Page 1

Report on

Literacy Education

Print-Based Literacies


Multimodal Literacies


Teaching Reading and Writing 6

New Media and Technologies Cultural Literacy 22 Pedagogical Literacy 26


Self-Regulated Strategy Development Intelligent Tutoring for the Structure Strategy Reading and Intensive Learning Strategies Understanding Intertextuality and Nonverbal Representations Reading Practice Encouraging Teachers to Write Keeping Young People Interested in Reading Literacy for Special-Needs Students Summer Reading Camp Adult and Family Literacy



Literacy and Public Policy


Policy Effects on Literacy Instruction 30 Pennsylvania Center for the Book


Rural Education and Literacy 32


Index 35


Research Outreach


have clear childhood memories of what a big deal learning to write in script was in my third-grade classroom. My classmates and I were all quite excited about learning cursive writing—which we equated with being taught how to curse. (Imagine our disappointment as the year progressed with no new “special” vocabulary words.)

Learning to write in cursive script included quite a bit of practice, as we moved through the alphabet, letter by letter. We especially looked forward to learning some of the more exotic ones, like the capitals Q and Z, which we knew were coming, thanks to the big green border that displayed the cursive alphabet around the walls of our classroom. Sadly, the year ended before we reached capital “Q,” and I never did learn how to make that grand shape.

We are proud of our work in the area of literacy education, and I encourage you to explore the information we share in this report. 

Report on Literacy Education

I am sometimes asked if traditional handwriting is still taught in today’s classrooms. The premise of the question seems to be that handwriting instruction has given way to keyboarding skills and a reliance on block printing. In fact, recent articles in both TIME magazine and The New York Times have supported this point of view. But hope is not lost for the handwriting skills of the next generation. A 2008 Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal article, co-authored by our faculty member Linda Mason, reported data from a national survey of primary teachers’ instructional practices in handwriting. Nine out of ten teachers reported that they spend on average 70 minutes a week teaching handwriting, so the majority of children today will still develop the eye–hand coordination associated with these skills. Of course, handwriting is only one aspect of literacy education, and I am pleased to report that the Penn State College of Education is deeply invested in many aspects of literacy in the modern world. In the following pages, you will see the wide spectrum of literacy education being taught and researched by faculty members in the College. In particular, you will learn about some of the many different methods available to help children as well as adults learn to read and express themselves using print-based materials. Members of our faculty are engaged in research designed to unlock the secrets of achieving success with learners who are struggling with their reading and writing.

There are new literacies to consider that involve combining digital images with sound and text in ways that were unheard of even a short time ago. Many, but not all, children are adept at making use of these technologies, and teachers must be up to the challenge of harnessing this talent. Modern teachers must also contend with unevenness in the technological sophistication of their students and help those who are struggling to reach their potential. There is an important cultural dimension to these aspects of literacy, and the College recognizes the power of story to develop cultural identity and to help learners appreciate the richness of other cultures. Members of the faculty are also attentive to the impact policy at both the federal and state levels can have on literacy. We have made particularly significant recent progress toward understanding what can be done to promote literacy in rural areas of Pennsylvania and beyond and remain committed to this research agenda. We are proud of our work in the area of literacy education, and I encourage you to explore the information we share in this report. It is a powerful story that is made possible by the hard and productive work of our faculty, staff, and students. Please join me in thanking them for their fine efforts, and please enjoy the story we have to tell. David H. Monk

Print-Based Literacies


any College of Education faculty are researching print-based literacies among a variety of populations. They are finding that various methods can be employed to successfully teach children traditional literacy concepts such as reading and writing. Others are looking at ways to help children with special needs learn how to read and communicate with print-based text. They are also interested in the adult population and how we might increase adult and family literacy in the United States.

“Our goal is to improve students’ learning across three literacy domains—reading comprehension, language and vocabulary, and written expression.” 

Report on Literacy Education

Colleg e of Education

think success

Teaching Reading and Writing Self-Regulated Strategy Development

Large numbers of K–12 students struggle with writing. The task of planning, organizing, and expressing thoughts into readable text is overwhelming for many. Linda Mason, associate professor of special education, favors an instructional approach known as Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), developed by Karen R. Harris and Steve Graham at Vanderbilt University.

The second strategy, PLANS (Pick goals, List ways to meet goals, And make Notes, Sequence notes), allows students to develop personal product writing goals and provides a means to evaluate their performance. Using notes that they wrote capturing the main ideas and the details during reading with TWA, students complete PLANS by selecting goals for writing and revising an informative essay.

Mason and her colleagues employ two strategies for SRSD instruction. The first strategy is TWA (Think before reading, think While reading, think After reading).

Mason has found that these processes result in definite student improvement in both reading comprehension and informative essay writing and that every SRSD study to date has shown a positive impact on student performance. “We are scaling up TWA + PLANS to include language instruction and classroom discourse,” she said. “Our goal is to improve students’ learning across three literacy domains—reading comprehension, language and vocabulary, and written expression.”

The SRSD approach is the backbone of a 2008 book Mason coauthored with Harris and Graham. Powerful Writing Strategies for all Students presents highly useful lesson plans based on field-tested strategies for improving student writing. Middle school students with emotional and behavior disorders are the focus of a four-year, $1.8 million research project funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The work promises to improve students’ on-task behavior as well as student attitudes and teacher perspectives about writing instruction. To examine the effects of TWA + PLANS, Mason is looking at less-studied student populations. Middle school students with emotional and behavior disorders are the focus of a four-year, $1.8 million research project funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Mason is teaming with fellow Penn State researchers—co-principal investigator Richard Kubina and faculty associates Kathy Ruhl and Jonna Kulikowich, as well as co-principal investigator Margo Mastropieri of George Mason University. The collaborative project calls for teachers in four school districts in two states to employ SRSD in their instruction. The work promises to improve students’ on-task behavior as well as student attitudes and teacher perspectives about writing instruction. 

