In Memoriam: Linda Dorn: Her life, her legacy
The literacy world has lost a giant. Linda Dorn passed away this week. She was a great educator, teacher, and person. Two of my literacy friends have very close ties to Linda. Glenda Nugent is my fellow co-editor for the Missouri Reader. Glenda was the Program Manager for Reading at the Arkansas Department of Education at the same time Linda Dorn developed many of her projects. In the course of that, Glenda got to know Linda and her work very well. She and Linda became close friends over the years. Dr. William Kerns, my blogging partner recently joined the faculty of the School of Education of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in Linda’s Department. In the dedication that follows, he tells of how Linda reached out to him after he joined the faculty this year. In light of the very close ties my two colleagues have with Linda Dorn I feel it is appropriate to turn the rest of this blog entry over to them. I know Linda Dorn will be sorely missed. But her legacy will live on because of the lives she touched and the people she inspired. Let’s now hear from two of those people.
In Memory of Linda Dorn
There are many things I could say about my friend and colleague, Linda Dorn, but in Linda’s and Carla Soffos’ book, Shaping Literate Minds, this quote is one of my favorites: “Teachers must hold a flexible theory-one that can be reshaped and refined according to what children are showing us as they engage in the process of learning.” Linda was masterful at using research and her knowledge of children and how they learn to refine and reshape teacher practice to find what works best for each child. She will be deeply missed.
In Memory of Linda Dorn
Linda Dorn’s legacy is one of passion and dedication. Kindness. Compassion. A commitment to excellence in education.
It is difficult for me to find the words in this tribute. I never had the honor of meeting Linda. I joined the faculty of the School of Education of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock this fall semester. Linda did reach out to me. She helped me to feel welcome. I am of the belief that a person’s life isn’t to be found so much on a list of accomplishments that can be listed on a CV (and Linda does have quite the list of accomplishments), but in the goodness and kindness of that person. Everything that I have learned of Linda is the story of a truly kind, and good, person, self-sacrificing and dedicated to making the lives of others better. She made a difference.
Learning never stops. This is true for students but also for each of us. As we honor Linda’s legacy, I believe that a commitment to continue learning together is a good place to start. “Learning is meaningful, purposeful, self-directed, and generative, for it leads to new discoveries and new knowledge” (Dorn & Soffos, 2001, p. 17).
All one must do is listen to the stories that can be told by her colleagues and friends. Her former students. When I spend time at the School of Education of her beloved UA-Little Rock, I see colleagues who are striving to honor her legacy by continuing the work of delivering excellent teacher education, yet it is a struggle to contain emotions any time there is a reminder of Linda. Be it a reminder of joy, commitment, hard work, or grief at her loss. One thing is obvious, Linda was the heart of the School of Education at UA-Little Rock.
Yet another point is also clear. Linda’s legacy will live on in the commitment that she inspired. It is a commitment to carefully planned, thoughtful and caring instruction. She was a champion of a well-balanced literacy instruction with carefully structured, varying activities, differentiated according to the needs and interests of the student. “A balanced literacy curriculum consists of five interrelated components: (1) reading books to children, (2) independent reading, (3) shared reading, (4) writing about reading, and (5) guided reading” (Dorn & Jones, 2012, p. 29). Linda was also a champion of ensuring that teachers have the training, the skill, and the ongoing support structure to successfully implement a balanced literacy curriculum. “A balanced reading program includes a range of literacy activities, carefully selected materials for each activity, and a responsive teacher who knows how to structure literacy interactions that move children to higher levels of understanding” (Dorn & Jones, 2012, p. 34).
Too often, social-constructivist approaches are misunderstood as promoting a free for all, in which the teacher lets children guess and fumble with no guidance or support or even an understanding of purpose. That is far from the truth of the matter. Teachers are, in fact, actively monitoring and guiding students through careful use of assessment that informs the learning activities. “When teachers coach children to apply flexible strategies during their reading and writing activities, children learn problem-solving processes with generative value for working out new problems” (Dorn & Soffos, 2001, p. 5).
The risk of making mistakes should not curtail learning. Guidance through acts of problem-solving will enable a student to develop deeper levels of skill and understanding of concepts. “Higher-level development occurs as a result of the problem-solving attempts. Neural growth happens because of the process, not the solution” (Dorn & Jones, 2012, p. 27).
Literacy instruction as advocated by Dorn is varied, active, even fun, but also intellectually rigorous. “In a well-balanced literacy program, teachers create flexible and varied opportunities for children to work at both assisted and independent levels. In whole group assisted events, teachers will have to make compromises in their instruction, that is, teach to the instructional needs of the class majority. During small group reading and writing events, teachers can provide students with focused instruction that is aimed at the strengths and needs of a similar population. During reading and writing conferences, teachers are able to provide intensive support that is personalized for the individual student. Through these diverse instructional settings, children receive varying degrees of teacher assistance on related types of tasks.” (Dorn & Soffos, 2001, p. 9).
This is a time to grieve but also a time to celebrate. The legacy of Linda lives in all those reading this blog. It lives in her former students. It lives in teachers and in colleagues inspired by her work. It lives in her friends whose lives she so deeply touched. The torch has been passed. The rest is up to each of us.
Dorn, L.J. & Soffos, C. (2001). Shaping literate minds: Developing self-regulated learners. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse.
Dorn, L.J. & Jones, T. (2012). Apprenticeship in literacy: Transitions across reading and writing, K-4 (Second Edition). Portland, Maine: Stenhouse.
Dr. Sam Bommarito – Thanks to the two guest bloggers for their insights and words of inspiration.
Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito and the guest bloggers. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and the guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.
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P.S. for regular readers of this blog starting next week I will be doing interviews of authors who have written about various literacy topics.