LEAD THE CHANGE SERIES Q & A with Dr. Christina L. Dobbs

Christina L. Dobbs is an Assistant Professor in English Education in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. Her research interests include academic language development and teachers’ understandings of language, the argumentative writing of students, and professional development for secondary content teachers around disciplinary literacy. She has authored a variety of publications on these topics in journals such as Reading Research Quarterly, the Journal of School Leadership, Professional Development in Education, and Reading and Writing among others, following the completion of her doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the author of Disciplinary Literacy Inquiry and Instruction and Investigating Disciplinary Literacy, has served as the Manuscripts Editor for the Harvard Educational Review, and has edited a volume titled Humanizing Education: Critical Alternatives to Reform. She serves as a reviewer of young adult fiction for The Horn Book Magazine and has served as a consultant to the New York City Department of Education, Cambridge Public Schools, Boston Public Schools, and Brookline Public Schools among others. She is a former high school teacher in Houston, Texas, as well as a literacy coach and reading specialist.

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Dobbs discusses her work on building teacher capacity through context specific and collaborative professional development efforts. As Dr. Dobbs puts it:

I think my most consistent and nagging challenge in my work has to do with where
we situate expertise in schools, and this impacts how policy is made, both generally and locally. Students have expertise, communities have expertise, teachers have expertise. And in a world where we want higher achievement for students, we make mistakes when we don’t look across stakeholders and their varied expertise when making decisions. So as a researcher, I think of myself as bringing expertise about research and methods to the table, and the research is often quite difficult for teachers to access without a university stakeholder. But I rely on teachers, students, community members and school leaders to bring the expertise needed to bring about change. They bring expertise about the specific context, the community, various disciplines, and invaluable historical knowledge. To truly bring about change, this expertise has to be combined in real partnerships. For example, the project discussed above contained teams of teachers from an array of content areas. I remember in a session early in the project with the science team, we were discussing using non-fiction text features to better comprehend informational text. So, the team leader and a chemistry teacher and I were talking about their textbook. She walked us through a number of the text features in the chapter we were analyzing, pointing out which diagrams were important to understanding the material and which were designed merely to brighten pages or generate interest. Without her chemistry training and my team’s comprehension knowledge, the team would not have come to build a protocol for reading in chemistry to better orient students to their books. It took all of us to truly grapple with the literacy skills needed in a chemistry context.

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently, Lead the Change has also interviewed Kristin Kew and Osnat Fellus.

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