Alumna Appointed to Run Reading Program
By Dave DeFusco
The co-chair of a panel advising the State of Maryland on the redesign of elementary-level reading courses has been named the faculty lead for the Master of Science in Reading program at the Johns Hopkins School of Education.
Mary Ellen Lewis, who holds master’s and EdD degrees from the School of Education, started in her new position on January 1. For 28 years she worked at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in special education, retiring from there in 2016, and before that taught in Baltimore City.
From 2000 to 2005, she was an assistant professor in the Graduate Division of Education, a predecessor of the School of Education, and director of the Center for Reading Excellence at Johns Hopkins.
“I’ve taught at Hopkins over 30 years, so I know the reading program very well,” she said. “My doctorate from Hopkins was in human communication disorders.”
The School of Education’s 39-credit reading program prepares teachers to meet state requirements that certify them to become a reading specialist. “It’s a practitioners program that has a clinical aspect tied to teaching in the classroom,” said Lewis. “You have to have experience teaching.”
Candidates for the master’s degree are immersed in cognitive theories on how children learn and are encouraged to be consumers of emerging research. “They have to understand that research is constantly changing and informing us about the thinking processes that go into reading,” she said. “By understanding that, you know better what your students are about. There’s a lot of developmental difference between a 5- and 6-year-old than there is between a 15- and 16-year-old.”
Lewis said the reading program is distinctive because it flows from the School of Education’s Neuro-Education Initiative. In 1999 the school introduced the course, “Reading and the Brain,” and now other courses related to neurological and cognitive development are offered through the Mind, Brain and Teaching concentration in the graduate certificate and doctoral programs.
“We’ve recognized for a long time that you have to look at the neurological, not just the cognitive, processes involved in reading,” she said.
Since most candidates are acquainted with “inclusive classrooms” where students with special needs sit side by side with youngsters who are developing normally, the program of study identifies strategies for English language learners and gifted students, and those with specific learning problems and visual or hearing deficits.
“That wide range of learning approaches has to be part of the toolbox of every teacher,” said Lewis, “so that they know how to select instructional approaches and materials for teaching that will allow everyone to progress at the level designed to assure progress.”
Three clinical practicum experiences—two designed around reading and one for writing—and a course in English as a Second Language give candidates experience with students who don’t speak English as their first language. There is a high concentration of second-language learners in Baltimore City, Montgomery County, Prince Georges County and other counties in the area surrounding Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
“Our program in reading is designed to look at the culture, the range of need and the range of ability in the classroom and the characteristics of a community that may be risk factors,” said Lewis, “so that our reading specialists can provide additional information to teachers handling those risk factors.”
The School of Education emphasizes the science of reading. “Reading specialists want to understand not just how to apply a technique, a structure or a strategy for teaching, they want to know why they’re doing it,” said Lewis. “If you want to know why you’re teaching the way you’re teaching, we can tell show you how to do that. We can make you look at it very scientifically.”