Catherine Snow

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. As a faculty member, educational researcher, and scholar, Snow has served on the faculty and in administration at Harvard University for more than 35 years as well as in various positions in New York, Jerusalem, Madrid, and Oslo. Widely recognized as a dedicated teacher and pioneering researcher in language and literacy, Snow has received numerous awards and honors including: the Spencer Senior Scholar Award (1999), Charles A. Ferguson Fellowship (2001, Center of Applied Linguistics), Morningstar Teaching Award (2004, Harvard Graduate School of Education), a National Awards for Education Reporting First Prize (2010, Education Writers Association), and the Distinguished Contributions to Research in Education Award (2011, American Educational Research Association ) as well as three honorary doctorates. Also a past president of the American Educational Research Association as well as a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education, Snow has written more than 20 authored or edited books and numerous other scholarly publications about bilingualism, language policies in the United States and developing countries, and testing policies. Her co-authored book, Preparing Our Teachers: Opportunities for Better Reading Instruction (2002), reflects efforts to synthesize the knowledge and skills pre- and in-service elementary teachers need to support language and literacy. Snow continues in her efforts to improve literacy outcomes, most recently through her collaborative work with teachers, middle school students, and other researchers in the Boston Public Schools.

For more information, visit Catherine Snow. To learn more about Catherine Snow from her family and friends, visit her Reflections.

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.

Dr. Nathaniel Baum-Snow

Characterizing his relationship with his mother Dr. Catherine Snow as not only very close but also businesslike, Dr. Nathaniel Baum-Snow notes that their weekly phone conversations and frequent visits have increased even more since the birth of his daughter. Adding that his mother “engineered what is in retrospect a remarkable balance between her career and providing at home,” Nathaniel explains that he “know[s] how difficult it is to push your career forward during the day and then be home to cook dinner and interact with your child in the evenings-[his] mother was always able to do this.” Although he describes his mother as “a serious person, with seriousness either in her genes or her upbringing or both,” Nathaniel explains that their relationship is businesslike in that they often discuss their respective jobs and how they intersect, noting that his mother “has developed a certain amount of respect for him and his life and career, just as he has for hers.” Recalling humorous experiences while traveling with his mother when he was younger, Nathaniel describes their visit to Jerusalem while she was on sabbatical at Hebrew University. Noting that the weather that winter in Jerusalem was particularly cold and snowy and that the homes there did not have good heating, he recounts how his mother set her slipper on fire when resting her foot too close to the electric space heater in their apartment, adding that “at least she had a warm foot for a few seconds!” On another trip to England, they drove along a narrow urban road in Cambridge with parked cars along the side. As his mother drove to the end of the block, Nathaniel recalls hearing a slight, but seemingly incidental bump. When he was unable to open the car door, they both realized that she had torn off the entire bumper of the car which had become wedged in the passenger door at the hinge! Sympathizing with her in this case given his own poor vision, Nathaniel explains that, “it’s hard to know where the other side of the car is!” Nathaniel also notes that she is an expert at multitasking and that “she does not sacrifice things she wants to do for things that she needs to do.” Describing a typical visit with his parents, Nathaniel explains that “she could be cutting vegetables, warming up soup, microwaving herself some food for her grand-daughter, reading a student’s paper, sending an email, drinking a glass of wine and having a conversation about academic hiring all at the same time.” Describing her approach as “confident multitasking,” Nathaniel explains that “when things need to get done, she gets them done efficiently!” Characterizing his mother as “both a great scholar and a great mentor,” he also notes that she is “adored by all of her former students,” who appreciate that she always reads their work carefully and pushes them to be their best. Generous with both her time and hospitality in her home, Nathaniel cites her dedication to her students as both a personal and professional accomplishment, for which there “has been great appreciation for her throughout her profession.”

