Promoting literacy

By Dick Mason, The Observer February 16, 2012 02:24 pm

EOU Education Professor Carol Lauritzen reads with Willow Elementary kindergarten students, Florecita Villagomez, left, and Madison Young, on Wednesday morning. Lauritzen reads with kindergarten students at Willow once a week.  CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer
EOU Education Professor Carol Lauritzen reads with Willow Elementary kindergarten students, Florecita Villagomez, left, and Madison Young, on Wednesday morning. Lauritzen reads with kindergarten students at Willow once a week. CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer

EOU professor receives lifetime achievement award from Oregon Reading Association 

EOU Education Professor Carol Lauritzen, who normally moves at an energetic pace, has been slowed the past three months by a leg she broke in late November.

Today she is close to a complete recovery, but still experiences a small amount of pain. 

Lauritzen, however, does not remember feeling any pain on Saturday when she had to make a short and surprising walk to the podium at the Oregon Reading Association’s annual state conference in Portland. 

A sense of exhilaration overwhelmed Lauritzen, who had been called up to receive the Oregon Reading Association’s Lifetime Achievement Literacy Award. 

“It was a big surprise, a real thrill,’’ Lauritzen said. “It was very gratifying to be recognized.’’

Lauritzen has taught at EOU since 1988. She focuses much of her time on helping EOU students learn how to teach reading to   children.

Michael Jaeger, a professor of education at Eastern, who earlier co-authored a curriculum book with Lauritzen, said she is a successful instructor of future teachers for a number of reasons. He praised her for being detail-oriented and taking a personal interest in her students at EOU.

“She is always attentive to their needs. She is very empathetic,’’ Jaeger said. 

Lauritzen was a high school English teacher in Nebraska at the start of her education career. She decided to go back to college and earn the credentials needed to become a grade school teacher two years into her career. The class had several eighth-graders and Lauritzen was disturbed to find that many of them did not have good reading skills.

“It dawned on me that they could not enjoy the literature we were reading in class,’’ she said. “You have to be able to read well to enjoy literature.’’

Lauritzen wanted to boost the students’ reading abilities, but she was not in a position to. She explained that English teachers are not trained to teach reading. Lauritzen then went back to college, earning a doctorate in reading education from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She then worked as a grade school teacher before coming to EOU in 1988 with her husband, Dale, and their sons, Nathan and Zachary.

At Eastern, Lauritzen has spent most of her time preparing students to become teachers, but she has also made a point of regularly working with children. Presently, she reads with kindergarten students at Willow Elementary School once a week.

“I don’t want to try to be a teacher of teachers if I am not working directly with children,’’ Lauritzen said. “It makes me feel like a real teacher. I love doing it.’’

She describes reading as a very complex process, one more involved than researchers originally thought. It was once believed reading involved just one portion of the brain, but it is now known that the entire brain is used in the process of reading a single word.

“It is so complicated, it is amazing that 5- and 6-year-olds can learn how to read. It is totally awesome that they can do this,’’ Lauritzen said. 

People can learn to read or improve their skills at any age, the EOU professor said. However, it is important to learn how to read early. Lauritzen explained that most learning in the classroom occurs via reading. School becomes difficult for students who do not read well. Students who do not read well fall behind and are more likely to drop out.

The best way to prevent children from getting off to a bad start in school is to develop their reading abilities early. The ideal way to do this is for parents to read to their children. Children entering kindergarten who have been read to for many hours have a much greater chance of long-term success in school. 

“The most important thing parents can do to get their children ready for school is to read to them,’’ Lauritzen said. “The best indicator of how well students will do from kindergarten though high school is the number of hours they have been read to before kindergarten.’’

The contributions Lauritzen has made to reading education extend past the work she has done with EOU students and children. Works she has had published include the book she co-wrote with Jaeger, “Great Discoveries.’’ The book provides a science and health curriculum for teachers that is infused with reading and writing. 

Lauritzen’s works also include a chapter for the 2007 book “Shaping the Reading Field.’’ The chapter Lauritzen wrote provided a biographical look at William S. Gray, who is best remembered for the “Dick and Jane’’ book series he authored, while a professor at the University of Chicago. Gray was the founding president of the International Reading Association, which the Oregon Reading Association is a chapter of.

One of Gray’s students, Helen Huus, was a professor of Lauritzen’s at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Lauritzen did extensive interviews with Huus before writing the book chapter on Gray. 

“It was such a thrill to be able to do that.’’

Currently, Lauritzen is focusing on developing literacy curriculum that supports student learning in science. She said that incorporating reading and writing into science curriculums is becoming increasingly important. This is due to the rising complexity of today’s high-tech world.

Lauritzen hopes that ultimately she can help inspire people to be lifetime readers, for this will help our society address issues with greater depth.

“It is incredibly important that we are so thoughtfully literate.’’