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MCRR Quarterly Reader, Fall 2014

Message from the Director

Dear Readers,

Lori HelmanWelcome to our fall 2014 newsletter. This newsletter is our way of keeping in touch with educators across the state around our common goal of improving literacy outcomes for K-12 students. The fall of 2014 brings an exciting innovation to our state - the implementation of nearly universal full-day kindergarten. Our research brief in this issue contains an interview with Debbykay Peterson, Early Childhood Specialist, on the topic of full-day kindergarten. In this issue you will also find information from our projects here at the Center, including America Reads and Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites (PRESS). You will hear about presentations that have or will take place locally by renowned national educational researchers. It is our goal to serve as a bridge between the work in literacy improvement going on in schools, and the knowledge being generated through research at universities.

Many of you have followed the work of PRESS that the Center has been deeply involved with over the past four years. The PRESS project, funded by the Target Corporation, was a partnership among the MCRR, the Minnesota Reading Corps, and six Minneapolis public and charter schools. We worked together to create a framework for early literacy achievement that consisted of data-based decision making, quality core instruction, tiered interventions, and embedded professional learning. In the upcoming year, the MCRR will take the results of our PRESS pilot and offer opportunities for educators to be a part of a variety of workshops or individualized consulting with our PRESS staff. You will find more information in the PRESS update below.

This fall the University of Minnesota is updating and recommitting to its mission of helping communities to solve the grand challenges of a diverse and changing world. One of the key strategies to accomplish this mission is to reciprocally engage with our communities - in the case of the Reading Center this means the educators, administrators, students, families, and communities who aim to ensure that all students become capable and enthusiastic readers and writers. We are working to find as many ways as possible to interact with you on this grand challenge. Please let us know what you would find helpful, and how we might engage in even more meaningful ways. Once again, thank you for reading the newsletter, for connecting with the MCRR, and for the work you do with children and youth every day in your schools and classrooms.

With best wishes for an academic year that has impact and joy,

Lori Helman, Ph.D.
MCRR Director
Associate Professor, Curriculum & Instruction, U of M

Research Brief: Literacy Instruction in Full-Day Kindergarten

Full-Day K in MNCapable and motivated readers and writers do not just “appear” once they have a reading book put in their hands at school. Readers and writers are cultivated from their earliest conscious moments through verbal and visual interactions with text in their homes, communities, and preschool classrooms. A strong emergent literacy foundation is built on the language skills that children bring with them to school. Kindergarten presents an ideal context for bridging the language and emerging literacy capabilities of children to the more structured curriculum of letters, sounds, words and texts. In order to maximize children’s opportunities to experience a language-rich structured academic environment, the Minnesota Department of Education has offered some full-day kindergarten support for teachers and administrators. On August 23, Dr. Debra Peterson of the MCRR interviewed Debbykay Peterson, a Minnesota Department of Education Early Childhood Education Specialist who is leading the efforts at the department to support schools and districts as they are implementing full-day kindergarten. Here is a summary of their conversation, with helpful insights and links to further information.

Q: How has the change in MN law impacted the implementation of full-day kindergarten?

 The state has set aside $134 million per year for full-day K!  Last year only about 62% of Minnesota kindergarteners were in full-day kindergarten.  This year it will be about 95%.  Now schools will have the time to provide the depth of instruction that will benefit all our students.  This includes instruction that is integrated, provides a balance of child-centered and teacher-directed activities, and is developmental.  Instruction that can go deep into the content, expose students to 21st Century skills like critical thinking and collaboration, can fully engage them as learners.  This legislation gives us a wonderful opportunity to examine our practice and incorporate change.  We can think about instructional design and learning environments in new ways.

Q: What kinds of questions are schools and districts asking as they move to full-day kindergarten programs?

: They are saying, “Now that we have this time, now what do we do?  How do we use the time meaningfully? What should our schedules look like?  Do we need to have 90 minutes of reading? Do we provide interventions? How do we incorporate child-focused activities, inquiry and mature, purposeful play? How do we align with the standards?” 

Q: What research or resources would you recommend for teachers of full-day kindergarten?

 MDE is offering a series of seminars on full-day kindergarten.  The next one will be on Oct. 21 and the topic is “Transformational Full-day Kindergarten Teachers: Motivating the Learner in EVERY Child.”  The keynote presenter will be Dr. Adam Holland, from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  He is a researcher and a former kindergarten teacher.  Registration is open here. We have also started a Wiki that is open to everyone.  It can be accessed here.

In the future, we hope to develop guidance documents on curriculum, designing environments to support all learners, especially our students of color, males, and students of poverty.

Some resources that I would recommend are: Developmentally Appropriate Practices: Focus on Kindergartners by Copple, Bredekamp, Koralek & Charner from NAEYC* and Basics of Developmentally Appropriate Practice by Eva Phillips and Amy Scrinzi from NAEYC.*

Full-day kindergarten provides extended time for children to use language at school, connect this language to meaningful reading and writing activities, and experience systematic, developmentally-appropriate instruction in the code and meaning of print. Here at the Reading Center, we look forward to working with teachers, literacy coaches, schools, and the MDE to take advantage of this opportunity to reach our state’s early literacy goals.

