A little Mouse was the first of many children’s book characters to come alive that day in the University of Mobile’s Dorsett Auditorium. Mother Goose was there, along with the Big Bad Wolf, the Grumpy Monkey, Obi wan Kenobi and the Cat in the Hat, among many others. It was the UM School of Education’s “Book Talk,” where faculty and students dress as favorite children’s book characters to inspire elementary school children to develop a joy of reading.
UM Associate Professor of Education Karen Dennis, who played the part of the Mouse from the book “If You Give a Mouse a Brownie,” is passionate about early literacy. She encourages her UM School of Education students to develop creative ways to make learning fun for the children they will one day teach.
“Our hope is that the students who watch these book characters come alive are enticed to go find that book to discover for themselves how that character solved their particular dilemma,” Dennis explains. It’s just one of the ways the Christian university provides School of Education students with experiences they can take into their future classrooms.
Dennis also serves as co-director of UM’s Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning. We asked her what she loves about teaching at the University of Mobile.
Q: How does UM prepare the next generation of teachers?
A: I love the way we in the School of Education have structured our programs. We all keep current with what new trends or initiatives are taking place in the various education classrooms. Whether it is Pre-K, elementary or secondary, we all strive to keep our course content and field experiences relevant and up-to-date with current research. In my literacy courses, the content is all focused around the science of reading, making our future teachers the most prepared they can be to be effective teachers of all things literacy!
Q: What is your background?
A: I graduated from University of South Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education in 1991. After teaching first grade a few years, I decided to pursue a master’s degree. I earned my master’s at Harding University in 1999. It wasn’t until 2011 that I decided I wanted to continue my education, so I chose to pursue a PhD in Cognition and Instruction.
Q: What was your dissertation topic?
A: My dissertation is about a topic I am truly passionate about – early literacy. Specifically, I researched kindergarten teachers’ perspectives on keeping developmentally appropriate practices of literacy instruction in kindergarten while complying with Common Core State Standards implementation. I try to infuse some of what I discovered about how children learn into all of the courses I teach.
Q: We say UM is a place where students can “Know and Be Known.” What does that mean to you?
A: There is no better mantra for our students than “Know and Be Known.” First, we work diligently to ensure our students know all there is to know about their chosen field of study, and how to apply that knowledge, which leads to the second part – Be Known. Our goal is for our students to be known for excellence in their field. But we don’t stop there. Our students are also known for their integrity, work ethic and compassionate hearts. Even those who don’t label what they see as “Christian” see something special in our students. To me, that’s what it means to Know and Be Known.