NICOLE PATTON-TERRY READING RESEARCHER
Muse Science Magazine for Kids|October 2020
NICOLE PATTON-TERRY READING RESEARCHER
Nicole Patton-Terry loves helping kids learn to read. She is associate director of the Florida Center for Reading Research at the Florida State University. Patton-Terry works on teams with researchers, students, teachers, designers, parents, and community members. Together they study reading and develop tools that help children read.
Kathryn Hulick

WHAT IS THE MAIN GOAL OF YOUR RESEARCH?

Our research helps us figure out how kids learn to read and how they keep getting better at reading as they get older. That way, teachers and families can help all kids learn how to read, no matter who they are or where they come from or even if they have a disability.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A RESEARCHER?

When I was a junior in college, I participated in a summer research program in a school that had bilingual students growing up with Spanish at home and English at school. Everyone at that school was working really, really hard to make sure that the kids were learning how to read. But the kids were still struggling. The reason they were struggling had to do, in part, with instruction because it’s hard to teach someone to read in a language they don’t speak very well. But there were also emotional parts. I’ll never forget one of the little boys who said, “I’m not Mexican, I’m American.” His feelings were that him speaking Spanish was a bad thing. He was very defiant and wanted to only use English. But the research is clear: for him, speaking Spanish is a very good thing, in fact it’s a strength. We want him to continue to gain strength and proficiency in his native language, because if he does, he will have a much easier time learning English and reading and writing in English.

So how do you help a 6-year-old understand that? That’s why I wanted to move into a research career. These challenges are not just about running numbers to answer questions. They are about how we can come together to help that 6-year-old, his teacher, his parents, and his community solve this problem.

There’s also a very personal reason. I am a person from an underrepresented group in academia. If I’m not at the table helping the research team, they might not see what I see, because they haven’t had the same life history and experiences I’ve had. I felt like it was my responsibility to make sure that people like me aren’t always the ones being studied, but we’re a part of the team creating the solutions to problems too.

CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE MORE ABOUT WHY DIVERSITY IS IMPORTANT?

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October 2020