Tanya S. Wright, Michigan State University associate professor of language and literacy, was selected to receive the Jerry Johns Outstanding Teacher Educator in Reading Award from the International Literacy Association.
The award recognizes a teacher in higher education who exemplifies outstanding teaching of reading and reading methods and who is an innovative leader, mentor and scholar within the field of literacy education. It is supported by Jerry Johns, a distinguished educator and researcher in teacher education at Northern Illinois University, and a two-time alum of the MSU College of Education (M. ‘66 and Ph.D. ‘70, Elementary Education).
“Wright is the operational definition of what it means to be a teacher scholar,” said MSU Professor Patricia Edwards, who also nominated Wright for the honor. “She has established herself as a highly regarded national and international scholar on the ways that curriculum, professional development and policy may impact language and literacy instruction during the early years.”
Wright, and scholars in the College of Education, have a long history with the International Literacy Association. Wright was named the recipient of the Outstanding Dissertation Award in 2012. In 2020, a team of MSU researchers were named as the editorial team for the organization’s journal, The Reading Teacher. Wright serves as the senior editor.
Edwards was president of the organization in 2010-11, when it was known as the International Reading Association.
“Wright is the best instructor I have had throughout my doctoral program,” wrote Lori Bruner in a nomination letter in March 2022, prior to graduating with a degree in Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education (CITE) in May. Wright served as Bruner’s advisor. “She is intentional in how she structures her course so that students learn the most up-to-date information and engage with materials in meaningful ways … [She] believed in my potential before I even believed in myself and has consistently challenged me to meet her highest expectations.”
Several College of Education alumni have also received recognitions from ILA. In 2021, Bruner was named the recipient of the Jeanne S. Chall Research Fellowship. Fellow graduate Blythe Anderson, Ph.D. ‘20 (CITE) and a former advisee of Wright, was a finalist for the Timothy and Cynthia Shanahan Outstanding Dissertation Award (2021) and the winner of the Steven A. Stahl Research Grant through ILA (2019).
In 2022, Brittany Finch, a doctoral student in MSU’s Second Language Studies program, was named the recipient of the Jeanne S. Chall Research Fellowship.
Among her contributions to the field, Wright is the project leader with co-author Amelia Gotwals for the SOLID Start project (Science, Oral Language, and Literacy Development from the Start of School), which develops open access curriculum materials and provides professional development opportunities for K-2 teachers that integrate science and literacy. . In 2018, Wright co-led the creation of preschool and K-3 Literacy Essentials for teachers, providing evidence-based teaching practices to support children’s literacy learning. The work was award-winning: One video, which Wright led the content creation of, won a Telly Award, which recognizes excellence in television and video.
She is also the author of “A Teacher’s Guide to Vocabulary Development Across the Day: The Classroom Essentials Series,” among other publications. In fall 2022, Wright anticipates publishing her next book: “Literacy Learning for Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers: Key Practices for Educators.” The book, cowritten with Wright, Sonia Cabell, Nell Duke and Mariana Souto-Manning, will be published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
“Wright draws upon her experiences as a kindergarten teacher and her work in classrooms to make her content and learning experiences speak directly to educators,” said Lisa Domke, a 2019 graduate of the CITE program. Domke is an assistant professor of language and (bi)literacy education at Georgia State University. “In all of the courses I teach, most of which are literacy-related, I strive to teach them the way Dr. Wright does by intentionally structuring the course to maximize relevancy and help every reading and activity work toward course goals in multiple ways to support students’ learning and careers.”
Like all areas of education, language and literacy learning was affected by COVID-19. Wright has been conducting research on its impacts. For example, she was co-author on reports examining how COVID-19 and resource constraints may have affected third graders and their scores on Michigan’s standardized English language arts assessment, or M-STEP ELA. Read the first iteration of the report from March 2021, and the second published in February 2022 in collaboration with MSU’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative.
Wright and Bruner shared how COVID-19 impacted their workflow for the project in a guest blog for the Institute of Education Sciences in 2021.
“[Wright] is a superb scholar, compassionate thinker and both a practitioner and a researcher who is deeply concerned about, and strives for, facilitating the movement toward equitable literacy education,” Edwards said. “She is truly an exceptional person and a scholar who I see as a beacon of light.”