Intelligent Tutoring for the Structure Strategy Three other College faculty members are participating in a $3 million research project aimed at studying the effectiveness of an online reading comprehension program being used in middle schools. This is the second project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to examine a Web-based reading program known as Intelligent Tutoring for the Structure Strategy (ITSS). The ITSS concept was developed in the first IES-sponsored study, which was recently completed by a College of Education research team headed by Bonnie J. F. Meyer, professor of educational psychology. “Schools are struggling with the task of improving reading among students,” says Meyer. “Some students fail to succeed in tasks such as identifying main ideas from expository text and giving cohesive and complete accounts of what they read because of how they read, rather than because they do not read.”

Kay Wijekumar, associate professor of

information science and technology at Penn State Beaver, is the principal investigator of the newly funded efficacy grant. Meyer and Pui-wa Lei, associate professor of educational psychology, are co-principal investigators. Also collaborating are Jonna Kulikowich, professor of educational psychology, and Edward Smith, director of evaluation research for the Penn State Prevention Research Center. A number of middle schools in Pennsylvania are implementing ITSS in their reading or social studies curricula. At least 18 school districts are expected to participate in randomized control trials designed to test the effectiveness of ITSS. The researchers are measuring the cognitive outcomes of ITSS, such as the system’s effect on reading comprehension. They also are examining whether the intelligent tutor enhances students’ motivation to read, promotes students self-efficacy, and influences their attitudes toward computer use.

Reading and Intensive Learning Strategies “One reason students end up in special education is that they are not learning how to read in regular education classrooms,” notes Robert Stevens, professor of educational psychology. This is borne out in a 2002 report by the President’s Commission of Excellence in Special Education, which reveals a startling statistic: Of nearly 3 million children identified as having specific learning disabilities, 80 percent are identified as such because they haven’t learned how to read. At one Pennsylvania school district, administrators noticed that a growing percentage of its students were enrolled in special education programs. To seek ways to reverse the trend, the district turned to Penn State’s Educational Psychology program. The Penn State researchers answered the call by developing an early-intervention reading model known as Reading and Intensive Learning Strategies (RAILS).

With funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Stevens worked with faculty member Peggy Van Meter, associate professor of educational psychology; former graduate students Joanna Garner and Cindy Bochna; current graduate student Nicholas Warcholak; and former faculty member Tracey Hall. The researchers implemented RAILS for a four-year period at three of the school district’s high-poverty, low-achieving elementary schools. RAILS provides K–2 children with a second reading period each day to supplement an earlier 60–90 minute reading period. The second period gives the students time for additional practice on what was taught in the morning session, thus enhancing their retention of newly learned skills and vocabulary.

In subsequent standardized tests, children in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade who had spent 1–2 years in the RAILS program significantly outperformed those in non-RAILS classes on measures of reading comprehension, vocabulary, reading fluency, and word attack skills.

In subsequent standardized tests, children in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade who had spent 1–2 years in the RAILS program significantly outperformed those in non-RAILS classes on measures of reading comprehension, vocabulary, reading fluency, and word attack skills. 

Understanding Intertextuality and Nonverbal Representations Van Meter is involved in other research projects regarding reading comprehension. “Traditionally, reading research has focused on students’ reading of single verbal texts,” she says. “But learning from text requires more than reading a single text that contains only written words. Students must read multiple texts or multiple chapters within a text.” To fully understand the lessons of the classrooms, says Van Meter, students need to comprehend individual readings while also integrating these texts and understanding them in relation to one another. This field of research is labeled intertextuality, whereby a reader infers the meaning of an unfamiliar word by its relation to surrounding text. Intertextuality is the topic of a chapter that Van Meter recently coauthored with Carla Firetto, doctoral candidate in Educational Psychology, in the Handbook of Research on New Literacies.


Much of Van Meter’s research focuses on nonverbal representations. “Instructional texts convey meaning not only through the written word, but also through diagrams, formulas, and tables,” she says.

The current biology study makes use of a newly acquired eye tracking technology. Van Meter is working with Rayne Sperling, associate professor of educational psychology, in the use of this technology.

The technology allows us to collect data in unobtrusive ways that would not change students’ behaviors. In this respect, we will be able to evaluate and revise our instruction to better support students’ use of comprehension strategies. Van Meter and colleagues are studying learner comprehension of representations in tutorial materials being used in a Penn State biology course. “We have manipulated design elements in the tutorial environments to change how students interact with these representations,” she says. This work builds on the model of drawing construction proposed in a previous study by Van Meter and Garner, now a faculty member at Penn State Berks, which was published in 2005 in Educational Psychology Review. “In that work, we extended models of how students understand and integrate verbal and nonverbal representations to also account for how students can construct representations as a learning strategy,” says Van Meter.

“We plan to use eye tracking technology in follow-up intertextuality and multiple representation studies,” says Van Meter. “It will permit us to closely examine how students interact with texts and how they respond to strategy instruction and prompts. The technology allows us to collect data in unobtrusive ways that would not change students’ behaviors. In this respect, we will be able to evaluate and revise our instruction to better support students’ use of comprehension strategies.”

Reading Practice Richard Kubina, associate professor of

special education, has focused his reading research on the idea of practice. “All skilled human behavior results from practice,” he says. “If you think about getting good at a musical instrument like the piano, being good at a sport like golf, or having fun with a hobby like knitting, practice is at the core of skill development. “Academic skills such as reading are no different,” continues Kubina. “My research shows the beneficial application of practice. We remember what we practice. And the better we practice, the better we remember.” To measure students’ oral reading fluency and long-term retention, Kubina worked recently with three College of Education alumni—Janelle Amato, who now is a practicing school psychologist in New Jersey; Chris Schwilk, faculty member at Shippensburg University; and Bill Therrien, faculty member at The University of Iowa— to study the fluency skills of three students in a learning support classroom.

