Longtime Literacy Leader
"I teach language and literacy courses in the M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Language and Literacy. I am primarily interested in readers who do not find reading easy, reading assessment, reading intervention, and helping teachers better understand and to be able to support each and every student as a reader." – Dr. Diane Stephens.
This basic avowal has been Dr. Stephens' life mission for more than 40 years. Stephens shuns personal recognition for her contributions yet many have benefited from her literacy efforts. She has worked with readers of all ages as a GED instructor, reading resource teacher, reading clinic administrator and, for the last 26 years, as a professor in NC, IL, HI and SC.
Since arriving at the college in 1999, Stephens has been involved in a number of efforts to be helpful to teachers and students in South Carolina. Stephens is quick to point out that those efforts have been team efforts. The first collaborative endeavor was The South Carolina Reading Initiative (SCRI), a partnership among the State Department of Education (SDE), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and USC. The goal of SCRI was to increase the knowledge base of classroom teachers so they could help more students comprehend grade level texts. To accomplish this, Literacy Coaches took three (and subsequently, four) years of Language and Literacy courses from USC. The coaches then worked alongside teachers in their schools while providing on-site courses. SCRI began as a K-5 effort, and expanded to include Middle Level and High School. It also morphed into SC Reads and, later, SC Reading First, both federally funded reading initiatives. More than 6000 teachers and 68 school districts participated in these efforts. Stephens and several other COE faculty (Drs. Deford, Donnelly, Jewett, Long, Mills, Oglan, Styslinger, and Wilson) served as "Teaching Team members" who taught courses to more than 300 Literacy Coaches.
In 2007, when the last of the reading initiatives was winding down, Stephens and the Language and Literacy faculty decided to design their own outreach effort: They began offering their M.Ed. on-site at districts around the state, and, the following year, began offering on-site the five courses which lead to a South Carolina add-on endorsement as a Literacy Teacher. Influenced by SCRI, the courses are developed and overseen by USC faculty and facilitated by a teacher who has previous experience working with adults and who has taken the courses themselves. Most often, the facilitators are former SCRI coaches. To date, more than 100 teachers from these cohorts have graduated with their M.Ed. and 160 are taking or have taken at least one (and sometimes all 5) Literacy Teacher courses. The faculty who were Teaching Team members with SCRI have been involved with this outreach effort as have newer faculty: Drs. López-Robertson, Laman and Spence.
The third, and most recent, collaboration involves the entire USC Language and Literacy faculty, faculty from Clemson (Drs. Gambrell and Headley), the State Department of Education, the State Budget and Control Board and the Education Oversight Committee. This work began quietly when, in 2009, Baron Holmes, then of the Budget and Control Board, asked COE Language and Literacy faculty to develop "one-pagers" about literacy needs in South Carolina. That led to a subset of those individuals writing briefs and, in the Summer of 2012, to five educators (Drs. DeFord and Stephens from USC, Drs. Gambrell and Headley from Clemson, and Ms. Jennifer Young, an SDE consultant) using previously written "one-pagers" and briefs to craft a proposal for a systemic approach to reading in South Carolina. The ideas in that proposal were used by the Education Oversight Committee for the basis for what is known as the Peeler bill (S.516), currently being considered by a Senate Education sub-committee. The bill contains a number of ways to improve literacy in South Carolina including increasing students' access to books and time to read and requiring teachers to have a broader and deeper knowledge base in reading.
Stephens is the author of What Matters? A Primer for Teaching Reading that demonstrates how research and theory can be used in the classroom to help children become lifelong readers and of Assessment as Inquiry, a book that details and provides examples of a systematic, problem-solving approach to reading assessment. Her latest book, Reading Assessment: Artful Teachers/Successful Students will be published in May 2013. All three of these books are edited books and involve collaboration with teachers and/or other faculty. Artful Teachers, for example, contains chapters authored or co-authored with 21 South Carolina teachers and COE Language and Literacy faculty Drs. DeFord, Donnelly, Laman, López-Robertson, Mills, Spence, and Wilson. Stephens was one of the original co-editors of Primary Voices K-6, a themed journal published by NCTE written by teachers, for teachers. She has written more than 100 articles and reports about reading, reading assessment and teacher education. Stephens has also been actively involved with literacy research and grant-writing.
In addition to these literacy efforts, while at USC, Stephens served every year as either Program Coordinator for Language and Literacy, Department Chair or Tenure and Promotion Chair. She also has been involved with college and university committees. As a culmination of Dr. Stephens' service, Stephens was presented with the The Leonard F. Maiden Spirit of Service Award on April 16th at the annual College of Education Faculty and Staff Awards Ceremony. This award duly praises her efforts to serve the college and USC as well as the students and teachers in South Carolina.