Michael Dunn spent much of last summer drawing, reading, writing and laughing with children at his Thirsty Thinkers workshop. His goal was literacy education research. His plan was to encourage the elementary students to successfully write a story by first imagining the story, then illustrating it with drawings or sculptures and finally translating those illustrations into words.
“This strategy really contributed to their development as writers,” said Dunn, assistant professor of special education and literacy at WSU Vancouver.
The children, from homeless and low-income families in southwestern Washington, came to Thirsty Thinkers as part of the At Home/At School Summer Daycamp Program organized by Susan Finley, associate professor of education at WSU Vancouver. Thirsty Thinkers was just one of several dozen daycamp options. Eleven children were regular participants.
While the volunteer time and funding for Dunn’s writing program came from many sources, the primary financial support was from the Lematta Foundation. Based in the Portland/Vancouver area, the foundation often funds literacy projects for youth.
“The gift from the Lematta Foundation made this project possible, and I had a chance to thank Nancy Lematta when she visited our workshop and watched the children in action,” Dunn said.
Research results from Thirsty Thinkers provided the basis for one manuscript awaiting publication and another outlined but not yet written. The project helped develop Dunn’s “track record of supported research,” he said.
The project is also important for his university students, who are future teachers of literacy and special education.
“I can talk to my students about the strategies and processes used by the children in the program,” Dunn said. “Providing that direct information helps my students understand the challenges they can expect in their own classrooms.”
However, the positive impacts for Dunn’s professional life may be less important than the personal satisfaction he received.
“I felt that I contributed to the children and their development as writers,” he said. “They were proud when they moved their ideas to illustrations and then to words. I was excited to share in that growth.”