The researchers integrated a repeating reading strategy: Each student reads one passage to a high-performance standard and a second passage to a lower-performance standard. To reach the higher-performance standard, the students needed to practice more intensely. They had comparable shortcomings with regard to the number of words read correctly per minute for both the high- and low-performance standards, even though practice varied. After six months of ending the intervention, a retention measure showed that all students read more words correctly per minute in the high-performance standard condition. “The high-performance standard is a measure of higher-quality practice,” explains Kubina. “It would be like practicing free throws at a level for a high school student and then at a level for a professional basketball player. The results show practicing reading to fluent, expert levels has a very positive impact.”


Encouraging Teachers to Write Most people think of literacy as knowing how to read, but the other half, of course, is knowing how to express oneself in writing. The teaching of writing may be more important now than ever, says Anne Whitney, assistant professor of language and literacy education, because people are able to produce more communication with the rise of online resources. They can post their writings and have instant accessibility worldwide. Their voices are much more amplified. “In the classroom, it’s easy to forget writing in the push for improvement in reading,” notes Whitney. “But when we do this we miss something critical—writing and reading are interrelated aspects of the same processes. Both writing and reading are acts of composing and of interpretation.” Whitney’s research includes the development of teachers themselves as writers. She consults with the National Writing Project, a professional development network that encourages teachers to make compositions of their experiences. Whitney observes these writings and looks for ways


for the teachers to fit their essays into their curricula. She has published several journal articles on the topic. Teachers need time and space to dedicate to their own writing, says Whitney—a practice that, in turn, would allow them to teach writing more effectively. “Just as you would want a swimming instructor to know how it feels to swim, you want a writing teacher

to know how it feels to write—and not just how to produce excellent writing, but how it feels to struggle to express oneself within the conventions of a genre,” she says. In this way, says Whitney, “teachers of writing can meet their students as fellow practitioners of a challenging but worthwhile art.”

Keeping Young People Interested in

There has been a disturbing drop-off in reading for recreation, observes Steven Herb, head of Penn State’s Education and Behavioral Sciences Library. “Fewer than half of American adults now read literature. The steepest rate of decline, 28 percent, has occurred in the youngest age groups—among adolescents and young adults,” says Herb, who serves as director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book (see page 31).

According to the work of researcher and acquisition James Paul Gee, the begins at a very literacy acquisition of preschool children young age. begins as children form memberships with groups that extend beyond their families. Because of this, literacy is a complex social practice that involves signs, symbols, gestures, language, and other social factors as young people mediate and produce culture. Literacy today involves a range of texts that extend from print-based material to screens and images that permeate our society.

Herb acknowledges that online resources help somewhat to buoy an interest in reading. “I am pleased that the text-based world is thriving electronically and that our world is as social an organism as ever,” he says, “but we must find ways to keep our middle school, high school, and college-age kids reading literature as well.”

Reading Literacy learning

The early schooling years are a critical time for encouraging children to read a wide range of texts and genres. If young students engage in reading text regularly, they will continue to read throughout their lives.

While young people may often rely on a variety of texts and screens to communicate with others and to learn about the world around them, it can sometimes be challenging to engage them with extended texts and print-based forms. Jacqueline Edmondson, associate dean for undergraduate and graduate studies, has been exploring these challenges in relation to adolescent readers and biography. In an essay she wrote last year in The Biographer’s Craft, Edmondson observed that “few of the young people with whom I talk seem especially interested in biography [in its traditional print-based form]. Instead, they spend countless hours on Facebook and Google, reading some variation (aberration?) of life stories, and they turn to to learn a specific fact about a famous person for a school project or to satisfy personal curiosity.”

Edmondson further writes in her essay that, “as writers, we need to find ways to invite young people into this wonderful art form.” She believes that biography is an important genre for citizens in a democracy, and young readers can be drawn in by biographers who use creative conventions that capture the imagination and connect the life stories of others to current concerns and issues. For example, images sprinkled throughout the text and variations in font may help attract younger readers. Edmondson has authored five books in a series of biographies, published by Greenwood Publishing Group, that are geared toward adolescent readers. Edmondson’s five works—Venus and Serena Williams, Condoleezza Rice, Jesse Owens, Jerry Garcia, and John Lennon—are representative of dozens of Greenwood titles that feature prominent individuals who have shaped the world in politics, entertainment, religion, and sport. Murry Nelson, professor emeritus of education, has also written for Greenwood, authoring biographies on Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, and the Rolling Stones.


Literacy for Special-Needs Students Students who have complex physical and communication needs often experience frustration when trying to learn to read. For teachers, it can be a challenge to find techniques that enable children with severe disabilities to participate in reading activities. “In some ways, literacy is even more important for students with complex communication needs than it is for the ‘typical’ student,” states David McNaughton, professor of special education.

McNaughton and Janice Light, distinguished professor of communication sciences and disorders in the College of Health and Human Development, have launched a new online resource that provides teachers with strategies for teaching literacy skills to learners with special needs, especially learners with complex communication needs. The Web site is titled Literacy Instruction for Individuals with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and Other Disabilities ( “Our Web site provides information on evidence-supported instructional activities that teachers can use with students who have difficulty speaking,” says McNaughton. “This site is useful not only for special education teachers, but for any general education teacher who has a child with special needs enrolled in their class.”


The Web site is the result of extensive research that McNaughton and Light have conducted aimed at facilitating the classroom participation of children with special needs. It introduces instructional activities that teachers can use when teaching reading to children with a variety of conditions, including autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and developmental apraxia. The teaching activities address both basic skills such as sound blending, phoneme segmentation, and letter-sound correspondences, while supporting the use of these skills in personalized and motivating reading and writing activities. The site features videos of the instructional techniques used by the researchers in teaching children with disabilities to read. For many of these children, prior to instruction, the expectations for reading had been extremely low; however, all of the children made significant progress as a result of the instructional activities.

Summer Reading Camp The elementary students learn word solving and comprehension strategies while working on largegroup, small-group, and independent activities based on their interests and needs. “Our goals include supporting children in their literacy learning while involving them in a community of readers and writers, providing opportunities for them to feel successful,” says Shannon. “This year they participated in a pen pal correspondence.”

