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Nell K. Duke Receives ILA’s William S. Gray Citation of Merit

By Alina O'Donnell
 | Sep 04, 2018
Nell K. Duke
Nell K. Duke, professor in literacy, language, and culture and in the combined program in education and psychology at the University of Michigan, School of Education, is the recipient of the William S. Gray Citation of Merit, recognizing ILA members who have made outstanding contributions to multiple facets of literacy development—research, theory, practice, and policy.

For some, the road to literacy work is a long, winding path. For others, like Nell K. Duke, it’s a calling. Duke’s love of learning and passion for teaching was awakened at an early age by equally dedicated teachers.

“I have been interested in language and literacy development since elementary school, actually, and I have read in this area ever since then,” she says. “As an undergraduate, my favorite topic in the teacher certification program was literacy development, and my undergraduate thesis focused on children’s writing.”

Now a professor in literacy, language, and culture and in the combined program in education and psychology at the University of Michigan, School of Education, Duke brings her deep commitment to social justice to her day-to-day work. Her research focuses on early literacy development, particularly among children of poverty, the development of informational reading and writing in young children, comprehension development, and issues of equity and access in literacy education.

In addition to her research, Duke teaches preservice, inservice, and doctoral courses in literacy education; speaks and consults widely on literacy education; and has served as coprincipal investigator on projects funded by Institute of Education Sciences, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and Lucas Education Research, among other organizations.

She is also the author and coauthor of numerous journal articles, book chapters, and books, including Inside Information: Developing Powerful Readers and Writers of Informational Text Through Project-Based Instruction (Scholastic) and Beyond Bedtime Stories: A Parent’s Guide to Promoting Reading, Writing, and Other Literacy Skills From Birth to 5 (Scholastic). She’s currently in the beginning phases of writing a book on developing literacy from birth to age 8.

Of all her accomplishments, Duke says she’s most proud of an article she published in 2000, titled, “For the Rich It’s Richer: Print Experiences and Environments Offered to Children in Very Low- and Very High-Socioeconomic Status First-Grade Classrooms,” which has laid the foundation for her career in advancing equity in literacy education.

“So often, people attribute educational inequity to homes and communities, but this article documents very specific ways in which schools perpetuate inequity from very early in schooling, even if unintentionally,” she says. “The article provides something of a roadmap of inequities in early literacy education on which I have worked over the course of my career.”

When asked about her future goals, Duke says she hopes to continue to learn from and support practitioners and policymakers who have a positive impact on the literacy development of young children, particularly those living in poverty.

“Some more specific goals include reducing the use of practices that are not effective in developing literacy, increasing the use of practices that are effective in developing literacy, developing new curriculum materials, and fostering the field’s understanding of pedagogy that provides civic as well as literacy education,” she says.

Duke thanks ILA for creating an award that bridges theory and practice.
“Especially meaningful to me is that the award considers practice and policy as well as research and theory,” she says. “It has always been my goal to have some impact beyond research and theory.”

Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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