A love for literacy

Teacher and Wright State graduate Laura Simons instills a love of reading in her students

The Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers honored Laura Simons for the thesis she produced as a graduate student in the Master of Education in Literacy Program at Wright State.

As a second-grade teacher at Celina Primary School, Laura Simons wanted to ensure she was doing everything she could to help her students become better readers.

She began using different teaching methods — the use of flashcards and orthographic mapping — in her classroom to determine which was more effective.

Her research became the focus of her thesis as a graduate student in the Master of Education in Literacy Program at Wright State University.

“It’s really important to find effective methods,” she said. “I didn’t want to just continue doing the same things over and over if they were not helpful for my students.”

Simons’ thesis, titled “Putting Words to Work: A Comparative Study on the Effects of Flashcards and Orthographic Mapping on Students’ Sight Word Reading and Spelling,” helped her grow as a teacher and also gained national attention.

She received the prestigious J. Estill Alexander Future Leaders in Literacy Master’s Thesis Award from the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers.

Simons was honored at the association’s conference in November in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was also invited to present her research at the conference. Her thesis will be published in the annual Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers Yearbook.

Hannah Chai, Ed.D., professor of literacy and co-program director of the Reading Endorsement and Master of Literacy Program, described Simons as an amazing teacher and literacy leader.

“Laura is making a difference not only for the children she teaches in Celina but is also adding her strong teacher research to the field of literacy education,” Chai said.

Simons received a master’s degree in literacy in 2023 from Wright State and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in 2018 from Wright State’s Lake Campus. She is in her fifth year as a second-grade teacher in Celina.

For her master’s thesis, Simons compared how flashcards or orthographic mapping affected her students’ spelling and reading skills. Orthographic mapping helps students learn new words by making letter-sound connections that help them commit spellings, pronunciations and word meanings to memory.

Simons found that flashcards were less effective for teaching her students how to spell new words, while her students were able to learn and recall more words with orthographic mapping.

“They were able to look at the letters and pair sounds with letters and that helped them to recall more words by sight and produce the correct spelling.”

Simons was inspired to study literacy after taking a graduate course on teaching dyslexic learners. She realized that if she could teach a child with dyslexia to read, she could teach any student.

“I always wanted to be that teacher who was able to service my students,” she said. “I wanted to be that one-stop shop. That’s how I would describe it: a one-stop shop where I’m able to meet the needs of my students.”

Her approach to teaching is guided by her tagline: “Does that make sense to your brain?” If a lesson does not make sense to a student, she says it is her job to find a way to help them understand.

“When students feel that I have helped, and can say, ‘Oh my goodness, you just helped me to figure that out,’ that’s what I’m here for. That is my purpose,” she said.

Simons is not just passionate about teaching literacy; she is also an avid reader. Her love for reading started as a child with books like “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett through which she would explore different worlds.

Later she was inspired by her high school principal’s extraordinary vocabulary, which she used to capture the attention of her audience.

“Words and writing are really important to me because they allow you to express yourself,” Simons said. “You can reach so many people in so many different ways.”

Simons grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, and worked as a school counselor before staying at home to raise her daughter. Her family eventually moved to the United States when her husband, Courtney Simons, received a scholarship to study at North Dakota State University.

The family moved to Celina when Courtney joined the Lake Campus faculty to lead the food science program.

Laura Simons quickly enrolled in the teacher education program at the Lake Campus to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.

She liked how Wright State’s undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs provided her with practical and hands-on experiences to help her put into practice what she was learning in the classroom.

“You’re using theory and practice in tandem,” she said. “That helped me get a better feel for how the classroom system works here in the United States. Wright State allowed me to have the exposure, the experience, and the understanding to be an effective teacher.”

She credited the faculty, including Betsy Crites, lecturer and education coordinator at the Lake Campus, and especially Chai, for pushing her to be the best teacher she could be.

“They care more than people will ever think or imagine,” she said. “That’s what makes the difference for me.”

Simons is not the only member of her family to benefit from a Wright State education.

In addition to his faculty role, Courtney Simons received master’s degrees in earth and environmental sciences and digital learning from Wright State, and their daughter, Anna Simons, is pursuing an associate degree in biological sciences at the Lake Campus.

“We believe in the education at Wright State so much that we all decided to go through Wright State in some way, shape or form,” Laura Simons said. “We are lifelong learners.”

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