2012 Doctoral Marshal: Chantal FrancoisBy newseditor
“Sometimes you go through experiences not always knowing what impact you have on other people. Maybe this is recognition that people had some positive interactions with me,” she says. “I look at this group graduating with me, and I’m so honored to be a part of it. I feel like we went through great experiences together, and it is so great to share this day with all of them.”
A former middle school teacher, Francois came to the Ed School to explore school sites that support urban students of color well. Francois soon became most interested in school practices that related to literacy. “When I got to Harvard something that struck me, especially with literacy and urban adolescents, was what people called a ‘crisis’ in adolescent literacy,” she says. “I wanted to explore what that meant, and it was the area that I was most passionate about.”
Despite knowing that there are schools that positively influence students’ reading experience through instructional practice, it was initially difficult for Francois to find examples when she set out on her research. “The research doesn’t often document school settings where there are positive things happening,” she says. She ultimately returned to the New York City public school where she used to teach — a site that has a strong reading culture — to conduct her dissertation research.
Her dissertation, The Social Dimensions of an Individual Act: Situating Urban Adolescent Students’ Reading Growth and Reading Motivation in School Culture, examines students’ reading trajectories and reading motivation levels in context of school culture — its mission, structural features, and everyday practices related to reading. It is composed of three mini-studies and depicts various aspects of the school’s reading program, including the growth of readers at the school compared with the nationwide average, the staff’s dedication to reading, and what prompts reader motivation.
“The school worked hard to bring the world of literacy to students,” she says.
Francois notes that the school emphasized independent reading as a community, where students and teachers often engage in shared practice of reading. For example, setting time aside in school each day for independent reading, bringing in authors to talk to students, and keeping bestseller lists posted in the school.
“Students talked deeply about how their motivation to read is shaped by stories, characters, problems, and situations that resembled their lives and experiences,” she says. “But it is short-sighted to stop there. I think that a lot of them gravitate to imaginary worlds that they have never experienced or known before.”
Though Francois’ days at HGSE are now behind her, she plans to continue working in educational research. This fall Francois will begin work as an assistant professor at Rutgers University’s graduate school of education, where she will focus on her research on the social experience of reading.
“The issues I study seem to constantly be a work in progress, so I don’t feel like I resolved anything or that we as an educational community have resolved the problems that are rampant in urban schools for adolescents,” she says. “I feel a personal sense of accomplishment having finished a huge paper…but I don’t think we are ever done in education and research because there are so many issues pervasive in education and schools.”