Early elementary students gain a genuine appreciation for reading at the Penn State Summer Reading Camp, held each July in the College of Education. Kathleen Shannon, instructor of language & literacy education, coordinates the four-week camp. Designed for students who are experiencing some challenges in developing their literacy, Reading Camp offers a 3-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio. Its teachers include graduate students who are pursuing post-baccalaureate Reading Specialist certification in the College.

Says Shannon, “The camp brings together graduate students with local elementary students, many of whom have been identified as struggling readers or writers. In addition, we develop connections between the undergraduate students in summer session methods classes and the reading campers.”

The camp uses an inquiry approach that provides an authentic context for reading and writing. The readings are part of a camp-long research project—this year the children studied insects. “They did research on insects in order to construct clay sculptures and interactive environments. They created comics, diagrams, PowerPoint slides, and poetry based on their insect research,” says Shannon. The end result this year was an impressive Insect Museum, which was viewed by parents and other visitors on the camp’s final day. “Working toward construction of the museum motivated the campers to read and write,” notes Shannon.


Adult and Family Literacy Research The Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy

(ISAL), which was established in 1985, has worked in partnership with the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy

since its inception in 2001. Collectively, co-directors Barbara Van Horn and Esther Prins have 48 years of experience in adult and family literacy issues and have become experts in their field. Together, the two institutes coordinate research concerning adult and family literacy. Earlier this decade, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy reported that 13 percent of Pennsylvania’s residents aged 16 and older have limited reading skills. Adults struggling with English literacy are often immigrants, learning disabled, and/or those of a low socioeconomic status.


Prins, along with Fern Willits, professor of rural sociology, Sheila Sherow, ISAL research associate, and Blaire Toso, thengraduate assistant, concluded a study in 2008 titled “Pennsylvania’s Forgotten Rural Immigrants,” which collected information from adult English as a Second Language (ESL) professionals to determine, among other objectives, the difficulties that immigrant groups encounter with community social services. The researchers found that respondents perceived immigrants as having the most difficulty in negotiating language differences. Since the acquisition of English language skills is an important factor in immigrants’ ability to adapt to their new communities, ESL programs in rural communities are essential. Education programs are often affected by changes in state and federal policies. In 2008, Prins and Graduate Assistant Ramazan Gungor studied how two policies—the switch from federal Even Start funding to state funding and Work-First welfare policies— affected 10 family literacy programs in Pennsylvania.

Prins’ research examining the social and cultural dimensions of family literacy has been given a boost with a $40,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation. She will lead a study that examines how poor women with limited education use family literacy programs to build social support networks and, in turn, how these networks influence women’s mental health, including depression. The study will be the first of its kind to examine these issues. With a $50,000 grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, Prins will also lead a study to investigate how rural GED students use distance learning. The study aims to inform policy makers and adult education professionals how distance learning can support rural students preparing to take the GED.

Outreach The literacy institutes in the College are also a resource for adult and family education providers in Pennsylvania. The Goodling Institute works collaboratively with the National Center for Family Literacy in Louisville, Ky., to advocate nationally for family literacy programs. Although Pennsylvania has state funds that support family literacy, the William F. Goodling Even Start Family Literacy Program is the only federal program that provides grants to state education agencies for local family literacy projects. The Goodling Institute and ISAL also work with nine Even Start projects and 190 other family or adult literacy programs in Pennsylvania through externally funded projects, providing professional development and technical assistance to adult and family literacy practitioners.

This year Van Horn and Sherow also reached out to central Pennsylvania school districts to form partnerships to serve the schools’ needs. They made a point to learn what the districts needed so they could tailor programs to address specific issues. As this outreach project gains ground, they hope to develop collaborative partnerships with more Pennsylvania school districts. The Goodling Institute also offers a series of graduate courses leading to a certificate in family literacy through Penn State’s World Campus. In a partnership between the Goodling Institute and the National Center for Family Literacy, the program enrolls about 50 students per semester who want to enhance their skills and credentials in supporting parents’ and children’s education.  

Earlier this decade, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy reported that 13 percent of Pennsylvania’s residents aged 16 and older have limited reading skills.


Multimodal Literacies


ociolinguist James Paul Gee explains that literacy is the control of language in secondary discourses. The New London group builds on this idea to emphasize the importance of multiple literacies in a globalized, technological world. The College of Education has a number of faculty who research these different kinds of literacies, defined here as multimodal literacies. These literacies may be technological, sociopolitical, or scientific, for example. The College faculty focus on a number of these multiple literacies, including understanding new media and technologies, pedagogical literacy, and cultural literacy.

“When we watch kids work, they work in an experimental fashion. They are driven by effect, which has an incredible role in what they do.� 18

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new media 19

New Media and Technologies The definition of the term “literacy” is not fixed. Once recognized simply as an ability to read and write printed material, literacy now has a broader meaning. Communicative practices are changing in the face of rapid developments in technology. Print literacy and online literacy are fully intertwined. While electronic media are pushing pencils and pens aside, the craft of writing remains, cutting across all platforms. “Texting, blogging, discussion forum posts, and wikis—these are all examples of communication using written language, and all require that the writer engage in deliberate composing processes,” says Anne Whitney, assistant professor of language and literacy education. Whitney notes that it is often through writing that we assert ourselves in the wider world: “Through writing we explain, persuade, question, and talk back,” she says.


Gail Boldt, associate professor of language

and literacy education and affiliate faculty in women’s studies, is interested in a similar emotional connection between traditional literacy forms of reading and writing, and new literacy forms found in children’s out-ofschool, multimodal literacies, which include video games, music, and texting. Boldt observes, “These new literacies are self- and peer-motivated. Kids are choosing to do these things with their friends outside of school and are deeply engaged with them. There must be something incredibly emotional inherent in identity and creation of peer groups that often gets missed and possibly denigrated with in-school literacies.” Boldt is also researching the question of what difference children’s emotional lives make in the ways that they are able to take up and use literacy. Some of her published work focuses on children who are struggling readers and how teachers and literacy researchers have at times failed to account for the complexities of shame, humiliation, and failure in the learning process.

