Houge takes Students, Reading Clinic to Infinity and Beyond

With a rich history of community outreach on campus dating back to 1962, the Northern State University School of Education Reading Clinic is doing amazing things in Aberdeen, giving children in grades 1-12 access to tutoring and learning opportunities to develop and further spelling and literacy skills.

 The Reading Clinic is also making great strides for NSU School of Education students, giving elementary and special education majors access to unprecedented hands-on experience and guidance to help further their instruction and teaching skills by helping drive the clinic.

 The great success of this program is due largely in part to one man: Dr. Timothy Houge, associate professor of education/director of the NSU Reading Clinic, whose passion for reading comes from his own personal struggles with literacy during his youth.

Born and raised outside of Edgeley, N.D., on a small family farm, Houge developed a very personal connection to the idea of having to overcome educational adversity dating back to his early childhood. From the beginning of his education, while his classmates were eager to learn how to read in first grade, Houge had no interest in literacy and struggled to develop reading skills from that point on. Houge eventually lost all faith in his education, yet still managed to graduate from high school.

Houge went on to join the Army, where he found happiness, but was eventually unable to re-enlist due to his poor reading comprehension skills. This marked a large shift in his mindset regarding learning, pointing him in the direction of attending college at Valley City State University in Valley City, N.D. Here, he recognized the importance of putting as much effort into bettering his comprehension skills as possible. He was highly successful - by the time he graduated college, he was a fluent reader and speller due to his own hard work and perseverance. He received his doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Having found a way to successfully overcome his own roadblocks and move past them, Houge became passionate about dedicating his life to helping others overcome their own struggles in the classroom.

Houge spent 12 years working in the public-school system in Las Vegas before coming to NSU, teaching his students through the Structured Word Investigation (SWI) literacy instructional approach. This method utilizes the three conceptual components of English orthography—morphology, etymology and phonology. It was the approach that led to Houge’s eventual success in college and proved to be extremely effective in the classroom, especially catering to students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

“We start by using word sums (de + form + ed --> deformed) and word matrixes to disassemble and reassemble words into their constituent elements of meaning (bases and affixes) like pieces of Lego. Learning to use these tools turns the tutors and students into a team of ‘word detectives.’ The investigations reveal surprising and fascinating connections between words. For example, the word sign, meaning mark, is also in the word signature and that is why we spell sign with a silent ‘g.’ It signals that it is related to the word signature, signal or significant,” mentioned Houge explaining SWI.

When Houge arrived on campus in 2000, the NSU Reading Clinic had come to a lull for roughly 10 years due to lack of funding. Because of his passion for giving children access to resources to better their reading comprehension and literacy skills, Houge decided to bring back the campus Reading Clinic. With the help of Dr. Sherry Tebben, dean of the School of Education at that time, Houge resurrected the program through grants supplying better equipment and resources.

By 2006, the NSU Reading Clinic was offering distance tutoring, helping students in places such as New York, California and Texas. Through these efforts, a small campus in the Midwest was making great connections across the country.

Although distance tutoring is no longer offered, the Reading Clinic is still leaving its mark on Aberdeen and the surrounding community, offering high quality, low-cost tutoring to children in grades 1-12, Monday through Friday in the NSU Beulah Williams Library. The Reading Clinic serves as a resource to students of any comprehension level as a way to further their reading skills, whether they are struggling or just want to become a better reader.

“Parents and their children are traveling from as far as Redfield and Ellendale, N.D., to be a part of our program, which says a lot,” mentioned Houge. “It’s rewarding to know that our hard work is paying off.”

School of Education students have the opportunity to experience the full responsibilities of teaching a single child, with access to immediate feedback from a highly-trained professional. This hands-on training is crucial in developing instructional skills for future educators and with the help of Houge, these students are better suited to assist and instruct students with learning disabilities.

“The NSU Reading Clinic is the only collegiate program of its kind in the state. We owe our success to the faith of NSU in funding our program, as we are not funded by the South Dakota Board of Regents. The continued faith that NSU and the community has instilled in us shows the impact that we are making on the lives of children and our future educators,” remarked Houge about the success of his program.

By Houge’s passion and the great success of the Reading Clinic, it is clear that the clinic is leaving its paw-print on campus and throughout the community.