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UW Literacy Conference and Literacy Research Center and Clinic: A Continuing History of Collaboration

                The University of Wyoming (UW) Fall Literacy Conference for 2021 looks a bit different as it will be held in 2021 as a virtual full day institute on September 18th of 2021. This conference has become a well-known staple to many Wyoming educators; it dates to the fall of 2009 when the first conference was held on UW campus. Yet, there is so much to this conference and its host that can be learned from its roots and its current-day ideas. After talking with the Literacy Research Center and Clinic (LRCC) staff and faculty Dr. Amy Spiker, Heidi Cruz, Dr. Cindy Brock, and Dr. Leigh Hall, the importance of collaboration is deeply evident.

                The UW Fall Literacy Conference is hosted by the LRCC which is housed on the main campus in Laramie, Wyoming. For a bit more insight on the LRCC, here is the mission statement from their website:

The UW Literacy Research Center and Clinic (LRCC) serves as the epicenter for disseminating literacy knowledge and evidence-based practices in Wyoming, offering professional development for practicing teachers, a clinical setting for preparing pre-service teacher candidates, and cutting-edge research conducted by faculty and graduate students on literacy education. Statewide engagement is the thread that runs through all that we do.  (UW Literacy Research Center and Clinic, 2021)

                The UW Fall Literacy Conference was created to provide literacy professional development to Wyoming educators and administrators.  Thus, the LRCC Executive Director sent a survey to Wyoming administrators and teachers. In addition to soliciting input from Wyoming administrators and teachers about literacy-related professional development topics, LRCC professionals look to the field of literacy research and scholarship to provide meaningful resources for statewide educators.

                The Fall Literacy Conference provides Wyoming educators and administrators the opportunity to learn about cutting-edge literacy research and scholarship. Another benefit to this conference is that educators can hear from Wyoming colleagues who are conference presenters about their literacy-related work in their schools and classrooms.  The LRCC holds a call for proposals each year to invite Wyoming educators and administrators to present alongside national presenters.  Through the generous donation of endowments made by Doug Reeves, the LRCC funds travel scholarships for educational professionals traveling from a distance to attend the physical conference.  

                This year the conference will look and feel a bit different; the annual conference will be held virtually. The main topic of discussion will be disciplinary literacy; conference attendees will learn how to use literacy as a tool within the disciplines across the grade levels from early elementary through high school.  Research in the field of literacy reveals that disciplinary literacy should start with our youngest children in elementary school so that children learn to use literacy skills and strategies in meaningful ways to develop background knowledge within and across the disciplines.  This includes teaching children how to comprehend texts within and across disciplines as disciplinary texts become more sophisticated across grade levels.  

                Yet, the work that is being done by the LRCC does not stop at the annual conference.  The LRCC engages in projects across the state to address the learning needs of teachers and administrators who are striving to provide the best education for Wyoming children.  Important LRCC work focuses on early literacy in collaboration with Wyoming Early Childhood Outreach Network (WYECON).  This collaborative endeavor provides state-of-the-art early literacy professional development for early childhood educators across Wyoming.  The LRCC also works with schools across the state to assess schools’ work in meeting students’ literacy learning needs.  After conducting school-wide literacy needs assessments, the LRCC often engages in long-term collaborative partnerships with schools to develop and enact school-wide literacy professional development.  The LRCC collaborates with other entities in the state, such as the Wyoming Department of Education, on statewide literacy work such as revising the Wyoming state literacy standards. The chair of the Wyoming Elementary Principals’ Association approached the LRCC asking for research-based information about key components of literacy.  The LRCC has responded by creating a series of modules for administrators and educators that focus on the major components of literacy including, for example, phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, writing, etc.  A key feature of each module is a brief presentation by nation-wide literacy experts (including UW professors) who provide clear, research-based explanations of each literacy component.

                In addition to the other projects mentioned, Dr. Leigh Hall discussed a professional development company that started from the LRCC. After talking to some of the more geographically distant high schools in the state of Wyoming who were asking for more personalized training with the LRCC, an idea was developed for self-paced virtual literacy professional development training courses. After securing a donation from Phil and Paula Lantz with matching dollar-for-dollar donations from the State of Wyoming through the University of Wyoming Foundation team, Leigh and her team of 13 educators from around the U.S. came together to develop 71 research-based courses on literacy education. Some of these were 15 hours long with most being 5 hours long. After two years of developing courses, and studying teacher learning, Leigh formed Literacy Teachers, an LLC designed to provide affordable, accessible, high-quality professional development for educators. For those interested, individual year-long all access passes can be purchased for $99.99, and these can be used for gaining PTSB credit. Districts can also purchase access passes for their teachers by contacting Dr. Hall at lhall16@uwyo.edu. While these courses were designed to meet the needs of middle and high school teachers, many elementary teachers have found benefit from them as well. Middle and high school teachers who participated during the research phase improved their learning by an average of 48%. This showcases how partnerships and collaborations can also be the key for true innovation and event entrepreneurial opportunities as was showcased in this project.

                The LRCC team members are passionate about their work serving educators and administrators across Wyoming. The LRCC places research-based practices pertaining to children’s literacy learning center stage and engages in state-wide collaborative partnerships designed to promote the literacy learning of Wyoming children.  As LRCC interviewees explained, the best way to foster children’s literacy learning is when all state-wide partners (e.g., teachers, administrators, schools, districts, professors, the WDE, policy makers, parents, and community members) come together in productive coalitions to problem-solve and enact best research-based literacy practices.  For years, the LRCC Literacy Conference has done just that by inviting the wisdom of Wyoming educators and encouraging new ideas and connections to be formed between schools, districts, and the WDE. This is where the roots of the LRCC and UW Fall Literacy Conference lie-a place that welcomes the voices of constituents across the state and national experts all coming together to explore ways to better meet the literacy learning needs of Wyoming children.

                For more information on the LRCC, here is the link: LRCC Webpage Link. For more information on the UW Fall Literacy Conference 2021 as well as how to register, here is the link: UW Fall Literacy Conference Link. We hope that you will tune in!  
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Phone: 307-766-3274

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