Boldt is working with Kevin Leander (Vanderbilt University) on research to more fully understand the phenomena of out-ofschool multimodal literacies, which include video creation and mixing music.

African American urban adolescents involved in media literacy work. The students were generating products— revised movie scripts, Web sites, and blogs —that were responsive to media texts.

“When we watch kids work, they work in an experimental fashion,” she says. “They are driven by effect, which has an incredible role in what they do. They seem to work for a constant generation of excitement. They want to see who likes it, what splash it makes, and who responds.”

“I found that the students’ processes of engagement with media included layered, interdependent methods of reading, writing, speaking, and listening,” says Staples. “Their school-sanctioned socio-intellectual categorization pertained only to schoolsanctioned literacies. It did not include attention to students’ socially situated and culturally informed literacy practices and the ways these practices showcase reasoning, consciousness, and intellectual work. The disengaged students I met were poorly labeled, not disabled.”

Boldt is also researching a book that looks at the history of how children’s subjective and emotional experiences of writing have been understood in elementary English education. Jeanine Staples, assistant professor of

language & literacy education, looks at how media, popular culture, language, and technology intersect the literate lives of marginalized individuals and groups. She recently finished a study of “disengaged”

Staples adds that, “Multimodal literacies are likely to continue to evolve as Web 2.0 remains responsive to users’ desires to communicate, develop associations and affinities, and exercise/examine evidence of critical consciousness. As various

media converge in-step with the melding of ideologies, languages, sign systems, and social networks—and competition for attention and hyper-communication grows more aggressive—multimodal literacies will evolve too. These literacies will inevitably further intercept notions of access, issues of social justice, and the sociopolitical construction of reality.”


Cultural Literacy “A multiple literacies perspective asserts that printed forms of academic or standard literacy are just one form of making and communicating meaning,” explains Kathleen M. Collins, assistant professor of language and literacy education. “There are different discourses employed by different groups. For example, young people who have grown up text messaging have their own ‘codes’—but it is still print literacy.” Collins adds, “Visual, graphic forms of meaning-making—such as a map, flow chart, or illustration—and physical kinesthetic forms of meaning-making, such as movement and dance, are considered literacy practices as well.” Collins’ research has been focused on the role of the arts in literacy education. Bringing the arts into the classroom, she says, exposes students to “various modes of expression and out-of-school literacies, such as music and art, to facilitate their development of written academic literacy.”


Collins is looking at how different forms of literacy impact students’ opportunities to participate and achieve. “Different forms of literacy may be privileged in different contexts, and this dynamic often contributes to students’ identification as disabled or underachieving,” she says. Historical children’s literature, media, and culture form part of Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s research agenda. Reid-Walsh, associate professor of language and literacy education and women’s studies, says that by examining the puzzles, paper dolls, games, and other artifacts from centuries past, we get a peek at the state of children’s literacy in that era. One artifact in particular, flap books, were quite popular in Europe and America between the 17th and 19th centuries. Flap books were illustrated storytelling pieces that featured movable parts. Initially for religious education, then for moral education around 1770, the brief plots of flap books began to be based on the popular culture of the period, such as puppet shows, early circus, and especially pantomimes. When we examine

flap books, says Reid-Walsh, “We can gain insight into the culture and the play of 19th-century children in a way that is not possible through reading books alone.” Young readers of flap books fully interacted with the story—not only by reading the text and looking at the pictures, but by lifting the flaps up and down, gaining an understanding of the narrative by playing physically with the text. Reid-Walsh believes that flap books are good examples of interactive media on paper platforms. “They demand a complex engagement by the reader, who has to engage in multiple literacies—of words, of images, and of the movement implied by the changing pictures,” she says. Intentional and unintentional “readings” are also possible, she says, because the flaps tend to fall down and create funny scenarios “against the grain” of the stated narrative. Moreover, the children not only engaged with commercially produced flap books, but modified existing ones and created their own books as domestic activities.

Reid-Walsh has published several journal articles and book chapters on the topic, including “Eighteenth-Century Flap Books for Children: Allegorical Metamorphosis and Spectacular Transformation,” which appeared in Princeton University Library Chronicle. She also is a founding editor of a new journal, Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Children’s literature can also be a means for students to engage more fully in their own culture, as well as to learn about other cultures. “Children’s literature is becoming more important in today’s increasingly multicultural world. Young readers can gain a better intellectual and social awareness through their reading experiences,” says Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, associate professor of language and literacy education, whose research focuses on the sociocultural aspects of literacy as well as children’s literature. Yenika-Agbaw published an article titled “Taking Children’s Literature Seriously: Reading for Pleasure and Social Change” in the academic journal Language Arts. In the article, she argues that as children read text, they confirm the existing meanings that are

determined by the ideologies of the author. But readers should be encouraged to read for social change. “Children notice how society works from a particular author’s perspective and should be able to confirm or challenge this view,” she says. “But for this to happen, teachers need to help the students cultivate skills and strategies to enable them to read these texts critically. The students appreciate the possibilities that critical literacy as a lens provides.” Yenika-Agbaw teaches children’s literature courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. “I constantly encourage my students to read against the text and to question images that authors construct of the different cultural groups that populate the texts,” she says. “To help the students understand further why authors tell certain types of stories and in certain genres or styles, I ask them to research the author’s background as well. Their findings often shed more light on their readings of these texts—learning in some cases what actually motivated an author to write a particular piece.”



Yenika-Agbaw also works with preservice teachers to develop activities that someday will enable their own students to accomplish much more than reading and writing in the traditional sense. “We’d like to see the students in future classrooms reflect on the content of what they are reading, its cultural significance, and how the content is being presented—the craft,” she says. “These activities take the form of presentations that involve multimedia with students making connections between images constructed in literary texts with those constructed in other media, revealing the interconnectedness of textual experiences. In so doing, they demonstrate ways of knowing, of understanding, and of responding to texts as they also create multiple meanings from and with texts.”


