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    Manners as a Learning Foundation

    by Mary Van Bibber
     | Aug 04, 2015

    ThinkstockPhotos-79073061_300pxA teacher—particularly one in early education—is teaching more than reading, writing, arithmetic. We know it is simply human nature that we are born selfish, self-centered, and egocentric individuals, and it is a teacher’s job to gently guide students from believing that they are the center of all things and to put others’ interests before their own.

    One might think that all a teacher has to do is get the students to say please, thank you, and excuse me, and they will be on their way to becoming model citizens. One would be wrong. It goes far deeper than parroting those simple, yet magical, words. Having a genuine feeling of concern for another’s well-being is at the heart of having manners. To be caring, loving, and kind individuals for society’s benefit as well as their own. One has to care about what other people think and feel. This requires building a caring classroom community.

    Putting another’s interests before one’s own, sharing, and waiting one’s turn is extremely hard for most pre-K students. Children need to see a purpose or reason to do these unnatural acts of kindness. This can and must be taught in pre-K, as it lays the foundation for all subsequent grades that follow.

    Model good manners

    As a pre-K teacher, I model respect for others. On the first day and every day through to the end of the year, I use please, thank you, and excuse me when talking to my students. I tell them when you say these words, you are using good manners and showing others that they are important to you. When I speak to my aide, I always say “yes ma’am” or “no ma’am” because it shows I have respect for her, and I make note of that for my class. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of modeling good manners for students every second of every day. Students imitate what they see, and this is how they make the learning their own.

    Manners matter in Room 2

    kindness cupBecause my students and I have discussed the magic words from the first day of school, I can show them how important using good manners really is in our room. Every time I hear polite words or see kind deeds, that student places a pom-pom in a cup—The Kindness Cup. The small, soft balls can be found at any craft store in sizes from very small up to three inches across. We refer to the pom-poms as our “warm fuzzies” because of how good it feels inside to do something nice for a friend. The best part is that when the cup has 10 warm fuzzies, the whole class wins a sticker. The children love being the ones responsible for earning rewards for their friends. I usually read the picture book Warm Fuzzies by Cathie Brown when I introduce the idea, and then we make a warm fuzzy to give to someone we care about.

    Maria and Tito

    The first week of school, Maria and Tito visit our room. Maria is my look-alike puppet, and I tell the students she is my sister, but she doesn’t know she is a sock. Tito is her best friend and cousin. The puppets interact with funny skits about rules, being nice, and what it takes to be a good friend. Maria often uses catchphrases the children can remember and use themselves, including, “I’m always happy to help,” “It feels so nice to be nice,” and “When a friend is in need, be a friend indeed.” At the end of the minilesson, I encourage the students to ask Maria and Tito questions, which opens up a discussion.

    The red paper heart

    At the beginning of the year, I cut a large red heart out of construction paper. I tell students it is my heart and that when they are kind to one another and listen to me, my heart is so happy it dances. But when they say unkind things to each other, it hurts my heart and it tears a little (I tear the paper). I go on, explaining that mean words said in anger to a friend crushes my heart—“Words hurt!” (I crumple the paper). Then I try to smooth it out. I ask the students, “Can those words be unsaid? Can this paper ever be the same?” After that, I cut the heart in two and I give each student a colored bandage to help put the heart back together. I tell them you can use words to help your friends feel better, but when you do, say “I’m sorry” and really mean it. I tell students to be careful of the words they use when speaking to friends. I refer to the heart often throughout the year.

    Any part of character education must include teaching students self-control. Stating expectations from the first day of school is imperative for my students to be successful. I avoid any frustration on my part, or for my students, when I show them what they need to do for each activity of the day. Immediately before we go to centers or sit on the carpet, I go over what is expected of students. I simply say that this is what successful students do to learn. My aide and I then proceed to model polite talk and good manners in a funny skit in front of the class. Before talking about rules, I always read No, David! and David Goes to School by David Shannon.

    Parent communication

    Bringing the parents on board to help reinforce what the students learn at school is essential for success. Parents need to see why character education is important. Many parents tell me their children don’t listen to them at home, and the children do whatever they want. Reinforcing my lessons with their child at home will benefit both the parent and child. To stress how important this is to me, I use a section in my weekly newsletter to state what we are working on, with a note to parents: “Please help at home.”

    In my pre-K class, I want children to go beyond just saying polite words. I want them to sincerely mean them. Basically, I am teaching each student to be a good person, I hope these strategies help you do the same.

    mary and mariaMary Van Bibber is a pre-K teacher at Heritage Elementary School in San Antonio, TX.