*National Association for the Education of Young Children, see

Michael Rodriguez: Beyond Data Driven Decision Making

Michael RodriguezIn his presentation Beyond Data Driven Decision Making at MCRR's Summer Literacy Workshop, Dr. Michael Rodriguez shared perspectives on how to meet students where they are and help them move forward. Outcomes from a survey Rodriguez conducted on educators across the state suggest that schools that use data to make decisions benefit from a variety of school improvements. Rodriguez provided recommendations for further sustaining and improving this work in schools by providing ongoing training and support for all school staff and focusing attention on those students with the most needs. Rodriguez suggests that we reshape our thinking towards formative uses of assessment, those that are specifically intended to support, enhance, and improve learning. When the focus is assessment for learning, it can inform and change teaching and learning. Concluding, Rodriguez shared models for delivering efficient and effective instruction and services across diverse settings in efforts to reduce educational disparities. See his presentation (PDF) and other presentations from MCRR's Summer Literacy Workshop.

Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites (PRESS)

PRESSAfter three years of grant-funded research in Minneapolis schools, PRESS (Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites) is extending its reach to school districts throughout the country. Providing workshops and consultations, PRESS aims to educate and support teachers and administrators in establishing school-based systems and practices for all K-5 students to become capable readers. Visit our website to learn more about PRESS and our two upcoming workshops this fall:

October 10, 2014, 8:30 am - 11:30 am
PRESS Half-Day Workshop: What's Next? Interpreting Screening Data for Targeted Tiered Interventions

November 13-14, 2014
PRESS Forward! A research-based framework for literacy achievement

CEHD America Reads

As another semester begins, America Reads begins the process of hiring & training our 2014/15 literacy mentors that will tutor kindergarten through eighth grade students in reading & writing in our 20 community partner sites across Minneapolis and St. Paul.  In addition to provided training in the form of seminars and a one credit special topics course (EDHD 1920 – Building the Literacy Mentor Toolbox), CEHD America Reads is opening another section of EDHD 1920 to the Community Engagement Scholars Program (CESP) students who volunteer as literacy tutors in schools & community sites.  EDHD 1920, is taught by our Associate Director of Curriculum, Eva Boehm and provides specific training in the essential components of reading as well as providing specific instruction & opportunities to practice specific protocols to support children’s decoding, fluency, comprehension skills as well as building stamina as independent readers.

Beginning in May 2014, CEHD America Reads and the MN Center for Reading Research was invited to participate in the Generation Next Network. The Action Agenda was released on August 18th for the following three out of five goals: (1) Every child is ready for kindergarten (2) Every child meets reading proficiency benchmarks in 3rd grade (3) Every child graduates from high school on time, ready for college and career.  Generation Next is a broad partnership of organizations and leaders from across Minneapolis and St. Paul that has come together and dedicated to educational excellence and narrowing the achievement and opportunity gap.  For more information please visit the Generation Next website.  We are excited to participate in this important work around reaching and teaching all students in our community. 

Adolescent Literacy and Learning 

We continue to provide innovative approaches to addressing the achievement gap through our North Minneapolis / U of M collaborative Adult & Adolescent Literacy Socialization program,  leading to increases in literacy and job potential among the hard to employ, ex-offenders, as well as reduction in recidivism within that community.  Our goals are to increase engagement, power and influence of individuals affected by racial, social and economic disparities; and train African American men and boys to develop their skills to navigate through the educational process; and permanently remove them from repeated recycling into the criminal justice system and into mainstream society by reducing the recidivism rate.

Professional Development with MCRR 

MCRR can help with your professional development needs! MCRR is available to help school leaders and teachers in grades K-6 learn how to use scientifically-based reading instruction to improve reading achievement. We can tailor sessions to the specific needs of your school. For more information contact us at 612-624-4561 or



MCRR Quarterly Reader, Spring 2014

Message from the Directors

Change is coming! The trees are budding, the days are longer, the end of another school year is getting closer and closer, and the Minnesota Center for Reading Research is changing as well. First, Dr. Matthew Burns is leaving the University of Minnesota to become the Associate Dean for Research at the University of Missouri’s College of Education. Matt has been the Co-Director for the MCRR for four years and has worked closely with the Center on many of our initiatives. Although Matt is irreplaceable, we are in the process of seeking out a Co-Director to partner with Lori to keep the MCRR moving forward towards accomplishing its mission. Second, many of you who have spoken with or read messages from the MCRR may have also noticed that the past year has brought a new face to the team. Brad Sigal has been working as Office Manager since last summer. Brad has become very knowledgeable about all aspects of running the Reading Center. The Summer Literacy Workshop coming up in August will be Brad’s opportunity for beginning to do things he has done once before - a great milestone! Another change is that we are transforming our professional development model into a collaborative partnership that will allow us to reach out to more schools. We are still in the planning phases, but more information will be coming out soon. Finally, we created a new Research to Policy Brief section on our website. The first brief is available there with more to come soon.
Although some changes are occurring, tried and true MCRR activities will remain. We will be holding our annual Summer Literacy Workshop again this year on August 4th, please click here for more information. Finally, we continue to publish the MCRR Quarterly Reader, which contains exciting news and useful information. We hope that you enjoy this edition of the Reader and we thank you again for sharing your expertise with us, partnering with us, working diligently on behalf of Minnesota’s children and youth, and for taking the time out of your busy day to read this newsletter.