Kim Powell, assistant professor of art

education and curriculum and instruction, is also interested in how to prepare new teachers, specifically art teachers and elementary education teachers who are learning how to integrate art into their classrooms. Her particular focus is on how new teachers develop an ability to use the arts and, more broadly, the senses, in the educational experience. “These teachers are learning to use their senses—what they see, what they hear, how to see perspective in a picture, the layout of graphics and text on a page— and are beginning to understand how that has something to do with how we see the world,” says Powell. Powell has just completed a study of teachers preparing to teach art and has found that the most successful teachers were those who organized their curriculum around the local culture. One teacher had students take photographs around their school, and then they turned the photos into tiles for an installation piece.

Another teacher taught her students to knit. The class then created a 75-foot-long knitted panel, which they used to cover a stair handrail in their school. The students were involved in the creation of the art project as well as a social experiment in their community, as they were able to observe how other members in the school interacted and reacted to their art. Powell explains the success of these projects: “Projects with identity are very successful— the stuff that works best is when we allow that curriculum to get very personal.” Cultural literacy not only is important among children, but it can also be an important factor in adult education classrooms.

Elizabeth Tisdell, professor of adult education

at Penn State Harrisburg, has researched how instructors in higher and adult education draw on popular culture and the entertainment media in their classrooms. She believes that instructors can pull in aspects of pop culture and entertainment media and use them as tools to teach critical analysis and to help students facilitate development of critical media literacy—that is, the analysis of entertainment media. Encouraging classroom discussions about critical media literacy and analysis of media messages can be a good instructive method. “Engaging in discussion and deconstruction of character portrayals raises consciousness about the pedagogy of pop culture,” says Tisdell. “This helps students critically analyze where they are getting some of their ideas, particularly about social relations, based on gender, race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation—about social issues in general.” Tisdell points to the philosophy of Paulo Freire, the late Brazilian adult educator, activist, and educational theorist. “Freire argued that we need to teach people not only to read the word, but also to read the world,” says Tisdell. “So part of helping

people read the world is helping them examine what is a part of their everyday world—and media and popular culture are part of that everyday world.” Tisdell, along with Patricia Thompson, co-edited a book titled Popular Culture and Entertainment Media in Adult Education (2007, Jossey-Bass), which is part of the New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education series. Thompson is a recent graduate of the Adult Education doctoral program at Penn State Harrisburg. Tisdell notes that until recently, there had been a dearth of academic research that examines the role of pop culture in adult education. “Adults are as much consumers of entertainment media as children are,” she says. “Critical media literacy is being discussed in other educational venues; and since the media are a significant vehicle of education or mis-education, it is time that we, as adult educators, consider the relevance of critical media literacy to our own work.”

But, as Tisdell notes, pop culture should not in and of itself be a classroom’s driving force. “I don’t think using media or popular culture simply as entertainment in an educational setting, with no real educational purpose, is productive,” she says. “But when it’s used as a method to teach critical analysis and critical thinking, it can be very effective.”


Pedagogical Literacy Pedagogical literacy is an understanding of the teaching enterprise and how to provide opportunities for successful learning. Scott McDonald, assistant professor of science education, is focused on helping students develop a literacy of teaching. He describes it as “the ability to observe and recognize what is going on in the complex teaching enterprise.” Acquisition of this literacy goes hand in hand with developing the student teacher’s professional pedagogical vision. To help a student learn to see like an expert, McDonald has developed teaching processes that use video and video analysis tools. These tools allow students to review videos of themselves teaching and identify areas for improvement. McDonald is also building a robust video collection of experienced teachers in the classroom to provide a large set of examples for students to analyze. Video analysis software allows him to quickly reference positive teaching examples in his archive


McDonald hopes that students develop the ability to become self-reflective about their own vision and classroom practices, and that they continually improve as teachers.

and then access them to share with his students. Reviewing videos of themselves and their peers, along with positive nonpeer examples, “helps students develop their own ideas of what constitutes good teaching,” says McDonald, “and allows them to use examples of teaching as evidence to support their definitions.” McDonald hopes that students develop the ability to become self-reflective about their own vision and classroom practices and that they continually improve as teachers. In addition to his work with preservice K-12 students, McDonald is director of the Innovation Studio, a new initiative in the College of Education geared to helping faculty in the College, and Universitywide, develop a technological literacy in their own teaching. The studio will have a practical mission of being a resource

to faculty regarding the use of technology in teaching, but it will also have a research arm focused on understanding the use of technology to support teaching and learning in higher education.


Literacy and Public Policy


ays Patrick Shannon, professor of language and literacy education, in his book Reading Against Democracy, “Right from the beginning, the promises of reading instruction have been problematic for women, minorities, and the poor living in America, who for one reason or another were excluded from formal instruction. Until the turn of the twentieth century, reading among these groups was thought to be a threat to the social, economic, and political status quo. Since industrialization, however, it is the lack of reading abilities among these groups that is considered threatening.� In the present day, federal, state, and even some local governments and school boards are seeking standardization of literacy instruction as a means to promote literacy among the greatest share of the population. These very efforts, however, can be harmful to certain groups if their own unique needs and situations are not taken into account in the application of those very policies.

From the beginning of the nation, there has been a complex relationship between literacy and public policy. 28

Report on Literacy Education

Colleg e of Education

unique needs 29

Policy Effects on Literacy Instruction Citing the demands of the global economy and human capital theory, the U.S. Department of Education is looking to set national standards for print reading. Patrick Shannon, professor-in-charge of Penn State’s Language and Literacy Education program, examines the efficacy of the federal initiative. “In my research, I question the assumptions, theories, and actions that underlie this conception of reading, schooling, and learning,” says Shannon. “For example, how did the economy become the fundamental rationale for learning to read? What is gained and lost within economic definitions of reading and learning? Who gains and who loses under these conceptions? What tactics and strategies were and are used to develop, maintain, and further these positions on reading and learning to read? Where are alternatives practices inside and outside of schools?”


