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General Information, Honors & Awards, Research, Student Spotlight

LSU Doctoral Candidate Honored by Literacy Research Association

12/12/2012 10:26 AM

BATON ROUGE – The Literacy Research Association, or LRA, has selected Leah Katherine Saal, a doctoral candidate in the LSU School of Education, as the recipient of the 2012 J. Michael Parker Award for Contributions to Adult Literacy Research for her paper, “I’m Still a Slave: A Literacy Lesson from an Adult ‘Burgeoning’ Reader.”  

According to the LRA call for nominations, criteria for consideration of the award included research capable of making a significant contribution to theory and/or practice of adult learning and instruction, methodology appropriate to the research question, and of significant rigor and implications that the research is of a scope needed to impact the field.

“Leah’s research methods were beyond innovative,” said Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell, associate professor of literacy and urban education in the School of Education and editor of the e-journal of literacy and social responsibility. “Her concept and research, using alternative data displays of digital texts of a ‘burgeoning reader,’ challenge the historic construct of literacy for adult native speakers as print-based only and how it has fostered an emphasis on a demotivating, dishonoring, deficit model of learning and learner.”

According to Saal, the term “burgeoning reader” both challenges and expands construct of literacy for the adult native speaker/learner to include auditory, oral, print and visual literacy constructs. The burgeoning reader in her study was never “illiterate” but rather had a vast storage of literacy knowledge. In learning print literacy, the one construct lacking, the adult is expanding on the literacies of auditory, oral and visual skills he or she already possessed in comprehending their world.  

“I am so honored to have an adult burgeoning reader, Charles, who is willing to share his experience and lesson with the world,” said Saal. “His courage and insights are profound, and I am happy to help him share them.”

William R. Muth, chair of the LRA J. Michael Parker Award Committee and Associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University,  informed Saal on behalf of the committee that her study was  “thought-provoking and having great potential to push the field of adult literacy, in part by offering a new term to the field – ‘burgeoning literacy.’ In doing so, you are both critiquing the system and moving the field forward.

“The field of adult literacy is stronger as a result of your work, and we welcome you into our community,” Muth added.

Saal received her award at the plenary session at the LRA Conference on Wednesday, Nov. 28. The conference program consists of peer-reviewed symposia, paper sessions, study groups and alternative format sessions, keynote addresses by invited speakers, and research reviews of current trends and issues.

“I greatly appreciate the faculty of the LSU School of Education for the balanced approach to literacy study they have provided, especially Dr. Earl Cheek and Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell, who have encouraged and mentored my scholarship with adults, an often slighted population in literacy research,” said Saal.

“I am very thankful to the Literacy Research Association for recognizing this work,” added Saal. “Charles and I hope it encourages educators, policymakers and the public to rethink the demotivating and harmful deficit dialogs present within adult literacy pedagogy and programs.”

LRA is a community of scholars dedicated to promoting research that enriches the knowledge, understanding and development of lifespan literacies in a multicultural and multilingual world. LRA is committed to ethical research that is rigorous, methodologically diverse and socially responsible. LRA is dedicated to disseminating such research broadly so as to promote generative theories, informed practices and sound policies. Central to its mission, LRA mentors and supports future generations of literacy scholars.

“This doctoral graduate has won the one of the most important national awards in adult literacy from the premiere literacy research association,” said Renée Casbergue, interim associate dean for graduate studies and research in the College of Human Sciences and Education.

For more information about the Literacy Research Association, visit

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