Literacy and Learning Division


The Literacy and Learning Division collaborates with schools, families, and communities, using research and community knowledge, to support the learning, development, and literacy of all young children and their families. 

Text that reads: We create literacy and learning opportunities rooted in a child’s intersectional identity. Through this approach, we consider both systemic and personal factors that impact children’s learning.

What We Do

The Literacy & Learning Division strives to:

  • Address systemic and interpersonal inequities in literacy & learning instruction
  • Help families, caregivers, and educators to support early learning through strengths-based approaches, with a focus on play, relationships, and intentional learning opportunities
  • Extend our office's legacy of enhancing early childhood special education

Who We Are

Caitlin Forbes Spear, PhD
Director of Literacy and Learning

Caitlin received her doctorate in special education from the University of Oregon, followed by a post-doctoral research appointment at the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy at the Ohio State University. Caitlin’s research and practice interests focus on early childhood and early elementary learning, around the topics of special education, positive racial and disability identity, and language and literacy development.  She brings a strong set of analytic, data and project management skills to her research and evaluation work, including a diverse methodological background across single-case, qualitative, and quantitative methodologies. A former special education teacher, Caitlin also has significant education content-expertise, including a focus on early childhood special education, educator training and professional development, culturally relevant pedagogy, and measuring complex classroom processes.



Jennifer Briggs, PhD
Literacy and Learning Specialist, Literacy and Learning Division

Jenn received her doctorate in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh before beginning her role as a research and evaluation manager with the Evaluation & Research Team. Jenn’s research and practice interests focus on early childhood learning and development around the topics of social justice and equity, particularly as they relate to teacher training and practice. She brings a strong background in mixed-methodological research, with a particular focus on qualitative methods and translating research into practice. As a former special education coach and practitioner, Head Start advocate, teacher educator, and parent, Jenn brings multiple perspectives to inform her research and practice.



The Literacy and Learning Division focuses on supporting the adults who impact children’s learning. We offer training, consultation, coaching, and other individualized supports to adults across an array of settings. These include, but are not limited to, schools/districts, early childhood centers, families, and community-based organizations.

We are committed to creating lasting relationships with our partners as we work to address both the personal and systemic impacts on a child’s learning environment. LLD is particularly focused on centering social justice & equity, and creating services and supports that designed that foster a child’s intersectional identity.

Programming Examples

Service Models 

  • Professional Development: Does your staff or team need support in a certain area? Let us help! We can customize professional development workshops for short- or long-term training opportunities to meet your PD needs.
  • Consultation: Our consultation model is focused on understanding both the personal and systemic factors that impact a child’s learning and identity through an equity lens. Towards this purpose, we work closely with partners to understand their needs and support professional development and practice.
  • Coaching: The LLD team has years of experience supporting and coaching teachers and adults in practice. Our approach is rooted in implementation science, and spans multiple settings including special education and literacy instruction.

How can we help you support children’s literacy and learning?

Our customizable approach allows partners to select or combine service models to meet program needs.
Only need a few hours of professional development? No problem!
Looking for more comprehensive supports? Select any or all of the services above to customize a service model that is just right for you!

Programming Examples

Centering Race in the Classroom: Color evasive practices are frequently observed in education, beginning in early childhood and continuing through the later grades. We work with teachers across grade levels to center race in their practice, and understand the importance of seeing and knowing their student’s full humanity.

Pictures Books as Tools for Talking About Race: As early as 6 months old, children begin to recognize race. Picture books are an excellent way to begin having conversations with children about these differences. Our team will help you both select high quality books and understand the ways in which you can use books to intentionally bring race to the center of children’s learning. Check out our book drive list here!

High Quality Literacy Instruction: There are boundless curriculum and practices available to support reading instruction, but at its core, what do students need to learn how to read? We work to support reading instruction by encouraging educators to center student and family knowledge and identity in instructional practices through an equity lens. Learn more about the ways we're supporting high quality literacy instruction in Pittsbrugh!

Don’t see what you’re looking for? The Literacy and Learning Division can work with you to customize services to meet your program needs. Contact us today!

Contact: Caitlin Forbes Spear, Director of Literacy and Learning