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Faculty Emerita DeStefano dedicates gift to naming Bloome as distinguished professor

Janet Kiplinger Ciccone
March 20, 2012

David Bloome, professor of teaching and learning, can hold a room full of teachers spellbound as he deepens their ability to improve their students' self-image as writers and students' use of writing for learning.

He influences classroom practice by inspiring teachers to value the culture and language that children bring from their families, communities and histories as a strong foundation for learning to read and write.

"It is not the case that we must choose between academic learning and students' cultural and linguistic heritage and community background," he said. "Indeed, if there's anything we've learned over the past 20 to 30 years, it's that these two domains mutually strengthen each other."

Bloome demonstrates this concept as codirector of the Columbus Area Writing Project, where he and colleagues present intensive workshops to develop teachers' leadership and professional skills in the teaching of writing.

In the Storytelling project, Bloome and colleagues show teachers how to inspire students by inviting them to tell stories, both orally and in writing, about their families, histories and cultures.

In the Students as Ethnographers project, Bloome shows how students reap benefits by investigating their own culture, language and literature to understand the richness of their families and communities.

For these reasons and more, Bloome was recently designated the college's Distinguished Professor of Teaching and Learning. Faculty Emerita Johanna DeStefano, who spent her 30-year career as a sociolinguist in the college, made this position possible, in part, with her gift.

A long and distinguished career supports the next generation

Johanna DeStefano is known for her seminal book published in the mid-1970s, Language, the Learner and the School. She was among the first to introduce teachers to linguistic theory and how it applies to reading, writing, spelling and oral language use in schools.

During her career, DeStefano's greatest interest was in helping public school students at high risk of dropping out. She was concerned about those who were not learning to read and write at levels that would enable them to move up in schooling so they could participate in the American dream.

"I support David Bloome's work because he is plowing fields beyond those I plowed," said DeStefano, who retired in 2000 as a professor of teaching and learning. "I couldn't agree more with his many areas of emphasis, including the potential for classroom education to connect academic learning and local knowledge to build communities. That's what a land-grant university needs to be doing."

DeStefano received all three of her degrees from Stanford University, but she appreciates her career at Ohio State for many reasons, including her excellent colleagues and students.

She also described another reason critical to her. "A land-grant university welcomes students from more diverse and varied backgrounds than an elite private university like Stanford," she explained. "A land-grant also trains future educators, which is important to me because you can't better yourself in this country if you can't read. That's why I'm so devoted to Ohio State. For me, there was no better place."

DeStefano chose to support Bloome's career because of his many achievements, including his record of more than 100 publications and seven books as coauthor or coeditor. "He was inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame," she said. "He was selected as a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, the premier organization in our field. He is coeditor of Reading Research Quarterly, one of the premier journals. He encapsulates it all in my field."

Over the course of five years, the gift will support Bloome's Center for Video Ethnography and Discourse Analysis, where he and his colleagues analyze the language used by teachers and students in the classroom and how their exchanges build student skill and knowledge.

Bloome will also use the gift to:

  • Support graduate students in their research on language variation and use in educational contexts.
  • Develop collaborative research and service projects with community organizations and local schools. The project will integrate research on language variation and use in schools and community and will include an educational program benefiting the young people, their families and the community.

Appreciating our history, saluting work in progress

Bloome views his scholarship and work with educators as building on the groundbreaking work by the college's literacy scholars before him, especially DeStefano, Rudine Sims Bishop, Martha King and many others.

"They set the foundation for understanding the importance of respecting the language children bring with them to school," he said. "I feel very fortunate to be in the School of Teaching and Learning. Not only do I have wonderful colleagues who are extraordinarily talented, but the college's scholarly heritage and legacy is one of the strongest in the country."

DeStefano aims for her gift to give Bloome flexibility in achieving his goals. "I had people who believed in me and supported me. That's what I want to do--believe in the faculty because they are the university."

She is especially interested in the three-year Argumentative Writing grant on which Bloome is co-principal investigator with faculty George Newell, Alan Hivela and Helen Marks. They are analyzing video of 33 exemplary teachers' instructional discourse with their students.

"What we are learning is how instructional conversations between teachers and students create the conditions for learning at deep levels in literature and composition studies," Bloome said. "It is no longer useful to engage students, from preschool through university, in superficial or surface learning. Yet so much of what we currently do is at this level. It's no wonder children are bored with classroom learning and failing."

In the first year of the project, Bloome and his colleagues have found that exemplary teachers focus students on issues beyond the structure of essays. "Knowledge about the topic is also important, but not enough. They need to consider the context and the social relationships and knowledge they would like to create. They need to understand that one form of argument does not necessarily work in a different situation."

Bloome's goal is to give students the ability to learn practices that are flexible and adaptable and that lead them to profound thinking about topics over which they feel they have ownership.

When it comes to the honor of being named a distinguished professor, Bloome expresses his wish to share it broadly. "I really see this as an honor to a whole community of scholars--including all the teachers, researchers and doctoral students with whom I have collaborated over the years. I happen to be the point person at this time. Johanna's gift honors all the people who work hard to understand how the diversity of language and use of language in people's everyday lives can create a rich foundation for academic learning."


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