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Professional Development 


Dr. Wittmer has dedicated her career to finding the most effective ways to improve the literacy skills of K-12 students, especially adolescents in middle school. At a time when many educators are recognizing the need to change or refine their literacy pedagogy, it can be overwhelming to wade through the myriad of  reports, studies, articles, and research on topics such as the science of reading, the structured literacy vs. balanced literacy debate, and culturally responsive, anti-bias/anti-racist teaching. Dr. Wittmer presents the most essential information on these topics in engaging, interactive workshops or keynotes that always conclude with clear steps for practical application. 

Dr. Wittmer acknowledges that every school is different. Therefore, she will customize keynotes and workshops to meet your school's needs. Professional development opportunities listed here can also be provided virtually. 

Browse the list of topics below and contact us if you are interested in scheduling a workshop or keynote. 



All topics can be provided as a keynote or extended to be a workshop.
Keynotes are 45 minutes with an additional 15 minutes for Q&A.
Workshops are longer and include small group interaction.

The Missing Puzzle Piece in Solving the Literacy Crisis

Most educators agree that literacy education is one of the most crucial social justice issues in the United States today. Studies have shown that Literacy rates are tied to incarceration rates and a host of other societal problems that have adversely affected communities of color and low income communities in general. For decades, lawmakers have tried to implement policies and programs to solve the literacy crisis, with little effect. Likewise, educators have promoted theories, reforms, and curricula from their Ivory Towers.  Yet educators in the trenches are still at a loss as to how to solve the literacy crisis and meet the needs of their students. Educators will leave this keynote/workshop with a deeper understanding of the causes of the literacy crisis, what a wholistic approach to solving the literacy crisis looks like for middle and high schools, and a roadmap for affecting change in their schools/districts. 

What Is This Debate Between Balanced Literacy and Structured Literacy All About Anyway?

In 29 states (including Ohio), state legislators have passed -- or are in the process of passing -- laws that require districts to adopt structured literacy programs in a short amount of time, leaving educators' heads spinning and school leaders scrambling to find appropriate curriculum and professional development. Many educators are left with unanswered questions about the science of reading, structured literacy, and balanced literacy. This keynote/workshop will present the debates and research findings in a clear, succinct manner. Educators will understand the origins of structured literacy and balanced literacy, as well as how and why research supports structured literacy for all students.  They will leave with an overview of structured literacy intervention programs as well as literacy programs for the general education classroom that work specifically for middle and high schools. 

Planning the Direct and Explicit Lesson for Basic Language Skills

The main characteristic of structured literacy is direct and explicit instruction. However, that does not mean that structured literacy lessons are devoid of creativity and are merely "drill and kill." In this keynote/workshop, Educators will learn:

  • the elements of the Madeline Hunter lesson plan for direct and explicit instruction.

  • when to use this type of lesson plan.

  • how to infuse engaging, culturally responsive elements into a direct and explicit lesson for literacy skills.

  •  and how to refine and add variations to the method of gradual release for optimal scaffolding. 

Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Specific Learning Disability... What Do They All Mean, How Common Are They, What Can Educators Do About It?

There are so many misconceptions, even by well-meaning educators, of what these language based learning differences are and how they manifest in the lives of our students. This keynote/workshop will help demystify these diagnoses, enable educators to appreciate the gifts students with these diagnoses possess. Educators will gain an understanding of how they can support students with these learning differences in their classes by making a few changes to their teaching practice that will actually benefit all of their students, even the ones who are typical learners. 

Promoting Language and Literacy Skills Across All Disciplines
* This is created to be a series of workshops. However, schools can select one subtopic for a keynote or a shorter workshop. 

Regardless of whether you teach Math or English Language Arts, literacy skills are important for students to successfully grasp core concepts. This workshop covers three crucial literacy skills that all teachers must address in order for all students to access content: 

  • Vocabulary instruction strategies: Many students struggle to learn and accurately use essential vocabulary. There are several available tools to teach vocabulary, but very few help students truly incorporate newly taught academic vocabulary into their personal vocabulary. Educators will learn and experiment with strategies that help English Language Learners, students with language based learning differences, and learners who struggle with memory and processing. 

  • Reading comprehension strategies: there is no dearth of  reading comprehension strategies available, but knowing which ones to use -- and when -- for your particular students can be tricky. Educators will reexamine the strategies they currently use and tweak/add to their toolbox additional effective strategies that will reach their specific learners. 

  • Writing instruction strategies: Graphic organizers, editing checklists, and writing prompts abound, but they aren’t always used effectively. Educators will reflect on the effectiveness of the tools they already employ and will learn strategies and approaches that will more efficiently accommodate all of their learners' needs. 

Making Room for Developing Critical Thinking Skills When Students Struggle With Basic Literacy Skills

When faced with classes, schools, and even districts where the majority of students struggle with literacy skills, it is tempting to focus entirely on remediating and/or teaching skills. This is especially true when educators are trying to ensure their students' standardized testing scores improve. However, the ultimate goal of developing strong literacy skills is for students to be able to think critically, write their opinions clearly, and speak effectively so they grow up to be engaged citizens. Yet, how can educators create space for students to develop critical thinking skills when the need to develop basic literacy skills is so crucial? And what, exactly, are critical thinking skills? This keynote/workshop presents a clear definition of critical thinking skills, demonstrates how they can be taught, and presents a strong argument for how making space for this type of education will actually enhance the literacy development of even the most struggling readers and writers.  

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