Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Simmons School of Education and Human Development, M.Ed. in Reading and Writing Program

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October 2013

By: Stephanie Al Otaiba, Ph.D., and Caroline Kethley, Ph.D.

SMU LogoQ:   Why did you participate in the IDA review process?

A:  In September 2012, the M.Ed. in Reading and Writing program at Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Simmons School of Education and Human Development was recommended as one of the exemplary programs that were likely to be aligned with the IDA Knowledge and Practice Standards. All of us in the Simmons School were thrilled and honored to participate in the first review of reading programs.

The focus of our department’s Conceptual Framework is on preparing teachers using evidence-based effective practices. Such practices formed the groundwork as we developed the M.Ed. in Reading and Writing in 2008-2009. Thus, we believed our program to be aligned with IDA’s evidence-based reading standards and looked forward to recognition for our program by the International Dyslexia Association.

Q:  How was the experience of preparing for and participating in the review?

A:  Gathering the materials for the review was definitely a team effort. We have faculty in three locations that participate in our M.Ed. in Reading and Writing program (Dallas, Houston, and Plano). Some of the materials such as syllabi, which were required for the review, are centrally located on a server. I have access to all syllabi for our programs. However, we found through this process that many things that were requested by the reviewers were not consistently located in syllabi such as titles of articles used in courses or descriptions of activities/assignments. Many such items had to be individually retrieved from professors (e.g., downloaded from Blackboard course management system). I feel as though we inundated the review team with paperwork in the end! Participating in this process led us to making it a goal for our team to review one another’s articles to ensure our graduates have read the most salient ones and have learned about the work of leading researchers in the field.

SMU PhotoQ:  What does IDA Recognition mean to your university?

A:  We have always considered our program to be unique among programs in our state and region. Like other programs within the Simmons School and across the SMU campus that are highly ranked in the nation, we want the M.Ed. in Reading and Writing to be one of the best programs of its kind available. Recognition by IDA supports and documents this. Our University’s President and our School’s Dean have thanked us for our participation in the IDA review as they acknowledged this recognition by IDA. We now proudly display our IDA Recognition logo on the Department of Teaching and Learning website landing page. This has become an important part of our message for recruiting.

Q:  Describe some of the innovative ideas you have implemented to give students a richer practicum experience.

A:  Since its inception in 2009, we have utilized technology to facilitate various aspects of the program. For example, our initial cohort of students in the M.Ed. in Reading and Writing Program resided in Houston, Texas, over 200 miles from the SMU main campus in Dallas. We utilized webcam technology to link these students in a live feed to classrooms where students were taking the same courses in Dallas. Other courses originated in Houston’s Neuhaus Education Center with webcam technology providing the live feed link for our Dallas students.

The use of a technology-based coaching system developed at SMU has provided one of the most positive and innovative impacts on the program. For example, the early (EC-G3) and late literacy courses (G4-Secondary) are linked to practica in which each student tutors an individual or a small group of students who are struggling with learning to read. Additionally, a student may demonstrate their use of new literacy skills in their work with an entire classroom if they teach in a general education setting. Our faculty observes students tutoring as well as classroom teaching in traditional coaching with onsite, face-to-face visits. However, with a technology developed here at SMU, our faculty can also visit our students virtually as they tutor or utilize new reading strategies in their classrooms. Virtual coaching has been shown to be as effective as traditional onsite coaching. The use of virtual or technology-based coaching allows our SMU faculty to observe and provide coaching to our students in the field more frequently. It is especially helpful when we have students who live at a great distance from our SMU main campus in Dallas such as those who reside and teach in Houston or even Dallas based students who teach in districts miles away from the SMU main campus.

Virtual coaching is also used extensively by our Learning Therapy group in Plano to capture and then provide feedback/scaffolding to our masters’ students as they work through the various levels of the dyslexia program. They have found it to be a tremendously helpful tool as their Center is located at a distance from many of our students.

Q:  How has your program leveraged outside partnerships to increase students’ learning experience?

A:  The current M.Ed. in Reading and Writing emerged from discussions with our partners in Houston and Plano. SMU Simmons School had a masters program (M.Ed.) with an emphasis in reading (Master Reading Teacher). Neuhaus Education Center in Houston, Texas was searching for a university to partner with them to provide a masters degree in reading that would also include their training program leading to dyslexia practitioner or dyslexia therapist. At Simmons, we had several scholars who had discussed this possibility for a number of years. Our Dean, David Chard, a visionary and a scholar, jumped on this opportunity, and within two years, we were accepting our first cohort of students. Soon, our own Learning Therapy program reconfigured their courses so that students in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area could form a Dallas cohort.

Stephanie Al Otaiba, Ph.D. joined Southern Methodist University in January 2012 as a professor of Teaching and Learning in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development. Previously, she was an Associate Professor at the Florida State University (FSU) and was on the faculty at the Florida Center for Reading Research. She received her Ph.D. in 2000 in Human Development from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, and prior to that, was a special educator for over a decade in the United Arab Emirates. She enjoys teaching graduate courses in literacy, special education, assessment, response to intervention and mentoring doctoral students. You can reach Dr. Al Otaiba here:

Caroline Kethley, Ph. D., joined Southern Methodist University as an Assistant Research Professor at the Institute for Reading Research in 2005, serving as Project Coordinator for the IERI/Scale Up Project and Principal Investigator on the Foundations of Fluency Technology Project. Previously, she was a Qualified Instructor in the Dyslexia Therapist Training Program at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and a private dyslexia therapist and private school teacher. Dr. Kethley earned her Ph.D. in Special Education from The University of Texas at Austin in 2005. Currently, Dr. Kethley is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Teaching & Learning in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development where her teaching focuses on undergraduate and graduate preparation for teaching reading as well as preparing reading specialists and master reading teachers. Dr. Kethley is currently serving as Immediate Past President of the Council for Learning Disabilities. You can reach Dr. Kethley here:

For information about the reading degree programs at Southern Methodist University please visit:

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