UNCG Campus Weekly

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Gay Ivey, new Moran Distinguished Professor in Literacy, brings unique perspective

The key to getting kids to read? Find out what they’re thinking, said Dr. Gay Ivey, UNCG’s new William E. Moran Distinguished Professor in Literacy.

“Most of my research has centered on getting kids’ perspectives on things,” Ivey said. “Lots of people promote the idea of kids choosing what they can read, thinking that if they read more, they will get better. My research involves trying to understand what they’re getting out of it.”

Ivey is an elected member of the Reading Hall of Fame and has spent her career helping teachers help children learn to read and expand the thought process around reading instruction in schools.

In her native Virginia, Ivey began her career as a reading specialist and middle-school teacher. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of William and Mary, an M.Ed. in Reading Education from the University of Virginia and a PhD in Reading Education from the University of Georgia. Before joining the UNCG faculty this summer, she served as the Tashia F. Morgridge Chair in Reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she held positions at James Madison University, the University of Maryland at College Park and the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University.

“What I didn’t know about myself is that I was really interested in research,” Ivey said. “And learning how we could expand and improve reading and writing practices in school for kids through studying kids and teachers in their classrooms.”

Classroom-based research, she added, allows her to learn from kids by spending time with them in the classroom.

What happens when children are given the opportunity to find reasons of their own to read in school? A question that has recently driven Ivey in her research.

“When kids are engaged in reading things that matter to them, they are at their most strategic,” Ivey said.

Too often the reading children do in school is in response to an assignment rather than for their own reasons. Reading instruction in school is focused on getting better at reading, comprehension and memorization. All good things, Ivey said, but it’s not the reason kids read.

“They read to make sense of their lives, to grow their social lives and get a better understanding of themselves and the world,” Ivey said. “We’re not situating it in ways that make sense to them or add value to their lives.”

Ivey’s research centers on what engagement in reading means for the literary, academic, emotional and relational lives of children and adolescents. One of the draws of UNCG, she said, is that it affords her the opportunity to combine research with public engagement and engagement with schools.

The renowned literacy faculty was another draw.

“It was a team I wanted to join. I saw a place I could be collaborative with colleagues who were like-minded and interested seeing how research can really impact schools and communities,” Ivey said.

And she was also attracted by the diversity of the student population: “I feel a connection with the students here.”

Ivey says she plans to make North Carolina her home for many years and hopes to see UNCG’s graduate programs in literacy flourish.

“I also hope to become heavily involved in engagements with school districts across the state of North Carolina,” she added.

By Elizabeth L. Harrison