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Understanding and Embracing The Ladder of Reading & Writing

We recently had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Nancy Young for a conversation about differentiation, meeting students where they are, and understanding students' learning profiles to determine instructional needs.

Dr. Nancy Young is a Canadian educational consultant providing professional development in reading and writing instruction for an international audience.

Nancy’s literacy focus is effective differentiation of instruction to meet the needs of a wide range of learners, including students who have dyslexia, students who have ADHD, and students who are advanced in reading (AIR). Nancy’s expertise encompasses the educational needs of students who are gifted (intellectual ability), including students who are gifted with a co-occurring exceptionality.

Nancy’s formal education includes Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Education (Elementary Education), Master of Education (Special Education), and Doctor of Education (Cognitive Diversity).

A passionate and long-time advocate for improving instruction for all children, Nancy has taught a wide range of learning needs and ages in schools and community organizations as well as in her independent teaching practice. Nancy is a certified teacher and a member of the International Dyslexia Association, Scientific Studies of Reading, the National Association for Gifted Children, the World Council for Gifted & Talented Children, and the Gifted Children’s Association of British Columbia.

Nancy is the creator of The Ladder of Reading & Writing, an infographic visually representing the ease at which children learn to read and write and the instructional implications. Summarizing the varied and numerous factors that must be considered to best serve the full range of needs, whether learning to read and write is more challenging or skills are advanced, this infographic makes clear the need for differentiated instruction. Nancy is the co-editor (with Dr. Jan Hasbrouck) of the recently released book Climbing the Ladder of Reading & Writing: Meeting the Needs of ALL Learners (published January, 2024). Looking at literacy through the lens of Nancy’s infographic, this book includes twenty short chapters authored by experts in the field who provide valuable information relating to the wide range of ease in mastering literacy skills and the instructional implications.

Currently based in British Columbia, Nancy provides in-person and online professional development for organizations and school districts.

The journey of becoming an educator often begins with a passion for helping others reach their potential. For Dr. Nancy Young, this journey was influenced by her early experiences working with children and adults facing challenges. In our recent interview, Dr. Young shared insights into her path toward literacy advocacy and the creation of her renowned "Ladder of Reading & Writing" infographic.

The Creation of The Ladder of Reading & Writing

Dr. Young initially developed the infographic as part of her Master of Education degree in special education. Inspired by a desire to support her classmates in understanding effective instructional strategies for students with dyslexia, she crafted a visual representation of the literacy continuum. Drawing from her understanding of the research on learning to read and her own experiences, Dr. Young ensured that the infographic reflected the diverse range of learners, including advanced readers and those facing significant challenges.

How the Infographic Became a Book

Over time, Dr. Young’s dedication to promoting evidence-based literacy practices led to others in the field becoming aware of, and recognizing the value in, her powerful infographic. Countless educators, parents, and others involved in the improvement of reading and writing instruction (including policymakers) have now reached out to Nancy for permission to use her unique work in their presentations and advocacy efforts. 

Steadfast in her commitment to ensuring her work was effectively and accurately used as a translational framework to support the wide range of needs, Nancy has not only periodically revised the infographic (her most recent update in 2023) but expended a great deal of effort communicating the important messages within The Ladder of Reading & Writing in her presentations, articles, and communications over the last twelve years. Most recently, Dr. Young teamed up with renowned literacy expert Dr. Jan Hasbrouck to create a book that would further explain and expand upon the features, wording, and important messages within the infographic. In January of 2024, the book, "Climbing the Ladder of Reading & Writing: Meeting the Needs of All Learners" was released.

What Makes This Book Unique

What makes Dr. Young's co-edited new book unique is its approachability and inclusivity. Written for a broad audience, the book provides a comprehensive overview of effective literacy instruction for a wide range of needs, including attention to the needs of students often left out of the conversation (such as students advanced in reading, for whom Young coined the term AIR, students who are deaf/hard of hearing, and students who have an intellectual disability). 

Twenty chapters, authored by experts in the field, present practical information that is grounded in the research yet easy to understand and apply. Through colorful visuals and relatable examples, the book emphasizes not just the importance of teacher knowledge, but collaboration to effectively support student learning. The main message of the book is that reading and writing instruction must be differentiated based on need, recognizing that students will not only vary in what they need to be taught but will vary in the “how” of effective instruction and practice.

As literacy research continues to evolve, Dr. Young remains committed to advocating for meaningful change in educational practices. By empowering educators with the tools and knowledge they need, she is helping to create more inclusive and equitable learning environments for all students.

Learn more about Dr. Young's infographic and her new book, "Climbing the Ladder of Reading and Writing."

Connect with Dr. Nancy Young! Visit her website and find her on Facebook.

For our full conversation with Dr. Nancy Young about The Ladder of Reading & Writing, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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