Here at the College of Public Service we continually seek community partners to collaborate with who will benefit from the research of our faculty and the emerging skills of our students. Such is the case with Dr. Maria Bhattacharjee’s technology-based bilingual project, implemented as a service learning experience for preservice teachers in the Department of Urban Education. The project is a prime example of how UHD meaningfully partners with the community (in this case the Houston Independent School District) to deliver hands-on learning experiences for its students while providing a much needed service to our community. With the help of Crockett Elementary’s principal (and UHD alum) Claudia Chavez-Pinto, Crockett first grade art teacher Claudia Elizondo , and Crockett first grade bilingual teacher Berta Vital, both college students and Crockett’s elementary students are furthering their education!
Reading doesn’t come easy for many students. In the U.S., children often find themselves struggling to achieve the most basic reading skills by the time they have reached the fourth grade. The process of learning to read becomes even more difficult for children who speak English as a second Language – or are English Language Learners (ELLs). According to the National Education Association, 80 percent of ELLs are Hispanic, and the National Center for Education Statistics reports that 47 percent of Hispanic students score below basic reading levels.
The project began in 2000 when preservice teachers enrolled in Dr. Bhattacharjee’s class, PED 3314 Children’s Literature in Spanish, began creating E-books. These E-books are culturally meaningful to Hispanic children since the topics of the books are about children’s real life experiences. Children can choose to be read to in Spanish and/or English. The E- library is like a tutor. The computer reads the books with proper intonation, speed, and accuracy. It allows the child to develop reading fluency as the child reads along with the computer. The E-books have inferential questions at the end. The questions can be used to springboard the discussion about the story and help the children develop critical thinking skills.
The E-library is a free service to the community, which can be used in school settings and at home. Hispanic parents can now assist their children in their reading quest using the E-library, even when they are not readers themselves. National data shows that low-income students attending economically disadvantaged inner-city schools tend to have the lowest reading levels. Since in the first years of life, parents are the first influence in successful reading experiences, seeking parental support and assistance in children’s reading is part of the objective. In summary, the E-library is a resource for young Hispanic children to practice reading in school and at home. The project also helps our preservice teachers gain a better understanding about teaching reading and writing to inner-city children.