About the Center

About Watson Literacy Center

How can the Dorothy Harper Watson Literacy Center help?

The Dorothy Harper Watson Literacy Center is here to help in the following ways:

  • We will help people find answers to questions and problems they face as they work to help children and young adults become highly literate individuals. This help may occur on an individual basis, within one classroom, among several teachers, or within entire schools. The help may take the form of consulting, assistance with classroom action research, finding and compiling needed information and other resources, and collaboration on outreach projects within schools and communities. Please contact us
  • We will help people to investigate the processes involved when people read and write. From that better understanding should come the ability to make informed choices about strategies for reading and writing instruction, and about strategies for assessing literacy outcomes. We believe this kind of in-depth inquiry is important so that teachers become "grounded", making choices based upon what they know about literacy and about readers and writers. Otherwise, there is a risk that choices will be made on other bases, such as convenience, "common sense", and unquestioned information from a variety of sources.
  • We will help people to understand that because literacy is unavoidably and inherently political (as indeed is all education), it is especially important for teachers to be "grounded" in their understanding of the agendas, support systems, and power structures that underlie every single aspect of literacy instruction. This includes ways of teaching, ways of assessing, and the theoretical bases upon which literacy instruction and assessment are built. It does not always follow that instructional and assessment approaches that are mandated, are popular, or enjoy government and/or corporate support are the best approaches for all learners. Educators today must ask critical questions about everything to do with literacy, so that they can take strong stands to defend what they believe is best for the learners they work with. The Literacy Center can provide guidance and support in taking such a stand, and assistance in how to do so within the current context of district, state, and federal mandates.
  • We will try to help first where the needs are greatest. Although the Literacy Center and its resources are open to anyone who seeks help and information, the Center will make it a priority to seek out and help people who most need assistance with literacy, communities that are   underserved, and groups that may not always have the most resources, or may not have the most powerful voices to ask for and obtain help with literacy issues. Outreach projects will focus on critical needs within and around the Kansas City metropolitan area. However, as the Center grows, we hope to reach beyond our immediate geographical area.  Individuals from anywhere in the  world who are interested in literacy are welcome to seek information and to join in discussions and collaborative inquiry through the Literacy Center, as well as to participate in professional development opportunities of the Center.

Is the Watson Literacy Center an actual place? Where is it?

Yes, the Literacy Center is a place, but it is more than that. The place, our "headquarters", is located at Park University, in Parkville, Missouri, which is a historic river town in the northern portion of the Kansas City metropolitan area. The Watson Literacy Center is a part of University's Mabee Learning Center, located in Park's extensive, innovative underground facility.

The Center is a beautiful facility (more information below). But the Watson Literacy Center is really a living entity made up of people who care about literacy, who care about young people, and who support teachers and others who want to help children discover the joys, and the power, that come with literacy. What the Center does is more what it is about than where it is located.

The work of the Watson Literacy Center is organized around four strands. The first two are related to the Literacy Center as a place, and the second two are related to the Literacy Center as an entity, in its broader sense.

Strand #1 Facilities and Equipment

The Watson Literacy Center is in Park University's Mabee Learning Center, which is located underground on the University's Parkville, Missouri campus. The space includes a large, flexible, comfortable meeting area with completely movable furniture, including round tables and up to 50 chairs, designed to provide a collaborative atmosphere for classes, meetings, small conferences, and workshops. The meeting space features a state-of-the art presentation platform. Directly behind the classroom/meeting area is an area where a collection of literacy resources and electronic equipment are housed. The director's office is located within the resource area, as are several work areas. The Center is completely accessible for those with physical challenges.

Strand #2 Resources

A select collection of literacy and educational technology resources are housed in the Center. These include books for teachers, books for children, audiovisuals, software, diagnostic and instructional materials, and other kinds of materials. The Literacy Center will add selected new materials on an annual basis.

Strand #3 Professional Development/Scholarship

The Literacy Center will sponsor various professional development opportunities for teachers each year. These may include workshops, guest speakers, study groups, and support groups. Many of these events will be held in the facility on campus, but some may also be held at other sites such as schools or community centers. Upcoming events will be listed on this website as they are scheduled.

Also through this strand, small annual awards are given to three pre-service students at Park who demonstrate promise in the field of literacy education.  In the future, as funding permits, this strand may expand to include small scholarships and grants for Park University students and/or faculty to attend literacy conferences or to conduct classroom action research.

Strand #4 Outreach

This strand involves reaching literacy educators in schools and in the community. Outreach projects will be designed to meet specific needs of students and teachers who are in all kinds of educational settings within the Kansas City area and the surrounding region. The Center will work with those who teach children of all ages, from birth through high school. The Center's Advisory Board, made up of educators and community leaders from various sectors of the community, will assist in the planning and prioritizing of projects.

Does the Dorothy Harper Watson Literacy Center have a particular theoretical orientation?

Dorothy Watson's life work has been centered within the whole language world view; she is, in fact, still active as a whole language advocate. She is co-author of several books on literacy, and is a frequent speaker and presenter at regional, national, and international conferences (for more information about Dr. Watson, see link, About Dr. Watson). Because she wished to give back proceeds from her life of service to the literacy field, the Watson Literacy Center is possible. To learn more about how the Center came about, go to History. Therefore, it is natural that a Literacy Center bearing her name is grounded upon the whole language world view.

In view of its grounding within the whole language framework, the Literacy Center is most interested in the following kinds of literacy instruction and assessment strategies:

  • Those that start from and focus upon the strengths of the child and what he or she can do, rather than those that take a "deficit" approach and focus upon what a child cannot do.
  • Those that center upon the child and her/his needs rather than upon externally imposed curricula or standards. We realize that mandated curricula are a part of life, but these should be critically evaluated and seen not as ends but only as one means for working with children. We are interested in how we can still remain child-centered within the context of (and often this means in spite of) pressure to conform to state and federal mandates that take the focus off the child.
  • Those that are meaning-based, recognizing that the primary objective of reading, writing, and all literacy activities is to construct and communicate meaning.
  • Those that stress "authentic", holistic literacy--that is, activities that help children learn to do real reading, writing, and meaning-making, as it relates to their world and the world they will live in as adults. We consider it key to build literacy instruction around learners' real-world experiences, interests, strengths, and needs.

Strategies that assess children's literacy needs should be designed along the above four guidelines as well, with assessment always aligned closely with the instructional approach. Thus, if instruction focuses on children's strengths, is child-centered, is meaning-based, and is authentic, so also should be the ways that we assess the outcomes of that instruction. (For a longer version of the principles that guide the Watson Literacy Center, see Guiding Principles.)