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New Technology Gives One Tennessee District Support it Needs to Help Struggling Readers

New Technology Gives One Tennessee District Support it Needs to Help Struggling Readers

With the help of four robots, instructors at Tullahoma City Schools and Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes have teamed up to provide another innovative way to educate students.

Funded by a discretionary grant totaling $99,750, students who struggle with reading and language arts will receive supplemental education through March of 2016.

The goal of the partnership with TCS's four elementary schools and Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes is to give long-distance reading support with the help of four instructional robots, named Lucky, according to officials.

Bel-Aire Elementary School fifth-grader Austin Carr, left, and fourth-grader Jacob Jett interact with Lindamood-Bell consultant Amy Johnston before beginning a Seeing Stars reading lesson. Johnston, a member of the virtual consulting team for Tullahoma City Schools, has a virtual presence via a Double robot that assists teachers with the curriculum. (Staff Photo by Chris Barstad)

The robots are mobile devices with iPads attached, enabling a Lindamood-Bell instructor to observe instruction remotely over a streaming video session, interacting with staff and students in real time.

Kim Adkins, district assessment coordinator, said that Lindamood-Bell's published results includes 110 hours of instruction, and said that TCS will be receiving up to 120 hours of robot support with the partnership.

"We and another district are the only two to try this program within the state of Tennessee," said Adkins. "I talked to the principal at that school district in Anderson County and he went school-wide with the program. He said that of all the students they didn't have one kid who did not show progress.

"The biggest component of Lindamood-Bell's approach is the ability to hold images in your mind for reading. It's called symbol imagery, with letters forming words. The more symbols you can hold together, the better reader you are."

Adkins said she understands the dilemma and the importance of TCAP test scores, but stressed the importance of being able to read. She said that throughout her career, she taught people from preschool to adulthood who struggled with reading.

"There's nothing sadder than to have an adult look at you and say they've tried all their life and they just can't read," she said. "I'm not one to give up on anything so I'll try something, anything, to help people learn how to read.

"For whatever reason, kids aren't developing reading skills like vocabulary like they used to," said Adkins. "Kids don't play concentration or memory games as often anymore."

She cited theories that children watch too much television, and are not participating in rich conversations with their parents.

"With television, they don't have to imagine anything."

Adkins advises that parents take the time to communicate with their children and read to them to improve their abilities. "Vocabulary is a deficit in a lot of our struggling readers. Sitting in front of a television, you don't have to give back to a conversation. Conversation increases vocabulary."

Adkins said that there has been a drop in reading proficiency across the nation and that Lindamood-Bell has come up with an innovative methodology of teaching to combat that slip in proficiency.

"It's totally different from any way we've tried before. It's a different approach to help students that struggle with reading."

Adkins said that the robot comes alive at designated hours and has the ability to drive itself to its designated area.

"It's like FaceTime. The Lindamood-Bell consultant will go through the lesson with the students and the teacher," she said. Over the course of the school year, the teacher becomes more masterful at using the program.

"Only one robot is live at any time during the school week. It wakes itself up and disconnects from its docking port and drives itself to its assigned classroom," said Adkins. "We have about 25 hours of robot support for the schools." She said that there are two consultants who will work regularly during the time that the robot is live.

Adkins said that utilizing this partnership is cost effective and reliable. "Otherwise, you have to find a teacher in the area that is considered a master at reading that will invest in the program. People move and resign jobs, or start families. There are several representatives across the country that can be contacted within the program and they can be scheduled to be your consultant."

TCS's consultants are currently located in Phoenix.

Adkins wrote the grant to fund the partnership with Lindamood-Bell in January 2014.

"We found out that we had gotten the grant during TCAP week in May. I didn't realize how big it was when I wrote it. I didn't realize how many things are in motion at any given time," said Adkins. "The grant funded all of the professional development for teachers and all of the robot support."

Dan Lawson, director of schools, said that implementation of the Lindamood-Bell by Tullahoma City Schools is truly an exciting step that has great potential to change the lives of students.

"While the implementation has required hard work to prepare and substantial personal investments of time by Tammy Hatfield and Kim Adkins, as well as principals and teachers involved in the training, our team has acquired increased skill in the science of teaching of reading that we believe will be invaluable.

"Essential program components include extensive professional development before program delivery began with our students, on-site and distance based (robot provided) student instruction and ongoing distance based professional development," said Lawson.

Twenty-six teachers from Bel-Aire, East Lincoln, Jack T. Farrar, and Robert E. Lee elementary schools attended Lindamood-Bell's Seeing Stars and Visualizing and Verbalizing workshops this summer.

"This program is not automated education, and it's not a robot teaching kids," said Adkins. "The robot is used as a supplement to what the teacher is doing in the classroom. It's really more there to support the teacher and initially it's helping the teacher with the parts of the program that are not as natural to the teacher. As the year progresses the teacher will become more proficient and the robot support will be less necessary."

Adkins said that the goal at the end of the school year is that TCS will be able to sustain the curriculum offered by Lindamood-Bell on its own.

"Teachers will have a whole year of professional development and support that they can continue pass along the training this program provide. Our grant contract states that robots are to be returned after the program end date." TCS does not have to provide maintenance to the robots as the year progress.

At the end of the contract deadline, Lindamood-Bell will present results to the Tullahoma City Board of Education.

"I wish it was the end of the year already so I can see the results of this program. I've seen where we've started, and the learning profiles, now I'm ready to see the end result," said Adkins. "I'm sure it's going to work and it's going to be great."

Jacqui Atkielski can be contacted via email at

Reprinted here with the permission of Tullahoma News.

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