Story signers make a home run for literacy
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) encourages athletes to do community service. This spring, Janet Weinstock, literacy/English content specialist at the Clerc Center, teamed up with Gallaudet University Bison women's softball team members to come into classrooms at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) and read books to the students. It proved to be a win-win season for literacy.
Gallaudet softball team coach Joseph Kolcun and assistant coach Jenna Owens, who also teaches at KDES, had approached Weinstock about a possible community service project with KDES students. Weinstock had already coordinated a successful visit in the fall of 2012 during which players on the Gallaudet men's basketball team came to classrooms to share book readings. Kolcun liked the booksharing idea because it gave his team members the opportunity to serve as deaf adult role models and encourage interest in reading in young students through their interest in sports. Weinstock suggested that she provide training to the team on how to share biographical books about athletes, and as a bonus she thought it would "tie in nicely with the American Hero and biography units that KDES students were studying."
"Janet Weinstock gave us a lesson on how to read a book to children," said softball player Chelsea Lee. "She had us translate some lines from a book. It was easier to practice with someone my age, but once we got in front of the kids we had to work really hard to make sure they understood us completely. It was a good learning experience, especially when I had never done something like this."
Weinstock selected books from the KDES library about athletes to whom both the readers and the students could relate as role models, from professional baseball players such as Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Satchel Paige, and Sammy Sosa, to Olympic soccer star Mia Hamm, to boxer Muhammad Ali, among others.
Each of the readers followed Weinstock's story sharing techniques for opening a story, maintaining interest, and finishing with a strong closing. "At the beginning, we want the readers to set a tone, ensure visual access, model enthusiasm, and announce the start of the story itself," said Weinstock. "During the reading, the story teller maintains the attention of the viewers through expanding the characters and setting, adding biographical information, and responding to questions or comments. They then close with identifying the best part of the story, give a summary, reveal what is happening now in the life of the athlete, and guess about what the future might bring."
The day arrived for the athletes to put their story sharing skills to the test with a live audience of students at KDES. "I was impressed how the kids at Kendall were very motivated with the storybook telling time. The kids were very curious and asked about my and my storytelling partner's softball playing skills because we told a story about Satchel Paige," said Lee. "It was nice seeing them smile because when I was younger I always enjoyed guests coming in and doing something different and fun for the class."
Weinstock encouraged the team members to make sure they stressed the importance of reading well as part of preparation for college. "The readers informed our students that they weren't accepted to Gallaudet because of their athletic skills but because they were able to sign, read, and write well," she said. "Being a good athlete is a bonus, of course!"
Who is on deck for next year? With the successful response to this year's visits from Gallaudet's basketball and softball teams, the word is spreading. Weinstock said not only do those teams want to return but the soccer team wants to participate as well.