There’s concern about the number of students struggling with learning to read, particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic. Students in low-income communities are often impacted the most, and face more barriers in accessing the support they need.
To help struggling readers in underserved communities, the Learning Disabilities Association of Pennsylvania (LDA of PA) has created two multisensory reading programs in Pittsburgh. So far, over 80 students have benefited from these programs.
The effort to create a 1-on-1 reading instruction program was kickstarted roughly two years ago by LDA of PA President and Founder Dr. Collin Diedrich and LDA of PA’s Vice President Carrie Gardner. Their goal was to provide high quality, evidence-based instruction that was as accessible to all.
Cost and availability are some of the biggest barriers that can prevent students and their families from being able to access the tutoring they need, and LDA of PA sought to address those problems.
Gardner, who has been a dyslexia advocate for over a decade, said that many families have to make tough decisions and sacrifices when it comes to affording tutoring. For many, the cost just isn’t feasible. Although some organizations offer tutoring for free, these programs are in high demand.
“There’s a 2 year wait for free tutoring in some of these organizations, and with that, there’s not enough of the tutors,” Gardner explained.
Together, Diedrich and Gardner created LDA of PA’s 1-On-1 Multisensory Reading Intervention Program, which offers free evidence-based reading tutoring two times a week.
Multisensory instruction is a method that incorporates multiple senses, where students learn how to read by seeing, hearing, feeling letters and words, and utilizing large movements. Using multiple senses gives struggling students multiple mechanisms to learn the material.
Multisensory tutoring is helpful for all students, and no one is required to have a learning disability diagnosis to get tutored.
“We don’t require a diagnosis because they’re so expensive, so anyone that comes through the door can get this tutoring,” Diedrich said.
The 1-on-1 program takes place in Point Breeze at the Pittsburgh New Church School, a school for dyslexic students. As the program continued, Diedrich and Gardner realized that many students were struggling with getting reliable transportation to classes.
“Some of the people that were coming to us were taking Ubers and we’re like, ‘you shouldn’t be taking Uber…we don’t want you to pay anything to be here because we’re offering this tutoring free.’ And so what we realized was we have to go to people and we have to go to where people live,” Diedrich said.
LDA of PA began reaching out to other local organizations to get reading tutoring into the neighborhoods that needed it most. They were able to connect with the Carnegie Library in the Hill District, and trained staff at Housing Opportunities Unlimited (Hill District) and Voices Against Violence (Beltzhoover).
“Everything stays within the community. They can walk to the library, they can walk to these places, and it keeps it easily accessible,” Gardner said.
In these organizations early literacy tutoring was in high demand, so Gardner and Diedrich decided to expand their program to focus on students in kindergarten through third grade. The new early literacy program takes advantage of group tutoring, which allows for a larger amount of students to participate. If a student is struggling in group tutoring, the 1-on-1 program might be recommended.
LDA of PA’s goal is not only to provide tutoring, but also to provide free literacy instruction training to tutors, parents, caregivers, staff at local organizations, and other members of the community.
“If we can train more people in this method in a bunch of different neighborhoods, then they can take these methods for their own kids or to help other people in the community,” Diedrich said.
Already the programs are creating an impact. Gardner shared a story about a boy who was enrolled in their program who was so excited about getting a 100% on his spelling test, something he had never done before, that he brought in the test to show them. Another participant began asking for book recommendations, and Gardner was so excited he was showing an interest in reading that she bought him the book he was looking for.
“Then he didn’t even want to stay on vacation,” Gardner said, “He wanted to come back to school. That says a lot.”
As the program continues to expand, one of LDA of PA’s largest obstacles is having enough tutors to meet the demand. Diedrich and Gardner encourage anyone in the Pittsburgh area with an interest in becoming a paid tutor in either program to reach out at email@example.com.
To learn more about LDA of PA’s tutoring program, visit ldaofpa.org/reading-tutoring.