Choosing a Doctoral Program, Pt. 2

By Readingingtheborderlands

Earlier I tried to convince you that you don’t really want to do a doctoral degree. Then, for the persistent, I began discussing how to choose a good doctoral program. Here are more things to consider.

  1. Your professional interests. What do you want to learn about? What do you want to research? It is very, very important that you attend a program that matches your interests. Think about the professional readings you’ve done. What authors really resonated with you? Where do they work? Do a literature search on your area of interest. Are there certain people who have written a lot on that subject? Where do they work? Explore the university website carefully and look at the course descriptions in the catalog. What appeals to you?
  2. What sort of funding is available? Most doctoral programs support their students financially to some degree. The student works as a graduate assistant or a research assistant and receives tuition reimbursements/stipends/scholarships/etc. I’ve had people tell me that a student should never go to any doctoral program that didn’t offer full funding.  I have mixed feelings about that statement, since I loved my program but certainly didn’t get full funding. However, the financial support you are offered certainly can influence your decision.
  3. Completion rates and time to graduation. How many students who enter the program actually graduate? How long does it take them? Low completion rates can mean that the program is not very supportive of its students. You really don’t want to be in that kind of program.

On additional comment. I’m seeing a lot of advertisements for online doctoral programs. Please be very cautious of these. I know online programs are going to grow in numbers and in quality, but at the moment the majority of them are nothing more than diploma mills. If you must attend an online doctoral program, make sure it is run by an accredited, respected university.

Choosing a Doctoral Program, Pt. 1

By Readingintheborderlands

If my previous post didn’t discourage you from pursuing a Ph.D. or an Ed.D., you may be seriously considering applying to a doctoral program. Choose your program carefully! Perhaps the most important thing to consider are your professional goals. Do you want to teach at a college or university? Conduct educational research? Focus on policy? Academia has a fairly rigid hierarchical structure; there are Tier I/Research I universities, which focus on research (and sometimes ignore teaching) and have the highest status in academia; Tier 2 universities, which focus on both teaching and research and are lower status; and teaching colleges, which, as the name implies, focus on teaching. Teaching colleges are generally low status in academia. (Yes, academia gets kind of snooty). However, they have a strong student focus.

This matters because it is extremely rare that you will be hired at a higher status than the place you got your degree. If your goal is to focus on educational research, you will probably want to work at a Research I university, which means you need to get your degree from a Research I university. If you want to focus on teaching, then either a Research I or a Tier 2 doctoral program would work.

Also, remember that you will not be hired to teach at the university you graduated from so if your ultimate goal is to end up in a specific geographical location, don’t get your doctoral degree from there.

More on choosing a doctoral program in the next post.

Family History and Literacy

By Readingintheborderlands

Earlier this summer I spent a week with my mother at her home in Indiana. My time there–while relaxing and very enjoyable–also inspired some literacy-related reflection.

Mom has organized all our old family documents and photographs into boxes, one box for each direct relative in the previous two generations. During this vacation I went through each box and pulled out whatever appealed to me. I scanned these items so that we have more permanent and  more easily shared copies.

I was struck by the large amounts of literacy activity documented in these boxes. I found deeds, wills, and other legal papers; business related correspondence and financial records; letters and postcards to family members; newspaper articles; funeral service records; birth certificates; diplomas; personal journals; and many photographs (that’s my father in the photo, probably from 1953). The  most heartbreaking item was my Uncle Donald’s baby book, which documented his 18 months of life and ended with a page of death notices cut out of the local papers.

I found the personal letters particularly interesting, not only because they provided insight into who my relatives were as people, but because it reminded me of how much communication has changed in the last two generations. For example, my great-grandmother lived about an hour away from her son. They visited back and forth regularly, but these visits were arranged by letter, not phone (and certainly not by facebook messages or email, which is how I arrange family visits today!).

I haven’t written a personal letter in years. I rarely even write emails to friends anymore, preferring to text or send facebook messages. I’m a big technology advocate, but it makes me a little sad that future generations won’t have boxes of letters to go through as they learn about the personalities, relationships, and occasional scandals of their ancestors.

How about some children’s books related to family history and genealogy?

Who’s Who in My Family? by Loreen Leedy provides a basic overview of family trees and family relationships for young children.




We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past by Jacqueline Woodson describes the gathering of a large family one Sunday afternoon.




