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Sophie C. Degener


Associate Professor, Reading & Language
Director of Reading Program

Programs/Classes Taught:

Dr. Degener enjoys working with undergraduate and graduate students at different stages of their teaching careers and strives to balance practical experiences in literacy instruction and assessment with a solid understanding of literacy theory and research. She teaches classes in the following programs:

1. Reading Program, M.Ed.

  • RLR-501, Teaching Beginning Literacy
  • RLR-518, Leadership and Staff Development in Reading
  • RLR-593, Seminar in Reading Research

2. Elementary Education, B.A. & M.A.T.

  • RLL-220, Children's Literature and the Learning Environment
  • RLL-478, Literacy Methods I
  • RLL-479, Literacy Methods II
  • RLL-538, Literacy Methods, Grades K-6

3. Reading & Language, Ed.D.

  • RLD-601, Research in Early Literacy

Areas of Expertise:

Family Literacy, Early Literacy, Differentiated Instruction, Balanced Literacy, Pre-service literacy instruction


Dr. Sophie Degener joined the faculty of the reading and language program at National Louis University in 2006. She came back to NLU after receiving her MAT here, because of NLU's dedication to the field of education and its emphasis on excellent teaching. She teaches classes in beginning reading, reading research, and literacy methods to undergraduates, masters students and doctoral students. She is also the director of the reading program. Her research interests include family literacy, primary literacy instruction, and teacher education.

Prior to her work as a professor, she taught in the Evanston Public Schools. Her work with readers of all abilities and their families has motivated her interest in helping educators understand the unique needs and circumstances of every student in order to design instruction, using high quality materials, that best meets those needs. She does professional development work with local schools to help teachers and administrators understand and implement balanced literacy instruction that reflects current understandings of best practice, especially in differentiated instruction, guided reading, and writing. 

Dr. Degener is Associate Editor for the Illinois Reading Council Journal, co-editing and writing the quarterly Professional Development column. At NLU, she has worked with colleagues across NLU to develop the Adaptive Cycles of Teaching, the re-designed B.A. Elementary Education curriculum. With her colleagues, she has conducted, presented, and published research on the effectiveness of the program, the process of revising curriculum, as well as the early teaching careers of program graduates. With Jennifer Berne, she has conducted research, made numerous conference presentations, and published books and articles on the topic of differentiated reading instruction. Her publications include the following: 

Books and Book Chapters

Berne, J., & Degener, S. (2015). The one-on-one reading and writing conference: Working with students on complex texts. New York: Teachers College Press.

Berne, J. & Degener, S.  (2012).  Strategic reading groups: Guiding readers in the middle grades.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Berne, J. & Degener, S.  (2010).  Responsive guided reading in grades K-5:Simplifying small group instruction.  New York: Guilford Press.

Degener, S. (2009).  Using literature to build home and school connections.  In Wooten, D. & B. Cullinan (Eds.), Invitation to read.  Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Degener, S.  (2000).  Making sense of critical pedagogy in adult literacy education.  In Comings, J., B. Garner, & C. Smith (Eds.), The annual review of adult learning and literacy.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Freedman, R., Degener, S., Salmon, D., & Phillips, M. (2014). Reflective pathways in teacher education: Adaptive cycles of teaching. Conference proceedings from the World Literacies Summit, Oxford, England.

Freedman, R., Salmon, D., Degener, S., & Phillips, M. (2015). Using teaching videos in the Adaptive Cycles of Teaching. In Ortlieb, E., L. Shanahan, & M. McVee (Eds.) Video reflection in literacy teacher education and development: Lessons from research and practice. Bradford, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

Purcell-Gates, V., Degener, S., Jacobson, E., & Soler, M.  (2009).  Impact of authentic adult literacy instruction on adult literacy practices.  In Fletcher-Campbell, F., J. Soler, & G. Reid (eds.), Approaching difficulties in literacy development: Assessment, pedagogy and programmes.  London: Sage Publications. 

Purcell-Gates, V., Jacobson, E. and Degener, S.  (2004).  Print literacy development: Uniting cognitive and social practice theories.  Cambridge, MA: HarvardUniversity Press.

Peer Reviewed Journals

Berne, J.I, & Degener, S.C. (2015).  What’s next for guided reading?  English Leadership Quarterly, 37(3), 3-5

Berne, J., Cummins, S., Degener, S., & Quiroa, R. (Summer 2011). Implementing the common core standards. Illinois Reading Council Journal, 39(3), 60-63.

Degener, S., & Berne, J. (in press). Complex questions promote complex thinking. Reading Teacher.

Degener, S., & Berne, J.  (2014).  Speaking and listening during small group reading instruction. Voices from the Middle, 22(1), 43-48.

Purcell-Gates, V., Degener, S., & Jacobson, E. (2002). Adult literacy instruction: Degrees of authenticity and collaboration as described by practitioners. Journal of Literacy Research, 33(4), 571-593.

Purcell-Gates, V., Degener, S., Jacobson, E., & Soler, M.  (2002).  Impact of authentic adult literacy instruction on adult literacy practices.  Reading Research Quarterly, 37(1), 70-92.

Smith, B., Roderick, M., and Degener, S.  (2005).  Extended learning time and student accountability: Assessing outcomes and options for elementary and middle grades.  Educational Administration Quarterly, 41(2), 195-236.



2006 Ed.D. Language and Literacy Harvard University Graduate School of Education

1990 M.A.T. Elementary Education National-Louis University

1988 B.A., Cum Laude, English University of Vermont

Research and Interests:

Dr. Degener is currently conducting research in Chicago Public Schools, investigating how pre-service methods classes prepare teachers for their work in urban school settings. In addition, she has just received a seed grant to begin working with NLU freshman and sophomores who wish to be teachers, supporting their understanding of and engagement with reading and writing practices.

Contact Information:

Sophie C. Degener 
Associate Professor, Reading and Language 



NATIONAL LOUIS UNIVERSITY | 5202 Old Orchard Road, #457, Skokie, Illinois 60076


    NLU’s Chicago campus on South Michigan Avenue occupies five floors of the historic Peoples Gas Building. This landmark building, across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago and Grant Park, is easily accessible by train, bus and car and is surrounded by restaurants, parking lots/garages and shops.

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    Opened in the summer of 2006, NLU North Shore at Skokie is a state-of-the-art modern campus located just off the Edens Expressway near the Old Orchard Shopping Center. The campus includes 44 wireless classrooms equipped with high-tech media equipment; four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, including a walk-in lab in the library; six conference rooms; a public café for beverages and snacks; a student welcome center; a library for research and study; and multiple, comfortable student lounge areas.

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    Located just minutes from the East-West Tollway (I-88), NLU Lisle features 42 wireless classrooms equipped with high-tech media equipment; four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, including a separate walk-in lab in the library; a café for beverages and snacks; a student welcome center; a library for research and study; conference rooms; and six comfortable student lounge areas with wireless access.

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    Located in one of Chicago's major northwest suburbs, the newly renovated NLU Wheeling includes 20 classrooms with high-tech media equipment, four conference rooms, four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, large student lounge areas with wireless capabilities and interactive video capabilities, and an extensive research library. The site also houses the university library research collection.

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    Established in 1988 and located in one of Tampa's major business districts, NLU's Florida Regional Center serves students in 13 counties in central Florida. In addition to its classrooms, the National Louis University Tampa Regional Center features a computer lab, student lounges, and conference room.

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