Dr. Steven WittDr. Steven Witt

It is one thing to teach students how to read, it’s quite another to inspire them to become lifelong readers.

Professor, author, researcher and literacy specialist, Dr. Steven Witt, is on a mission to turn more kids into readers. As the director of the Graduate Literacy program within the School of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin, the professor works tirelessly with teachers who are pursuing graduate degrees to help them better connect with their students and get them reading.

“God’s Word is the basis for everything that we do,” said Witt. “It is also through reading that we learn about history and expand our imaginations. The ability to read affects all aspects of our lives.”

Witt is a published author and lifetime leader in the field of education. His recent book, “Opportunities: Transforming Education Research and Teaching Practices,” focuses on helping educators use their transformative life experiences to become more impactful, inspiring teachers.

As the school year comes to an end, the topic of the summer slide is at the top of Witt’s mind.

Summer slide is the term used when students lose achievement, particularly in reading and math, during summer break. This loss is especially substantial for lower income families who might not have access to books and have fewer reading role models in the community. While the School of Education is busy working with teachers, it’s important for parents to know what they can do to develop readers in their own families.

Witt’s top five tips for parents to help prevent the summer slide:

  1. Visit the public library every week.
  2. Help your kids discover their “just right books.” It doesn’t matter if they prefer graphic novels, classic literature, or cook books, what’s important is that they read.
  3. Model the pleasure of reading with your own “just right books.”
  4. Talk about what you’re reading: ask questions, make inferences, and predict endings.
  5. Journal your summer reading so that you can identify your personal preferences

Witt wasn’t always a reader. As a first grader, he struggled to make literacy connections and quickly fell behind in his grade level. Fortunately for him, his teacher recognized his struggles and called his mother to introduce reading intervention strategies.

“My mom started reading aloud to me everywhere; dentist office, car rides, while doing the dishes… she never stopped reading,” said Witt. “I became a reading specialist because I want to help kids learn and love to read the same way my teacher and mom helped me.”

Literacy is a key area of focus for Concordia University’s School of Education. Under the direction of Witt, the University recently launched an online literacy master’s program that is designed for elementary, middle and high school teachers who are interested in becoming more effective in the classroom. The courses are taught by nationally recognized thought leaders in education.

Also available online is a free literacy email course entitled, “Transforming Literacy Practices,” that is designed for educators to increase self-awareness and become more dynamic teachers through a free series of lectures, essays, and reflection papers.

The School of Education will host its inaugural Summer Literacy Institute for elementary and middle school teachers which will run from June 16-17. The event will include breakout sessions, panel discussions and major speakers all focusing on the theme, “Empowering teachers to make a difference.”  Witt will lead a TED-styled talk entitled “Literacy Now” as one of the keynote events.

On August 5, Concordia University will host an Early Childhood Literacy Festival for teachers at every level that will feature children’s book author, Lisa Moser.

For more information about Concordia University Wisconsin’s School of Education please visit www.cuw.edu/education.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at kali.thiel@cuw.edu or 262-243-2149.

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