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    Using Mobile Devices and Apps to Create and Manage Classroom Libraries

    by Tammy Ryan
     | Jul 31, 2015

    Online Library 080115In this day and age, the fact that many children have limited or no access to books and do not know the pleasures of listening to books read aloud is hard to believe. Research suggests that access to books in the United States often varies on the basis of income levels and reading practices established in home cultures. Outside the United States, countries like Guatemala and Costa Rica have rural areas that have no access to books. Additional research demonstrates that the frequency of reading to children, regardless of income, affects brain processing and reading development.

    Classroom teachers understand the importance of establishing a classroom library. As a teacher, I spent summer months collecting books, labeling them, and creating new categories to add books to my library. At that time, however, I didn’t have access to apps or to a mobile device to make the process more time efficient and productive. Today, classroom teachers, after-school programs, and anyone with a collection of books can easily use a cell phone or tablet, laptop or computer, and apps to make a book inventory, create a library, and establish a checkout system for parents and children. In this blog, I describe how I used a cell phone and laptop to create a library for children living and learning without books. I also offer Internet sites to extend access to books beyond a classroom library.

    Using apps and mobile devices

    Recently, I helped establish the first library in Uvita, Costa Rica, four hours south of San José on the Pacific Coast in a primary rainforest. Children’s books were not available in the community, and libraries were not in the schools. Through donations of Spanish and English children’s books brought to Uvita from the United States by volunteers, we established a library in Forjando Alas Kids’ Club, an after-school center for K–5 grade children. Within one afternoon, we easily made an inventory of 490 children’s books using a free app downloaded from Booksource Classroom Organizer to a smartphone. To do so, we held the phone over the book’s ISBN before touching the “Scan” button, which brings up book information on the phone. Next, we tapped “Add to Library” and the information entered onto the app’s spreadsheet.

    We then opened Booksource on the laptop, entered the Teacher Page, and used the “My Library” option to edit and personalize the spreadsheet columns. Last, we used the “Student” option to add names of children at the center who would check out the books from the library. In addition, we provided each child with his or her own special library card and created ways to motivate the children to read books through book talks and reading incentive charts. We also modeled how to care for the books before assigning children to librarian roles. Further, we offered workshops with teachers and parents on important ways to read books with children.

    The checkout process was even easier. Again using the Booksource app on the smartphone, we tapped on the “Check Out” button, scrolled to the child’s name, and touched the scan button again to enter the child’s selected book’s ISBN, which displayed on the spreadsheet. After a few quick taps on the app, children were taking books home to share with family and friends. A similar process was followed to check books back into the library. When parents downloaded the app to their cell phones, the checkout system become even simpler, freeing teachers from checking out books. The teachers needed only to open Booksource on their laptop to monitor the checkout status of books found on the “My Library” option. Any educator can follow these easy steps to make an inventory of their classroom libraries and to create an efficient checkout system for parents and students.

    Extending the library with online books and resources

    We also extended access to children’s books beyond the Forjando Alas library by offering online sites that opened on tablets and cell phones. Any educator working with children, especially with Spanish-speaking children and English learners, will find these sites useful to extend access to books beyond the classroom or after-school learning environment.

    • We Give Books offers books and filters to select titles by age range, genre, author, and so forth. Most books are available in English with a limited amount available in Spanish.
    • Bookbox includes YouTube animated books written in a variety of languages. Text highlights when read.
    • StoryPlace offers animated preschool stories arranged by theme in English and Spanish. Site includes activities, videos, and reading lists that accompany each book. Adobe Flash Player is required.
    • Unite for Literacy offers beginning reader fiction and nonfiction books with narration in English and other languages.
    • Starfall includes beginning stories and activities. Children click on an icon that highlights narrated text. Great selections that reinforce sight word recognition and fluency. 
    • 123TeachMe offers games, phonics and vocabulary activities, and music and short story videos in several languages.
    • Curious George is a PBS Kids site that offers games, video clips, and activities in Spanish. Adobe Flash Player is required.
    • Pumarosa offers audio translations for English and Spanish terms, common phrases, and various vocabulary words.
    • Dual Immersion Spanish Resources offers a wealth of resources to print, apps, e-books, and more.

    To support Forjando Alas contact KidsUniting.

    Tammy Ryan headshotTammy Ryan is happy to help others establish libraries as well. She is an associate professor of reading education at Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, FL. This article is part of a series from the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Learning Grammar With Meaning

    BY Brandi Leggett
     | Jul 30, 2015

    photo of the dayA noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Read the sentence and circle any of the nouns. Do this for sentences 1–10 on your noun worksheet and turn it in.

    Does this sound familiar? Worksheet after worksheet, identifying all types of grammar with limited reasons to remember any of it beyond the lesson that day. Is understanding grammar important? Yes, it definitely is.

    After teaching grammar this traditional way of using worksheets, I came to the conclusion that students weren’t fully grasping the concepts because nothing was relevant to them. They were simply circling answers to complete a task, but had little engagement in doing so. If I wanted my students to retain grammar rules, I needed to come up with something different, where students could apply their understanding in a meaningful way.

