The College of Education is proud to recognize several research award winners that have been named this year. This is one in a series of posts.

Dr. Courtney Hattan, assistant professor of elementary literacy education in the School of Teaching and Learning, earned the International Literacy Association (ILA) Timothy and Cynthia Shanahan Outstanding Dissertation Award.

This award is given annually for a dissertation completed in reading or literacy. A summary of the winning dissertation is published in Reading Research Quarterly, and the winner is featured on ILA’s website, in newsletters, and in Literacy Today, a non-peer reviewed, practitioner-friendly ILA publication. The award is presented at ILA’s annual conference, during which the finalists and winner are also invited to present their research.

Hattan received this award for her research on rural students’ use of background knowledge and experience to support comprehension of unfamiliar content. Her goal was to explore what teachers can do when a topic, characters, or context of a reading selection is far different from the reader’s own backgrounds and experiences.

Hattan’s work led her to develop a technique based on “relational reasoning,” which is the ability to notice or build meaningful patterns from information on the basis of recognizing important similarities and differences. Using this technique during and after reading, teachers can ask a series of four questions that prompt students to consider all four forms of relational reasoning.  Questions surround finding aspects that are similar (analogy), aspects that are unusual or surprising (anomaly), aspects that don’t fit with students’ experience (antinomy), and aspects that are opposite of students’ experience (antithesis). Using these questions during and after reading resulted in better text comprehension in students when compared with other tactics.

“This award validates that the larger literacy research community values my work and sees my line of research as meaningful for today’s students, educators, and researchers,” said Hattan.

Hattan continues to conduct a variety of literacy research and is currently working on a literature review that investigates how prior knowledge and prior knowledge activation have been defined in the literacy literature, what knowledge activation instructional techniques have been investigated, and how these techniques are beneficial for reading comprehension.

Fun fact
Beyond her research, Courtney also is a certified yoga instructor and teaches vinyasa yoga classes at a couple of Bloomington-Normal studios.

For more information about this award or Hattan’s research, visit the following websites:

Award Website

Dr. Hattan’s Website