Nonie K. Lesaux is the Thompson Professor of Education and Society at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and leads a research program guided by the goal of increasing opportunities to learn for students from diverse linguistic, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Lesaux’s research and teaching focus primarily on the cognitive and linguistic factors that enable children and adolescents to read effectively. Her research has included longitudinal studies investigating reading and language development among English language learners as well as experimental evaluations of academic vocabulary instruction. She is currently a Principal Investigator of a longitudinal study investigating the interrelated dimensions of linguistically diverse children’s cognitive, socio-emotional, and literacy development. Her research on reading development and instruction, and her work focused on using data to prevent reading difficulties, informs setting-level interventions, as well as public policy at the national and state level. The practical applications of this work are featured in several publications written for education leaders and practitioners, including one book and one widely circulated state-level literacy report, the latter of which forms the basis for a Third Grade Reading Proficiency bill passed in the state’s House of Representatives. Lesaux’s scholarship has resulted in two prestigious early career awards—the William T. Grant Foundation Faculty Scholars Award and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the U.S. Government.
It was inevitable that Janette and I would cross paths, as two scholars deeply committed to increasing opportunities-to-learn for children whose home language(s) include languages other than English–a population of children commonly referred to as English learners (ELs). But I was even luckier than that. I had the privilege of collaborating with Janette on some key projects. Most recently, our work together revolved around an instructional approach that holds great promise for improving outcomes for culturally and linguistically diverse students and reducing their disproportionate representation in special education: The Response to Intervention (RtI) model. Together, Janette and I designed guidance, resources, and professional development modules to support educators as they shifted their instruction and assessment practices to fit this approach, using RtI as a platform for increasing learning outcomes for ELs. We first tried this out with a large group of educator teams in the New York City schools and then wrote up some of this work for wider dissemination. I hold these memories dear, and am still engaged in initiatives to support the implementation of RtI in linguistically diverse settings, continuing to cultivate the progress toward equity that Janette championed.