Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletMay 27, 2020

Ministry Stories

Sister Diane Zigo, CSJ

I have been an educator for a little over 25 years. After a number of years as a middle and high school English teacher, I realized I still had many questions about how to meet the needs of older adolescents who struggled with reading and writing. After pursuing doctoral work in English education at the University of Buffalo, I decided to work in teacher education because I realized that one teacher in one classroom can still have a strong, positive impact on a child's educational experience. My hope was to help beginning and early career teachers learn how to provide their own students with access to what Patrick Finn (“Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working-class Children in Their Own Self Interest,” 1999) calls “powerful literacy,” that is, literacy that involves both creativity and reasoning and helps students evaluate, analyze and synthesize information to understand and compose texts.

I also realize I do my best thinking, teaching, research and writing when I am grounded in the active worlds of middle and high school classrooms. Therefore, I became involved in an authentic co-learning partnership at Williamsville East High School, working with the school’s English team leader, Regina Dunlavey Derrico. For three years, Gina and I collaborated in conducting research in her ninth grade heterogeneously grouped English classroom, combining and co-teaching the methods and strategies courses in English education in the Graduate School of Education's Teacher-Education Institute, and co-authoring and presenting our work together in journals and at conferences.
One of my primary research interests explores ways that teachers can remain committed to teaching for powerful literacies in spite of the current climate of accountability and the pressures of high-stakes testing. Do teachers have to “teach to tests” in order for their students to be competent readers and writers? The research Gina and I undertook together suggests that if all students are being apprenticed into a variety of academic literacies, they will be able to understand and respond to the genres expected of them within tests such as the New York State ELA (English-Language Arts), Regents and the SAT. More important, however, they can also develop a rich repertoire of literacy skills that extends well beyond the expectations within such tests. They can come to identify themselves primarily as lifelong readers, writers and makers of meaning.
by Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Diane Zigo