By Macy Roberts, CEHHS Student News Reporter, Class of 2024
In March, the Tennessee Reading Research Center: A Reading 360 Initiative established its official social media presence. The TRRC was started by the UT System and the Tennessee Department of Education in 2022 and can be found under the username @TNReadResearch on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and soon YouTube.
Although the center has a broader research purpose as described on their website, its first aim is to support the implementation of a statewide literacy initiative called Reading 360. For that project, the TRRC will “[evaluate] and independently [analyze] the effects of the Reading 360 initiatives on students’ achievement, teachers’ instruction, and use of high-quality instructional material, and the university’s preparation for future educators.”
The TRRC is housed at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS), where the center work aligns with CEHHS’s goals in several ways such as by supporting literacy research and providing opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students to conduct research that will benefit their future careers.
In addition to collaborating with the Tennessee Department of Education on the Reading 360, the center director Deborah Reed has two federally-funded research projects: Varied Practice Reading (VPR) and Project LIBERATE.
VPR intends to improve literacy via science and social studies based texts for students in grades 6-8, whereas Project LIBERATE uses a blended learning approach to improve literacy among adolescents who experience reading difficulties in juvenile justice schools. The blended learning approach in LIBERATE involves students in grades 6-10 using textbooks, technological software, trade books and supplemental materials as they participate in whole-group, small-group and independent activities.
Reed began both of these projects before coming to Rocky Top in summer 2022 and has since added the Reading 360 evaluations to her portfolio. She previously was the director of the Iowa Reading Research Center at the University of Iowa.
“I was attracted to the strong commitment to literacy made by leaders throughout this state as well as the University of Tennessee System and the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences on the Knoxville campus,” Reed said. “I knew that kind of collective effort presented a wonderful opportunity to make a difference for all children in Tennessee. More broadly, it positions us to lead the nation in implementing evidence-based practices for families, community organizations, schools and educator preparation programs.”
Reed said UT President Randy Boyd was instrumental in bringing the TRRC to the university to work in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education as the $100 million Reading 360 initiative was implemented across the state.
“The initiative helps to carry out provisions of the Tennessee Literacy Success Act, but it also offers a range of supports to everyone involved in developing children’s literacy from birth onward,” Reed said. “We serve as independent evaluators, exploring various outcomes of Reading 360 components and informing the next steps.”
At the TRRC, literary research is conducted beyond what is included in state evaluations. There is a collaborative effort among literacy experts at UT Knoxville and other universities in the UT System, with many faculty contributing their expertise in areas of reading, writing, research methodology and implementation science.
Reed described the goal at the TRRC as “lofty.”
“We want to help all individuals acquire the means for full and equitable participation in society,” Reed said. “We plan to tackle this as a team, being the only reading research center in the nation to connect multiple campuses within the university system while also partnering with organizations throughout the state and beyond.”
In addition to official social media accounts, the TRRC has a monthly newsletter that began circulating last month, which will provide additional information about the center and highlight special events. Those who wish to subscribe can do so by following this link.
While improvements to the literacy agenda in the CEHHS have been in the works for a few years now, the TRRC’s widespread impact across UT’s campus and student body is just getting started.