Heidi Anne Mesmer, a professor in the Virginia School of Education, was invited to give a sponsored webinar for the International Literacy Association in October. The webinar, “Using Research to Accelerate Decoding and Letter Instruction,” focused on using research-based instruction in the early literacy classroom.

“As a global organization, the International Literacy Association advocates for and promotes high-quality literacy instruction and learning opportunities for educators around the world,” said Dana Robertson, a member of the association’s Executive Board. “It is no wonder that Heidi Anne Mesmer is part of this effort. Her work in early literacy has had an indelible effect on so many.” Robertson joined the School of Education earlier this year as an associate professor of reading and literacy.

“Dr. Mesmer is a leading voice in early literacy instruction,” said Kristin Gehsmann, director of the School of Education. “The research and practical, hands-on resources she creates for educators can help them reimagine their teaching, making it student centered and research based.”

In her presentation, Mesmer said it is crucial to use current research to back up instructional practices. She also emphasized that anyone working in teacher education or professional development has a duty to share the research that supports their presentation. With current conversations in literacy focusing on “the science of reading,” Mesmer emphasized that educators can ground these conversations in data and research, rather than opinion or emotion.

 “We should be able to pin everything we’re talking about to research,” she said. “When we start to discuss and debate things, we’re talking about the data and the research, and it’s a different conversation. It’s the kind of conversation that scientists actually have, which is not emotional. It’s really focused on the science and the data.” It is important, she added, for teachers to have access to empirical research to empower them to make the best instructional choices for their students.

As teachers continue to move forward in a career changed by the pandemic, Mesmer said, it is even more important to use instructional practices backed by research and to allow teachers to make the best choices for their students based on scientific data. Teachers today feel pressured to accelerate learning and compensate for the abrupt switch to remote instruction.

In her presentation, Mesmer shared current research and provided detailed explanations of how participants can apply the findings in their daily classroom practice. She defines acceleration as “efficient and effective instruction.” While there is no time to waste in the current teaching environment, she said, cramming information and rushing learners are not the answers. She encourages teachers to look to the research to create solid, effective, and focused lessons to foster student success in reading.

Mesmer gave examples of such practices, including the use of classroom routines, a common scope and sequence for phonics instruction, and the use of research-based lessons. Those lessons are outlined in her 2019 book, Letter Lessons and First Words, and in her most recent book, Alphabetics for Emerging Learners: Building Strong Reading Foundations in Pre-K.

A recording of Mesmer’s webinar will be available on the International Literacy Association website through April 2022.

Written by Anna Kambach