Faculty Profile

Kristin Gehsmann, EdD

Associate Professor of Education, Coordinator of the Master's in Reading Program

Ed.D. University of Vermont
B.S., M.S. Central Connecticut State University

Dr. Kristin Gehsmann is an Associate Professor of Education and Coordinator of the Master’s in Literacy Concentration at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, VT.  A former elementary school teacher and PreK-12 literacy consultant, Dr. Gehsmann teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy development, assessment, instruction, and intervention.

Dr. Gehsmann conducts her research in culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse communities, often focusing on bringing research-based best practices to scale through ongoing, job-embedded professional development.  Her research also explores ways to address achievement differences between students of different backgrounds.  Some her research has been featured on the “What do we know about the achievement gap?” website of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and has been published in books, peer reviewed journals, blogs, and newspapers. 

Dr. Gehsmann enjoys working with graduate and undergraduate students on their own research.  For example, in the summer of 2014, she worked with Shelby Knudson, class of 2015, on a project entitled, Narrowing the Literacy Achievement Gap: Increasing Third and Fourth Grade Boys’ Motivation to Read. This project was one of 60 selected from a field of over 500 to be featured in the Council for Undergraduate Research’s “Posters on the Hill” award celebration in Washington, DC. She is currently working with Megan Murray, Class of 2018, on a project entitled, The Impact of a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury on College Students’ Reading, Writing, and Spelling: A Study of Common Challenges and Possible Accommodations.  

Dr. Gehsmann is active in local and regional education policy, recently serving as a consultant to the Agency of Education in Vermont on a standards revision project and several literacy steering committees throughout New England. Nationally, she advises school districts and educational consortia on “best practices” in literacy assessment, instruction, and intervention.  She currently serves on five editorial review boards: Teacher and Teacher Education; American Journal of Evaluation; Textproject.org; Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties; and the Journal of Literacy Research. Dr. Gehsmann has just completed her second year as Moderator of the Faculty Assembly and Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee at Saint Michael’s College. 



Dr. Gehsmann’s research interests and projects reflect her commitment to better understanding the development of reading proficiency as well as instructional techniques that accelerate the growth and achievement of all readers, especially those experiencing reading difficulties. She is also interested in better understanding how assessment can more readily be used to inform instruction. 

Dr. Gehsmann’s research projects represent the intersection of four primary areas of study: 1. teacher education/professional development; 2. reading intervention; 3. assessments and measurements; and 4. reading-related eye movement. Implications for practice, research, teacher education/professional development, and policy are woven throughout each project. A summary of current projects follows:

Teacher Education/Professional Development

Dr. Gehsmann is currently working to revise two textbooks that are used in both undergraduate and graduate reading/language arts methods courses. The first book, Teaching Reading and Writing: The Developmental Approach (PreK-8) (Gehsmann & Templeton; Pearson), will be available in print and a fully enhanced e-text by the end of 2018. The digital book will include links to additional readings, teaching/learning activities, and videos of exemplary lessons. A full website of resources will be developed to support instructors who are teaching with this book. 

The second book, Assessing Readers: A Qualitative Approach to Assessment and Instruction (Flippo & Gehsmann; Routledge/Taylor & Francis), will be going into its third edition. This new edition will be completely redesigned and revised to reflect recent research and the current policy environment. A website to support instructors will be created and the text will be available in both digital and print formats. Dr. Gehsmann is the sole author on this revision.  This book is due out in early 2019.

Intervention Studies

During the 2015-2016 school year, Dr. Gehsmann was the co-principal investigator with Dr. Alexandra Spichtig on a randomized control trial study. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of an adaptive, web-based, scaffolded silent reading intervention. Approximately 450 fourth and fifth grade students from an urban school district in the Northeast participated. Matched pairs were created using students’ reading proficiency scores on the Group Reading Assessment Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE; Williams, 2001), and various demographic factors (e.g., grade level, gender, IEP/ESL status, FRPL/nonFRPL). Once the pairs were matched, students were randomly assigned to the treatment (i.e., scaffolded silent reading practice) or the control group (i.e., “business as usual” reading instruction). Measures included assessments of spelling/word knowledge, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and eye movement while reading. Pre-post comparisons indicated that students in the treatment group produced larger gains on assessments of reading proficiency, larger increases in reading rate, and greater declines in eye fixations and regressions. Treatment effects on reading efficiency were greater in less efficient readers, while effects on reading comprehension were larger in more efficient readers. Evidence to support the developmental model of literacy was observed. Two papers about this study are currently under review.