Lori Helman and Matt Burns
MCRR Co-Directors

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Note from Matt

As noted in the introduction to the current edition of the MCRR Quarterly Reader, I am leaving the University of Minnesota in July to become the Associate Dean for Research at the University of Missouri’s College of Education. The Associate Dean position was just too exciting of an opportunity to pass on. I have been Co-Director of the MCRR with Lori Helman for four years, served as an Interim Co-Director for a year before that, and have been with the Educational Psychology Department for 10 years. I have greatly enjoyed collaborating with K-12 schools in Minnesota and learned a great deal from you. I look forward to the next professional challenge and hope that I can again build a collaborative network in Missouri like the one that I was fortunate to be a part of here in Minnesota. We have the best public schools in the country here in Minnesota and I look forward to taking what I learned from you to shape my research and future partnerships. We also have an outstanding resource in the University of Minnesota and the MCRR. Working with Lori Helman and the rest of the team (Deb Peterson, Yolanda Majors, Jennifer McComas, and the affiliated faculty members) was a privilege and I hope to further collaborate in the future. The MCRR is on the verge of some incredible initiatives and I know that they will work with their partners to continue to help children in Minnesota to fully access and appreciate the joys of reading. Thank you for a wonderful 10 years.

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MCRR Summer Literacy Workshop Aug. 4: Register now!

Registration is now open for MCRR’s Summer Literacy Workshop! This year’s workshop will be on Monday, August 4. The theme is Mind the Gap: Bringing Research to Practice. We’re excited to announce that our keynote speaker this year will be Michael Rodriguez, Ph.D., University of Minnesota Department of Educational Psychology, Campbell Leadership Chair in Education and Human Development. Early-bird registration is $85, which includes breakfast, lunch, materials and CEU’s. 

MCRR hosts this annual workshop for reading practitioners and school literacy leaders, connecting them to the latest reading research findings and applications through workshops given by U of M faculty and staff who are directly engaged in reading research projects. The workshop will feature a keynote address along with breakout sessions led by U of M faculty and staff from the College of Education and Human Development. Get more info and register here!

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Research Brief

Learning on the Blue Line: Crossing Borders of Race, Class and Social Relations

By Yolanda Majors, MCRR Associate Director for Adolescent Literacy & Learning

It is the end of the fall term, classrooms are empty and I am alone, appreciative of the quiet and accepting of an opportunity to reflect. In the quiet I can reflect on my sophomore Language Arts classroom at the Chicago Public High School where I’ve taught for several years. The Lawndale community, where the high school is situated, is one of historical significance, particularly with regards to the social, cultural and racial economy of the City (see Kozol, 1991). It sits just west of where my university office is located within the College of Education. 

Outside my office window, it would appear that there is no distinction between the brick and mortar of the University and the east-west bound public rail, (specifically the public transit system), whose “blue-line” runs along the northern edge of the Chicago campus. In the solitude I can no longer avoid the audible irony of color-blind conceptions of space and time and of the social and cultural borders I traverse as an African American mother, teacher, scholar etc. This border crossing is most tangible on the east-west bound commuter rail, whose “blue-line” runs along the northern edge of the campus.  

I’ve found inspiration in this rail system, particularly its map posted on the platform and how its intricate, color-coded and deliberate lines and directionality traverse this sprawling city’s borders of race, class and social relations. As such, riders from all walks of life interface with diverse geography, people and social phenomena, which are largely reflective of the section of the city in which the train is traveling. As the red line train moves through each community, beginning in Ravenswood and moving along the ‘magnificent mile’ through Bronze Ville heading south; or as the blue line train from Halsted Street through Lawndale and into to historical Oak Park heading west, each community is a picturesque representation of the social world order (and dis-order), harmony and disharmony. This social order is constructed through a series of tacit agreements and mediated by images, tales and scripts. Riding these trains one can observe the disparate, physical condition of the trains, train stations and commerce -  kiosks, coffee stations and newspaper stands. Thus, the commute is a subtle social commentary on the political and social economy of the city, moving through a complex, interwoven maze of social inequality, privileging and cultural interaction (Kazembe, personal communication). In all that is ordered and color-blind one would assume that all the rail cars and stops along each route are equally resourced. After all, so much time and space separates my (our) commute from the days of Plessey v. Ferguson. Delgado and Stefancic (2001) remind us that:

In Plessey, a black man had challenged a railroad’s rule prohibiting him from riding in a car reserved for whites. The railroad replied that it had set aside identical cars for black passengers, hence its practice did not violate the Equal protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court opinion agreed with the railroad, establishing the principle of separate but equal that lasted until the Brown decision of 1954…Supreme Court Justice John Harlan’s scathing dissent rebuked the majority’s decision. He pointed out that history and custom rendered preposterous the majority opinion’s blithe denial that anything untoward had happened. The railroad’s separation of the races occurred against a background that made its symbolism and insult unmistakable (p. 103).

Decades later, riders, for their part, have the opportunity to engage and interrogate the commuting experience, through a kind of border-crossing, where people actively move across the socially, culturally and politically constructed divides that separate cultural groups and discourse communities, one from another. Taking note of pending destinations, white men and women in business suits exit the south-bound train, while black and brown bodies sink into seats and opportunities deferred.

As a High School Language Arts teacher, I’ve strived to better understand and traverse such borders and social locations. My high school classroom is a site where day-to-day border crossing--police brutality, residential violence and abuse coincided with subject-matter learning. As Lee, et. al. (2002) point out, youth from marginalized minority group face additional “mixed messages about appropriate belief systems and cultural displays—as they move across settings, and uneven and sometimes confusing responsibilities for peripheral participation in adult life activities” (p. 6).

