GSE Professors Empower Educators to Improve Literacy Skills in Schools

September 12, 2017

According to the American Education Research Association, children who can’t read by 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school when compared to their peers who can read fluently by 3rd grade. When factoring in poverty, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are thirteen times less likely to graduate on time if they can’t read by 3rd grade. 

“For the last 50 years, the GSE’s Center for Literacy Development has been leading the way in addressing issues pertaining to reading and writing in New Jersey schools and beyond,” said Dr. Lesley Mandel Morrow, GSE Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Literacy Development. “Our Annual Conference on Reading and Writing is one successful avenue that we have employed to empower educators to improve literacy in their schools.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the conference. GSE Professor, Dr. Kedra Gamble, who has extensive K-12 experience, having served as a classroom teacher, reading interventionist, literacy coach, professional learning facilitator, and a curriculum supervisor in the areas of English Language Arts, Social Studies and ESL, is a presenter at this year’s conference. She will be leading a workshop on how to use a variety of data sources to form effective small group instruction in reading. “Sometimes, teachers don’t realize the wealth of data sources that are available to them to help their students,” stated Dr. Gamble. “Student conversation, their interaction with partners, how they select books, when and why they abandon books – these are all data points that can help to inform instruction.”

One way to engage struggling readers is to allow students to read what they enjoy. “Often teachers and parents will pick books for children based on what they enjoy or what they think students should be reading. This diminishes the opportunity to improve reading,” said Dr. Gamble. “Ideally, students should be reading engaging books with characters like them that detail issues that are relevant to young readers. It’s important to give students choice and voice in the classroom to keep them engaged on a daily basis so that they are willing to put in the hard work to acquire reading skills.”

This year’s keynote speakers for the conference are author, Henry Winkler (known best for his role as Fonzi in Happy Days) and Dr. Nell Duke from the University of Michigan. Winkler has written a series of books on a fictional character named Hank Zipzer who has dyslexia. Through his books, Winkler inspires educators to empower their struggling students to dream big so that they know that they can achieve anything. He will also be signing books at the conference. 

Dr. Nell Duke’s work focuses on early literacy development, particularly among children living in poverty. At the conference, she will be discussing project-based instruction. She believes in motivating students by engaging them in meaningful and relevant projects that will inspire them to put in the hard work necessary to acquire reading and writing skills. For instance, students may work on a project to raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. As part of this project, they would create the materials needed for invitations, and informational pamphlets among other materials.  

In addition to the keynote speakers there are 26 workshops and 12 Lunch and Learn Sessions. There are 10 research posters on display, and 40 vendors of materials for the literacy classroom.  Rutgers President Barchi and GSE Dean Blanchett will open the conference with welcoming remarks and the Glee Club will lead the participants in the Rutgers Fight Song and the Star Spangled Banner. There is a strong Rutgers presence at the conference with students as facilitators, registering, ushering and chairing sessions. Many of the presentations are conducted by Rutgers Alumni.

“While the conference is attended by over 1200 people, it typically only represents 1-2 educators from a school district. It is our hope that these educators will take what they have learned at the conference and share these strategies with their entire district,” said Dr. Morrow. “Thus, our ambition with the conference is for it to be a turn key event empowering educators across the state who in turn empower their students to advance their literacy skills.” 

The conference is planned over a year in advance and wouldn’t be possible without the Assistant Directors of the Center Lisa Mullin and Eileen Nelson.

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