Traversing the Complexities of Today’s Literacy Landscape: Possibilities for Research, Theory, Policy, and Practice

Teachers face an immensely complex task in engaging their students in literacy education. They must navigate policies at multiple levels, recognize and engage their students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and respond to the ever-changing role technology plays in everyday life. The 2019 UW Literacy Research Symposium seeks to explore these complexities, focusing on classroom practices that embrace multiple perspectives and refuse simplification.

We invite all stakeholders: researchers, educators, pre-service teachers, and policy makers and influencers to be active participants in the exploration of literacy research that moves beyond narrow explorations to hold students’ cultural, linguistic, and intellectual resources central in literacy learning.

Who: Literacy Educators and leaders
What: Gathering of courageous minds
When: June 20 & 21, 2019
Where: UWM Continuing Education Center
Why: To share our knowledge and expertise

Meet the International Lineup of Keynote Speakers

Dr. Eurydice B. Bauer

Dr. Eurydice B. BauerEurydice Bouchereau Bauer is the John E. Swearingen Chair of Education and the director of Bilingualism Matters at USC at the University of South Carolina. Her research focuses on the biliteracy development of school-age emergent bilinguals. While at the University of Illinois, Dr. Bauer was a Senior Researcher on a grant from the U.S. Department of Education aimed at understanding the impact of different instructional Reading treatments (Cognitive Strategies or Cognitive Engagement) on students’ comprehension and Co-Principal Investigator on a U.S. Department of Education grant aimed at improving the preparation of university faculty, pre-service and in-service teachers to effectively teach English learners. Dr. Bauer is currently a domestic partner on the Partnerships in International Research and Education Grant (PIRE, 2016) that focuses on understanding how bilingualism impacts learning and cognition. Dr. Bauer’s research has been published in the Journal of Literacy Research, Research in the Teaching of English, International Journal of Bilingualism, and The Reading Teacher, among others.

Presentation Topic: Supporting Biliteracy Development in School-Age Children

Close to 20 percent of the students in U.S. schools are considered English language learner (approximately 5 million students). Within a few years this number will climb to 25 percent. This student population has long been isolated and marginalized in U.S. schools but, like the global population of bilingual and multilingual persons, these students are increasingly becoming the linguistic norm. If this is the case, and demographic reports support this view, there is good reason to ask how might language and literacy instruction support the cognitive, linguistic and social development of healthy, robust, and academically successful translingual students? In this presentation, I present theoretical support for translanguaging pedagogy, followed by a description and examples pulled from my six-year project working with emergent bilinguals, and I finish with examples of how certain classroom activities can promote translingual subjectivities.

Dr. Barbara Comber

Dr. Barbara ComberBarbara Comber is a Research Professor in the School of Education at the University of South Australia, Adjunct Professor in the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education at Queensland University of Technology and Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong. Her research interests include teachers’ work, critical literacy, place-conscious pedagogy and social justice. She has conducted longitudinal ethnographic case studies and collaborative action research with teachers working in high poverty and culturally diverse communities. Her research examines the kinds of teaching that make a difference to young people’s literacy learning trajectories and what gets in the way. Recent books include Literacy, place and pedagogies of possibility (Comber, 2016) and Literacy, leading and learning: beyond pedagogies of poverty (Hayes, Hattam Comber, Kerkham, Lupton & Thomson, 2017).

Presentation Topic: Literacies, Places and Power: Geographically-responsive Pedagogies for People and the Planet

Increasingly many education systems are behaving as though a standardized global approach to curriculum design and pedagogical practices will lead to more competitive citizenry and economies. That is, they are placing a high degree of emphasis on comparative statistics and international and state rankings in order to judge the quality of teaching and schooling. Literacy is an area which attracts high stakes testing, political and media commentary, often with a narrowing of approaches and a never-ending hunt for a failproof answer. However, my research suggests that anxiety-driven same-size-fits-all systems programs may be contributing to literacy difficulties for students, teachers, school leaders and parents. I argue that what is needed is a fundamental re-imagining and re-design of school literacies. My collaborative research with teachers suggests that theories of social justice, social geographies, literacies and teachers’ work can inform and re-energise education for the planet and its peoples.

