Teaching kids to read: UWP prof has passion, expertise for job

November 4, 2002

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PLATTEVILLE - The 12-year-old boy looked into Carol Lange's kind blue eyes, his own brown ones filled with tears. "I'm the dumbest and homeliest kid in the world," he told Lange.

Not being able to read - and feeling dumb about it - is fighting talk for University of Wisconsin-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education Professor Carol Lange.

"Children should never be told they can't read," said Lange, who conducts a reading clinic above and beyond her regular teaching load at UWP every other summer.

Only about one-third of K-12 students who need help learning to read can be served, said Lange.

There are more kids who could benefit from her clinic, Lange said, but there aren't enough resources - mainly monetary - to serve the number of students who need help.

Currently Lange is investigating options to increase UWP's reading outreach program to serve more children and UWP graduate students.

Reading problems cut across socio-economic barriers, Lange said. All levels are affected. "When I hear a desperate cry in a parent's voice, I would love to say, 'Yes,' I can take your child."

Lange's clinics focus on first and second graders who need help. "Research says that reading difficulties increase as they progress through the grades," she said.

Lange had good things to say about the clinics and her graduate students who want to become reading specialists or reading teachers. "They have a passion and concern for these kids who need help the most. The experience is very intense."

The children receive one-on-one instruction for a half an hour a day for 8 weeks. This past summer, 30-40 children applied, but the clinic, staffed by graduate students, could take only 16.

Lange's experiences as a former elementary teacher in North Dakota, Minnesota and in an inner city school in Tampa, Fla., have fueled her drive to help kids learn to read.

"I also worked on an Indian reservation for Project Head Start. This gave me a clearer understanding of problems kids and their parents face," said Lange.

Parents who want to be involved in their children's reading success should surround them with a print-rich environment, said Lange. "My advice is to read, read and read to the child. Sing to them, use poetry."

Environmental print such as road signs and cereal boxes can be a good resource for spontaneous reading practice.

A former elementary teacher, Lange has been in the trenches and seen firsthand the suffering of children who have trouble learning to read.

Reading difficulties sometimes strike near home. A few years ago, Lange's nephew had come home from school crying. Lange said, "He told me - and this was heartbreaking - 'Auntie, I can't read.'"

The nephew was reading words upside down and backwards, said Lange. "I worked with him and said to him, 'Don't let anybody tell you you can't read.'"

With Lange's help, her nephew resolved his reading problems and has a success story of his own - he served in the U.S. Navy for four years.

Children who improve under Lange's and UWP graduate students' tutelage are the lucky ones, and their success brings confidence. Lange said, "Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes when I see improvement."

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