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Reading Faculty Members Spotlight Professional Talents of Graduate Reading Students


JONESBORO – For the third consecutive year, Arkansas State University provided a forum Saturday to honor and spotlight the literacy leadership and research of past and present graduate reading students.

The graduate reading faculty and Graduate Student Literacy Guild, from the Department of Teacher Education at Arkansas State, hosted a Literacy Seminar and Reading Conference for area teachers. Also spotlighted was the induction of newly graduated master’s level students involved in the reading master’s and education specialist programs.

Held at the ASU’s Student Union, more than 70 students and education colleagues gathered to participate in scholarly sessions, to hear about program developments in the graduate reading programs, and to participate in a session with a nationally renowned expert on writing.

According to Dr. Dixie Keyes, a member of the graduate reading faculty, “This is an important and meaningful event because it showcases the authentic work of our students while they are enrolled in our graduate programs, and also demonstrates the knowledge and spirit of their continuing work within their schools and communities.” Keyes also serves as director of ASU’s Arkansas Delta Writing Project.

After a presentation highlighting the teaching accomplishments of the current cohort of students, Dr. Deborah Dean, the author of four professional books on writing pedagogy, gave the featured address by way of online connection.

MSE and EdS graduate reading candidates presented professional development sessions on topics such as National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, literacy coaching, advanced comprehension strategies, and implementation of Common Core State Standards.

Mrs. Debbie West, technology liaison for the Arkansas Delta Writing Project and a third grade teacher in the Nettleton School District, presented a session highlighting student digital stories to encourage teachers to “lead the way in adding digital to their day.”

Donna Dillahunty from the Marion School District, who is in the educational specialist reading program at Arkansas State, has taught for more than 20 years, and she shared her thesis research about the identities of teachers who are writers.

Dr. Deborah Owens, the reading area group coordinator at A-State, praised the cohort, saying “The teachers in our program are very accomplished. As public schools in Arkansas begin implementing the common core state standards, I’m confident that our graduate students will serve an important role as literacy leaders within their schools and districts.”

The teachers in the program serve in roles above and beyond that of teacher through grant writing, curriculum committees and extracurricular events centered in student needs and interests.

ASU Literacy Guild President, Jennifer Pepper, along with other guild members led an induction ceremony for the ASU Literacy Guild Honor Society. Inducted were: Audrea Baker, Star Martin, Brittany Briggs, Jan Smith, and Teri Spillman. Each honoree was awarded a Literacy Guild pin, a framed certificate, and a professional book with teacher study group ideas.

Reading professor LaToshia Woods complimented the teacher leadership of all the presenters, literacy guild members, and reading program candidates, and invited several graduate reading students to honor Dr. Deborah Owens with a literacy excellence plaque for her six years of service to the reading programs at ASU.

The new educational specialist degree in reading already has a strong cohort. Dr. Thilla Sivakumaran, dean of the College of Education, discussed the next steps in building upon the work of the graduate reading programs.

“We will open a literacy center in the College of Education building this summer and hope to unveil a PhD in literacy studies in 2014,” Dr. Sivakumaran said. Other reading faculty members are Dr. Lina Leatherwood-Owens, Dr. Ryan Kelly, and Dr. Patricia Murphy.

Students enrolled in the graduate reading program are licensed teachers who attend graduate courses in the evenings and during their summer vacation. Both programs accommodate the busy schedules of the teachers by offering several web-assisted or hybrid courses, although the majority of courses are face-to-face and practicum-style classes. The program also offers several entry routes into the program such as participation in the Arkansas Delta Writing Project’s Summer Institute for Teachers or through offerings of the department’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.

Teachers in the program undergo written comprehensive examinations in their final year and also take the reading specialist Praxis test in order to be licensed as a reading specialist in Arkansas. The MSE reading program received national accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in 2010. The educational specialist degree in reading was approved in 2011.

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