Grant helps College of Education ‘TuneIn to Reading’

It is clear upon speaking with Susan Homan, Ph.D., that the nearly $500,000 grant she received for the research program “TuneIn to Reading” (TIR) will not go to waste. Her voice elevated in excitement as she talked about the project that has positively affected children’s lives.

Seventy-five percent of children learn to read with no problems, while 25 percent struggle and are covered by the No Child Left Behind Act.

While the act has been used since 2001 to develop better reading and writing skills, Homan said TIR was created to advance the federal program.

TIR, originally called SingingCoach, was created to help people with their vocal ranges. Homan was contacted about the program and told that it might also help improve reading skills. She wasn’t sure if singing could help students read, but was willing to try anything.

During the first phase of her research, she tested 252 students from grades 1-12. Homan said all of the students were struggling readers, based on their FCAT scores, with some reading four grade levels below their own.

“The student’s struggle with reading affected all aspects of their schooling,” Homan said. “The children felt lost and discouraged. I thought that the students would enjoy it.”

For nine weeks they brought the program into the classrooms of struggling readers. By the end, Homan said she was blown away by the results. The control group remained under their expected reading ability while the treatment group had an average improvement of more than one grade level.

Homan wasn’t satisfied with just the immediate results. She wanted to see if the research was sustainable, so she took the program away from the students and monitored their continued schooling. Even without the program students improved substantially.

“You just don’t see numbers like that so quickly,” she said. “It’s unheard-of. It made me really start to believe in the program.”

Homan was invited to present her research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. Neuroscientists there took an interest in her research because it could help combat dyslexia.

Homan said the program is child-friendly. It begins with a cartoon to catch the user’s attention and then goes through a quick test to determine reading level and singing tone. The songs are traditional, such as “Home on the Range,” but if students continue to get good grades, they can download more popular and current songs.

“From what I’ve observed in a semester, I’m amazed at how engaged the students are,” said Cindy Calderone, a member of the research team. “They wanted to improve, they wanted to compete for the better grade.”

Homan said she wants to keep her research team within the USF family. Eleven researchers work with her, all of whom are graduate or doctoral students.

“We have half in the field and half learning and observing how to implement the program,” she said.

Homan’s excitement for the project is something that is shared by many in the College of Education. She said they have finally found something that is not only effective but fun as well.

“I’m just so excited to be a part of this research,” Homan said. “It’s really a win-win situation: Not only do I get to help improve a child’s life, but our own USF students are able to participate as well.