Dr. Maria Carlo

Dr. Maria Carlo describes her relationship with her long-time mentor Dr. Catherine Snow, noting that she had been hired as an assistant professor in the Language and Literacy program in the Harvard University Graduate School of Education while Catherine served as the chair of the Human Development and Psychology Department. Describing one of Catherine’s most significant accomplishments, Maria notes that her “input and direction on the NRC [National Research Council] panel was pivotal in bringing attention to the reading needs of English learners and to the value of native language instruction.” Maria adds that “the report would have been very different on the matter had it not been for Catherine’s vision and credibility as a researcher on the topic.” Maria adds that her mentor and friend also seems to have a children’s or parenting book for almost any problem and recalls that she once “complained about how difficult it was to pack her son’s lunch every day, and without thinking much of it, [Catherine] pull[ed] a

Dr. M. Suzanne Donovan

Recalling her early work with Dr. Catherine Snow on National Research Council (NRC) reports, Dr. M. Suzanne Donovan explains that her long-time friend and colleague “modeled for others the courage and conviction required for a highly respected academic to sit at the table with practitioners for countless hours to try and find a path forward on uncharted turf.” As the founding director of the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP), an organization dedicated to “education research and development [based] around problems of practice posed by school districts,” Suzanne continues to work with Catherine as the first research director of their Boston field site. She adds that Catherine “not only played a major role in creating legitimacy for the idea that accomplished researchers should take problems of practice posed by practitioners seriously, but [also] decided to make her work in this arena her primary commitment in the last decade.” Suzanne notes that Catherine “made this kind of work safe for others.” Recalling their initiative to expand the project to San Francisco, Suzanne had asked Dr. P. David Pearson to play a lead role, to which he responded the he “would be honored to be the Catherine Snow for a San Francisco field site.” Catherine also “incorporated SERP work into the practicum that she taught, sparking a kind of interest and enthusiasm among students who want to make a difference that they hunger for but find little of in the typical academic environment.” Suzanne admires that Catherine “does what is takes to get work she thinks is important done well” and “is fundamentally inclusive in the way she lives her professional life.” Exemplifying her dedication to their school district partners, Catherine has been “willing to work with colleagues and their students with other interests (such as school coherence, or reading assessment) to create more coherence in the body of work [done] with the district…[and] to respond to school districts without hesitation, flying to New York or San Francisco to talk to district leaders or teachers.” Noting that Catherine “never hesitates to put her ideas out there in their most unvarnished form,” Suzanne recalls her colleague’s frustration with NRC committee members, who were, in her view, missing the point during a very serious discussion about student engagement-she said, “Engaging students isn’t that hard. You can just hand them a porn magazine.” When asked to capture Catherine’s essence and nature, Suzanne cites Catherine’s stockings as “one obvious symbol of ever-present light-heartedness” and illustrative of “an element of fun in Catherine that makes her delightful to work with.” Suzanne explains that her colleague and friend “is who she is, and she really never tries to be anyone else. And that makes her one of the most enjoyable people” she knows.

Dr. Robert Selman

Recruited more than 25 years ago by the then Acting Dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Dr. Catherine Snow, to conduct research on the prevention of mental illness in children, Dr. Robert Selman recalls his experiences working and teaching with his long-time colleague and friend. Assuming responsibility for a human development course in need of redesign, Robert recalls working collaboratively with Catherine to change and then teach the course so that it was “both a rigorous and humane experience for their new doctoral students.” Describing another shared experience in “a rather officious class where [their] advanced doctoral students were making formal presentations,” Robert explains that he and Catherine were seated on opposite sides of the room. All of a sudden, she turned around and tried to mouth a message to him without disrupting the presentations. Frustrated when he could not decipher her words, Catherine, who Robert notes “can sometimes curse like a sailor,” expressed her frustration by giving a very large stage whisper, “We got the f—— grant.” Robert recalls that all the students’ heads turned, but adds that they “all know and love her so much [that] no one was shocked, just surprised.” Adding that Catherine is “a polyglot, [who is] conversant in many diverse languages, and has a deep and abiding vocabulary,” Robert explains that she “is quite capable of finding the exact right word for a situation or action that is needed [and that] often it is a word that no one else has heard much of or about.” Robert cites fungible (i.e., able to replace or be replaced by another identical item) and pusillanimous (i.e., showing a lack of courage or determination) as among her favorite words. Adding that Catherine practically founded the field of “academic language,” Robert explains that words like fungible capture the importance of youth learning academic language vocabulary words. Characterizing her essence and nature as Catherine “the Great,” Robert explains that “in a university filled with highly talented and competent people, [she] stands out for her intelligence, articulateness, and generosity of spirit.” Even though “everyone wants her to do all the heavy lifting” in their school, Robert notes that “she does it with ease, to [their] disbelief.” Noting that Catherine is admired, and by many, loved for being so direct and no nonsense, Robert shares the sentiment of her colleagues, explaining that her “personal and professional lives meld into an exceptional scholar/humanist.”