As a Special Education teacher, I worked with all sorts of unique, bright, warm children in a variety of socioeconomic contexts, including urban schools, suburban schools, and rural schools. I especially appreciated those moments when a student would look at me, with that special spark, when he understood something for the first time… the light bulb did eventually shine, with enough patience, and the students’ insights, laughter, and smiles made a difficult day all worth it. An aspect of teaching I found particularly challenging however, was dealing with the high numbers of students identified as struggling, or having some difficulty with reading and writing. Through my graduate studies, I began to conceptualize the rich complexity of literacy, and that there is not one magical recipe to transform our struggling students into proficient readers and writers. Yet, I would contend that if we explore the diverse ecosystems in which each struggling reader and writer exists, we can effectively educate everyone.  

Certainly, a child does learn in a classroom, but he learns elsewhere, too, and all aspects of leaning have an impact on classroom learning. Scholars in human development, such as Bronfenbrenner, have examined and given a name to the elaborate environments we know to be our lives (Garbarino, 1992). We may look at the complexities of human growth by seeing it as a large ecosystem of intermingling attributes, all affecting us in social, economic, and political ways. Scholars after Bronfenbrenner, such as Garbarino (1992) have elaborated on the ecological model of human development to include ethnic, cultural, and racial considerations, sculpting a panoramic, holistic view of children, across contexts. The acquisition of literacy is one piece of who a person is, and one’s negotiations with literacy and schooling are deeply connected to one’s entire social world. I assert that in considering a child’s entire social community, one may more effectively educate him and provide space for his voice to be heard through literacy.

I have worked with countless children who come from families that are not part of the dominant culture. They face many contradictions as they enter school, especially language and cultural differences, learning styles, behavioral expectations, and forms of knowledge and history that are not their own (McCaleb, 1997, p. 49). As an educator, my focus is not only on cultural diversity, but on the diversity of learners as well. When educating in democratic communities, it is vital that teachers see that many students do not learn in the same way as expected by the dominant culture. Those students not of the dominant culture face many contradictions entering the doorways of school each morning. Because they learn differently, they do not fit the mold of how students have traditionally been, and sometimes currently are educated. I assert that in the case of many students classified for Special Education, that they are learners who absorb and process information differently. As educators, we must recognize those differences in all human beings, and provide many creative outlets for learners to gain a meaningful level of literacy.

I have made a consistent effort to provide my students with the freedom to explore their lives and what is important to them through the use of art, music, dance, and storytelling, and then relate that freedom to their literacy development, as a way of establishing the students as the subjects of their own history. This encourages shared control and generation of knowledge. Children and adults can see that the written word has the power to make an idea or experience last forever. They can see that their existence is an important part of history. Students can begin to think of their own words and expressions as the “music of our human melody” (McCaleb, 1997, p. 59).

Vygotsky (1978) held the strong theoretical view that his work should be interspersed in a society that aspired to eliminate illiteracy and desired an educational program that would maximize the potential of individual children. For many years, Americans have lived in a country with a deficit driven model of education. In recent years, we have swung the pendulum the opposite way, to study what effective readers do. Although focusing on the positive seems more advantageous than focusing on the negative, we have yet to truly focus on individual children.

When I am asked to cite one theorist who has most impacted my thinking with regard to pedagogy, it is the work of John Dewey. Like John Dewey, I believe that humans actively construct their own knowledge from childhood on, and I see learning as a journey in which we (students, parents, teachers) are all partners in this endeavor. Dewey believed that children learn by doing, physically and mentally, with real objects, in meaningful contexts. As an inborn instinct, children actively search for meaning, trying to make sense of life; therefore, it makes perfect sense to build on what children know, as Dewey suggested. Dewey (1916) defined education as a continual process of reorganizing, reconstructing, and transforming. I have always tried to implement a child-centered, teacher-directed curriculum, in which a child works at his or her own pace, in an intellectually stimulating environment. My curriculum has been inspired by the children’s natural interests, curiosities, joys, and wonders. I am dedicated to supporting the growth of each child, with attention to such important developmental aspects as intellectual, emotional, social, physical, and aesthetic.

In learning, we take constant risks, and to take risks, we must feel safe. As an educator, it is of extreme importance to me that my students and I develop warm, sincere relationships through which to work, play, and explore. I truly value the kinds of relationships I am able to develop with children and adults through my career. The human connection is the most essential. Indeed, Dewey (1916) contended that meaningful learning must take place in community, in cooperation and interaction with others. He illustrated that in community, students have freedom and support to explore curiosities, and can also use that sense of community as a springboard into eventual independence.

Along with students, teachers, professors, and other community members of Binghamton, NY, Christine Woodcock was a part of the ‘Franklin Peace Mural,’ a collaborative project inspired by the theories of social action as curriculum.


Dewey, J. (1916/1944). Democracy and education. New York: Free Press.

Garbarino, J. (1992). Children and families in the social environment. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

McCaleb, S. P. (1997). Building Communities of Learners. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). How We Think. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

EDL 550 Developmental Literacy: Emergence to Fluency
EDI 610 Transitions from Education’s Roots to the Present
EDL 581 Language Development and Literacy
EDL 671 Literacy Practicum EDL 692 Literacy Portfolio
EDU 670 Literacy in the Content Areas
EDU 368 Adolescent General Education/Special Education Curriculum Methods
EDU 375 Strategic Literacy Instruction for Diverse Learners: Early Childhood/Childhood

EDC 498 Specialized Practices in Reading
EDC 545 Teaching Language Arts and the Writing Process
EDC 444 Organization, Administration and Supervision of Reading/Writing Programs
EDC 520 Reading and Communication in Secondary and Middle Schools
EDC 516 Teaching Reading and Language Arts
EDC 446 Professional Seminar I
EDC 503 Professional Seminar II
EDU 5815 Advanced Analysis of Reading and Language Arts
EDU 5860 Issues in Urban Education

EDU 270 Foundations of Teaching and Learning
EDU 245 Literature for Children and Young Adolescents (hybrid online)
EDU 361 Emerging and Early Literacy:Grades K-4
EDU 363 Reading Facilitation for All Learners
RDG 504 Content Area Literacy (hybrid online)
HON 301 Exploring Phenomena in Pop Culture

ELED 429 Principles and Practices of Assessment in Reading and Language Arts
ELED 312 Professional Development School Internship
EDUC 717 Children’s Literature and Other Materials to Teach Reading (hybrid online)
ELED 468 Professional Development School Internship II
ELED 469 Professional Development School Internship II Seminar

EDUC 338 Reading and Language Arts
EDUC 339 Reading and Language Arts Pre-Practicum
CCCA 207 Children’s Literature (hybrid online)
RDNG 722 Critical Issues in Literature for Adolescents and Children (hybrid online)
RDNG 710 Literacy Assessment I: Understanding Literacy Difficulties
RDNG 711 Literacy Assessment I Pre-Practicum
RDNG 712 Literacy Assessment II: Exploring the Evolving Role of the Literacy Specialist
RDNG 713 Literacy Assessment II Pre-Practicum
Supervision of Reading Specialist Practicum