In a related study, Dr. Gehsmann and her colleagues examined the effects of scaffolded silent reading practice on the reading-related eye movements of fourth and fifth grade students (Gehsmann, Spichtig, Pascoe, & Ferrara). Four measures of reading efficiency were used: reading rate, fixations and regressions per 100 words, and fixation duration. Random assignment divided the 196 students paired using the abovementioned matching technique and separated them into treatment and control groups, also following the protocol described in the previous study. Students in the treatment group completed, on average, about 100 lessons that involved reading text through a moving window that travels across lines of text and down the page at a student’s individualized reading rate. The reading was followed by several comprehension questions. The intervention totaled about 24.5 hours of scaffolded reading practice. Students in both groups increased in proficiency during the school year. Significantly larger improvements in reading efficiency measures (i.e., reading rate, fixations, and regressions) were observed in the treatment group. These results suggest scaffolded silent reading practice can help students become more efficient readers. A paper about this study will be presented at the European Conference of Eye Movement in Wuppertal, Germany in August of 2017. 

In another intervention study, Dr. Gehsmann and her colleagues (Pascoe, Spichtig, & Gehsmann) examined a national dataset of students who completed 80 or more of these adaptive, web-based scaffolded silent reading lessons during the 2015-2016 school year. In this sample, there were 55,241 students from 1,269 schools in the US. Of these, 12,121 were in grades 3-5 (elementary school), 27,748 were in grades 6-8 (middle school), and 15,372 were in grades 9-12 (high school). Examining reading rate data for this sample indicated nearly 2/3 of the middle school students and 78% of high school students were in the lowest two reading quartiles at the beginning of the year. The percentage of student with below grade level comprehension scores did not vary considerably across quartiles. When comparing pre-post data, the research team discovered some interesting patterns. For example, students who read very slowly yet could demonstrate comprehension, the “plodders” as we called them, increased their reading rates even when they practiced with more complex text, but practice in these texts did not produce the expected gains in vocabulary and comprehension. The “skimmers,” students who read very quickly and demonstrated poor comprehension at the onset of the study, benefitted from slowing down their reading rate in complex texts. When they did, they made significant improvements in vocabulary and comprehension. These results suggest the need to consider students’ reading rate when matching texts to readers and the importance of monitoring students’ rates of reading as well. Two papers concerning these findings are currently under review. 

Assessments and Measurements

Assessments of developmental word knowledge, also called developmental spelling assessments or spelling inventories, are commonly used to understand students’ orthographic knowledge and to determine their stages of spelling and literacy development. While relatively easy to administer, developmental spelling assessments can be time consuming to score and are prone to human error in both the scoring and the interpretation of results. The primary purpose of this study was to develop a valid and reliable online version of the Elementary Spelling Inventory (ESI) (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2016), making the assessment more efficient and accessible, and the results more reliable for teachers and scholars alike. 

This preliminary study proceeded in two phases: one to establish the reliability of the online assessment; and two, to establish its validity. Importantly, we determined the online tool to be reliable and valid for use with students in grades 5-8. A paper about our findings is scheduled to appear in the next issue of Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice (Vol. 66) (Gehsmann, Tousley, & Spichtig). 

To extend this line of research, Dr. Gehsmann and her colleagues are currently developing and piloting online versions of the Primary and Upper Spelling Inventories (Bear et al., 2016), as well as creating alternative forms for grades 1-6. In the next couple of years, they hope to create an adaptive, web-based spelling inventory that can be used in K-12 and beyond. These tools will make it easier for teachers to plan developmentally responsive word study instruction, and enable researchers to collect information about students’ word knowledge and stages of spelling/literacy development in large scale research studies. Responses to presentations of this work at international conferences has been overwhelmingly positive by scholars and teachers alike.

