Blowing Rock School’s Dr. Laurie Nelson-Gill Recognized for Excellence in Teaching

Published Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Blowing Rock School Reading Intervention Specialist Dr. Laurie Nelson-Gill has been selected for Special Honors for the national Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award, the only teacher in North Carolina to receive this recognition.

The Reitnouer Award honors teachers for leadership in using best practices to help students with disabilities become better readers. It is sponsored by Learning Ally, a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping blind, visually impaired and dyslexic students succeed in education. Learning Ally’s Jenny Falke stated that Dr. Gill was nominated for the award “for making a profound difference in the lives of students with print disabilities, for encouraging a love of reading, and for her commitment to driving student success.”

Nelson-Gill

Nelson-Gill

Gill’s recognition in part reflects her advocacy for using Dragon tablet devices and specialized reading software to help students overcome barriers to proficient reading. The purchase of the devices was funded by a grant of $1,000 from the Watauga Education Foundation (WEF) and a donation from a school family. Gill and four of her Blowing Rock School colleagues wrote the grant to the WEF, a local non-profit that supports enriched learning in the Watauga County Schools through grants that fund innovative instruction for students and professional development for teachers.

The new tablets and software offer crucial advantages to help struggling readers. One especially important feature is “synchronized voice text highlighting” that allows students to follow along with highlighted print as they listen and to adjust the speed of the real human voice (not synthesized speech) on the recording. Gill says these advances “can revolutionize the educational lives of challenged readers. It allows them to read independently like their peers, and the sooner they can do that, the sooner and more successfully they can prepare for middle school, high school, and college.”

Gill praised the work of her colleagues and their rapid embrace of new tools for helping students. She took special note of the pioneering work of Doug Herman and Marcia Winkler in applying the approaches at Blowing Rock, Lee Carter at Bethel Elementary, and the success of Tracy Markland in using the program at Watauga High School.

While deeply appreciative of the work of school system colleagues in adopting new approaches, Gill believes that accelerating the progress of print-challenged students can’t be done just during the school day. “It really requires a communal effort. I like to keep parents informed about what we’re doing and how we can do more, and I keep up with research and new developments to find where I can plug it in to strengthen instruction.”

Gill believes in a two-pronged approach for working with students. “We will only transform the lives of the print-challenged when we move mountains to make sure they are being taught on both their reading level and their listening level. This allows them to develop ideas and vocabulary at the highest level possible while learning to read at an appropriate instructional level.”

One student’s mother wrote a letter that vividly illustrates the value of Gill’s work, stating that “She combines her clinical understanding of how to teach struggling students to read with advances in understanding dyslexia and instructional technology. Ms. Gill’s expertise combined with her gentle tone was the perfect combination.” This mother’s son had struggled with reading in first grade and is now a proficient reader unaware that he had a reading problem when younger. The letter says that “Ms. Gill’s expertise and knowledge of reading curriculum and print book awareness were the cornerstones of his achievement, but her personality—one of understanding and care—was also pivotal to our son’s success and love of reading. She has bottomless faith that all students can learn to read. I can’t say enough about how well-deserving she is of this award.”

Gill has taught in the Watauga County Schools for six years and was 2012-13 Teacher of the Year at Green Valley School.

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