Researchers have documented how African American adolescents have assumed tasks that were once the responsibilities of their parents (Burton, Allison & Obeidallah, 1995; Ginwright, 2004; Lee, Beale-Spencer & Harpalini, 2004). The struggles of finding decent work, paying rent, and juggling child-care have undoubtedly placed greater challenges on youth in urban communities. For these students, who often assume adult-type roles at home (e.g., parents, economic providers, child-care providers) while at the same time they are expected to assume docile, child-like, passive roles within the social organization of the school, academic achievement is often delimited by the economic conditions of the communities in which they live (Ginwright, 2004; Lee, Spencer & Harpalini, 2004). These shifts are daily acts of border crossing.

As a class we collectively cross borders through subject matter and literary texts and make use of available tools of literacy and life problem solving that transform the classroom into a community site for learning. Here students interrogate life’s challenges, which include tending to color-blind discourses instantiated within texts, drawing on forms of prior knowledge for the consideration of alternative perspectives. Interventions and educational research that do not reflect young people’s histories and their unique cultural niches often miss opportunities to influence generative change. Thus, any intervention whose goal is to increase life chances and decrease gaps in achievement ad opportunity cannot ignore students’ perceptions of what is threatening (whether it is what and how they are being taught in school or their relationships with adults and peers) and what is supportive to their own development (p. 6).

In the act of literary problem solving, students carry out epistemological roles demanded by the subject matter within culturally familiar participation structures. Together they digest (even assume) multiple points of view in order to counter hegemonic dominant themes of word and world —skills that mimic and at times exceed those required in any Language Arts classroom. As teacher-researcher, I attempt to understand how the complexities inherent in life problem solving intersect in positive ways with their literate achievement, as well as teachers’ perceptions of, individual social, cultural and institutional underpinnings that impact that achievement.

The demographic, historical, and ideological contrasts between my university and high school classrooms, however, are alarming, even as one population prepares to service the other. McCarthy (1998) suggests, “Education is indeed a critical site in which struggles over the organization and concentration and emotional and political investment and moral affiliation are taking place” (cited in Winans, 2005, p. 254). For the most part, my university students are crossing borders, sometimes for the first time, but they frequently lack the tools for negotiating their own questions and confronting their own struggles to reconcile new knowledge with what they thought they knew about the world. As a result, many students who have not experienced dissonance may not be willing to talk about their ideas as part of their execution of privilege and willful ignorance.

The challenge for secondary and post-secondary educators who traverse the borders of race, class and social relations is to unpack assumptions but, at the same time, create a space that allows for transformative conversations. This should be an integral part of the socialization process of all students, and it’s an area in desperate need of further exploration and research. As Gutierrez and Jaramillo (2006) suggest such work, both theoretical and practical, could unveil the silenced and unaddressed ideological and historical factors that inhibit and complicate our abilities to create and sustain rich transformative learning communities.

The persistence of the normative discourse around non-dominant youth and schooling has led to impoverished representations of what it means to know and to teach, though such representations are continually viewed as normative. As a result, “educational policies and practices will not seek to leverage the full range of repertoires available to all human beings as they navigate what is entailed in learning new things, including learning the disciplines of the academy” (Lee, 2009 p. 66). As suggested by Lee (2009), not only do we need to account for the full ecologies of peoples’ lives, we must also account for the fact that vulnerability is endemic to being human, for everyone not just those facing domination. A fundamental task of life-course development, including all the tasks associated with learning in schools, is to manage vulnerability in ways that facilitate what we perceive to be positive outcomes across the life course. The nature of the challenges and triumphs we face and the resources available to us to respond to those challenges will vary according to the cultural and ecological contexts in which we live. As a member of a teaching community, you can:



Delgado, R. & Stephanic, J. (2001). Critical race theory: An introduction. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Ginwright , S.A. (2004). Black in school: Afrocentric reform, urban youth, and the promise of hip-hop culture. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Lee, C.D. (2009). Historical evolution of risk and equity: Interdisciplinary issues and critiques. Review of Research in Education: A Publication of the American Educational Researchers Association., 33, 63 – 100.

Lee, C.D., Spencer, M.B., & Harpalani , V. (2003). “Every shut eye ain’t sleep”: Studying how people live culturally. Educational Researcher: A Publication of the American Educational Research Association, 32 (5), 6.

Majors, Y. (2014). Joy and the Smart Kids: Competing ways of being and believing. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 57 (8), 633-641.

McCarthy, C. & Dimitriadis, G. (2000). Art and the postcolonial imagination: Rethinking the institutionalization of third world aesthetics and theory. Review of International English Literature, 31 (1–2), 232 – 253.

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Summer Book Clubs

Mark your calendars now for two exciting events!

  1. This summer teacher educators, administrators, PreK-12 teachers, and literacy leaders across the state will have an opportunity to participate in regional book clubs on Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading. Topics addressed in the book include:
    • The complex nature of learning to read
    • What happens when reading breaks down?
    • Myths about bilingualism and school achievement
    • Using reading assessment wisely
    Book clubs will meet twice during the summer and participation is open and free to everyone. Watch for more information about when the book clubs will be meeting in your area on the Minnesota Reading Association website.
  2. Dr. Catherine Snow, the lead author of the book Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading, will be speaking about what happens when reading breaks down on Friday, September 26, 2014 from 9:00-3:00 at the Minnesota Department of Education.  

Catherine Snow is the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Her research interests include children's language development as influenced by interaction with adults in home and preschool settings, literacy development as related to language skills and as influenced by home and school factors, and issues related to the acquisition of English oral and literacy skills by language minority children.  Registration for this event is $75.00 and includes morning and afternoon snacks.  Watch for more registration information on the Minnesota Reading Association website at

These upcoming events are the result of a collaborative effort by the Minnesota Academy of Reading, the Minnesota Center for Reading Research, the Minnesota Reading Association, the International Dyslexia Association/Upper Midwest Branch.  All of this was made possible through the generous support of the June Stern Family Foundation.

