A member of the Hope College education faculty and two students will present the results of their collaborative research during a national conference being held at the beginning of May.

Dr. Tony Donk, associate professor of education, and senior Tim Keur of Hudsonville and junior Lisa Wisniewski of Arlington Heights, Ill., will present "'But When I Was in First Grade': Excavating and Enriching Preservice Teachers' Beliefs about Literacy Learning" during the 50th annual convention of the International Reading Association, being held in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday-Thursday, May 1-5. Their project was selected for presentation through a juried review process.

Working together during the past school year, Donk, Keur and Wisniewski have developed a model for using theory, research and practice models for exploring and enhancing preservice teachers' beliefs about literacy learning. Their focus has been on a classroom exercise piloted by Donk that could be used by other educators who teach courses on the teaching of reading.

Donk noted that all prospective teachers come to their training with a perspective on learning based on their own long experience as students. "As a result, teacher candidates typically hold deeply ingrained beliefs about what it means to teach and how students learn best - using their own experiences as students as the litmus test," he said.

He noted that while previous research literature had focused on how preservice teachers' beliefs related to disciplines such as mathematics and social studies, less was known about how students' experiences related to their perceptions of the teaching of literacy.

The Hope team studied students who were enrolled in Donk's "Literacy I" class during the spring 2004 semester. As part of a class assignment, the students in the class reflected on all of the experiences that they believed had prompted them to become readers and writers. They chose three or four that interested them most and detailed the experiences related to them. They then related the one they believed to be most significant to current research literature that supported, challenged or expanded their belief.

"The goal was not to change the students' beliefs, but rather to enrich them by comparing and contrasting them with current research, theory and models in the classroom," Donk said.

In the year since, Donk, Keur and Wisniewski have been analyzing the data collected and have been reviewing related research literature. They also conducted follow-up interviews this spring with participants in the class to gain insights into the exercise's ongoing impact.

The International Reading Association was founded in 1956 as a professional organization of those involved in teaching reading to learners of all ages. Over the years, the association's focus has expanded to address a broad range of issues in literacy education worldwide. Thousands of educators attend the conference each year