An Interview with Wally Thompson and Debra Coffey: What’s New in Reading (and Learning)?

Mar 28, 2021 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy

  1. Dr. Thompson, I understand that you have just finished editing a new book on reading. What is it all about?
  2. The book started as an investigation into situated literacy, but as the research progressed, it was expanded to include the overarching area of situated cognition. Essentially, situated cognition posits that learning, be it in literacy, math, science, or any other field is connected to the learner’s total situation.
  1. The chapters of this book provide insights for personalized learning to promote higher levels of achievement, enjoyment, and cultural exploration through quality instruction. Each chapter explores an area of education in which situatedness and a connection to the learner at a deep, personal level enhances the teaching and learning scenario.
  • Who were some of the contributors and their contributions?
  1. Dr. Mark Viner has contributed a chapter on the role that educational technology plays in establishing and facilitating the connections between the learner, contextual experiences, and technology for effective teaching and learning.
  1. Dr. Procter’s chapter examined how situated learning influences language learners and teachers. Learners benefit from effective classroom instruction which promotes talking and experimenting with language through collaboration. For teachers, their awareness of situated cognition may influence their teaching practice and professional development. In this chapter, Dr. Procter explains how situated learning affects both students’ and teachers’ experiences, including conflicts between culture. The pandemic of 2020 prompted a need for a distance learning environment creating opportunities but also challenges to utilize situated learning experiences in a “new” online learning space.
  1. Drs. Grote-Garcia, Nath and Clark have contributed findings of a research project which demonstrated how war has affected the literacy cognition of children of Eurasia and the Middle East. They identified common themes related to the human experience as Street’s insights regarding situated literacy provided a lens for their analysis.
  1. Dr. Thompson’s chapter establishes the foundation of the book by connecting the work of Dewey, Heidegger, Kant, Piaget, Vygotsky, Bartlett and Rosenblatt, among others, to the development of the foundational principle that learning is grounded in an interactional relationship between the learners’ innermost being and their world.
  1. Dr. Lima de Padilla’s chapter connects a learners’ heritage language to learning through everyday experiences. As situated literacy and cognition connect learners to their cultural heritage, this is an important one. She concludes with the statement, “We need more additive and pluralistic practices in the reading classroom.”
  1. Dr. Coffey and Dr. Thompson respond to this quest for additive and pluralistic practices by presenting a Literacy Instruction Model for a Diverse Society. This model synergistically integrates the major aspects of reading and writing with an emphasis on cultural heritage. It promotes communication and exploration of quality literature in the context of situated literacy to enhance reading achievement and cultural insight.
  1. Drs. Thompson, Coffey, Lima de Padilla, and Ms. Fontanez present the results of a longitudinal study based on the Literacy Instruction Model for a Diverse Society. This qualitative study demonstrates the effects of cultural redundancy on students’ comprehension and reading engagement.
  1. Drs. Coffey and Thompson also bring situated cognition home by explaining how situated, incidental learning can be harnessed and focused through communities of learning and practice in K-2 classrooms or extend to the doctoral level.
  1. How has the field of reading changed over the years?

The field of reading has changed in sync with the pendulum shifts in education over the years. This ebb and flow of reading instruction has fluctuated from skills-based approaches to open-ended strategic approaches, with adherents on both sides of the spectrum. The initial shift from an emphasis on skills-based approaches to constructivist strategies was followed by a more balanced approach. The emphasis on balanced instruction has resulted in a wide-range of specialization in skills-based approaches, innovative methodology, and a broad spectrum of multi-modal approaches, emphasizing skills-based learning, constructivist perspectives, and a wide range of innovations for effective learning. The emphasis on New Literacies, meaningful discourse, and digital literacies has been instrumental in shaping this variation and providing extensive opportunities for differentiation of instruction.

4) Many books are now available on cell phones. In your mind, are people reading more or less?

The availability of books on cell phones and many electronic devices has resulted in more reading, and it has changed the style of the reading process. While readers might typically allot a specific time for exploring the contents of books in the past, people are now reading on the go throughout the day.

They are reading in small chunks as a way of life. Although many people still choose to allot specific times for reading, this availability has generally impacted reading styles along with expectations for viewing print for entertainment and information.

5) For elementary teachers, has the teaching of reading changed with the advent of lap tops?

Yes, laptops have transformed the educational landscape in many schools. Although some classrooms have been unaffected, Google classrooms and many schools with similar approaches are conducting most aspects of the learning process online. This impacts reading methodology, enhances opportunities for visualization, and opens new opportunities for cultural and scientific exploration.

6) We do know that some mass market books, like Harry Potter and Twilight do seem to get read. But what about other areas?

Books emphasizing non-fiction are being transformed into web-based formats similar to the approach used in series like The Magic School Bus. The availability of books in various digital formats is also extending the scope of accessibility through assistive devices. We are hoping this will lead to more cultural exploration and extend the opportunities for readers to see themselves in texts.

7) Are we in a kind of transition from paper books to books on lap tops?

There is a transition into a wide range of multi-media, which provides a vast array of options for the reader. This transition makes it easier for readers to explore books in relation to their preferred reading styles. We hope that many options will continue to be available to promote reading enjoyment.

8) Who is publishing this book and when will it appear?

The book is published by Lexington Books, an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc. It will appear in Summer of 2021.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

We have enjoyed your insightful questions, and we appreciate this opportunity. We hope this book will lead educators into further exploration of situated literacy and emphasis on the cultural heritage and interests of each learner in all aspects of the learning process.

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