The idea of ‘literacy’ might be more complex than you think.
“Oftentimes when we think of literacy, we think of only reading, right? The act of children and adults interacting with text,” Dr. Chad Waldron says. “However, literacy includes reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing in multimodal texts that are online and offline. So, when you go to a news source to read a news article or you go to Facebook to read someone's social media posts, that is online text reading. Offline, it could be anything from a car manual to a book, to a magazine to a newspaper—all very different mediums with very similar attributes, whether they're fiction or nonfiction. So that's how I define literacy.”
And Waldron would definitely know. As the new director of The Literacy Center
—a part of Central Michigan University’s College of Education and Human Services—Waldron has dedicated his professional life to the concepts of literacy, reading, writing, and communication.
“It's everywhere that we go, whether it's on a computer screen or out in our environment. Children at a very young age start to acquire this idea of literacy. I think of my three-year-old son, who can now point and name Culver’s because of the logo—or McDonald's!” he says with a laugh.
Founded in 2015, Central Michigan University’s Literacy Center conducts research on literacy teaching practices and offers tutoring for students. The Center also regularly hosts professional development opportunities for educators, as well as cultivates partnerships with community organizations who have similar goals.
“We want to support children's literacy attainment both in and
out of school,” Waldron says. “We want children prepared for a variety of contexts, wherever their future takes them.”
Waldron says the goal of preparing children for their futures definitely rings true with his own childhood experience with literacy.
“I was the child who actually struggled
in literacy,” he says, explaining that he was a part of Title One reading support programs in kindergarten and first grade. “But I successfully exited in second grade because of good teachers who recognized what I needed as a literacy learner, what I needed help with, and then helped me to become even stronger.”
Later, Waldron would study to become a teacher himself. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he continued on for additional certification.
“I went back and got a Master's degree in reading education with a reading specialist certification, which allowed me to be an interventionist for kids who were like me when they were in elementary school. That was my goal.”
Waldron would eventually go on to earn a Ph.D. in Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education with a focus in Early and Elementary Language and Literacy. Today, he tells the undergraduate students in his classes at CMU that, based on his own experiences, he doesn’t like the term “struggling reader.”
“I very much embrace the term ‘striving
readers,’ the idea that we are all constantly learning and unlearning and learning new things because we all hit points where we struggle,” he says. “Luckily, I had educators who recognized potential and recognized with timely intervention and supports that I could do well. And it helped me to be more successful. It helped me to be the literacy learner I am today. And now I can mirror that for educators. Now I can mirror that to community members, and now I can work with families and caregivers to help them feel supported when their child is striving.”
Director Dr. Chad Waldron, CMU Literacy Center in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Chad Waldron)
Today, Waldron finds himself reflecting back on almost a year of work in the Mt. Pleasant area through his role at CMU. Last June, Waldron hit the ground running when he and other educators hosted a Summer Institute for teachers from around the state. The workshops took a deeper dive into best practices for how to teach reading, comprehension, and writing.
Throughout the Fall, the Literacy Center hosted a virtual professional development book club centered on the science of reading. November also brought the opportunity for Waldron and Literacy Center faculty to collaborate with community partners through a stakeholders’ meeting on CMU’s campus.
“The Fall Stakeholders’ Meeting allowed us to reach out to members of our community, community organizations, schools, districts, and intermediate school districts to really gain their insight about who we are, what we offer, and what we could do for them. I felt it was really important as a new director to make sure as I get to learn about Mt. Pleasant, the region, and what our state needs,” Waldron says.
Attendees included representatives from the United Way of Gratiot & Isabella Counties
, the Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation
, Mount Pleasant Public Schools
, the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum
, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe
(Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators), and many others from Central Michigan University and regional school districts. The meeting has led to further collaboration between the Center and several attendees through the formation of an Advisory Council.
“We want to have an ear to the ground and an ear in the community all the time,” Waldron explains. “So, we're pulling in members from the Mt. Pleasant community, from the larger Gratiot-Isabella County area and from the region and state, to really start to support and expand the offerings that we have in the Literacy Center—and to help us really respond in real time.”
Along with the Advisory Council’s first meeting, Waldron says the Center will host a Literacy Leaders Summit in May—a virtual event that will allow educators from all over the state to participate. Coming up this June, the Center is partnering with The Chippewa River Writing Project
, part of the National Writing Project
, to host a five-day immersive writing workshop in Mt. Pleasant.
Waldron also notes that The Literacy Center is working with Mount Pleasant Public Schools to continue to support and expand on its after-school tutoring offerings. Literacy Camps for area children and adolescents are in the works for Summer 2024.
“Michigan has historically been one of the lower performing states in literacy, but is slowly moving up through the ranks,” Waldron says. “My goal is to look to the future, look at what we've achieved currently and in the past, and look to the future for new directions.”
Waldron says part of that includes continuing to provide resources for those on the front lines of literacy education.
“We know throughout the state that literacy is tough, particularly after a global pandemic. Children and adolescents have gotten behind in their literacy development. So how do we solve that? We provide additional support,” he adds. “We become active participants in the process; not just observers through research, but actually enacting those practices, modeling them for educators, and supporting the children and adolescents they work with as well. And continuing to work with people wherever they are, on whatever they need related to literacy—whether it be reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, or multimodal text. It's not just the work of schools; it's the work of communities. It's the work of family and caregivers. It's the work of a constellation of individuals.”
Waldron says he also wants the Center to continue to recognize and support the daily
literacy work that busy parents and caregivers do with the children in their lives. And his advice stems not just from his years of work in literacy education, but also as a parent himself.
“Research and lots of organizations have the magic rule of 15 minutes—read for 15 minutes. We also know in reality sometimes that's not possible. So read for a few
minutes. Read one short story together. Read a chapter in a book, talk about a book. Have the child read to you as you're preparing dinner. As they get older and can read on their own. And talk about the book.”
“Reading is a bonding activity with our children or the children we're caring for,” Waldron concludes. “It's really a conversation. It's language development. It's the speaking and viewing and the listening. There's lots of ways to kind of sneak reading in. It may not be the ways we think about day in and day out, but there are high quality ways in which we can further a love of literacy.”
Learn more about The Literacy Center at ehs.cmich.edu/tlc