Ruth Gilliland Hardman’s passion was helping children learn to read. As a parent of a child with severe reading problems, she truly understood the frustration and the challenges of teaching a child to read. Drawing on her experiences with her own child, Hardman established the Ruth G. Hardman Literacy Service at the Tulsa City/County Library to assist parents, teachers and schools to help those children having difficulty learning to read. A short time later, she wanted to expand that program, so in 2002 she made a generous $1 million gift to establish the Center for Children with Learning Differences within the University of Oklahoma’s College of Education to support parents, teachers and children learning to read.

Today, the Hardman Center divides its work between applied research and dissemination of information. On the research side, the center has been working with the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education to discover how to provide better, more effective professional development in literacy for teachers – particularly in the areas of reading comprehension, vocabulary and writing. According to Hardman Center chair and center director Priscilla Griffith, “We have done a lot of research on what makes high-quality professional development and we have pulled that research together into a framework to actually deliver effective professional development to teachers in the schools.” Through various grants and working with a number of schools, — “we were able to structure a framework for high quality literacy professional development within the center,” Griffith said, noting that “the first grants looked at the professional development model and the impact on teachers. The Hardman Center’s study found that in terms of content knowledge, instructional skills and efficacy, those teachers receiving professional development had an increase in each of those three measures and that knowledge had sustainability over time. In the most recent grant, which focused on writing across the curriculum, the center was able to test children in writing with pre and post on demand writing samples. We found that this framework for professional development was not only successful in increasing teacher knowledge, skills and efficacy but increasing child outcomes, which is the goal, the big goal,” Griffith said.  Each year, an intensive Summer Institute is offered that includes follow-up meetings with the teachers who attended during the school year. The Summer Institute incorporates follow-up literacy coaching, where a coach will visit the teacher in their classroom for three hours at a time three times during the school year.  When discussing the center’s work, Griffith contrasts mastery and growth skills. The Hardman Center framework was built on successful work done in collaboration with the Center for Early Childhood Professional Development in the College of Continuing Education.  “From that work, we published data showing that children’s learning could be accelerated in areas such as phonological awareness, letter knowledge and concepts about print—those skills that are important precursors to learning to read because they form a foundation for learning to read,” Griffith said. “We found that having an impact on mastery skills could occur by improving teachers’ content knowledge and classroom teaching skills. In the Hardman Center we wanted to expand that work to growth skills. It can be more difficult to show an impact on broader domains of knowledge such as reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge and writing, those areas where development continues across a lifetime.“

The other area in which the Hardman Center is very active in the dissemination of information.  Between 2008 and 2011, center staff provided over 5,900 professional development contact hours to 95 teachers in Seminole, Pottawatomie, Comanche and Garvin counties. The most extensive project to date is called “Every Student Succeeds across the Curriculum with Writing,” which adds teachers from Cleveland, Creek, Grady, Lincoln, Muskogee, Noble, Oklahoma, Pawnee, and Tulsa counties to the list of those served.  According to Griffith, “What is important is the dissemination of services to so many counties in the state of Oklahoma.” The Hardman Center also serves as a tutoring “broker” with a database of tutors which includes the age range of children they prefer to work with, their area of expertise and approximately how much they charge per hour. “So, a parent can call requesting a tutor and the center can give them names of several people who fit their needs,” Griffith said.  “We recommend they interview the tutor with their child to figure out who will be the best fit.”  Another dissemination activity is the Parent Lecture Series at Adams Elementary School in Norman. The monthly lecture series will last through the entire 2012-2013 school year.  JRCoE’s Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum department is providing speakers and topics for the series that include: How to Prepare Your Child to Do Well in School, English Language Learners, and other topics covering math, science, middle school children and how to prevent the “summer slump”. At each lecture, attendees leave with a bookmark or something that summarizes the topic for that evening. So far, the lectures have been well-attended and well received by the community.  Through research and dissemination, the Hardman Center continues Ruth Hardman’s passion to help children learn to read. To learn more about the Hardman Center, visit


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