    To begin each grammar concept, I used LearnZillion’s free write-along lesson. These are interactive video lessons for grades 3–8 aimed toward improving student writing. Each video focuses on a specific skill by modeling the process of revising or editing a blemished piece of writing. Students followed along using a practice sheet, culminated with a formative assessment where they can apply the skill to a new draft. This is a great site to build the foundation for the grammar skill you are working on with your students.

    Next, I used EarthCam, a network of live webcams around the world. The students chose a destination, and then we traveled to the site and completed a free write of what we saw, focusing on incorporating the specific skill we were working on. Students loved applying the specific grammar skill while writing creatively. After a few minutes, students traded their writing, identifying the targeted skill. Afterward, students discussed their writing and if they used the grammar correctly. This was a great way to spark interesting discussions of their writing.

    For homework, I used the National Geographic Photo of the Day. Students referred to this image to write a creative story, using the targeted skill of the week and previous skills we had worked on. Prior to leaving class, we used Google Earth to travel to the destination where the photo was taken, which built excitement, as these vivid images provoked students’ imaginations to come alive. In class the next day, I separated the students into groups of four, where they conferred about their writing, focusing on the grammar.

    When working on dialogue, students paired with a student in class they didn’t know too well and interviewed that student. From this interview, they created a newspaper story using Fodey. In addition to working on dialogue, our classroom community became stronger, as students shared positive things with the class they learned about their classmate.

    Every quarter, students worked together to create a writing project, incorporating the grammar we had focused on using technology tools such as Movie Maker, Animoto, Emaze, and Plotagon. Students then used Weebly, a site to make free websites, to display their learning to classrooms we collaborated with around the world, allowing them an opportunity to have an authentic audience.

    Besides making significant gains on the Spring Measurement of Academic Progress test, students gained a loved for grammar, retaining the material better than any of my previous classes.

    When I look back, it all came down to me changing my approach to how I taught grammar, and writing in general. Students didn’t need rote memorization, the way I was taught grammar growing up. They needed meaning, knowing why they were learning the specific skill and how it could be applied in their everyday lives. Every one of my students was capable of being successful; I just needed to offer them the right opportunities. If you are printing worksheets or pulling out those grammar workbooks, are your students engaged? Are you teaching grammar in isolation? Do students see meaning in what they are doing? Maybe it is time to reflect, finding ways for grammar to be more relevant for your students.

    Brandi Leggett is a National Board Certified Teacher as a Middle Childhood Generalist. She received her master’s in Elementary Education from Arcadia University in Glenside, PA. She currently teaches third grade at Prairie Ridge Elementary in Shawnee, KS. Follow her class during the school year at Team Leggett.

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    News & Notes July 2015: ILA Member Accomplishments

    by ILA Staff
     | Jul 29, 2015

    The International Literacy Association (ILA) is dedicated to providing our members with the resources and expertise to inspire their students and each other in the charge for literacy. And it is in seeing the fruits of our members’ efforts that we, too, are inspired. Administrators and advocates, authors and librarians—their accomplishments have not gone unnoticed.

    There are so many, we couldn’t fit them all in Literacy Today, so we offer our congratulations here. From teaching awards, to published works, to career milestones, we hope these accomplishments will inspire you, too.


    Desiree AlexanderDesiree Alexander, a media specialist at Zachary Career and Technical Center in Louisiana, received the 2015 School Library Media Specialist Award from the Louisiana Association of School Librarians. Alexander also facilitates distance learning and career education.

    Kathleen Davin, a reading specialist at Key Elementary School in Virginia, was awarded an international literacy scholarship from the Virginia State Reading Association. Davin is the project leader of a literacy project in Guatemala cosponsored by the Greater Washington Reading Council.

    Stephanie Grote-Garcia, assistant professor at the University of the Incarnate Word and board member of ILA’s Specialized Literacy Professionals SIG, won the Jack Cassidy Distinguished Service Award. This award is given annually by the Texas Association for Literacy Education (TALE), a state affiliate of ILA.

    Lindsey Parker, of North DeSoto Elementary in Louisiana, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award. A former ELA teacher, Parker serves as a master teacher for the school’s Teacher Advancement Program, in which she conducts weekly professional development meetings and practices team teaching. Parker’s activities also include creating guidebooks and assessments for ELA standards and serving as a teacher leader and advisor for the Louisiana Department of Education.

    Vickie Plant, a kindergarten teacher at Golson Elementary School in Florida, was recognized with a Governor’s Shine Award, an honor reserved for those who display outstanding commitment to their students. Along with ILA membership, Plant is a member of the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

    Delise Hall Sanders was inducted into the Society of the Golden Key at the University of West Alabama, the highest honor given to a UWA graduate. Sanders retired in 2014 after teaching in the Sumner County School System in Tennessee for 18 years, though her teaching career spanned 40 years, including time spent in leadership positions in the North Central Reading Association and the Tennessee Reading Association.