Shannon notes that this is the federal government’s second attempt to write national literacy standards; an earlier effort came on the heels of Goals 2000, an outcomes-based educational approach. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2002 as No Child Left Behind set the goal of universal proficiency in reading as measured by state tests by 2014. To support that goal, Congress appropriated $6 billion to fund the Reading First Initiative, which puts proven methods of early reading instruction in classrooms. Through Reading First, states and districts receive support to apply scientifically based reading research with the goal that all children will read proficiently by the end of third grade.  “The preliminary results of these actions have been mixed at best,” says Shannon. “State standards, tests, and definitions of proficiency vary, and the National Assessment of Education Progress results for reading differ markedly from state test scores.” 

Shannon notes that the federal government’s first evaluation of the Reading First Initiative found no significant differences in thirdgrade comprehension scores between students who participated in the Initiative and those who did not. “Reading scores for middle and secondary school students have increased minimally over the past 30 years,” he says. “The variety of positions on literacy within the Penn State community provide opportunities for grand conversations on this and other issues,” continues Shannon.

Pennsylvania Center for the Book Promotes Literacy in a Variety of Innovative Ways

Some ten years ago the Library of Congress approved Penn State’s University Libraries as the home of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book (PACFTB), one of 51 designated centers nationwide. PACFTB carries out a mission to study, honor, celebrate, and promote books and literacy to all residents of Pennsylvania.

The Literacy and Cultural Heritage Map contains more than 1,000 biographies of writers and other cultural figures from all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. It provides county-by-county historical data, accounts of historical events that appeared in local newspapers, and a geological atlas of each county. The Heritage Map has accumulated more than 55 feature articles and essays on famous locations and events. Fittingly, the 57th feature is about the H. J. Heinz Company and its founder, Henry John Heinz, creator of the “57 varieties” slogan.

“The Center for the Book is a living embodiment of what we’re trying to do as a continuing education university for all of Pennsylvania’s citizens,” said the Center’s director, Steven Herb.

In 2005, the Heritage Map received a Daniel Boorstin Award for Innovative and Creative Reading Promotion Projects from the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

A signature PACFTB project is the online Literary and Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania. This unique interactive map is used extensively in classrooms across Pennsylvania. It also has a wide appeal for many other audiences of any age who have an interest in the history and culture of the Commonwealth.

“The Center is proud to promote locality through the map,” said Alan Jalowitz, the Center’s map editor. “All aspects of literacy can be encouraged when users know that people from their own local areas have succeeded in a variety of endeavors.”

Family literacy is an important aspect of PACFTB’s work. The Center provides book lists, educational guides, lesson plans, and resources for families of young children and those who work in language and literacy development. Two projects in particular are geared toward young readers: “Each year we select a Baker’s Dozen—thirteen of the best picture books to support family literacy and to create a love of books and reading with preschool children,” said Karla Schmit, the Center’s assistant director. The Baker’s Dozen is narrowed from an initial field of 1,500 possible titles. For each book selected, the Center develops a literacy activity to use with children and an activity to use with families to teach them literacy strategies. Thousands of Baker’s Dozen bookmarks with the titles are printed each year and sent to educators and librarians nationwide. The Letters about Literature event invites students in 4th through 12th grade to write to authors, living or dead, and tell them what their books have meant to them. The program is popular with students and their teachers from across the Commonwealth—so popular that in each of the last nine years, Pennsylvania has ranked among the top eight states for the most letters submitted.

Other PACFTB programs include the Public Poetry Project, which celebrates the work of Pennsylvania poets, and administration of the nationally recognized Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for the best children’s poetry book published annually.



Rural Education and Literacy Rural schools play a special role in the communities they serve. In many cases they provide the main source of local employment. They also serve as centers of social and cultural activity, maintaining local traditions and identity as well as shared intergenerational identity and experience. In short, they strengthen the social bonds and local cultural literacies that help to hold rural communities together. Schools are in a position to encourage students to develop these connections with their surroundings and their communities, but state curricula and the demands of highstakes testing often do not take into account the specialized knowledge of rural students or the circumstances of rural schools. Educators and administrator, beholden to these institutional mandates, very often conclude that academic improvement and community improvement are mutually exclusive rather than complementary missions—even though the vitality of rural schools and communities are very much intertwined. 32

Kai Schafft, assistant professor of educational leadership, directs the Center for Rural Education and Communities (CREC). Schafft, who also edits the Journal of Research in Rural Education, is acutely

aware of the many challenges facing rural schools and communities. Says Schafft, “My research—and the multiple research and outreach activities of CREC—reflect the broad range of issues affecting rural schools and communities and the fact that these issues extend far beyond the walls of the classroom. Instead, they really require interdisciplinary understandings as a way to read the forces shaping rural school and community change.” An article in the June 2009 issue of Rural Sociology by Schafft and his colleagues provides a useful illustration of this approach. This article examines the relationship between rural “food deserts” and the incidence of obesity among school children. A food desert is “an area with limited access to retail food stores.”

The researchers found that school districts with a large percentage of a population living in a food desert are more likely to be structurally and economically disadvantaged. They also discovered a positive relationship between increased rates of overweight children and food desert residence, an outcome they hypothesize is due to limited access to a full range of fresh and healthy foods. This work led to a study of farm-to-school programs funded by state grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Farm-toschool programs comprise a variety of efforts to connect schools and students with area farmers, provide nutrition education, and increase the amount of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other locally produced foods served in schools. Some programs can also provide educational opportunities through school gardens, farm visits, and other initiatives that help reconnect rural students to the local community.

