Archive for November, 2009

We lived in San Diego from 1984-1992. From age 10 (1984) to age 17 (1991), we spent nearly every weekend at the zoo. My mom even bought most of her wardrobe at the zoo gift shops. My sister’s nickname growing up was ‘Ken Allen’. Oh, we had some good trips to the zoo. I even wanted to be a zookeeper at one point. Growing up in Alaska, I spent most of my childhood wanting to be a primatologist or an anthropologist–like Jane Goodall– who studied monkey behavior and lived amidst the primates. She watched and analyzed their behavior so closely while being fascinated by them. At the SD zoo, at age 10, I brought a notepad and always took notes on all the animals–their behaviors, their kingdom, species, and phylum (in Latin). KenAllen


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I’m still thinking about the power of mentoring in higher ed. It’s so crucial.

While I was at Harvard, I was able to focus one one thing, one person, and her ideas, as well as my own inquiries into helping students who struggle with reading at the upper grades into early adolesence.

One of the thoughts I had while in the Chall collection was how I was ‘mentored’ by the intense reading of texts, mostly from the 1960’s-1990’s by Chall and prominent Harvard scholars. I was inspired in the following ways, and I feel I brought that inspiration back with me:

1) From both the interdisciplinary span and focus of her collection on helping students who struggled in reading, I knew this was a person who was intensely focused on finding solutions to helping students who find reading challenging. She looked back to Thorndike, Gray, and Harris. She had collections of alternative teaching alphabets (i.t.a., UniFon, for instance, and accompanying ‘readers’ for both). There were rows and rows of books of readers. The most interesting were the ones she created which included classic stories from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (e.g., folktales and fairy tales). Some were my personal favorites. She had a focus on her field and said that the books she wrote were her children. Her interest in the history of the field was fascinating.

2. Chall’s advice was sought out for Congressional testimony and she remained an activist throughout her career. I hope to be more of an activist. I am still working on ways to do so. Maybe one way can be though writing.

3. As you walk into the special collections room in the basement of Gutman Library, you see a framed photo of Chall, and there is this quote by her: “Thus I came early to my two loves in education: teaching and inquiry. Although research and practice are often seen as different pursuits, I found that for me they had great similarities and were intimately related to each other.”–History of Reading News. Vol.XVII No.1 (1993:Fall) I love this connection of theory to practice.

Chall’s marginal notations in the works of others, whose theoretical orientation’s differed from hers were fascinating. She wrote “Where’s the evidence?”. This gets as the heart of the ongoing debates in our field. What counts as evidence  of literacy learning as well as what we are working towards as goals of literacy learning are contentious. So is the very definition of ‘literacy’.

So, I learned through my visit the ‘power of focus’, a firmer fascination with research, and an appreciation for New England fall foliage! 🙂

I love, too, that mentoring can be found in books and in the peace of library basements. I am grateful to have been a recipient of the Chall grant.

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One reason I’m glad to be back in DFW is the pleasant weather. Today was sunny and in the 70’s. It was like the warm days of my childhood in San Diego.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. I hope to knock out at least three grant proposals, do some serious data analysis and otherwise “catch up” on things.

I bought “The Grapes of Wrath” today at Borders. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while.

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