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5 Questions with Faculty: Kelly Wissman

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 8, 2017) — Kelly Wissman, an associate professor in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning, School of Education, says she was drawn to UAlbany in 2006 by the diversity of perspectives on literacy education represented by the faculty and courses in my department.
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The School of Education's Kelly Wissman focuses on community-based education and utilizing children’s literature in teaching.

What are you working on now?

I’m very excited about the recent publication of a book I co-authored with four local K-6 teachers, Teaching Global Literature in Elementary Schools: A Critical Literacy and Teacher Inquiry Approach. The book includes portraits of how young people were moved to question, debate, and take action in response to global texts. The teachers also write in very moving ways about their own professional learning within our inquiry community. This work reflects many of the most animating features of my research and teaching: children’s literature, practitioner inquiry, and teaching for social justice.

I’m also enjoying my term as a Co-Editor of Language Arts Journal. It’s been a pretty steep learning curve, but it’s been very rewarding and illuminating to see this side of academic publishing.

What made you decide to pursue your field?

I began my educational career as an AmeriCorps member in a program designed to increase the number of first-generation college students in Indiana. From the very beginning, I was drawn to envisioning education as a “practice of freedom,” as bell hooks [the pen name of author and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins] would say. Stemming from my work in urban African-American communities, my subsequent teaching and scholarship have been grounded in the principles and practices of community-based education and in utilizing children’s literature, writing and the arts to create more humanizing and equitable educational spaces for students in and out of school.

What’s your favorite class to teach?

This is a hard one. I’ve recently started teaching qualitative research methods courses. Many students I work with have never imagined qualitative research as a viable approach to answering their research questions. It’s incredible to see even the most statistically-inclined student open up to the possibilities of engaging in careful participant observation, listening deeply during interviews, and representing data in layered and evocative ways.

I have to say, though, that Children’s Literature is definitely my favorite class to teach. Each week, pre-K to grade 6 teachers and I explore the art and artistry of picture books, learn about various genres of children’s literature, and engage in ways of responding to books that the teachers can try out in their own classrooms. I walk away from each class having learned something new and inspired for the next one.

What’s the best thing about working at UAlbany?

I very much appreciate the university’s commitment to community engagement. Community engagement is valued as a seamless, even essential, part of what I do as a teacher and researcher here.

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Because I read so many children’s books for my teaching and research, I don’t have as many opportunities to read fiction written for adults. I love it when I can catch up on compelling books written for people my own age! I recently finished Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a bracing and moving imagining of the Underground Railroad as an actual network of trains. Another recent favorite is Rachel Cusk’s Outline, a novel centered around 10 conversations that are revealing in their insights about the role of storytelling in our lives.

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