Using a survey of all food directors in Pennsylvania school districts, combined with local level case studies, Schafft and his colleagues completed the first comprehensive research on farm-to-school programs in Pennsylvania. From this work they developed a how-to guide, Growing the Links Between Farms and Schools: A How-To Guidebook for Pennsylvania Farmers, Schools and Communities, published by and available through the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

The award, argues Schafft, provides direct evidence of the imaginative and groundbreaking ways in which many educators and administrators use school– community connections to the benefit of each. It is, itself, a particular way of reading the embeddedness of rural schools within their communities, what that might suggest for effective educational practices—as well as the meaning of education itself.

The Center is also committed to recognizing successful rural schools. With its partner, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, the CREC each year recognizes a rural school or district through the “Building Community through Rural Education Award,” that demonstrates innovative practices by improving education while building community.

education at Penn State Altoona, has also been researching education in rural schools and communities, specifically the preparation of teachers who may work in rural schools and communities.

Says Schafft, “Most of what you hear about how rural schools are doing is connected to problems: problems with funding, teacher recruitment and retention, poverty, and so forth. With this award, we wanted to identify the success stories of rural Pennsylvania schools and in doing so identify and celebrate models of effective rural school–community partnership.”

Karen Eppley, an assistant professor of

She recently has begun exploring ways to engage elementary teacher education students in place-conscious pedagogy as a means of countering standardized teaching. After noticing that a large percentage of the teacher candidates at Penn State Altoona planned to teach in the surrounding rural schools, she began to prompt the students to think about how the rural context of their classrooms can be an asset rather than a liability.



Eppley explains, “Place-conscious pedagogy means ‘placing’ curriculum in ways that help children understand their local lives with the goal of preparing them to participate in the democratic processes of community creation and sustainability. Place-conscious pedagogy is whatever supports this outcome.” In one exercise, Eppley had a group of sophomore preservice teachers, many of whom self-identified as rural, engage in a pen pal exchange with second graders in a rural school. To encourage conversation about what it means to be rural, the two groups had read the same children’s books that depict variants of rural life. Eppley noticed the preservice teachers’ reluctance to step out of their role as “teacher” in order to dialogue with the children more equally. Instead of sharing their ideas conversationally with the children, they often questioned them. The second graders, on the other hand, were eager to discuss the rural themes of the books and frequently related those themes to their own lives.


She said, “The results of the study reiterate the power of place-conscious pedagogy to re-center curriculum on learners. I learned that conversations about placing curriculum need to take place within broader conversations about equity, diversity, the purpose of schooling, the role of the teacher, and even the influence of globalization.” Eppley argues that the teacher candidates’ responses demonstrate the complexities involved in changing traditional models of schooling. Eppley has designed another initiative for preservice students to experience rural schools. A two-week intensive summer seminar offers students an opportunity to live in a rural community, work and observe in rural classrooms, and volunteer in the community.

stereotypes. They were most surprised by the number of at-risk students in their classrooms and were most impressed with the teacher– student relationships and the close-knit nature of the school. The Penn State students also noticed that the rural students had specialized knowledge that they did not.”

In summer 2009, the course was populated completely with students from urban settings. Each had an eye-opening experience. Eppley describes: “The preservice teachers had imagined rural communities as consisting of picturesque farms and two-parent families, but the students quickly abandoned these

Teachers who understand place-conscious pedagogy are prepared to recognize and teach from students’ place-based literacies, engaging them in the classroom for more successful learning.

Index Amato, Janelle 12 Bochna, Cindy 9 Boldt, Gail 20 Centre for Rural Education and Communities (CREC) 32 Collins, Kathleen M. 22 Edmondson, Jacqueline 13 Education and Behavioral Sciences Library 13 Eppley, Karen 33 Firetto, Carla 10 Freire, Paulo 25 Garner, Joanna 9 Gee, James Paul 13, 18 Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy 16 Graham, Steve 6 Gungor, Ramazan 16 Hall, Tracey 9 Harris, Karen R. 6 Herb, Steven 13, 31 Innovation Studio 26 Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy (ISAL) 16 Intelligent Tutoring for the Structure Strategy (ITSS) 8

Jalowitz, Alan 31 Journal for Research in Rural Education 32 Kubina, Richard 7, 11 Kulikowich, Jonna 7, 8 Leander, Kevin 21 Lei, Pui-wa 8 Light, Janice 14 Literacy Instruction for Individuals with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and Other Disabilities 14 Mason, Linda 3, 6 Mastropieri, Margo 7 McDonald, Scott 26 McNaughton, David 14 Meyer, Bonnie J.F. 8 Monk, David H. 2 Nelson, Murry 13 Pennsylvania Center for the Book 13, 31 PLANS 6 Powell, Kim 24 Prins, Esther 16 Reading and Intensive Learning Strategies (RAILS) 9 Reid-Walsh, Jacqueline 22 Ruhl, Kathy 7

Schwilk, Chris 11 Self-regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) 6 Schafft, Kai 32 Schmit, Karla 31 Shannon, Kathleen 15 Shannon, Patrick 28, 30 Sherow, Sheila 16, 17 Smith, Edward 8 Sperling, Rayne 10 Staples, Jeanine 21 Stevens, Robert 9 Summer Reading Camp 15 Therrien, Bill 11 Thompson, Patricia 25 Tisdell, Elizabeth 25 Toso, Blaire 16 TWA 6 Van Horn, Barbara 16, 17 Van Meter, Peggy 9, 10 Warcholak, Nicholas 9 Whitney, Anne 12, 20 Wijekumar, Kay 8 Willits, Fern 16 Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian 23


David H. Monk, Dean College of Education The Pennsylvania State University 274 Chambers Building University Park, PA 16802 814.865.2526

Editor: Suzanne Wayne Writers: Pamela Batson, David

Price, Joseph Savrock Photographers: Mark Houser,

Rusty Myers, Randy Persing

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Profile for Penn State College of Education

Report on Literacy Education  

Report on the research and activities of Penn State College of Eduction faculty regarding literacy education.

Report on Literacy Education  

Report on the research and activities of Penn State College of Eduction faculty regarding literacy education.

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