Reading with the Warriors Pilot – Zara Rafferty

Varsity hockey players reading to elementary school students

Back in teacher’s college, I wrote a research paper about the challenges surrounding boys’ literacy in today’s classrooms. Having always been an avid reader myself, I have to admit that I knew very little about the social and pedagogical factors that can help or hurt young students’ acquisition of essential literacy skills (for an introduction to this discussion in the Ontario context, start here).

This year, I set out to create a program here at UW that brings varsity athletes into elementary school classrooms to promote literacy skills and an interest in reading. While I hope that this program will benefit all learners, I believe it could have a particular impact on boys’ literacy. Male reading role models are one of the key strategies that classroom teachers recommend to support both boys’ literacy skills, and their attitudes toward reading and writing.

To this end, Reading with the Warriors was created in partnership with the UW Athletics Department. Last week we launched the first of five pilot sessions with two student-athlete volunteers from the varsity hockey team. Justin and Andy (pictured above) joined two Gr. 2 classes for story time and a craft related to the books they had chosen to read (Thomas’ Snowsuit and Just One Goal!, respectively). Justin and Andy shared their own reading history (e.g., challenges they had with reading, favourite books, why reading is important to them), and answered a variety of student questions relating to school, hockey, and life in general.

The program has been well-received thus far, and I am looking forward to continuing our pilot throughout the month. I am particularly grateful to the five student-athletes who have agreed to participate in the pilot sessions – they have been wonderful! If all goes well, it’s my hope that this will become a regular part of varsity athletics’ community programming beginning this Fall.

At the end of the day, it isn’t necessarily about the stories (although, those are important, too), it’s about students having the opportunity to see interesting, articulate men reading and engaging with books. Research and practice show that male mentors from the community can help all students, but especially boys, see a purpose in reading. I love the idea that our students can collaborate with classroom teachers to strengthen literacy skills in our little guys.

This program has also gotten me thinking: how often do we bring role models and mentors from the community into our university classrooms? I would love to hear examples from the UW community.

If you’re interested in learning more about boys’ literacy, check out this guide from the Ontario Ministry of Education: Me Read? No Way!

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Zara Rafferty

As a CTE Faculty Liaison, Zara Rafferty helps instructors in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences integrate technology into their teaching through innovative learning activities. She also serves as guide for instructors to access other CTE resources. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Zara worked as a Knowledge Translation Specialist for the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program and an Adjunct Lecturer for UW’s Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies. She earned her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Waterloo and her B.Ed from Wilfrid Laurier University.

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