Elizabeth Birr Moje, the associate dean for research and community engagement and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the School of Education at the University of Michigan, focuses her research on communities and schools in Detroit, with particular emphasis on literacy acquired in school, cultural and community settings. She also engages in professional development with teachers in Detroit and across the country.
Moje is an expert on literacy learning and development and secondary literacy teaching. She recently served as a witness in class-action lawsuit that sought to enforce a 1993 Michigan law that requires schools to provide the instructional resources and supports necessary to ensure that students develop reading proficiency as they move through the school years. The suit, filed by the ACLU, argued that the state of Michigan, together with the state-appointed emergency manager of the Highland Park District (located in metro Detroit) and the charter management organization contracted by the emergency manager, were obligated to ensure that the district met the provisions of the state statute to support students’ reading development.
Moje also developed a program called Teaching and Learning the Disciplines Through Clinical Practice Rounds with U-M colleague Robert Bain. The project — which borrows the idea of rounds from medical training — prepares secondary school teachers across the core academic disciplines (mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, literary and language arts, and world languages), who learn best practices for teaching the disciplines and disciplinary literacy as they rotate through a series of closely supervised clinical experiences in urban, exurban, and suburban school sites. This research and development project is conducted in collaboration with Drs. Jon Zimmerman (a U-M medical school graduate) and Ruaa Elteriefi of Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan (also a metro Detroit community). The team is conducting ethnography of physician and teacher education to learn best practices of teaching and learning from each other and employing those practices in a design research project in both the hospital and the community schools.
Moje believes that U-M can benefit greatly from its work in the city of Detroit. “Both faculty and students have just as much to learn from our service as we have to give. Doing research in Detroit provides one with an opportunity to connect with people who are really struggling with some of the biggest challenges in our country right now,” Moje explains, noting that knowledge gained could be applied to struggling communities around the country.
In an effort to build institutional partnerships, the School of Education has developed several collaborative agreements, including one with the Detroit Public Schools. As part of that agreement, Moje serves as vice-chair of an advisory council to the Detroit School of Arts. The DSA partnership was envisioned nearly ten years ago by U-M alumnus Stuart Frankel (BBA ’61) who, along with his family, has a long standing commitment to supporting the University of Michigan and programs throughout greater Detroit. Frankel, who serves as chair of the DSA advisory council, has worked closely with Moje to help make the initiative possible. The project has been supported generously by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as other Detroit area foundations, and private donors. SOE students and faculty members work directly with the school on numerous teaching, learning, and teacher education initiatives. Along with a coalition of other campus units, the school also works in several institutions around the area.
In regards to practicum work, Moje believes working in a city like Detroit is “the ultimate teaching experience,” noting that it’s exactly where she wants her students. She says educators in Detroit are the best example of teachers who are working extremely hard to meet the needs of their students.