Researcher Spotlight: Professor Erin Counihan
By Avery Castellani, Riley McHugh and Erin Counihan
The Researcher Spotlight series is designed to introduce the public to the many fabulous members of the Busload of Books research team. Washington College student researchers Avery Castellani and Riley McHugh designed a set of questions- here are Professor Counihan's responses!
What made you want to be a part of the Busload of Books research project?
I have always been interested in literacy and learning, as I was trained to be - and was, for many years - an English teacher. In one of the classes that I teach at WC, EDU 307 Literacy in the Content Area, we talk a lot about how literacy slumps during the middle school years. It seems that kids just aren't as excited about any forms of literacy as they hit their pre-teen years. I thought it would be interesting to see if we can tap into something to get upper-elementary students to stay engaged in literacy.
Plus, I am a geography buff who has been in 49 states myself, so I enjoyed "following the bus" and getting some inside information as they traveled! I'd love to be able to have something concrete and measurable to provide to authors and publishers and encourage more low- or no-cost opportunities for students to meet authors and illustrators... BASED ON DATA!
How did you get involved in the research?
My part hasn't really started yet. Although I did help with formulating the questionnaires, most of what I will be doing is applying the research findings for the K-12 teaching audience. How can we use these data to improve literacy and literacy-based experiences?
How does the Busload of Books project relate to the other research and teaching that you do? + How have your personal and professional experiences influenced you while working on this project?
ALL OF IT does! So much of what I do is connected to literacy - from one of my primary courses, EDU 307 Literacy in the Content Area, to teaching future educators the importance of literacy strategies to engaging learners. I also teach EDU 403 Special Methods of Teaching: English, so getting students excited about taking in information (through multiple media) and communicating (through multiple media) play a big role there, as well. Because of the courses I teach, my research has primarily been in "literacy," too. With Instructional Technologist Raven Bishop, I have researched and published articles on teaching "new literacies" (multi-modal and often non-linear) and on teaching art strategies as tools to understand multi-media in the English / Language Arts classroom.
I have recently been expanding my areas of research and interest into additional literacies like computational literacy and environmental literacy. So learning how to engage learners with texts, to create meaningful experiences around text, and to carry that enthusiasm into future learning and life ties in with just about everything in my professional world!
What are you most excited to learn about through this research?
I'd love to be able to create an easy-to-use "best practices" resource for K-12 teachers that summarizes what they can do to create and sustain engagement and excited related to literacy. It could be related to something big, like an author visit, or something smaller, like a one-novel unit. Ideally, it would be something they could return to again and again throughout a school year and keep that momentum going!