Tales from the Tutors: Lisa Ferris is BEE-ing the Difference

Mar 29, 2019

“Reading is Fun!” is written in brightly colored letters in the center of the gameboard, which is made up of a path of different colored blocks along the edges of a Styrofoam square. Each block color matches up to a color coded stack of cards for the students to practice reading: “Easy Words,” “Animals and Bugs,” “Super Words” and “Read!” (which are whole sentences for the student to read). To top it off, each student gets a Pokémon eraser to use as a marker … and then gets to keep the eraser as the prize!

AR Kids Read Tutor Lisa Ferris created this “Reading is Fun!” game for her students during her first year of tutoring in 2016-2017. After more than 30 years working in instructional design, Ferris is accustomed to coming up with fun and engaging activities for students. This board game was different from other activities, though, because it was for children, not adults.

Ferris has an Education Specialist degree in instructional design and works at UAMS as an assistant professor, where she designs courses at the collegiate level. She worked with Dr. Mary Ellen Nevins on updating content for a graduate level class on teaching literacy to children with special auditory needs. Ferris was intrigued by the topic, so Nevins suggested that she might enjoy working with AR Kids Read.

“I wanted to explore what it was like to teach kids and to work with kids,” Ferris said. “I have never had any kids of my own. I like kids, but I have never had the opportunity to work with kids and to be around them.”

Even though she was a little hesitant because she had not really had any relationships with children, Ferris signed up to tutor at Pulaski Heights, where she was assigned to work with two first graders.

“I really didn’t know what it was going to be like, but I am always up for an adventure,” Ferris said. “After I got started, it went so well, and it was so much fun. I could just eat them up because they are so cute.”

Ferris learned quickly that even though adult students and young students have different needs when it comes to how to motivate them and how to establish credibility, teaching has some commonalities that helped her translate her work skills into tutoring kids in reading.

“Just like adults, in order to learn something, kids want it to be fun, interesting and engaging,” Ferris said. “We [all learners] need to feel like we are making progress. We need to feel success; we don’t want to feel defeated because we just don’t get it.”

“[What I enjoy most about tutoring is] just getting to know kids for the first time – those fun conversations, having fun together,” she said. “Hopefully it’s a bright spot in their day, and they will associate that with reading books. It’s sharing the love of reading and all the fun you can have in the process.”

Armed with that knowledge, Ferris dedicated herself to making her reading sessions as fun and engaging as possible. She was pleased when she saw improvement in the students’ skills, but she also realized how much her support means to her students. She remembers working with a male first grader, who was very shy and talked very softly. One day, when she went to pick him up, he ran up to her and threw his arms around her.

Three years later, she has continued getting more of those surprise hugs, like when she sees her students walking in the hallway.

“[What I enjoy most about tutoring is] just getting to know kids for the first time – those fun conversations, having fun together,” she said. “Hopefully it’s a bright spot in their day, and they will associate that with reading books. It’s sharing the love of reading and all the fun you can have in the process.”

Some of those surprise hugs have come from Regina, a third grader at Pulaski Heights who Lisa tutored this year. Regina said she loves reading with Ferris because it is a lot of fun, and that she thinks she has gotten a lot better at reading. Regina had a special message for her tutor:

“Thank you for helping me read and helping me do my words,” she said.

Lisa and Regina, a third grader at Pulaski Heights, have fun reading together!

The staff at AR Kids Read also really appreciates Ferris and all that she has done for both her students and for the organization. In addition to tutoring, Ferris signed up to be a tutor ambassador, which means she meets regularly with the AR Kids Read staff to give them feedback on how the program is running and help brainstorm new solutions. Ambassadors also help with events, like the recent Carnival Fun for All, where she was instrumental in making sure that all the volunteers were able to pick out books and get parent letters to send home with their students

One of Ferris’ most valuable contributions to AR Kids Read is that she created two online training videos designed to help other tutors learn how to help their students improve their literacy skills. The videos give tutors a glimpse into the science of reading and demonstrates different tutoring techniques through various videos and demonstrations.

“In addition to serving as a volunteer reading tutor for three years, Lisa has dedicated many hours to AR Kids Read helping us to build tutor training videos,” said Rebekah Wills, program director. “Thanks to Lisa, our volunteers who are spread out across nearly 50 different schools have the opportunity to access quality training resources from our website.  We can’t thank her enough for her contribution!”

In consideration of all of her contributions, the AR Kids Read staff nominated Ferris to be recognized as the first recipient of the Bee the Difference Award for Tutors. The AR Kids Read Board of Directors wanted to recognize two outstanding community members at Spellebration with one being a community leader and one being a tutor. The staff felt that Ferris fit the description for the tutor honoree perfectly.

“Lisa’s enthusiasm is contagious,” she said. “Whether she is talking about the creative energy of her third graders or brainstorming ways to showcase tutoring strategies in a video, you can count on her incredible dedication.”