Dr. Timothy San Pedro

Dr. Timothy San PedroTimothy San Pedro is an Assistant Professor of Multicultural and Equity Studies in Education at Ohio State University. His scholarship focuses on the intricate link between motivation, engagement, and identity construction to curricula and pedagogical practices that re-center content and conversations upon Indigenous histories, knowledges, and literacies. San Pedro’s work is published in the American Educational Research Journal (2), Research in the Teaching of English, Equity and Excellence in Education, Journal of American Indian Education, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy and Urban Education. Most recently, San Pedro co-edited a book with Sweeney Windchief titled Applying Indigenous Research Methods: Storying with Peoples and Communities. He serves as the chair of the Standing Committee on Research for the National Council of Teachers of English and is a standing member on the Literacy Research Association’s Ethics Committee. He is an inaugural Gates Millennium Scholar, Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color Fellow, a Ford Fellow, a Concha Delgado Gaitan Council of Anthropology in Education Presidential Fellow, and a Spencer Fellow.

Presentation Topic: Creating Sacred Truth Spaces in Classrooms: An Argument for Culturally Disruptive Pedagogy

In this presentation, San Pedro asks: How does whiteness operate in an ethnic studies course? To answer this question, he centers the longitudinal storied experiences of the only White female student, Abby, who enrolled in a 12th grade ethnic studies course titled Native American Literature. He builds with scholarship focusing upon ideologies of Whiteness, ethnic studies literature, as well as Culturally Sustaining (Paris, 2012; Paris & Alim, 2014; 2016) and Revitalizing (McCarty & Lee, 2014) Pedagogies. Through Abby’s storied transformational vignettes, San Pedro argues for educators to engage with pedagogies that do the important work of disrupting and rupturing hegemonic norms as forwarded by schooling systems.

Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Dr. Ebony Elizabeth ThomasEbony Elizabeth Thomas is an associate professor in the Literacy, Culture, and International Educational Division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. A former Detroit Public Schools teacher and National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, she was a member of the NCTE Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color’s 2008-2010 cohort, served on the NCTE Conference on English Education’s Executive Committee from 2013 until 2017, and is the immediate past chair of the NCTE Standing Committee on Research. Currently, she serves as co-editor of Research of the Teaching of English, and her most recent book is The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games (NYU Press, 2019).

Presentation Topic: The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination in Youth Literature, Media, and Culture

Humans read and listen to stories not only to be informed but also as a way to enter worlds that are not like our own. Stories provide mirrors, windows, and doors into other existences, both real and imagined. A sense of the infinite possibilities inherent in fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction, comics, and graphic novels draws children, teens, and adults from all backgrounds to speculative fiction–also known as the fantastic. However, when people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, we often discover that the doors are barred. Even the very act of dreaming of worlds-that-never-were can be challenging when the known world does not provide many liberatory spaces. The dark fantastic cycle posits that the presence of Black characters in mainstream speculative fiction creates a dilemma. The way that this dilemma is most often resolved is by enacting violence against the character, who then haunts the narrative. This is what readers of the fantastic expect, for it mirrors the spectacle of symbolic violence against the Dark Other in our own world. Moving through spectacle, hesitation, violence, and haunting, the dark fantastic cycle is only interrupted through emancipation–transforming objectified Dark Others into agentive Dark Ones. Yet the success of new narratives from Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic universe, the recent Hugo Awards won by NK Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor, and the blossoming of Afrofuturistic and Black fantastic tales prove that all people need new mythologies–new “stories about stories.” In addition to amplifying diverse fantasy, liberating the rest of the fantastic from its fear and loathing of darkness and Dark Others is essential.

This highly engaging, interactive presentation will move from ideological concepts to concrete action by showcasing the ways that youth and young adults respond to textual erasure and misrepresentation by using social media to create new worlds—a process that I call restorying –and how creatives are in turn starting to think about the implications of race and difference in participatory culture.

Dr. Karen Wohlwend

Dr. Karen WohlwendKaren Wohlwend is an associate professor of Literacy, Culture, and Language Education at Indiana University. She reconceptualizes young children’s play as an embodied literacy that creates action texts with toys, popular media, and digital technologies. Books include Playing Their Way into Literacies: Reading, Writing, and Belonging in the Early Childhood Classroom and Literacy Playshop: New Literacies, Popular Media, and Play in the Early Childhood Classroom.

