CATHERINE SNOW is Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor of Education in the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Following in the footsteps of her mother and paternal grandmother, both of whom were teachers, Snow earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Oberlin College and graduate degrees from McGill University before joining the Academy. Her experiences learning multiple languages as a student and in her early career teaching in the Netherlands and England inspired her as an advocate for bilingual education and early interventions to support language development and literacy among disadvantaged children.
Visit the video below to watch a short overview of the interview with Catherine Snow. Otherwise, see all five of the full interviews with Catherine Snow below.
Video Interviews with Catherine Snow:
Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, Dr. Catherine Snow recalls her early school experiences as a self-described “nerd” who helped her classmates with their homework, and who read a lot of books from under her desk before leaving home at the age of 16 to enroll at Oberlin College. Having studied French in elementary school, German in college, Spanish while traveling to Madrid, Dutch at her first job in the Netherlands, and later Arabic as a professor, Snow describes the “enormity of being dropped into a situation where you don’t know the language” and emphasizes the critical value of “bilingual education done right.” Watch this clip to hear how Dr. Snow addresses the role of vocabulary in building literacy, namely given the critical need to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers by shifting the conversation from teaching words to teaching knowledge.
Having earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Oberlin College and graduate degrees at McGill University, Dr. Catherine Snow recalls her excitement given the opportunity to study in Madrid, Spain after graduation, and later teach language development and statistics in the Netherlands. As a faculty member at Harvard University, she describes the enfolding debate among well-respected scholars over the value of phonics versus whole language approaches to reading instruction. Considered an impartial observer, Snow recalls her experiences as chair of a National Academy of Science committee formed to quell the debate and describes the profound impact of this work on her scholarship. In this clip, learn more from Dr. Snow about this study as well as the importance of providing poor children multiple learning opportunities in language and literacy as early as possible.
Reflecting upon her work in bilingual education, Dr. Catherine Snow argues that changing current policies without reconsidering the also current over-emphasis on accountability systems that devalue bilingualism would have little positive effect on the experiences of bilingual students. Although a shift in the view of bilingualism would ideally benefit all students, including immigrants, she explains that the promotion of bilingualism despite high-stakes accountability would primarily advantage middle-class students who are not in danger of failing large-scaled standardized tests. Rather, she explains that development in any language beyond casual conversation requires students to “put on the suit and tie” of academic language—teachers need to provide students with meaningful opportunities to assume this identity. Watch this clip to learn more from Dr. Snow about how teachers can not only encourage students to express themselves using academic language but also prepare them to exercise their voice on important social issues.
When asked about her next steps as a researcher and scholar, Dr. Catherine Snow intends to continue to emphasize to teachers that classroom discussions encourage students to express their ideas and help them become better writers—both activities are time well spent. She also plans to examine cultural models for early childhood education and how they differ around the world, explaining that “what we do with children ages one to five both reflects cultural commitments about who children are and what they need while at the same time generates consequences for academic success later on.” In this clip, Dr. Snow also cites the end of the “reading wars” as a source of hope for the future and calls upon educators and scholars to identity areas of common agreement on what works best for students and to “get busy and do it!”
Reflecting on those who have most profoundly impacted her professional work as a teacher, educational researcher, and scholar, Dr. Catherine Snow notes that her students at Harvard University inspire her with their own passion, dedication, and intellectual curiosity. When asked what alternate career she might have chosen, Snow describes her interest in law and willingness to serve as a public advocate. Her dedication to serving others, high standards for quality research, and commitment to scholarship are also evident in her advice to graduate students and emerging scholars, namely that they conduct the research about which they are most passionate rather than count publications or focus on networking. Watch this clip to learn more about Dr. Snow from some of her family, friends, and colleagues who know her best.