A Dream Team

Reading to children is more important and can be more complex than it seems. With a myriad of other responsibilities, parents often struggle to find quiet time to read to their children and help them with reading comprehension. This is especially true for single parents who must work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Professor and literacy expert Scott Popplewell has studied the correlation between literacy development and poverty, working with teachers nationwide in high poverty areas. This inspired him to prepare students to teach in diverse classrooms and to meet the challenge of literacy development.

Popplewell had the opportunity to create a custom-designed dream course based on this need when he received an Excellence of Teaching Award. The three winners of this annual award, bestowed by a student/faculty committee, are given the resources and time to develop a course where they are free to experiment and innovate. Popplewell’s elementary education students used the dream course to make a difference on Muncie’s south side.

Popplewell taught Understanding Poverty and its Effects on Literacy Development in the 2010-11 academic year. He hand-selected 10 outstanding elementary education majors who were juniors or seniors in the Teachers College.

The course served a dual purpose—teach students about the community’s effect on the classroom and help the parents and students connected to Southview Elementary School and the Ross Community Center. Southview was a good school to collaborate with, since about 80 percent of its students are on free or reduced-price lunch.

“I want my students to know that their classrooms are going to have a wide variety of children,” Popplewell says. “I think this was eye-opening for them. The course benefited the students professionally and personally. They will be more effective classroom teachers, and they can use the experience to learn more about themselves as people. That was my goal for the dream course and for the Ross Center.”

The class evolved into students breaking up into three core groups based on their interests: pre-natal support and planning, family literacy, and the Ross Center’s family reading nights.

The capstone event was a family reading night at the Ross Center called Reading Around the World, in which the students created a community event to encourage literacy. At the end of the night, children and parents received bags of children’s books, prizes, and educational handouts on reading strategies. For the event, they partnered with local nonprofits, such as Minnetrista, the Muncie Children’s Museum, and the Muncie Public Library.

Applying Theory to the Real World

The course gave the students a good balance between the theory and the practice of teaching literacy.

Pat McCrory, an elementary education major and Muncie south side resident, had the opportunity to work in the community he’s called home for 10 years. His focus was helping parents become more aware of their children’s literacy needs.

“It’s really important that the emphasis is on building a relationship and trying to facilitate the interrelationships between the parents and their elementary school children,” he says.

McCrory led a session that taught parents proven techniques and tips. It also provided a platform for them to share with each other reading strategies that they’ve found successful.

“It was great for parents to hear from one another as to what works,” he says.

Popplewell will use the content of this class for a literary assessment course. He hopes to continue building a relationship with the Ross Community Center to help the center with its literacy tutoring programs and by having Ball State students tutor regularly.

More in Making an Impact

“I want my students to know that their classrooms are going to have a wide variety of children. I think this was eye-opening for them.”

—Scott Popplewell, elementary education professor