Presenter Topic: Playing Their Way into Literacies: Building on Children’s Strengths through Play-Based Literacy Instruction

To teach young children growing up in a world of rapid global change, early childhood education urgently needs expansive and engaging pedagogies that welcome increasingly diverse learners and help them develop the literacies needed to read, write, and produce meaning in contemporary times. In this talk, I share examples from my literacy playshop research that demonstrate how children’s dramatic play meets this challenge. This starts with the recognition of play as a first literacy, a child-friendly tool for meaning-making that has had and should continue to have a central place in the early childhood curriculum. Play produces an accessible “action text” made with moving bodies and knowledge of familiar worlds that young children know best.

Bibliography of Keynote Speakers

2019 Wisconsin Literacy Research Symposium Bibliography of Keynote Speakers (PDF)


Thursday, June 20th

8:00 - 8:30 amRegistration/Breakfast Bar
8:30 - 9:00 amWelcome & Overview
9:00 - 10:15 amKeynote 1: Barbara Comber

Literacies, Places and Power: Geographically-responsive Pedagogies for People and the Planet

10:15 - 10:45 amDiscussion/Q & A
10:45 - 11:00 amBreak
11:00 am - 12:15 pmKeynote 2: Timothy San Pedro

Creating Sacred Truth Spaces in Classrooms: An Argument for Cultural Disruptive Pedagogy

12:15 - 1:15 pmLunch
1:15 - 1:45 pmDiscussion/Q & A
1:45 - 2:00 pmBreak
2:00 - 3:15 pmKeynote 3: Eurydice B. Bauer

Supporting Biliteracy Development in School-Age Children

3:15 - 3:45 pmDiscussion/Q & A

Friday, June 21st

8:00 - 8:30 amCheck-in/Breakfast Bar
8:30 - 9:00 amWelcome & Overview
9:00 - 10:15 amKeynote 4: Karen Wohlwend

Playing Their Way into Literacies: Building on Children's Strengths through Play-Based
10:15 - 10:45 amDiscussion/Q & A
10:45 - 11:00 amBreak
11:00 am - 12:15 pmKeynote 5: Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination in Youth Literature, Media and Culture
12:15 - 1:15 pmLunch
1:15 - 1:45 pmDiscussion/Q & A
1:45 - 2:45 pmResearch Panel

Critical Issues: Making Literacy Accessible for All Learners UW-Milwaukee & Milwaukee Area Researchers

2:45 - 3:00 pmClosing

Event Registration

Registration includes continental breakfast and lunch on both days.

Registration Fee: $99 Students, $249 Non-students

Note: After June 18, please contact Leanne Evans, to register for the symposium. We look forward to seeing you!

Wisconsin Literacy Research Symposium Event Registration

Directions & Parking

See the map below for directions to the UWM School of Continuing Education.

The Shops of Grand Avenue parking structure is adjacent to our building on the south side. Enter from Plankinton Avenue between Wisconsin Avenue and Michigan Street.

For a wheelchair aaccessible entrance, park your car on the 4th level at the north end of the Shops of Grand Avenue parking structure. From there, enter the building and take the elevator to the 2nd floor. Cross the rotunda to the elevators on the north side of the building (closest to Wisconsin Avenue) and take these elevators to the 6th or 7th floor.


Fairfield Inn & Suites Milwaukee Downtown
710 N. Old World Third Street Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203
(414) 224-8400
Literacy Research Symposium rate – $120/night
Parking – $18/night

Reservation link:

Other Downtown Milwaukee Lodging Options

  • The Courtyard Marriott, 300 W. Michigan St. (414) 291-4122
  • Hampton Inn & Suites, 176 W. Wisconsin Ave. (414) 271-4656
  • Residence Inn, 648 N. Plankinton Ave. (414) 224-7890

Graduate Course Contacts

If you have questions regarding the summer courses associated with the symposium, please contact the representative from your school.

Cardinal Stritch
Dr. Julie Steuber
(414) 410-4361

UW La Crosse
Dr. Yuko Iwai
(608) 785-5407

UW Madison
Dr. Dawnene Hassett
(608) 263-4666

UW Milwaukee
Dr. Leanne Evans
(414) 229-7324

UW Oshkosh
Dr. Cathy Toll
(920) 424-4444

UW Stevens Point
Dr. Lynda D. Fernholz
(715) 346-3223

Contact Us

For more information on the 38th Annual Wisconsin Literacy Research Symposium, contact Leanne Evans,