    Children's Literature in the Reading ProgramDavid L. Harrison, Poet Laureate of Drury University in Missouri and poet/author of 90 books for young people and classroom teachers, wrote “Poetry, the Write Thing to Do” as Chapter 1 in ILA’s new release, Children’s Literature in the Reading Program: Engaging Young Readers in the 21st Century (4th ed.).

    Judy Reinhartz, science literacy specialist, professor emerita, professional development consultant, and author, released her new publication, Growing Language Through Science: Strategies That Work, Grades K–5 (Corwin). The book offers a model for contextualizing language and promoting academic success for all students, particularly English learners.

    Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, a professor in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State, and Teresa Sychterz, elementary education professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, released their coedited book, Adolescents Rewrite Their Worlds: Using Literature to Illustrate Writing Forms (Rowman & Littlefield). The book offers ways to engage middle grades students to read and write culturally authentic texts and to participate in 21st-century literacies.

    Career News

    Linda Goewey was named the new superintendent of the Hudson Falls Central School District in New York, effective July 1. She is currently serving as assistant superintendent of instruction and personnel at the Central Square Central School District.

    Anne-Marie Harrison, of the Provo City School District in Utah, was named the district’s new executive director of teaching and learning. Harrison’s career includes time spent as an elementary school teacher, district literacy specialist, school improvement specialist, and principal. She most recently served as director of literacy and instruction for the Provo district.

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    Online Discussions and UDL

    BY Lori DiGisi and Peggy Coyne
     | Jul 28, 2015

    peggy coyne 072815Many struggling middle school–age readers are still developing their reading skills even when explicit reading instruction is usually no longer part of their general education curriculum. Strategies to overcome this challenge are summarized in publications including Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning, ILA Resolutions and Position Statements for Adolescent Literacy, and Writing to Read. These summaries stress the importance of providing students with opportunities to interact with texts through discussion and writing. With the advent of social media and other digital tools, written discussions now occur online. As these environments become more prevalent in classrooms, ensuring that struggling readers have access to the scaffolds and supports that make possible their successful participation is important.  

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework based on the neurosciences, holds as a core belief that learner variability is the given. The UDL framework has been used recently to inform the development of an online reading environment for struggling adolescent readers, called Udio. Udio provides opportunities for students to participate in rich online discussions in support of reading comprehension.

    I (Lori, a middle school teacher) had the opportunity to use Udio as part of a pilot study to support student interest and motivation in reading. I was excited about providing my students an opportunity to use online discussion as a way to interact more deeply with texts. Right from the beginning, students made it clear that they wanted to make their reading a social event, inviting others to read the same article so that they could engage in a conversation. However, the early online discussions consisted of short statements like “Yeah, I liked that, too” or “I agree.” Students needed additional supports and structures to develop meaningful discussions.

    I began by reminding students that they had read folk tales in ELA, and we were going to read a folk tale on Udio. I asked students to read the folk tale article and then post a comment. We had been working on using evidence in our responses, and I was disappointed to see that students hadn’t posted much on Udio. I saw also that some students hadn’t understood the folk tale, so I printed the article, and students read it again, silently. We then had a face-to-face discussion about the article, discussing what happened to the main character and what is the moral of the story. I then asked students to read it one more time, online, and respond to each other using the sentence starters “First I thought…” “Now, I think…” suggested by Steve Graham.

    This time, students engaged in a rich online discussion and deepened their understanding of the article. They were able to agree or disagree with each other online and used evidence to support their thinking. 

    After this experience, students engaged in a conversation about the differences between online and offline discussion. For this conversation, students used their extensive knowledge of online discussions from gaming environments in addition to our class work.

    Students’ reported benefits of online discussions included

    • You don’t have to be in the room with the person
    • If you can’t pronounce a word, you can type it
    • You don’t have to respond quickly, you can think about your answer

    Students’ reported benefits of face-to-face discussions included

    • You are with other people
    • You can clarify in person
    • You can show people what you mean

    Students found that both types of discussions improved their understanding; however, the online discussions connected with their out of school literacy life online and was very motivating.

    Udio is still under research and development. The following are links to tools and environments that support online discussions:

    Ensure students have access to texts with Text-to-Speech readers

    Provide interesting age-relevant texts

    Provide ways for students to share their thinking through online discussions

    The contents of this article were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education (#H327M11000). However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

    Lori DiGisi is an administrator for Framingham Public Schools and a member of the ILA Board of Directors. Peggy Coyne is a research scientist at CAST, Inc.
    This article is part of a series from ILA’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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