‘I’m working on a curriculum development project’

Assistant Professor of Education Alessandra WardAssistant Professor of Education Alessandra Ward

  • Master’s degree in elementary education, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana
  • Bachelor’s degree in Hispanic studies/theology, Boston College
  • Ph.D. in education, Boston University

My educational background: “I did my undergrad at Boston College, majoring in Hispanic studies and theology. I figured out a bit late in my undergraduate career that I was interested in education, but I was able to take a few courses while at Boston College and then find a master’s program in elementary education that would allow me to pursue the degree and certification while teaching full time. After teaching for a few years, I decided to go back to grad school and get my doctorate in education, specializing in literacy, as well as a literacy specialist license.”

Why I became an educator: “What led me to education was learning in my Hispanic studies courses about the educational inequities that children who are immigrants experience in U.S. schools. We know from research that supporting children’s heritage languages is hugely beneficial for their overall language, literacy and identity development. I wanted to do something about it, and getting into the classroom felt like a meaningful choice.”

What led me to my field: “I found that I had a knack for sparking students’ enthusiasm for literacy and for finding just the right book to connect with a particular child. This led me not just to the field of literacy, but to my current research focus.”

My current research focus: “I do research on reading motivation and engagement, especially in the primary grades. I’m interested in what gets kids excited about reading, what purposes they have for reading, what gets them motivated to persevere through that first chapter book or that challenging informational article. I’m particularly interested in how we might support children’s literacy engagement through providing culturally responsive literacy instruction.

“Right now, I’m working on a curriculum development project called Great First Eight, which is an all-day, project-based curriculum for children from birth through age 8 living in metropolitan areas. The curriculum is assets-based and has a big emphasis on social justice. I’m interested in exploring what happens with kids’ motivation for reading when they get to engage in reading activities that are connected to their communities and to a real-world, authentic purpose.”

Most important lesson I learned in college: “The most important lesson I learned in college was to think critically and to ask big questions, particularly about issues of justice. The cool thing about these skills is that they cross disciplinary boundaries. Even though I ended up in a different field than the ones I majored in, I use those skills every day.”

What I want every student to learn: “If you’re taking one of my classes, you’re probably [but not necessarily] setting out to become a teacher, and I want to offer great takeaways for you either way. I hope that if you take a class with me, you leave that class with a greater appreciation for child development and an interest in supporting the development of the children in your life, whoever they may be.”

What few people know about me: “I love to cook and to bake, and there was a period in my life when I considered becoming a pastry chef. While I didn’t take that path, I’ve still found ways to deepen my skills over the years. I recently finished a course that has helped me start designing my own baking recipes.”

What I’m most excited about teaching this academic year: “I’m really excited to get back into K–12 schools alongside my Wheaton students, and to support my students in getting all that hands-on teaching experience in real classrooms that we’ve all been missing for the past year and a half.”

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