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PRESS Update

As the current school year comes to a close, the Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites (PRESS) project is still going strong, working with teachers and students in its six Minneapolis school sites.  PRESS is an innovative program designed to train teachers in evidence-based tools and practices to improve student early reading success by the third grade. Learn more about PRESS on our website.

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The Voices of CEHD America Reads Program

The following statements were submitted as part of an ‘end of the class’ activity that all of the first-year America Reads literacy mentors completed as part of their on-going training. Using the prompt, “I used to think America Reads . . . . but now I think America Reads . . .”, the first year literacy mentors shared heartfelt & impactful new understandings of their valued role in the Minneapolis & St. Paul communities. 

I used to think that, as a mentor, I would simply spend time with my mentees, talk to them, and occasionally help them with homework, and now I think that being a literacy mentor is so much more than that; it means that I am one of the key individuals in their lives that can help them become more literate which will, in turn, greatly help them throughout their entire lives.
Also, I used to think that some children are born liking to read and others are not. I used to think that literacy was a small topic with few parts. Now, I think that literacy is a HUGE topic with many parts that work together to create a strong reader.

– Clara Steinmetz

I used to think that literacy mentoring really had little impact on the student’s learning. I thought that it was all based on the teacher and the involvement of the parents. However, after working through America Reads, this changed my mindset completely. This amazing program has provided the base for children to be able to excel in their reading comprehension no matter their background or culture. It has opened my mind that every child’s brain in like a sponge. 

– Megan Mansfield

My thoughts of America Reads have changed throughout the semester. I used to think that America reads mentors were somewhat detached volunteer figures in their tutoring locations, but now I see that we are very involved in each child’s daily life, education, and future. I feel very accountable for my mentees successes and failures. They are almost like my own special students, and I am blessed to be a part of their lives.

– Ashley Stainbrook

In addition, these statements reinforce that our program is successfully striving toward our vision of ‘positively impacting students by teaching them lifelong learning skills and cultivating interest in secondary and higher education. As well as developing relationships between America Reads and the Twin Cities community, creating positive outcomes in literacy and beyond.’
In addition to supporting and training our 150 undergraduate literacy mentors, each spring our program recognizes the commitment and high quality programming of two of our community partner sites. The following community partner sites were recommended by our America Reads literacy mentors who work with the children and have become a part of the community at the sites.

Our Recognition Celebration took place on Friday, May 2, 2014 at Coffman Union/UMN. During this event CEHD America Reads directors presented our 2014 Site of the Year Awards to HOPE Community Academy, St. Paul and Waite House Neighborhood Services, Minneapolis. America Reads staff also recognized outstanding student employees and graduating seniors.

We are fortunate to have strong partnerships with HOPE Community Academy and Waite House and encourage readers to visit their websites to learn more about their tutoring programs and the important role they have in their local communities.  Or, visit our website or ‘like’ our CEHD America Reads Facebook page to learn more about America Reads literacy mentoring and training. 

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Professional Development opportunties with MCRR

MCRR can help with your professional development needs! MCRR is available to help school leaders and teachers in grades K-6 learn how to use scientifically-based reading instruction to improve reading achievement. We can tailor sessions to the specific needs of your school. For more information contact us at 612-624-4561 or

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MCRR Quarterly Reader, Winter 2013-14

Message from the Directors

Greetings and best wishes for the upcoming new year! This fall has been a busy time at the Minnesota Center for Reading Research, and with this newsletter we hope to share information with you about what has been going on. On September 20, the MCRR convened a statewide engagement event that united researchers, policy makers and educational practitioners to examine the social contexts, family engagement, and organizational structures that interact to impede or support all students in achieving high academic success. Read more about this Achievement Gap Conference below. In this newsletter you will also find a research brief, written by one of the keynote speakers at the conference, Catherine Compton-Lilly, regarding her findings and recommendations based on listening to the voices of students and parents in a high poverty school setting. You can also catch up with many of the major initiatives at the MCRR including our work with the CEHD America Reads project, our expanding work in adolescent literacy, and upcoming events with the Leaders in Reading Network (LiRN).

As the end of the year approaches, we thank you all for the dedication you have shown this year to helping students advance their literacy capabilities and motivation. Let’s all take a minute to rest and rejuvenate over the winter break, so that we can come back at this important work in 2014. Wishing you and your families all the best!

Lori Helman and Matt Burns
MCRR Co-Directors

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Achievement Gap Conference

How can Minnesota ensure that all students have the opportunities to succeed in academic literacy? Despite gains in the National Association for Educational Progress, Minnesota has a deep and persistent achievement discrepancy between white, native-English speaking students and students from other racial and linguistic groups. The Minnesota Center for Reading Research held an engagement event to address the issue. The purpose of the September 20th Achievement Gap Conference was to bring together people concerned with educational outcomes for all students. MCRR invited leading national researchers to speak on issues concerning the achievement gap. The research and expertise of Drs. Catherine Compton-Lily, Pablo Noguera, and Maryanne Wolf preceded school leaders and policymakers as they shared the work being done to close the gap in Minnesota. Subsequent small group discussions fostered conversations that allowed for an exchange of questions, interactions, and the sharing of promising strategies at work in the educational community here in Minnesota.

