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David Dickinson

Research Professor in Language & Literacy Education; Professor Emeritus, Department of Teaching and Learning

Professor Dickinson was the Margaret Cowan Chair in the Department of Teaching until December, 2020 when he retired.  After graduating from Oberlin College, he taught elementary school for five years. While teaching African-American children from working class homes, he became interested in the role of language in literacy. He pursued that interest as he worked on his doctorate at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

Throughout his career Dickinson has advocated for increasing the intellectual challenge of preschool classrooms, identifying the pervasive impact of language on literacy development, and recognizing the complexity of the challenges associated with changing teaching practice in ways that result in enhanced learning. He has authored over 120 articles and chapters, co-authored Beginning Literacy with Language, and Connecting through Talk, co-edited six books including three volumes of the Handbook of Early Literacy, and co-authored Opening the World of Learning, a widely used preschool curriculum. While working at Education Development Center (ED, he was part of the team that created the Early Childhood Generalist examination for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).  For five years at Vanderbilt he led a team that developed a demonstration preschool in Abu Dhabi and assisted in the development of a Cycle One primary grade school. Click here for a video about this. 

Throughout his career he has contributed to basic research on language learning and explored the relationship between language and literacy development. Early in his career he examined initial word learning and the relationship between vocabulary acquisition word and conceptual knowledge. More recently he examined the language environments of preschool classrooms and the association between enhanced language learning and classroom experiences.  He and colleagues have been developed playful strategies the help children learn new vocabulary.