Foundations of Literacy

Christi Wright, Ed.D.

Visiting Instructor in Education

Each morning, Dr. Christi Wright walks around her classroom holding one of her favorite books. Today, the choice is “Click, Clack, Moo,” and her graduate students’ eyes are fixed on the book’s vibrant watercolor illustrations. Professor Wright reads the text aloud as she turns the pages, narrating the story of dairy cows who find a typewriter. Soon, she says, their farmer finds that the cows are leaving him notes, demanding better conditions.

“What do you think the author is really trying to teach?” she asks the group of future math and science teachers. “Look deeper. What is the purpose of this text?”

Dr. Wright’s students come to see that this book — though it is written for third graders — has a deeper commentary on justice, collective bargaining, and peaceful protest. This a lesson Professor Wright wants them to learn: Literacy is about much more than letters on a page.

“Literacy is not just reading and writing,” she explains. “It’s about synthesizing the meaning of a story. It’s listening, presenting, talking, all of that — being a literate person.”

Dr. Wright begins every class this way, reading a children’s book to a roomful of eager Valpo students. As Valpo’s elementary literacy specialist, she says her mission is to help these future teachers foster a love of reading that they can then share with their own students.

For 19 years, Dr. Wright worked as a public school teacher, reading books like “Click, Clack, Moo” to her kindergarten students. After she was chosen as Teacher of the Year by the Murfreesboro City School District, the district hired her as a master teacher and charged her with teaching literacy strategies to fellow teachers throughout the district.

That opportunity changed the course of Professor Wright’s career. She began traveling to teach professional development seminars in Tennessee and Kentucky and continued that work even when she became an elementary school principal.

“I think it solidified for me that this was what I was meant to do,” she says. “I get teachers to love reading so that they can foster that love with their students.”

Dr. Wright says that working at Valpo is even more rewarding. Now, in addition to delivering lessons, she can serve as a mentor and a coach. She say’s it’s “a joyous learning experience” to watch her students grow and develop. Because of Valpo’s field work system, Professor Wright doesn’t have to wait until students graduate to see them apply their learning in the classroom. Students go into area schools and practice their skill at teaching literacy.

Dr. Wright has a collection of nearly 1,000 children’s books that students can freely borrow for such assignments. Often, though, students know exactly which book they want to share. One of Professor Wright’s biggest joys is when students choose to share a book she has first read to them.