The conference format allowed for dialogue between school leaders, researchers, interventionists, reading specialists, and graduate students who shared how the achievement gap is evidenced in their respective communities. Beginning with a focus on Families and Communities, Catherine Compton-Lily’s keynote addressed the importance of engagement to recognize the social capital students bring to school (see research brief in this newsletter). Participants offered suggestions as to how to form relationships that affirm families. To address the impact of Social Contexts on the achievement gap, Pedro Noguera spoke to the problem of focusing on the symptoms of disparity, rather than the causes. Changes are possible when we empower and engage communities and work to break the cycle of poverty. Participants shared strategies for having honest conversations regarding the social contexts that affect student achievement. In the Organizational Structures section, Maryanne Wolf enlightened participants on the structures of the reading brain. Participants reflected on pertinent examples of successful organizational planning in schools that bridges the achievement gap and promotes student learning. School calendar year, teacher preparation time, and the need to view student achievement outside the framework of high-stakes assessment were offered as ways to begin bridging the gaps.

This unique opportunity for educators to generate ideas and dialogue about actions that address the achievement gap was a significant component of the conference.  The information, ideas, and strategies discussed at the conference provide insight to schools, communities, and higher education institutions throughout the state as they develop action-oriented plans to address the disparities in student opportunities and achievement.

Special thank you to Elia Dimayuga-Bruggeman: Assistant Commissioner at Minnesota Department of Education, Katy Smith: Parent Educator and Teacher of the Year, Dan Solomon: Education Specialist for Senator Al Franken, Callie Lalugba: Principal of Harvest Network Schools, Matt Grose: Superintendent, Deer River Independent School District, Laura Cavender: Principal, Pillsbury School. In the next few months we will continue to share many of the big ideas that emerged from our discussions with you.

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Research Brief

Bradford Holt and How Money Matters in Learning to Read

Catherine Compton-Lilly, University of Wisconsin Madison, Curriculum and Instruction

Bradford was a student in my first grade class when I taught in a high poverty, inner city community. At the end of a ten-year longitudinal study, his mother, Ms. Holt, blamed teachers and school policies for the difficulties her son faced in school and with literacy learning.

I don't know. They said [that] they had his best interest at heart but I didn't believe that. Because he's been, been in that program No Kids Left Behind. They kept leaving him behind!. . . I never did understand that. I still don't. That No Kid Left Behind. I have no concept of it whatsoever.

  Sociologists and educators (e.g., Bourdieu, 1986; Luke & Carrington, 1997) have used the construct of capital to understand the challenges children from some communities face in school. As Bourdieu (1986) explained, capital makes it “possible to explain the unequal scholastic achievement of children originating from different social classes” (p. 243). Capital identifies factors that extend beyond personal failure or inferiority as the reasons for a person’s success or failure within educational, social, and economic fields.

Drawing on Bourdieu, I define economic literacy capital as including possessions and experiences that require economic investment and are convertible to literacy success. In some cases, accessing these resources is contingent on being able to afford housing in economically healthy communities or attend well-funded schools. Examples of economic literacy capital include computers, electronic educational toys, significant numbers of quality books, and private tutoring.  Social capital, in contrast, provides opportunities for agency and advocacy. It is significant to note that a lack of economic capital did not prevent Ms. Holt from advocating for her children and that social capital, when available, was accessed and valued.

Recommended Strategies and Practices: Rethinking the Classroom and Beyond

While discussions of capital might explain the success of some children, it does not absolve teachers of their responsibilities. Below, I explore the responsibilities teachers have relative to students who bring different cultural and socio-economic experiences to classrooms. Specifically, I highlight strategies for learning about and responding to children from low-income communities.

Recognizing mismatches between teacher and student experiences

When Bradford entered middle school, his mother expressed concern about teachers whose experiences were different from those of their students:

Some of these kids, they come from hard, hard, hard lives. And these teachers aren’t educated to deal with the hard life that this child is going through. . . Because a lot of teachers don’t live around the kids in the inner city so they don’t know, they don’t go through this every day. They don’t. They are there from what 8, 7:30 to 3:30?  They [are] inside the school. They don’t come outside. (Ms. Holt laughs) . . . I’ve never seen a teacher walk to the corner store in the city out of schools in the neighborhood.

Ms. Holt makes a compelling case that teachers need to know more about their students’ lives and experiences. Differences in economic capital result in teachers and their students living in different communities and contribute to a disjuncture between the experiences of children and their teachers.

Find informants in the community 

Among the paraprofessionals who lived in the school community and worked in my school were a dancer, a singer, and several part-time college students. Some staff members also had amazing life stories. Our elderly school crossing guard survived World War II concentration camps, and our school custodian was a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights Era. These informants brought rich experiences and challenged the assumptions that are often made about paraprofessionals in low-income schools. These individuals brought a wealth of knowledge about their passions and their experiences and about the community surrounding the school.

Visit homes to learn about students

Parents are also important resources. During home visits, Ms. Holt alerted me to Bradford’s love for baseball and current events. She helped me to understand some of the challenges Bradford faced with reading and notified me when I sent home materials that were either too difficult or too easy.

Working with local organizations

Families in high poverty communities face many challenges that are often beyond the experiences of middle class teachers. Local organizations not only provide opportunities for teachers to volunteer in communities, but they can also provide rich knowledge about communities and the challenges families face. Working with organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, can provide information related to housing while local health organizations can teach us about the health challenges faced by urban residents who are either un- or under-insured. Local cultural organizations are particularly rich resources that can help teachers to understand and appreciate the cultural ways of being that students bring to classrooms.

