Research News

UW-Madison’s Ivey elected to Reading Hall of Fame

December 07, 2015

UW-Madison’s Gay Ivey had an amusing initial reaction in November upon learning she had been elected to the Reading Hall of Fame.

“I didn’t think I was old enough,” Ivey says with a laugh. “I was surprised because I thought this honor was given to people who are far more experienced and accomplished than me.”

Ivey adds: “But I guess I’ve been at this for quite awhile. It does feel good.”

The Reading Hall of Fame was established in 1973 in an effort to contribute, from the collective experiences of its members, to the improvement of reading instruction. To be elected to the Hall, one must have spent at least 25 years actively involved in reading work and be widely known and respected by his or her peers in the field.

Gay Ivey
Ivey has spent the past 25 years trying to better understand students’ motivations for reading –- and what happens when their reading is feeding their interests and curiosities. She started her career in education as a middle school reading specialist in Albemarle County, Virginia.

“What has driven all of my research is my initial experiences as a classroom teacher,” Ivey says of those early years working in her home state of Virginia.  “I wouldn’t have paid attention to what I now believe truly matters in reading without those wonderful experiences teaching kids from really interesting communities and with really interesting lives that enriched my own life and way of looking at the world.”

Ivey would go on to hold positions at Rutgers University and the University of Maryland at College Park before joining James Madison University as an associate professor of reading education in 2001. She was recruited to UW-Madison and it’s No. 1-ranked Department of Curriculum and Instruction in 2012, and today serves as the university’s Tashia F. Morgridge Professor of Reading Education.

Current members of the Reading Hall of Fame can submit nominations each year for those who have made substantial contributions to the field. Hall members then vote to elect a new cohort of inductees.  Ivey will be officially inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame -– which has no physical home -– during the International Literacy Association’s Conference in Boston July 9-11.  Wayne Otto, an emeritus faculty member with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, is the only other person from UW-Madison who is currently a member of the Reading Hall of Fame.

Members of the Reading Hall of Fame are expected to help spread the word about the latest information related to research findings and trends that hold promise on issues related to reading and literacy.

While many scholars today are examining how to better motivate children to read, Ivey explains that is not her area of scholarly focus.  Instead, she is taking a closer look at the benefits students receive when following their own passions and reading for their own purpose. To examine this topic, Ivey has spent the past six years studying English classrooms in which teachers prioritize engaged reading, instead of specific, assigned readings.

“I’m studying what happens in those classes with individual kids, and between kids, that shapes instruction in those classrooms and the goals of instruction,” says Ivey.

When students are exploring their own reasons for reading and are really engaged with a text, Ivey explains, there are numerous consequences. Reading engagement is linked not only with developing competence as a reader but it also has intellectual, social and emotional consequences, she says.

“It’s not the volume of reading that matters most, but the quality of those engaged reading experiences,” says Ivey.  “I’m less interested in finding ways to produce higher test scores and more interested in studying engaged reading and its relationship to the development of the whole person. I’m studying reading as a tool for helping students make sense of their lives and each other and the world.”

It has been a whirlwind past couple of years for Ivey, who in January 2014 was appointed to the International Reading Association's Literacy Research Panel. This group helps everyone from policymakers and school administrators, to teachers and the general public make sense of critical literacy related issues. It also introduces constructive initiatives to help change policies and practices.

And in March, Ivey was elected to the office of vice president of the Literacy Research Association. The Literacy Research Association, known for many years as the National Reading Conference, is the primary community for literacy research and scholarship in the United States. She will serve as the organization's president in 2018.

Despite her distinguished career and these recent accolades, Ivey says she was “blindsided” by her election to the Reading Hall of Fame.

“But it’s a wonderful honor,” she says.