Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Strategic Reading and Learning, Theory to Practice: An Interview with Michele Simpson and Sherrie Nist

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Strategic Reading and Learning, Theory to Practice: An Interview with Michele Simpson and Sherrie Nist

Article excerpt

During the early 1980's the field of reading and learning was shedding the constricting veil of behavioralism for the cutting edge research on schema theory and constructivism. It was also a time when the state of Georgia wholeheartedly supported the concept of developmental education throughout its system of postsecondary institutions. As such a well-funded system of programs across the state attracted a cadre of faculty committed to the promise and philosophy of developmental education. It was in this academic milieu at the University of Georgia that Sherrie Nist and Michele Simpson began what was to be a partnership spanning three decades.

In total the team has authored over 20 peer reviewed publications appearing in journals and yearbooks known for their scholarly rigor and academic presence. Their scholarly trilogy of "College Reading and Learning Academic Assistance Programs" "College Studying" and "Encouraging Active Reading at the College Level" provides the foundational readings on the state of the art that should be read by all individuals associated with college developmental reading. Finally, together they authored the field's first fully research driven vocabulary text, Developing Concepts: Vocabulary for College Thinking, as well as Developing Textbook Fluency.

Norman Stahl (N.S.): Along with individuals such as Claire Weinstein and Michael Pressley, the team of Sherrie Nist and Michele Simpson can be credited with focusing the field's attention on the theory and research on strategic reading and learning. Why did you decide to approach reading and study instruction from a strategic perspective?

Michele Simpson (M.S.): For me it came from my experiences. I taught secondary reading back in the '70s where I also helped the students do well in high school. This experience set the tone or at least provided the foundation for my practice. When I worked at Arizona State University and later when I took my first job at the University of Northern Iowa, I worked in drop-in program where people came in with their situations, their problems, and their failings. You had to be strategic to help them. You had to determine what courses they were taking, what texts they were reading, what the professor expected of them and how they were studying, so it seemed like a natural approach. When you read Rummelhart, Bransford or Ann Brown, the strategic perspective that I practiced intuitively with the students, made a lot of sense because these researchers were suggesting that learning is an interactive process, and it depends on the text and the task.

Sherrie Nist (S.N.): I had a similar experience, although I essentially fell into working and thinking about reading and studying from a strategic perspective. It wasn't such a conscious sort of thing. Before I went back to graduate school for the doctorate I had a job at a small 4-year institution in Florida, and I was working at a reading lab while I was undertaking my master's degree. We used early technology like controlled readers and instructional approaches focusing on the skill and drill philosophy. At the time I was thinking, this just doesn't seem to be working, and so I started investigating different graduate programs and entered a doctoral program in the early days of the cognitive revolution. I knew that there had to be something more I could do to help students with their critical reading skills, but this was the era of skill/drill approaches; strategic reading wasn't on the horizon yet.

In my cognitive psychology class I was exposed to Bransford and the idea that learning and studying is a complex issue, and it just made so much sense to me. And so it wasn't so much that I got into this field because I knew about strategic learning or studying as an interactive process but more because I thought that there had to be something else out there. I happened to start my graduate program at a time when the field of reading and studying was moving from behaviorism to a cognitive approach of strategic learning. …

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