David Dickinson (2023)

Emeritus Professor
Vanderbilt University


david.dickinson [at] vanderbilt.edu

Curriculum Vitae: 

Biographical Statement

Professor Dickinson was the Margaret Cowan Chair in the Department of Teaching at Vanderbilt University until December, 2020. He received his B.A. from Oberlin College and then taught elementary school for five years in Philadelphia while earning his Master’s degree and teaching certificate from Temple University.  While teaching African-American children from working class homes, he became interested in the role of language in literacy. He pursued that interest as he worked on his doctorate at Harvard's Graduate School of Education under the supervision of Courtney Cazden and Susan Carey, who was then at M.I.T. 

In 1987 Dickinson and Catherine Snow launched a longitudinal study of the home and classroom language experiences of children from low-income homes that followed children from age three to grade four. Other teams followed these children through high school. He led the team that observed classrooms and collected, transcribed, and coded 146,000 utterances. Those data provided the first detailed description of language practices in preschool classrooms and supplied evidence of associations between preschool book reading and informal teacher-child conversations and grade four vocabulary and reading comprehension.

He and Judith Schickedanz co-authored, Opening the World of Learning, a comprehensive curriculum for four-year olds, and conducted two studies examining how the curriculum shaped language use and affected children’s language and literacy learning. Both studies revealed positive impacts. The second intervention was led by Dickinson and Deborah Rowe. Using repeated regression discontinuity methods, they found moderate positive effects on language and literacy of monolingual and bilingual children. Secondary analyses of language data from these studies provided a detailed description of the effects of classroom context and activities on language use. Analyses of child assessment data yielded nuanced description of the interwoven emergence of multiple language competencies, phonological awareness, decoding and comprehension from the end of preschool through grade one. Subsequently, he worked with Roberta Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, graduate students and classroom teachers to develop and study the effects of games designed to help preschool children learn new vocabulary.

During his career, Dickinson contributed to educational improvement efforts by speaking widely and engaging in major projects. While at Education Development Center, he helped create the Early Childhood Generalist assessment for the National Board for Professional Development Standards. He helped the National Association for the Education of Young Children revise its certification methods, leading the team that created a new standard related to curriculum quality. For five years, while at Vanderbilt University, he led a team in Abu Dhabi that developed a demonstration preschool and a Cycle One primary grade school with 1200 students.

Throughout his career Dickinson advocated for increasing the intellectual challenge of preschool classrooms and sought to improve teaching practice in ways that result in enhanced learning. He has authored over 140 articles and chapters, co-authored Beginning Literacy with Language, Connecting through Talk, From Words to Wisdom, andBridges to Literacy.