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									Catherine Kurkjian:
Infusing Technology into Reading & Language Arts

In the 21st century, literacy requires more than “readin’, ’ritin’, and ’rithmatic.” Rapidly
changing information and communication technologies mean people need “new
literacies.”
         “You can get lost on the information highway,” declares Catherine Kurkjian,
professor of reading and language arts, addressing graduate students, mostly professional
teachers, assembled in a computer lab for her Integrating Technology in Reading and
Language Arts class.
         This course, which she developed, is one of a handful in the U.S. to answer a
national call for professors to support teachers as they help learners prepare for 21st-
century literacy. “A reader on the Internet needs to be strategic so as not to get lost in all
those enticing links,” she explains. New literacies allow users to locate relevant
information, evaluate it for authenticity and credibility, synthesize sources of data, and
then communicate the information.
         Ebullient and compassionate, Kurkjian soothes the “technology challenged.” She
teaches graduate courses, including Teaching Children’s Literature; Bibliotherapy, an
issues approach to teaching children’s literature; Multicultural Literature in the
Classroom, a sixth-year level course; and the Technology course. She joined the Reading
and Language Arts Department, School of Education & Professional Studies, in 1995.
With a doctorate in reading from the University of Northern Colorado and a master’s
from the University of Massachusetts, Kurkjian is a specialist in children’s literature and
in the intersection of literacy and technology.

Impressive Accomplishments
Kurkjian is past president of the Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group
of the International Reading Association and served as editor and associate editor of its
journal, The Dragon Lode.
  She is currently editor of the New England Reading Association Journal. She is serving
as conference chair for NERA’s 60th Annual Conference in 2008 and will rotate in as
president of NERA in 2009. She serves as research co-chair for the Connecticut
Association for Reading Research (CARR).
        Kurkjian received an Outstanding Literacy Educator Award from the Connecticut
Reading Association (CAR) and received NERA’s Special Recognition Award
(Connecticut) for 2005. She served as the editor, Children’s Book Department, for The
Reading Teacher (2003–07), the journal of the International Reading Association.

“Not a Dry Eye”
“Cathy has an open-ended, personal style of teaching,” states Dr. Susie Da Silva, now
principal of the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, Waterbury. “She makes personal
connections with students and values their perspectives.” Da Silva, who was Kurkjian’s
student throughout her studies for the bachelor’s, master’s, sixth-year, and Ed.D., at
CCSU, was proud that Kurkjian was a committee member for her doctoral dissertation.
“The most motivating piece of Cathy’s instruction is her passion for literacy and visible
love for the language arts,” exclaims Da Silva.
Da Silva remembers, “When I was an undergraduate, Dr. Kurkjian read the book Abuela
to the class, and by the end tears had welled up in her eyes. There was not a dry eye after
that. She captured everyone, and I only hope to capture others the way she captured me.”
         Kurkjian’s passion for children’s literature is balanced by her infusion of new
literacies and technology used to build exciting learning communities in all her courses.
She stretches the walls of her classroom through cyberlesson Internet projects.
“Cyberlessons are a way for students to read a book before, during, and after
comprehension activities that access resources on the Internet,” explains Kurkjian.

Dynamic Cyberlessons
Two years ago, teachers from primary grades through college participated in cyberlesson
projects. Students developed, implemented, and reflected on cyberlessons integral to their
own classroom curriculum and shared this work with other professionals on the web.
        “They used the Web CT discussion board to post reviews of books they
recommended to their classmates. By the end of the semester they had a range of
resources for their own classrooms,” observes Kurkjian. “In the Bibliotherapy course,
they reviewed sets of books focusing on the life cycle issues. In Teaching Children’s
Literature and in Multicultural Literature, students compiled lists of culturally sensitive
and culturally rich books according to genre, author, and content.”
        Kurkjian asked students to collaboratively write a review of a book and post it on
a website. “They give their ideas quite a bit of consideration before posting them for the
world to read. This is a powerful way to convey how they can use the Internet as a forum
for publication for their students’ work as well,” concludes Kurkjian.

Upcoming This Fall
While on sabbatical leave recently, Kurkjian conducted research on new literacies in
Connecticut, on behalf of CARR. “I analyzed data collected on professional development
needs and proficiencies in the new literacies, as reported by Connecticut high school
teachers. Data was collected through an online survey sent to a random sample of reading
and language arts consultants, remedial reading and language arts teachers, and English
and social studies teachers, as well as to technology educators and media specialists.”
         Analysis of the data is nearing completion and findings will be disseminated at
CRA’s annual conference and later at the National Reading Conference.
“I like to think I’m empowering teachers to enhance their status as professionals in their
schools. When former students report to me that they are becoming leaders in literacy and
technology at their schools and in their districts—that makes me proud,” says Kurkjian.
     By Geri Radacsi
     Courier

								
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