Engage students as ethnographers exploring their own communities

Finally, and perhaps most exciting, students can be taught basic ethnographic techniques and can enter their local communities to gather information. I had my first grade students interview parents about their reading practices, how they learned to read, their occupations, and the potential roles their family members played in civil rights history. On other occasions, I asked my students to work together to craft surveys related to issues we were studying in class. One particularly effective strategy involved providing students with disposable cameras that they could use to document their favorite things or places. These pictures provided insights into students’ lives that were often invisible to teachers.  

The range of available texts

I tell you what would work with inner city kids, with Black children. Let them read about black people. If they read more about their own culture and things that they’re doing.

As Ms. Holt argues, teachers can strive to find books that are of interest to their students. Touchstones such as culture, pop culture, and sports can engage young readers who struggle with traditional school texts. These books can invite children to engage with literacy activities and to see themselves as readers. Teachers can acquire these books for their classroom libraries, work with librarians to identify texts for the school libraries, and work within their schools to include these texts in curricula.

Inequities in Economic Literacy Capital that Defy Teaching Strategies

            While Ms. Holt clearly holds teachers accountable for fulfilling their obligations, there are other challenges she names that are beyond the control of individual teachers. In these current times of school budget austerity and discourse advocating for the privatization of public services, conversations about school funding have been stymied, while many focus on teacher quality and accountability rather than shared societal obligations to children. Ms. Holt’s voice highlights several economic challenges including equitable school resources, the lack of community resources such as local libraries, the technology gap, and a set of particularly challenging life experiences that are ultimately related to economic capital.
Advocacy and Agency: Highlighting Social Capital

While dominant discourses tend to blame families and teachers for the literacy challenges faced by children in low-income communities, Ms. Holt identifies disadvantages related to a lack of economic literacy capital (e.g., closing libraries, underfunded schools, a technology gap) and suggests that there are responsibilities that extend beyond the control of teachers that affect the literacy learning of students in high poverty communities.  This lack of economic capital resulted in Ms. Holt accessing social capital when needed to help her children. When Bradford was in fourth grade, his mother, with the support of his teacher, confronted the school board to attain special education services for Bradford.  Just as Bradford’s teacher assisted Ms. Holt in getting around the “brick walls” at school, her son’s doctor helped her to access a specialist when Bradford’s older brother was injured.  In these examples, Ms. Holt accessed social capital to achieve her goals. Although financial limits were very real and had real effects, Ms. Holt was savvy and harnessed social resources as needed to address the challenges her family faced.


Although No Child Left Behind made rhetorical promises to students, its accompanying policies and practices related to scientific instruction and test scores generally failed to address the real challenges faced by Bradford. Teachers who are knowledgeable and have a deep understanding of children are essential, but teachers alone will not address economic inequity. We must not forget that societal issues require societal changes in addition to changes within schools.

Over the ten years that I worked with Bradford and his family, his mother repeatedly identified money as a challenge related to schooling and literacy learning. I argue that some of her concerns require and deserve attention from the larger community and are related to the allocation of resources in urban areas, school funding, and social equity. Although teachers can and should play a role in these conversations and their roles can be powerful, solving these problems requires a social commitment from the larger community.


Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York, NY: Greenwood Press.

Carrington, V., & Luke, A. (1997). Literacy and Bourdieu’s sociological theory: A reframing. Language and Education, 11(2), 96–112.

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PRESS Update

In 2011, MCRR partnered with the Target Corporation, Minnesota Reading Corps, Minneapolis Public Schools, and the Harvest Network schools, to form the Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites (PRESS). This collaboration focuses on improving students' early literacy skills through various research-based practices. Now in its third year, PRESS is seeing results from its work with teachers and students. Read more about PRESS in the Fall issue of CEHD Connect and learn more on the MCRR website.

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Leadership in Reading

The Minnesota Center for Reading Research is involved in several exciting partnerships. One of our most popular is the Leaders in Reading Network (LiRN) which provides ongoing professional development for literacy leaders around the state. LiRN is a partnership between MCRR, the Minnesota Department of Education, and the Minnesota Reading Association. This year’s theme is A Focus on Learning: Making Minor Adjustments for Major Impact. With this theme we will focus on the use of formative assessments to inform our instruction so that all students, wherever they are at may make maximum progress. To further support our learning, each LiRN member will receive a copy of Formative assessment in practice: A process of inquiry and action by Margaret Heritage. This year we are using a new structure that provides time at each session for members to discuss and apply the content in job-specific cohorts. Across the past six years, LiRN has offered valuable professional development and support for teachers, specialists, administrators, literacy coaches, and district leaders. Click here for details on the January 8 and March 5 LiRN sessions.

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CEHD America Reads Update

CEHD America Reads had another successful semester hiring, coordinating and training approximately 150 undergraduate students to serve as literacy mentors in the Minneapolis and St. Paul Communities. CEHD America Reads is a work study program dedicated to increasing the literacy skills of Kindergarten – 8th grade students and supporting the educational efforts of our community partners by providing trained literacy mentors.

The hired undergraduate students attend ongoing training designed and facilitated by Eva Boehm, Associate Director of Curriculum.  The trainings are in the form of seminars with printed & online resources, as well as, a special topics one credit course designed for our first year mentors to equip them with basic literacy instructional practices, such as, think alouds, word work, fluency and comprehension strategies.