A little girl dreads spending the day with her grandfather, but ends up learning about her family and culture in Abuelito Eats with His Fingers by Janice Levy.




In The Ancestor Tree by T. Obinkaram Echewa a group of village children challenge the traditional definition of family and honor a beloved elder even though he is not their blood relative.

The Future of Children’s Literature?

By Readingintheborderlands

I found this link posted on the World of Words facebook page. It describes a new e-book for children designed for the i-Pad. The book sounds good–but I’m more interested in the broader implications of what this means for children’s book publishing and reading in and out of schools. How quickly will children’s literature move to a digital format? Will children’s books be published in both a digital, interactive format and a traditional format? How quickly will schools adopt e-books for kids? What reading knowledge do children need for these new formats? How will we teach those skills and strategies and how will our work as literacy educators change in order to adapt to e-books?

Why Choose the Reading M.Ed. program at UTPA?

By Readingintheborderlands

It’s application season at the Reading M.Ed. program at UTPA. As I looked through applications today, I started thinking about why people choose to come to our program.

 For many students it’s simply a matter of proximity. Other than UTPA, there are very few places that offer on-campus graduate literacy courses. UTPA is close by, it’s relatively inexpensive for a graduate program, and many people are already familiar with the campus since they did their undergraduate degrees here.

However, there are other reasons our program is a good choice:

  • The people who teach in the program understand the Rio Grande Valley and the children who live here. This area and the local schools have some unique characteristics related to border life, language issues, and culture. We have extensive experience working with local schools and families and we bring that experience into our classrooms.
  • In addition, most people who teach in this program are actively involved in research that explores the local educational context and how that context can be improved. Again, we bring this research and what we’ve learned into our classrooms to share with our students.
  • Because we recognize that teaching can be a very isolating profession and because we know that teachers can learn a great deal from each other, our program promotes connections with other literacy teachers. We encourage a great deal of productive student talk in our classrooms because we know that it helps people learn. We also support a continued literacy community even after graduation through this blog and through our Facebook page (look for us on Facebook under “Schall Reading”).
  • We encourage students to pursue questions important to their teaching. Most classes have some sort of student choice built in so that students can explore what they are interested in—within the confines of the course subject, of course. This might mean that the student chooses the topic of their final research paper, or that the student chooses how to respond to an assigned course reading, or that the professor offers two professional books and the student chooses which to read.

Find out more about the Reading M.Ed. program at

Get more information about the Master Reading Teacher certificate program at

Taking on the Scary, Scary Thesis

By Readingintheborderlands

Yesterday I attended a thesis proposal meeting. Congratulations to Abel Lopez, Jr. for successfully presenting his proposal and moving on to the data collection stage of his research!

 The Reading M.Ed. program added a thesis option a couple of years ago and we now have three students somewhere in the thesis process. Our goal is to get more students completing a thesis and to build a research community within our graduate program. So…what is a thesis and why do we care about it?

A thesis is an independent research project that a master’s degree student plans and completes under the guidance of their professors. Thesis hours replace two courses in the degree plan. A thesis usually takes a year and a half to two years to complete and will end up being anywhere from 90-150 pages long.

Because we don’t yet have a history and expectation of thesis work within our master’s degree program, students sometimes find the idea of a thesis rather frightening. It sounds like a lot of work. Ok, it is a lot of work. But for many students it’s worth it! Why?

The most important reason is that doing a thesis allows a student to explore a burning question in ways that they just can’t during regular coursework. For example, if you are wildly interested in how daily shared reading experiences can help your English Language Learners become better readers, you will probably get a few reading assignments and class experiences on the topic during your program. A thesis, on the other hand, allows you to really go in depth on the subject through designing and completing your own research project.

A thesis also allows you freedom as a student. While you are working under the guidance of a committee of professors, ultimately you alone are responsible for the success of your thesis project. Many people relish the chance to take over their own learning.

Another important reason is that an excellent thesis will add to the research knowledge that the local educational community has access to. There’s a huge gap in what we know about the local educational community—your work on a thesis can help fill that gap.

Finally, doing a thesis is excellent research practice if you intend to enter a doctoral program. It gives you experience in every aspect of research. All doctoral programs will be glad to see a completed thesis on your application—and some doctoral programs will be hesitant to accept you without it.

So, yes, a thesis is a big project but there are excellent reasons for doing one. And remember, in the Reading M.Ed. program you have professors who will support you through each step of the process.