Reading clinic provides service to area children

By Sean Leary

NIU professor Dr. Thomas Wheat and his staff are providing an invaluable service to DeKalb area youngsters: they are teaching them to read.

Wheat is the director of the NIU Reading Clinic. Staffed by NIU graduate students, the clinic provides a dual-fold purpose: diagnostic assessment of a child’s reading ability, and tutoring to help children reach their peak ability, Wheat said.

The clinic was started in 1953 by retired NIU professor Eugene Grant and since then has expanded to its current status of serving children from 23 counties in either one capacity or another, Wheat said.

Information about the clinic is sent to various surrounding counties, and teachers or parents contact the clinic to set up appointment for testing, Wheat said. A large group of the clinic’s clients however, hear about the program through former graduate students who have now become teachers.

Wheat explained that the children range in age from 2nd grade up through high school, although the majority of the students are within the age group of 3rd to 5th grade.

The first of the two services, diagnostic assessment, determines the child’s reading potential and present strengths and needs through a specialized examination, Wheat said. Within a few weeks after the session, a detailed clinical case report is sent to the student’s school.

The report includes the names of the tests administered, the test results, and an analysis of the student’s reading performance. Also included is a recommendation for the student’s individual improvement, he said.

“Our primary concern is with finding out where the children are in their progress, and determining how to help them,” Wheat said. “There are multiple causes of reading disabilities. We aren’t after the causation of such problems as much as we are after bringing the children to their highest level of reading. We hope to help each student reach their highest potential,” Wheat added.

The second major service offered is tutoring. This program provides two sessions per week over a one-semester period. All of the tutoring is done on a one-to-one basis, with each student’s particular needs addressed to in an individualized curriculum prepared by the tutor, Wheat said.

In the fall and spring semester, each student is given his own personal classroom, which is adorned with colorful decorations, chosen to fit the personality of each child, Wheat said.

Within the decor, there is learning matter and personal goals for the student to reach. For example, one boy was an avid swimmer. His room contained a larger picture of a swimming pool, and for each book the student read, the swimmer in the pool would be pinned up as if he swam one more lap. It is this creative and individualized teaching method that makes the Readling Clinic unique, he said.

The tutoring for each student is done by NIU graduate students within the teaching program seeking an M.A. in reading. The program is offered through the class CIRE 530, Wheat said.

“We would want everyone who needs help in reading to get help because it is so important. I believe we are preforming a great service to the community, and would encourage all who would benefit form the service to take advantage of it,” he said.

Polly Benton is one of the students involved in the diagnositc area of the clinic. Benton commented, “The clinic has been invaluable on many levels, both in personal satisfaction and hands-on learning.”

The focus for the children is to learn to do assimilated testing in several situations. The testing and tutoring is done with parental involvement, and allows the student to experience a variety of scenarios, Benton said.

The key achievement is the satisfaction experienced through helping the child reach his or her unique potential, she said. “Working at the clinic has helped me in many ways in regards to giving me a skill basis for testing and a collaboration with my given field.

“The greatest gratification though, is knowing that you can help a child and hopefully make a positive impact on his life. That is what is really important, and what I think the clinic is all about,” Benton said.

Benton added, “In the overall picture, everyone benefits from the Reading Clinic.”