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Scholar and Emmy Nominee Alice Wilder Receives Miriam Goldberg Research Prize

Every recipient of the Miriam Levine Goldberg Research Prize has to meet the standards of academic rigor and excellence that the late professor emeritus set for her own students. But few recipients have had as great an impact on children so early in their career as the1999 award recipient-Alice Wilder.

Outside Teachers College, Wilder (Ed.D. Educational Psychology, 1998) is best known as the Director of Research and Development for Blue's Clues, an educational television show for pre-school students that airs on the Nickelodeon network. Wilder and follow TC alumna Angela Santomero (M.A. Developmental Psychology, 1995) are Emmy nominees for Outstanding Writing in a Children's Series. (The Emmys will be awarded as Inside TC goes to press.)

Dr. Ruth Gottesman, a TC Trustee and a student of Professor Goldberg, told Wilder: "As a grandmother whose grandchildren are hooked on Blue's Clues, I'm glad to meet you."

Gottesman, who is one of the founders of the Goldberg Prize, said that Wilder received the award based on the quality of her dissertation on The Effectiveness of an Instructional Program on Theme Generation in Higher Order comprehension of Narrative for Students with Learning Disabilities.

Gottesman explained that the award was established to honor "Miriam's extraordinary and outstanding contributions to TC as a scholar, teacher, mentor, advocate and advisor to thousands of students."

TC President Arthur Levine said that Goldberg "was one of the early women on this faculty who became major, major figures in academe. I can't think of a more wonderful thing to do to honor her with a scholarship."

"She left huge shoes to fill. Size 37," he said.

Beaming with pleasure, Wilder stepped up to the microphone and declared: "I am so honored to be here with all of you. I hope I can live up to those size 37 shoes."

Developing Blue's Clues at the same time she was working on her dissertation added to the normal pressure doctoral students face. But Wilder insisted: "Research is one of the things I love to do. And my dissertation meant so much to me."

For her study, she worked with 90 inner-city middle school students on comprehending and developing themes.

She said, for example, that she used the fable of King Midas and how his touch turned items into gold as a class exercise. The students were asked to identify the central character, describe his problem, explain the moral of the story-that being greedy was bad. The students are later asked to apply the moral to a real-life situation.

The goal of her program was simple. Junior high-school students are supposed to be more analytical than elementary school children. But often the students don't understand that there is supposed to be a form and a structure to a story, Wilder said.

The conclusion of her study was that learning disabled students can learn theme generation with the proper instruction and guidance. Dr. Susan Sacks, a senior lecturer at Barnard College and another founder of the Goldberg award, said: "Miriam would have loved this."

Wilder's mentor, Joanna P. Williams, Professor of Psychology and Education, said that Wilder is an active scholar who has made nine major presentations before prestigious organizations, like the American Educational Research Association and the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading.

The former student and her professor have discussed converting Wilder's research into a professional development program for teachers.

In the meantime, Wilder has encouraged teachers at the three schools that were part of her study to continue the program. "Designing a curriculum and then seeing it applied was probably the most challenging but rewarding experience in my life," she said.

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