Wright wins dissertation award from International Reading Association

May 1, 2012

The International Reading Association has named Tanya Wright as the top scholar to complete a dissertation in the field of reading and literacy during the 2010-11 academic year.

She received the organization’s Outstanding Dissertation of the Year Award – an honor shared by many of the field’s most prominent researchers — for her research on early vocabulary during the IRA Annual Convention in Chicago this week.

Wright, now an assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University, looked at vocabulary instruction in 55 kindergarten classrooms across Michigan while she was a doctoral student at University of Michigan. She found that few teachers use formal methods known to be effective with young children, and that schools serving low-income students explain new words to children even less than educators serving higher-income populations.

Previous research has shown the early “word gap” experienced by children growing up in poverty correlates with poor reading comprehension later in life.

“It’s particularly important that adults — teachers and family members –take an active role in exposing children to opportunities to develop their vocabulary at a young age,” said Wright, who was a kindergarten teacher in New York City. ” Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening, at least not in the school systems.”

As a new faculty member at MSU, Wright plans to take her research further by exploring the barriers that may be preventing vocabulary instruction from happening in schools.

She collaborated with Professor Susan B. Neuman while at U-M.