The term “word study” connotes an approach to teaching phonics, spelling, and vocabulary that is interactive, hands-on, and constructivist in nature. Until now, the characteristics that differentiate word study instruction from traditional phonics, spelling, and vocabulary instruction have not been systematically examined. Recognizing that word knowledge is the bedrock upon which children’s fluent and meaningful interactions with texts rests, Dr. Gehsmann and her colleague, Dr. Donald Bear, endeavored to create a valid and reliable classroom observation tool (COT) for word study instruction. They envisioned the tool could be used to measure the effects of professional development, the degree to which various aspects of word study instruction are implemented, and/or as a coaching tool. The resulting COT was published by Pearson in 2014 (Gehsmann & Bear) along with an indicator guide (Gehsmann & Bear, 2014), and the training modules used to establish reliability and validity (Gehsmann, 2014). Moving forward, it will be valuable to use this COT and the online spelling inventories to determine which of its 12 indicators are most closely associated with high levels of spelling and reading achievement. A paper documenting the development of this COT is in preparation. Two papers have already been presented at the Literacy Research Association’s annual conference (Gehsmann, 2015; 2016).

The final study in this category compared the construct of “reading proficiency” across five commonly used spelling/reading assessments and one math assessment: The Group Reading Assessment Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE) (Williams, 2001); Insight (Taylor Associates, Inc., 2015); the Elementary Spelling Inventory (ESI) (Bear et al., 2016); Visagraph (Taylor Associates, Inc., 2009; Spichtig et al., 2016); and the Smarter Balanced Literacy and Math tests (SBAC, 2016). The study included the spring 2016 scores of 249 students from an urban school district in the Northeast. All correlations were significant (p < .001), including correlations between embedded motivation measures (self-efficacy and interest), which are not reported here. 

The correlation between the GRADE total standard score and the SBAC English Language Arts (ELA) scale score was strong (r = .797). Stronger correlations included the Insight proficiency index and the GRADE standard score (r = .839); the correlation between the Insight proficiency index and the SBAC ELA scale score was only slightly less strong (r = .834). Reading rate measures and spelling inventory scores were more strongly correlated with three reading proficiency measures than with each other, which was unexpected, but several students “topped out” on the ESI, suggesting a more adaptive spelling inventory may have produced different results. Surprisingly, a strong correlation was found between the SBAC ELA and SBAC Math scores (r = .807), calling into question the degree to which reading skills contribute to math skills, or vice versa. This finding warrants closer examination. 

Importantly, all of these assessments require varying amounts to time to administer, ranging ten minutes to three days, and they require different levels of training and resources, both human and financial. Each assessment also varies in terms of its format, focus, and resulting reports, yet the correlation coefficients suggest some underlying common factors that contribute to reading proficiency regardless of the domain of literacy assessed. Implications for policy and practice are discussed in a paper which is currently under review.

Reading-Related Eye Movement 

In the spring of 2016, Dr. Gehsmann led a small team of researchers who aimed to better understand the relationships among students’ orthographic knowledge, reading achievement, and four measures of reading efficiency: reading rate, fixations and regressions per 100 words, and fixation duration (Gehsmann, Tousley, Spichtig, Pasco, & Ferrara). The participants included 273 fourth and fifth grade students (ages ~ 10 and 11) from six elementary schools in an urban school district in the Northeast.  Orthographic knowledge was assessed using the Elementary Spelling Inventory (ESI), an assessment that classifies students into five distinct stages of spelling and literacy development based on students’ attempts to spell 25 intentionally selected words. Eye movement recordings were collected using Visagraph (Taylor Associates, 2009), a low-cost recording system that uses goggles fitted with infrared emitters and sensors to measure corneal reflections while students read standardized 100-word passages followed by comprehension questions.  

In this sample, eye movement measures differed significantly across the stages of development, with the upper stages being associated faster reading rates, fewer fixations and regressions per word, and shorter fixation durations (p < .001).  The results also demonstrate a strong relationship among orthographic knowledge, reading efficiency (as measured by eye movement), and reading proficiency.  While the reciprocal relationship between orthographic knowledge and reading achievement is well-established, this is the first known demonstration of the relationship between these two measures and oculomotor efficiency across multiple stages of literacy development.  Future studies will include students from a greater span of grades and ages.  Having access to an adaptive, online spelling assessment will also be beneficial.  Findings from this study will be presented at the European Conference of Eye Movement in Wuppertal, Germany in the summer of 2017.

