she said.

"Spiders," Gurnoor Gill replied.

"Who's the spider in the story?"

"Charlotte," the third grader replied.

After reviewing vocabulary words and learning new ones such as "curiosity," Gill picks up E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web" and begins to read aloud. It's part of the Sycamore Readers tutoring program that for 10 years has helped struggling readers in Vigo County.

But it's also helping Indiana State University students majoring in elementary and special education.

A few weeks earlier, Walker sat with other tutors in the Sycamore Readers room in University Hall. She bent over a game board taking shape by her hand as she crafted a maze and thought of the different ways she could use it.

"We had the opportunity to put in questions from the story or put in more sight words or use characters from the story walking through the board," said the freshman from Maryville.

In the training session, tutors for Sycamore Readers learned ways to incorporate fun that reinforces lessons. Previous training sessions lead the university students through assessing the elementary students' reading levels and creating a lesson plan around any book.

"We like to come back and give them this to add sparkle to their lessons so they can think beyond just the basic lesson plan and think, ‘How can I make this really fun and engaging for my student?," said Kathryn Bauserman, associate professor of elementary, early and special education who oversees the tutoring program.

Each of the lessons in the training session, while benefitting Vigo County elementary students, will also aid Indiana State students as they begin their teaching careers. For now though, they teach one-on-one helping elementary students to become better readers.

Sycamore Readers tutors provide free help for struggling elementary school readers in Vigo County. Twice a week at the Vigo County Library, tutors meet for 45 minutes with their students, who generally advance one to two years in ability through the tutoring program, according to Bauserman.

Walker came to the tutoring program through an elementary education course in which the students must participate in Sycamore Readers. Other tutors come from the university's work study program.

"It gives our students that experiential, hands-on learning that we like here at ISU and it gives them a chance to explore teaching," Bauserman said. "We feel like we're adding to the literacy of the students in the community, of course, the service is free, so I think that's a great service for the parents."

The tutors learn by doing. They put together lesson plans, test their students, chart their progress and find age appropriate books that engage each child's interest.

"From this process, I'm learning how each student is not the same," said David Padan, a freshman from Terre Haute. "I have an exceptional learner who is reading at a high caliber while I started out tutoring with a first grader who was reading at a pre-kindergarten level."

Maureen Connerly, a senior from Rushville, has worked with the program for three and a half years and she likes knowing that she is helping a child become a better reader.

"It just makes me feel so good to help them understand something and I learn new things in the process too," she said. "I like doing all the different activities and crafts and stuff with them."

On the table, she arranged a series of books and activities for her student, including a small stuffed raccoon that her student, Dawson Drebes, has nicknamed Bitey. While creating bookmarks, Connerly discusses Drebes' day at school before going through vocabulary words. Then they open a Captain Underpants book and take turns reading.

"I could be having the worst day and then come here and Dawson, he will just make my day," she said.

Each of the future teachers said having the tutoring experience will aid them when they enter their own classrooms.

"This right now will help because I will be able to find just the different ways that different learners react," Padan said. "Some are visual learners. Some are auditory learners."

"It will help me, especially in my special education classroom, because with the differentiated instruction, I'll have certain students who will be reading at different levels within my same classroom," Walker said. "Some people will need easier reading materials and some people will need more difficult reading materials. It takes getting to know each student individually and seeing what works for them and what doesn't."

During the final tutor training, Bauserman watched as the tutors prepared and played games they can share with their students they tutor and in the future.

"It's just heartwarming to see them get excited about their future profession and to see when they go out and use them with the students that they're tutoring, that they can see what an impact that they're having on students," she said. "I go out and visit at the sites and it's just fun to watch the interactions and see the excitement and the engagement of both the tutor as well as the student that they're tutoring."

Kathryn Bauserman watches as Indiana State students practice a game during a tutor training session. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Brianna Walker follows along as Gurnoor Gill reads "Charlotte's Web." ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Maureen Connerly and Dawson Drebes take turns reading a Captain Underpants book. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Contact: Kathryn Bauserman, Indiana State University, associate professor of elementary, early and special education, at 812-237-2853 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or