MSU researchers help lead statewide literacy project

January 8, 2018
Screen shot of Tanya Wright

Tanya Wright is featured in training modules, as in this video screenshot, to inform Michigan educators about the new K-3 Literacy Essentials. Image courtesy of Michigan Virtual.

Michigan State University researchers are providing leadership in a new statewide effort to improve literacy.

Tanya Wright helped write the preschool and K-3 Literacy Essentials outlining evidence-based teaching practices that should happen for “every child, in every classroom, every day” to increase proficiency in reading and writing. She and fellow MSU College of Education scholar Laura Tortorelli are also assisting in the creation of free online training modules based on the essentials that will be available to all educators.

The first modules for the K-3 essentials are now available; the remaining modules are expected to be released on a rolling basis starting in early 2018. The collaborative project is led by the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, with multiple partners and funding from the Michigan Department of Education.

“It’s a special time in our state,” said Wright, associate professor of teacher education. “We have many organizations, districts and universities all working together on a common goal and agreeing on a common set of instructional practices we’d like to see in every classroom.”

Examples include supporting literacy motivation, doing read-alouds, instructing students in small groups to address their learning needs and collaborating with families.

“These are things we know from research that all kids need. Sometimes, not all of the essentials are happening in classrooms. Sometimes, they are happening, but not in ways that are well-aligned with the research,” Wright said.

Wright and Tortorelli, along with Nell K. Duke of University of Michigan, are featured in some of the training videos to explain research behind key practices. They also designed the content in the modules and worked with Michigan Virtual and teachers across the state to produce classroom videos for each literacy essential.

MSU Educational Administration faculty members Kristy Cooper Stein and Melissa Usiak are also contributing to the project. They helped draft the Literacy Essentials document focused on school-wide or organizational practices to foster literacy. Usiak and Cooper Stein shared the research with literacy coaches from across the state and have made presentations to Michigan school leaders as they prepare to support the necessary systemic changes.

Update 12/11/18: One video in the Literacy Essentials modules received a 2018 Telly Award for its efforts in improving literacy education in Michigan. In particular, the K-3 Essential 1.1: Goal Setting video was recognized. It shows practical examples of real teachers in real classrooms throughout the state, implementing efforts to foster literacy motivation and engagement within and across lessons.

The award-winning video is a part of a larger series—16 with a pre-kindergarten focus and 33 for K-3—that are embedded within online professional learning modules. With full use of the modules and videos, teachers, districts and others can see examples of and then utilize implementation of Literacy Essentials within Michigan classrooms.

“I would like to thank all of the fantastic teachers and students who worked on making these videos, as well as Message Makers who filmed and edited the video,” said Wright. She was on hand during filming in all of the Michigan classrooms, lesson planning with teachers and later selecting segments of lessons that were shown in the video.

Founded in 1979, the Telly Awards honor excellence in video and television across all screens. The Literacy Essentials video recognized in the non-broadcast education category.

Learn more at