Harriet Levine on the Magic of Language and Literacy

By Kelly Davis

Name: Harriet Levine
Courses taught: Reading & Literacy: Research, Instruction & Intervention; Reading & Literacy: Planning, Organizing & Providing Instruction; Teaching Special Populations

In today’s text-filled world, learning to think critically about the written word is as important as learning to read. Harriet Levine, who got her start working with the youngest of learners and now trains teachers to be better educators, understands the importance of nurturing critical thinking skills. “We must make sure that our students learn to be informed and discerning in their selection of text,” she says.
How did you get started in your field and why did you choose this career field?
In 1983, I became a Kindergarten teacher in the Goleta Union School District in Santa Barbara County. I was fascinated by the early language and literacy acquisition process of my young students and wanted to know more about how to foster their reading and literacy development. In addition to working with the Kinders, I worked in the school reading lab with older students two afternoons a week. Working with the intervention students reinforced my interest in reading and literacy development, so I decided to pursue an M.A. in Reading and a Reading Specialist Credential at UC Santa Barbara. While working as a reading specialist, I became involved in the field of special education. This led to more graduate school and eventually to working as an instructor at the university level.

What do most enjoy about your job?  
In my work with elementary students, I am constantly reminded of how exciting it is to watch a child break the alphabetic code and discover the magic of language and literacy. As an Extension instructor, I feel fortunate to be able to share my background and experience as a reading specialist and I continue to learn and grow from my work with other teachers. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I love that I am constantly in the process of discovering new things about teaching and learning

What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the field?
While most of us go into education to work with K-12 students, it’s important to remain open to new opportunities. My own work experience has included working as a youth services director for a nonprofit, a school liaison with a theatre company and writing instructor manuals for a distributor of educational videos.

How is your field changing? What new skills do people need to stay current?
As with many fields, technology is having a huge impact on reading and literacy learning. Through the use of technology, we have new tools available to facilitate the teaching and learning process. At the same time, the pervasiveness of text available through the internet and social media is changing the way we process text. As teachers, we must make sure that our students learn to be informed and discerning in their selection of text. We must also work with students to develop the skills of “close reading” to determine purpose and notice features and language used by the author so that the reader can think thoughtfully and methodically about the details in the text and why they were used.
What do you like most about working for Extension?
In my work as an online instructor with Extension, I have had the opportunity to work with teachers all over the world who share a common interest in language and literacy. Each brings a unique experience and perspective that they are able to share with others in the course. Extension students include teachers from elementary to community college level whose students are native English speakers and English language learners. Some work in pricey private schools, others work with a low-income population. But with the diversity, we are able to find common threads with which to weave our craft as teachers.

Learn more about our Reading Instruction certificate and other Commission-approved certificates and programs in our Education area of interest.

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