March 2021 Spotlight, Chenyi (Daniel) Zhang, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Chenyi Zhang (Czhang15@gsu.edu) as our member in the spotlight. Chenyi (Daniel) is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, The College of Education & Human Development at Georgia State University. His recent works examine the interplay between different types of teachers’ literacy instruction and children’s early literacy skills (e.g., early decoding and writing skills).

1)What drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? who was an important mentor to you in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field?

My research interest of early literacy may be traced back to my childhood. Because of the lack of childcare in Chinese rural areas, my mother, a middle-school language art teacher, often brought me to her school and let me sit outside her classroom while teaching. I enjoyed observing her interacting with her students and felt that being able to read a “thick-book” without any pictures in it was cool. Along with my early learning experiences, I recognized that early literacy is both developmental and socio-cultural after I completed several research projects about minority parents’ perceptions of school climate and parental involvement during my master study at University of Missouri-Columbia (with Dr. Johnetta Morrison and Dr. Jean Ispa). During my doctoral study years at Purdue University, my advisor Dr. Karen Diamond and Dr. Douglas Powell guided me to investigate the interplay between children’s literacy development and teachers’ instruction with consideration of their socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds. I was very lucky to receive mentorship from several senior researchers of psycholinguistics and early childhood education after I joined Georgia State University, such as Dr. Gary Bingham, Dr. Cammie McBride, Dr. Hiro Yoshikawa, and Dr. Barbara Wasik. They helped me further develop an interdisciplinary perspective to use early literacy as a proxy to capture the uniqueness of literacy development in different cultural groups and in different language systems.

I hope young scholars and early career scholars can actively seek research advices from senior researchers in the field. Be bold and contact the researchers if you have question about their articles, want to know more about their research, or to communicate about how much you enjoy reading their work.  A future collaboration may start from there.

2) A short paragraph describing a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you excited about it. 

Current early literacy theories are mainly developed in the western cultural and linguistic contexts. Research of literacy development in non-English contexts are needed for generating culturally and linguistically appropriate theoretical frameworks for understanding children’s development and providing effective support. My recent research projects examine young children’s early writing development in both English (Zhang, Bingham & Quinn, 2017) and Chinese linguistic contexts (Zhang, et al., 2020). Our research collaboration teams, including researchers from both China and the U.S., detected a unique contribution of early executive functioning and phonological awareness to the emergence of writing skills in both English and Chinese language systems. We are currently investigating how classroom environments in both cultural contexts support children’s early writing development, and how children’s early composing skills reflect developmental, linguistic, and social cultural factors in both countries. I also developed a professional development intervention of early writing instructions utilizing teachers’ reflections and classroom routine activities (Zhang & Bingham, 2019) and investigated the nature of young children’s interest in writing behaviors (Zhang & Quinn, 2020). I hope to develop a holistic early writing program that supports teachers’ professional growth in culturally and linguistically relevant teaching in a manner that promotes children’s interest and motivation toward literacy learning.

3) Any thoughts about your experiences with the Asian Caucus?

I really appreciate the webinars that the Asian Caucus provided when I was on job market. Senior researchers shared their insights and experiences about onsite interview techniques such as how to develop a research “story,” and how to figure out the working culture in a department during an onsite interview. I hope similar webinars can be organized for members at varying professional stages. For example, developing plan of study for students, developing research collaborations for early careers, and developing grant writing plan for middle career. If there is anything I can support, please reach out to me.

4) Any upcoming presentations?

Our research team has submitted a symposium proposal for 2021 SRCD about studying writing development in different linguistic contexts and a symposium proposal for studying the COVID-19 impact on home learning environment and parental stress in different cultural contexts (i.e., Israel, the U.S and China).  

5) Weblinks you recommended?

Please take a look at our recent effort in supporting children’s development in urban context:

Please consider joining this new research association for studying literacy in Asia:

https://ww5.psy.cuhk.edu.hk/arwa/

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