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A Brief Introduction to Alexander M. Blum
Ph.D.
Founder of Enrich Your Academics

In 2013 I moved to Berkeley to start my Ph.D., program. At the same time, I launched Enrich Your Academics as a creative outlet to translate my research on how the mind makes meaning from stories (e.g., cognition and narrative-comprehension) to practice.

 

I graduated with my PhD in Special Education from the joint doctoral program at University of California, Berkeley (UCB) and San Francisco State University (SFSU) in 2019.There, I trained with Dr. P. David Pearson (UCB), Dr. Pamela Wolfberg (SFSU) , Dr. Mark Wilson (UCB), and Dr. Karen Draney (UCB). More specifically, they taught me how to scientifically examine the intersection of autism, literacy, and comics via quantitative measurement approaches (Item Response Theory).

After graduating in 2019, I continued teaching at San Francisco State University training teachers to work with students on the spectrum in the Graduate School of Education Autism Studies program. Alongside this, I supported an inclusion program in Fremont Unified School District to combat ableism and promote literacy for all.

In 2021 I began my post-doctoral studies at Stanford University-Graduate School of Education, where we coached teachers in executing Graphic Novel Book Clubs as a literacy intervention for students with special needs, particularly those with autism and intellectual disabilities with Dr. Chris Lemons. In these clubs we focused on not only developing inferential thinking skills, but also confidence in thinking as a whole, and sharing those ideas in a variety of modalities.

 

Currently I am building a suite of reading comprehension assessments for Stanford’s Language to Literacy laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Rebecca Silverman and Dr. Jason Yeatman.

 

My work on autism, literacy, and measurement has been featured at different conferences such as the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading (SSSR), American Education Research Association (AERA), and Literacy Research Association (LRA), in addition to peer reviewed scholarly articles such as the Journal of Reading and Writing, Journal of Academic Medicine, The Laryngoscope, and The 37th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2023) Track on Datasets and Benchmarks.  

Throughout these 10 + years, I have continued refining my ability to use my training to help writer's build their narratives. I guide students through a sort of apprenticeship model, where we both are in it together, outlining, organizing, expanding, and of course the challenging process of shortening to a word count. 

Think of it like building a house: We create a blueprint (outline of the chapters in your story), lay some foundation (pour content within each chapter), build the drywall (organize the order and layout of those ideas), and then paint (grammar, style, word choice.) Of course there is more to a building a house than this, but I hope you see where I am coming from : )

I hope that this brief introduction helps clarify where I situate myself within the field and how I may be of help.

Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is founded upon first hand experiences using a lens of access to bridge research to practice through hands on learning, ultimately cultivating an academic identity. Earning my Education Specialist credential and Master’s degree in Special Education from California State University, Los Angeles is the beginning of my journey cultivating relationships in education, and the beginning of my identity as a scholar. My identity as an educator has been informed by experiences as a high school special education teacher, an academic coach for the UC Berkeley Athletic Study Center, a UC Berkeley graduate student instructor, a former San Francisco State University adjunct faculty working with graduate and undergraduate students, along with my post-doctoral studies at Stanford University.
 

While teaching language arts in a special education classroom at Paramount High School, it was evident that there were issues of access, both in terms of material and learning environment. This notion of accessibility is powerful and allowed me to thrive as an academic coach for the UCB football team supporting students in writing. Many of my students struggled to develop an academic identity and had challenges not only accessing the material in class, but the campus community as a whole. In order to promote accessibility, I relied on the principles and practices of individualized instruction that I gained from my teaching credential program. As information became more accessible, their self-esteem went up, along with their academic stamina and identity as a student and scholar.
 

I put my philosophy into practice as a graduate student instructor for an introductory course - Measurement in Education and the Social Sciences-I. Here, I guided and mentored students in completing a hands-on capstone project while teaching elements of measurement philosophy, and practices of item response theory (IRT) and Rasch modeling. Each student created their own survey measuring a construct of their choice and administered it to their population of choice. It was powerful to guide students from conception to fruition, seeing their projects come alive. In addition to cultivating my pedagogical practices by engaging in one-on-one and group settings, I also received insight into the ups and downs of a developing a capstone project, overcoming hurdles, and staying committed, all from the students’ perspective, helping me adjust my pedagogy. I want to use my experiences in this context to help students through other milestone like projects, such as a thesis or dissertation.
 

I took these experiences and applied them to another graduate setting working with credential students in teaching the class Nature of Autism Spectrum at San Francisco State University. This was a powerful experience because this was often the first time many of my students have been exposed to the history and theory that attempts to situate autism. In order to make this class accessible and maximize their learning, I engaged in different teaching contexts. Often, we would open with a class discussion, where I wrote everyone’s opinions on the board, making their voice heard and honored. We would reflect on the readings as they relate to our experiences both inside and outside the classroom, engage in lecture where I taught them about different vantage points used to situate autism, and the evidence-based practices associated with those lenses. But most importantly, we engaged in hands on learning working with students on the spectrum. One of the major assignments is a case portrait of a student on the spectrum where educators are to observe, reflect, and investigate the different facets of the student, through a variety of approaches. This includes observations across different contexts, interviews with parents and other professionals, collecting and examining artifacts from the student, and using these vantage points to get a complete picture of the student. At the same time, they are applying theory to situate those observations, interviews, and artifacts to help connect theory to practice.
 

During my post-doctoral studies I learned a great deal from partnering with local school districts in executing socially valid book clubs and how to promote cognition. Often the students we worked with were left with literal comprehension strategies of who, what, where kind of questions. We wanted to challenge this by promoting inferential thinking, raising expectations and believe in the great potential these students have. Throughout this grant we created customized lesson plans, graphic organizers, and implemented researched based practices. More specifically, we implemented an inference theory I developed at Berkeley called Integrative-Inferential Reasoning (Blum, Mason, Kim, & Pearson, 2020).


Currently I am making a suite of assessments using the principles and practices of Item Response Theory for reading comprehension for the Rapid Online Assessment of Reading Project (ROAR)  with Dr. Rebecca Silverman and Dr. Jason Yeatman as a Post-Doctoral scholar.


My journey as an educator has shown me the power of building a professional learning community among students, faculty, and families.

Contact

(310) 804-8333

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