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UW Center Seeks To Improve Literacy

courtesy UW

Last month the University of Wyoming opened a Literacy Research Center and clinic that should enhance literacy at all levels across the state.  It will allow face to face tutoring, train tutors and teachers, and use technology in interesting new ways.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.  

VICKI GILLIS:  “I see this as being on the cutting edge of work in literacy, K-12, and beyond.

BOB BECK:  That’s Vicki Gillis who shares Co-Director duties of the facility that will focus on family literacy, early childhood literacy, disciplinary literacies and tutoring of struggling readers.  The center will do its share of its own tutoring, but the bigger charge is to train others to do the same thing.  They can perform this training in a variety of ways, but will mostly be done through the use of technology.  Gillis says that includes cameras in classrooms outside of Laramie and web based systems among other things.

GILLIS:  We will actually be able to view a classroom as the teacher is teaching and give that teacher some feedback immediately. 

BECK:   Under Common Core and similar standards students are now required to demonstrate their understanding of a topic by articulating what they are learning.  That means teachers are teaching differently too.   Co-Director George Kamberelis says this is something many teachers are struggling with.

GEORGE KAMBERELIS:  The standards require the kids understanding of disciplinary literacy, so how to read and write strategically in those difference subject areas.  And that’s something teachers in those subject areas and English teachers have never had to face in the past. 

BECK:  Kamberelis says this should not only improve a student’s performance, but also make for more effective teaching.  The same technology can be used to observe and react to a tutoring session. 

Another focus will be on literacy for young children inside the home and at school.  Becca Steinhoff of the organization Wyoming Kids First says the center will be able to provide important research and training in that arena. 

BECCA STEINHOFF:  Really lending credibility, vision, recognition, to the fact that child’s social and cultural experiences inside and outside of the home environment of their first five years of life greatly enhance their literacy skills and then their formal school experience. 

BECK:  Steinhoff says that a lot of organizations around the state don’t have access or resources for feedback and training.  She says the literacy center will change that…

STEINHOFF:  All corners of the state are going to be able to think about literacy and really have a challenged dialogue from wherever they are and access to a set of resources that we know looks at evidenced based practices and high level research which hasn’t always been available. 

BECK:  Steinhoff thinks the Literacy center could be a game changer for improved literacy in the state.  In Jackson the Teton Literacy Center has been focused on the topic for many years, but Executive Director Shan Kingston says the U-W Literacy center has already helped her staff get important training on some areas they have not focused on.

SHAN KINGSTON:  We use Skype sessions, they are able to research issues that are specific to us, and provide us or direct us to resources that we might not be able to obtain on our own through access to their libraries and data bases.  And guide us to the solutions that we need to our very specific issues.

BECK:  Kingston agrees with Steinhoff that few towns would have access to the kind of resources the University of Wyoming will now be able to provide, but there is cost and she hopes that the outreach component of the program takes into account the budget limitations some organizations might face.  As mentioned earlier, school districts are also interested in the program.  For instance Kamberelis says he’s been approached to help with struggling schools.  Sheridan County District Two Superintendent Craig Dougherty says he’s been talking to the University about improving its outreach effort and he says the Literacy Center is a great way to step that up.

CRAIG DOUGHERTY “There are not programs, but models of professional development that teachers should be exposed to so that they can identify kids that need help in reading and have a teacher who has the skill sets who can identify what the problems are and address those.”

BECK:  Dougherty says it’s about developing great teachers.  Kamberelis says he is not aware of another center around the country that has ever attempted to take on the outreach efforts that the Literacy Center is attempting.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck. 

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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