Associate Professor Katie Paciga Clearly Practices What She Preaches
Imagine a classroom of first graders learning to read. All of the children speak English and they recognize the 26 letters of the alphabet but, for some, the 44 sounds associated with those letters are a mystery. The teacher stands in front of the room and begins with rhyming words and later he moves the class on to segmenting them. “If I have the word -at and add the letter b, what is my new word?” The children answer, “bat!”
These strategies, and a few others, give students the ability to recognize the sound structure of words in spoken language. The skill being taught to the children is called phonological awareness and it’s the key to learning how to read.
Humanities, History and Social Sciences Associate Professor Katie Paciga teaches early childhood literacy at Columbia College Chicago. Here, she blends two disciplines together—education and arts. “Language and literacy are the main points of access to power and privilege in the world,” said Paciga, who is using her power to guide best practices for teaching young children to read.
At Columbia, Dr. Paciga teaches a course on Language Development, an option for students with an education minor. During this class students look at how language develops, the milestones during development, and the research approach for studying language. Columbia education minors and other students with professional interests in children’s theater, television, fashion, aspiring authors and illustrators, also take Paciga’s Culture in Children’s Literature to understand how they can connect the world and industry of children’s literature into their creative practices.
But this semester, Paciga isn’t in the classroom. She’s on sabbatical using her time to advance the new phonological awareness guidelines for the International Literacy Association (ILA). The position statement offers practitioners clearer guidelines for teaching young children to read, and Paciga wants to get the word out.
Last May, Paciga authored the International Literacy Association’s first of four position statements in, “Digital Resources in Early Childhood Literacy Development." A third position statement on the foundational skills of early literacy development is coming soon, and the fourth position statement on the role of purposeful play in language and literacy learning is in the works..
Leaning on her expertise in digital resources for early childhood literacy, Paciga was tapped to participate on the America Library Association committee that selected the first recipient of the Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media award. It is given to a U.S. based producer who provides exceptional points of entry through digital means for an early learning audience. This year’s winner was awarded to the app, 'Molly of Denali.'
Over the past decade, there’s been rapid changes with touchscreen technology causing a concomitant evolution in the way’s children are accessing information and learning. However, for early learners, establishing a solid foundation in literacy is critical. Reading is a gateway skill that plays a critical role in the access to other knowledge, and research suggests that if you’re behind in language and literacy early childhood, you’re likely to fall further behind in middle school and beyond. It’s why Paciga has made early childhood literacy her passion and life’s work. Paciga believes literacy is a basic human right and that by enabling communities in a path towards literacy that we are creating a more socially just world.