Home » How Leigh Hall’s Partnership with TEDx & Thought-Leader Changed Students’ Lives

How Leigh Hall’s Partnership with TEDx & Thought-Leader Changed Students’ Lives

Leigh Hall’s journey to one of the world’s biggest stages started when she noticed a difference in how kids talk about themselves. Her perception of how reading instruction fails students equipped her to take her message to those who most need it. However, her journey didn’t start on the TEDx platform.

In the late 90s, Leigh Hall was a middle school teacher in Housten, Texas. She earned her Ph.D. in 2005 from Michigan State University and worked at the University of North Carolina until 2017.

Due to her extensive schooling, between 2005-2010, she noticed a subtle shift in how kids talked about themselves as readers. Rather than see themselves as in charge of their reading development, they reflected it all on the teacher.

This mindset left their reading ability up to chance:

“If I get a good teacher, I can read well.”

Instead of taking ownership of their reading development, how the children perceived their control in this crucial development negatively impacted their growth. So, an educator at heart, Leigh Hall, decided to help students redefine their thoughts about themselves. This decision would spark a journey with a struggle she did not fully comprehend at the time.

Leigh Hall Embraced The Challenge Students’ Face As Her Own

As a professor at the University of North Carolina and Associate Professor of Literacy Studies, doing research was a part of Leigh Hall’s job. She had already worked with middle school students who had reading difficulties.

The trend that continued to arise was simple: The students wanted to be better at reading but didn’t want to put themselves out there in an embarrassing way to grow in this area. Instead of considering this issue unresolved and moving on, she allowed her curiosity to take flight.

Leigh Hall wondered how she could design instruction in a way that would address student learning concerns. To engage with the students this way, Leigh had to put aside her Ph.D. mentality and think like her students.
She wanted to teach students how to take that control back within themselves. Teachers work hard to help students with reading, but students can’t move forward unless they take personal responsibility over their own reading.

Now that she had grasped their struggles, Leigh Hall embraced rigorous training to help the kids who had checked out re-engage. To help them track their progress, she made their progress tangible. Ever the teacher, Leigh Hall asked the students to set specific goals for themselves, specifying how they wanted to grow as readers.

“She Tries, So I Try.”

Leigh Hall knew that to read well, the students must possess a good vocabulary. Building off this, improving their vocabulary knowledge became a specific goal. To tie it all together, she reminded them about their goal when she taught the lesson on vocabulary.

Simply paying attention to the students’ needs and responding proactively resulted in profound growth. Many kids said they were willing to do things they wouldn’t have done before because their teacher listened to their needs. One student even said, “She tries, so I try.”

Instead of leaving kids on their own to improve their reading, teachers focused on doing activities with students and developing a reciprocal relationships.

Leigh Hall Powerfully Changes Students’ Lives

Every six weeks or so, students receive their goal sheet. Then, they looked their sheet over and took two steps in response:

  • Refine their goals
  • Assess what they did that helped and what they did that didn’t.

At the end of the study, on average, students gained about two years of vocabulary and comprehension development. In addition, while not every kid could read at or above their grade level, all students improved in their overall reading difficulties.

Doing this hands-on, transforming research in her classroom, making time to analyze the data and write it up, and continuously working with those ideas helped her hone in on her long-term goals.

On average, students gained about two years in their vocabulary and comprehension development.

Continual Work With Ideas Helped Leigh Hall Hone In On Her Mission

Passionate about the change she saw, Leigh Hall wrote up her research and published it in academic journals. She presented at several Academic Research Conferences, including:

  • The Literacy Research Association
  • International Society of Language Studies
  • International Literacy Association

After taking her research to esoteric audiences, Leigh Hall moved on to other things. But, despite her accomplishment, she knew this message needed to be shared with others on a larger scale.

Her research wasn’t just for academic audiences. Presented in the proper format, there was potential to impact students’ lives significantly.

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Leigh Hall Partners With Thought-Leader

One morning, in the fall of 2019, Leigh Hall received an email from Thought-Leader reminding her about the value a TEDx could bring. The email prompted her to challenge herself in a new way. Conducting her research and presenting it in academic spaces was an accomplishment, but she wanted to do more than let the research lie dormant.

“I want more than just academic talks. I need to do something
different not just to reach more people, but to challenge myself.”

Leigh Hall partnered with Thought-Leader that winter and started applying for her TEDx talk in January 2020. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to wait about a year and a half to apply for more in-person events.

However, not one to give up, Leigh Hall landed her talk by October of 2021. With four months to prepare with her team at Thought-Leader, Leigh gave her talk in February of 2022. With over 32 million subscribers on YouTube, TEDx could help take Leigh’s research to the masses.

Due to her hands-on data collection, Leigh Hall offered the TEDx community crucial knowledge: Providing tools for reading, no matter how excellent, is insufficient for adolescents who experience comprehension difficulties.

Rather than push ahead to a result, Leigh stresses how important it is to understand:

  • Where we go wrong
  • How we can fix it

Both of these points require listening to students—they hold crucial information that, if heard and understood, sheds light on why some students become successful readers and others struggle.

How Sharing Advice On The TEDx Stage Helped Leigh Hall Empower Achievable Life Change

Presently, Leigh Hall is a professor at the University of Wyoming and holds the Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chair in Literacy Education. However, Leigh Hall didn’t realize how her choice to earn a literacy education doctorate would positively impact many students.

Leigh Hall’s hard work is forever archived in her recorded TEDx talk, and hundreds of viewers have listened to her discoveries. Not only has she received multiple international awards due to her critical research, but practically, her passion carries on.

Committed to gaining a proper understanding of how to aid students’ reading development took her from:

  • The middle school classroom
  • To academic research conferences
  • To join with the Thought-Leader team to stand on one of the world’s biggest stages.

Due to her hard work, students are now equipped to take ownership of their growth and reading ability. In addition, because of her partnership with Thought-Leader, teachers worldwide now have 24/7 access to her research.

Today, countless lives are changed because one teacher noticed how reading instruction fails students and took the stage to do something about it.


Sarah Rexford
Content Writer
Joelle Cullimore
Marketing Content Manager

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