Masters Matter: Dr. Devery Ward and Ashley Pennell, Reading Education

Dr. Devery Ward, associate professor in the department of Reading Education and Special Education, and former graduate student Ashley Pennell discuss the Master of Arts in reading education at Appalachian State University. The program is housed in the Reich College of Education's Department of Reading Education and Special Education.


  • Dr. Devery Ward: I am Devery Ward. I’m an Associate Professor of Reading Education at Appalachian State.

    Ashley Pennell: I am Ashley Pennell and I am a former Masters in Reading student and a current Doctoral student in Education Leadership with a concentration in Reading and Literacy.

    DW: The Reading Education Program is located in the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State. We have offices on the third and fourth floor but more important than that is that the Anderson Reading Clinic is located on the third floor of the Reich College of Education. The Anderson Reading Clinic is pretty important because that is where we have a lot of our graduate experiences. As a graduate student you come and work in the Anderson Reading Clinic and you work with children from the community who are having difficulty in learning to read. Additionally we are one of the very few reading clinics that are housed in a university setting in North Carolina. We are the oldest in North Carolina. We are one of the few remaining campus based reading clinics in the United States. When we do work or research, sometimes we do it in the reading clinic with children who come to the clinic as clients. Sometimes we are out in public schools. We try to get out in public school settings and work with actual public school teachers who are teaching children in their classrooms. I am very interested in children who have rather severe reading disabilities and who have a very difficult time learning to read. Although at App State in our Reading Program we look at children who are having minor problems in reading or who are doing just fine in reading as well as children who are performing well above grade level in reading, I am interested in the children who have significant disabilities in reading. Sometimes we call in dyslexia. Sometimes we call it a severe reading disability. That is my primary area of focus and I get to work a lot with children who are experiencing that level of difficulty in the Anderson Reading Clinic. Each semester we have children coming to the clinic. We have students who work at tutors. I first met Ashley when she was a graduate student. She took some courses that I was teaching but then after that she worked with me in the Anderson Reading Clinic as a supervisor of the tutors. That’s how I first came to know her.

    AP: I decided to get my masters in reading after teaching in Davie county for a little while. I was teaching second grade at the time. I decided that my undergraduate experience, while rich in teaching me how to be a classroom teacher, I still didn’t know how to teach kids who were having difficulty learning to read. I didn’t feel confident in my ability to be a good teacher of reading. I decided to pursue a Masters and I knew I wanted to get it in Reading Education. I decided that coming back to Appalachian after getting my undergrad here was the best choice for me. As a recent graduate of the Masters in Reading Program and as I have reflected on the time I spent pursuing my Masters degree, I realize it did more for me than just to help me reach the students who were struggling to read. My professional disposition about reading was largely improved. I was able to help teachers in my school who were experiencing these same concerns with their own students and even taught some professional development seminars in two different counties based on what I was learning what I had learned and what I was doing in my classroom. It built my confidence as a teacher of reading while at the same time helping me to improve my practice and help students in my classroom make significant growth in reading.

    DW: Here are the reasons I think Appalachian State is the best place in the world to get your master's degree in Reading Education. First, it is in Boone, North Carolina. Boone is amazing. It is gorgeous. It is scenic. We have mountains and rivers. We have everything. Second, we care about our students and we want to know about you. We want to know what kind of teacher you want to be. We want to know the classroom where you are working. We want to know what you want to get better at. We take a genuine interest in identifying what your goals are and then helping you reach them. We feel it is our responsibility to give you opportunities to develop and become the best professional you can be. The third and perhaps most important reason is that we know a lot about reading instruction here. We know how to help kids become better readers. We know how to take a child who is above grade level and help them soar. We know how to offer really good language arts instruction in whatever classroom it is you have. We have very practical ideas for how to accomplish this each and every day. We know how to help kids who are not doing well in reading and who are really struggling. That kind of knowledge changes a child’s life and it changes a teacher’s life. We want to share that information with people.