By the numbers, CEHD America Reads works with twenty community partners and provides mentors to these sites for 24 weeks of literacy mentoring and tutoring each school year.  This equates to approximately 21,600 hours of tutoring time provided to children in our neighboring communities. Please contact Jennifer Kohler, Director of Operations & Minneapolis Site Coordinator should you seek additional information about the CEHD America Reads work-study program. 

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Adolescent Literacy & Learning Update

The Bremmer Foundation has awarded The Minnesota Center for Reading Research, in partnership with the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center of North Minneapolis, a grant to support work involving literacy socialization as a pathway to workforce entry among African American males in North Minneapolis. This program addresses literacy and unemployment in the North Minneapolis neighborhood. This innovative approach promises to transform the lives of men by empowering them to pursue their job and career goals through the development of literacy skills. This innovative program will integrate literacy and job skills training with a highly successful, longstanding program for predominantly African-American young men enrolled in a six-month emotional regulation course at the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center.

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MCRR Quarterly Reader, Spring 2013

Research Brief

From Print to Apps:  Bridging Traditional Literacies with 21st Century Literacies to Support Learning through Teacher Design and Re-design

David O’Brien, Professor of Literacy Education, University of Minnesota

In their relatively brief existence, iPads are increasingly appearing in classrooms, schools, and even entire school districts.  Android and Windows tablet devices will follow.  School administrators, education technology integration specialists, and teachers are optimistic about anticipated improvements in the quality of teaching and learning that the devices will provide.  But before they move textbook funds or other monies toward the purchase of iPads or other tablet devices, or BYOD programs drawing heavily from online tools, and invest time and other resources in teacher development and purchasing apps to install on the devices, educators want assurances that the devices will improve teaching and learning.  Such definitive assurances will not be coming anytime soon.  The reason is that research, at this very early stage of the transition from print to digital literacies, provides few clear answers about the impact of relatively new devices like iPads.

That said, there is a lot of research and a host of validated theoretical frameworks that clearly support moving from print to multimodal environments, providing access to more information presented more dynamically, and supporting more student collaboration through online communities, to mention just a few affordances.  In short, there is clear evidence that moving into the digital realm has huge potential benefits with careful curriculum planning and bridging, rather than abandoning or replacing sound instructional practices and time-tested approaches to engaging students.

Below are tips to keep in mind when making the transition to 21st century digital literacies in support of learning.

For elaborations of these and related topics and specific research, visit, the site my colleague Rick Beach and I constructed. You will also find a link to our new e-book: Using iPad and iPhone Apps for Learning with Literacy Across the Curriculum.      

  1. Textbooks are not universally inferior curriculum materials. iPads and apps must bridge qualities of existing textbooks with the new, dynamic qualities of iBooks and other e-Textbook platforms. Textbooks are an integral part of the existing school curriculum defined by their content, structure, and organization; they are usually designed to promote learning.  Textbooks, although portrayed as inherently outdated, boring, and lacking in interactivity, are backed by about a century of research supporting features like (a) organization of the top-level structure with coherent prose to make ideas accessible; (b) signaling through headings and subheads to cue important ideas; (c) adjunct aids like marginal gloss, vocabulary keys, advance organizers, review tools, and a host of others features that support comprehension.
  2. Adopting digital curricula as a “replacement” for so-called “outdated” texts is shortsighted. As teachers, schools, and districts look at multimodal, multitouch devices as replacements for printed curricula, they need to plan very carefully how to both retain effective components while excluding features that do not promote learning.  Recently, a rush of Apple Author-produced curricula has appeared on iTunes U from K-12 educators who have decided that they can publish curricula that replaces existing materials. But their “curricular design” is often the result of firing before aiming, aided by the ease of design tools that permit cutting and pasting, dragging and dropping media, and moving elements around rather than considering how information needs to be organized, and how specific modalities support certain learning processes.  We elaborate on the needed multimodal affordance designs in the book and will also extend the topic in future blog posts.
  3. Adopting commercially produced digital curricula is not the most effective route. New digital texts are likely to continue the long-held notion that “experts” working for commercial publishers certainly know more about curriculum design and development than teachers; the complementary meme is that teachers cannot produce such materials.  Our caveat from point 2 notwithstanding, neither Apple, nor commercial publishers (who unlike Apple, do have a long history of producing print curriculum materials) are uniquely qualified to produce dynamic, interactive, engaging iBooks that also employ sound principles of instructional and learning design.  Moreover, commercial publishers know nothing about your students in your curriculum against the backdrop of your communities.  That said, with the right expertise and careful design guided by research, publishers have the potential to produce engaging high quality materials. The verdict is still out.
  4. Step by step – bridging of affordances and modalities is a must. We take the position that each app, enhanced textbook, or digital version of a previously print-bound curriculum material will, just like other apps, provide both positive and negative affordances and will retain or exclude some positive features of traditional curricula.  Bridging between traditional print materials and new multimodal media materials must be systematically applied.  For example, in the book we discuss frameworks, planning, and implementation of apps with attention to multimodal affordances against the backdrop of what we know about traditional curriculum, teaching and learning.
  5. Teachers as designers must establish the “value added,” potential of a digital curriculum. Teachers-as-designers, or teachers-as-critics of commercially published materials will need to systematically evaluate all affordances – not just design features but  understand affordances-in-use of apps and, when necessary, re-design the affordances. 


In the next blog post on the site we will start to discuss specific aspects of bridging design and the role of teachers as designers. 

Stay tuned and subscribe to the blog at to get updates and give us and other readers feedback via comments on posts.   

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Last modified on July 14, 2011.