This same research team examined the relationship between reading efficiency and the academic reading achievement of 322 fourth and fifth grade students.  Eye movement data were collected using Visagraph (Taylor Associates, 2009). These results were compared to three standardized measures of academic reading: The Group Reading Assessment Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE; Williams, 2001), the Smarter Balanced English Language Arts assessment (SBAC), and Insight (Taylor Associates, Inc., 2015).  Intercorrelation matrix indicated weak (r < .50) to moderately strong (r > .60) correlations between efficiency and academic reading measures.  Apart from fixation duration, these correlations were stronger in grade five.  Apart from reading rate, these correlations were weak in grade 4.  These findings suggest reading efficiency plays an increasing role in the reading achievement of fourth and fifth grade students. Future analyses of these data will include spelling inventory data to better determine the developmental nature of reading efficiency.  A paper about this study will be presented at the European Conference of Eye Movement in August of 2017.

2015 Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), “Posters on the Hill” Award: Faculty mentor to Shelby Knudson, Class of 2015.  Project title: Narrowing the Literacy Achievement Gap: Increasing Third and Fourth Grade Boys’ Motivation to Read.

2011 CODiE Award Recipient: Best Professional Development Solution for The Words Their Way™ Online Workshop.

2004-2007 Stafford Scholar Fellowship, National Institute on Leadership, Disability, and Students Placed at Risk, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 

Dr. Kristin Gehsmann, Associate Professor of Education and Coordinator of the Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) Literacy Concentration, presented three papers at international conferences this year: Teacher Talk: The Engine of Development at a preconference institute on best practices in word study instruction at the International Literacy Association’s annual conference in Boston, MA, and two papers at the Literacy Research Association’s annual conference in Nashville, TN: Establishing a Valid and Reliable Online Assessment of Developmental Spelling (Gehsmann, Spichtig, & Tousley), and Developing a Valid and Reliable Classroom Observation Tool for Word Study Instruction (Gehsmann & Bear).  The classroom observation tool has recently been published by Pearson (Gehsmann & Bear).

Dr. Gehsmann has a paper entitled, “Validating an online assessment of developmental word knowledge in grades 5-8” (Gehsmann, Spichtig, & Tousley) due out in the next edition of the journal, Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice.  She also has an entry in the forthcoming edition of The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (2018; Wiley & Sons, Inc.).  The title of this piece is, “Motivating and engaging vocabulary development.”  Three additional papers will be presented by Dr. Gehsmann and her collaborator, Dr. Alexandra Spichtig from Taylor Associates, Inc., at the European Conference on Eye Movement in Wuppertal, Germany in August.

Additionally, Dr. Gehsmann has worked with local and regional educators to bring “best practices” in literacy instruction to their schools and districts.  Most notably, she gave a keynote address entitled, “Introduction to Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (PreK-8),” in the South Burlington (VT) School District, and several workshops and demonstration lessons to the elementary level faculty in the Berlin School District in Berlin, CT.  Dr. Gehsmann has also wrapped up an 18-month longitudinal study in six elementary schools in an urban school district in the Northeast.  Several papers and presentations of this research are in progress and four are under review.  Currently, Dr. Gehsmann is working with Meg Murray, Class of 2018, on a research project entitled, The Impact of a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury on College Students’ Reading, Writing, and Spelling: A Study of Common Challenges and Possible Accommodations.

Dr. Gehsmann served as a consultant to the Vermont Agency of Education on their revision of the standards for the Reading/English Language Arts Specialist Endorsement.  She also served on five editorial review boards during the 2016-2017 academic year: Teacher and Teacher Education; American Journal of Evaluation; Textproject.org; Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties; and the Journal of Literacy Research.  Dr. Gehsmann’s essay, “In life, literature, and politics, it’s good to know a little less and understand a little more,” was included in M. St. Louis (ed.) collection of essays, The Power of Community and Ethics of Justice (2017; Saint Michael’s College). She also participated in a panel discussion on these topics during the College’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy in January/February. Dr. Gehsmann has just completed her second year as Moderator of the Faculty Assembly and Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee in June of 2017. 

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