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    Celebrate Thanksgiving with These Literacy Activities

    By Samantha Stinchcomb
     | Nov 21, 2017

    Turkey ReadingAs U.S. schools prepare to go on Thanksgiving break this week, it can be difficult to keep students engaged and learning amidst the excitement. The days leading up to break present a perfect opportunity to think about values such as gratitude, charity, friendship, and community. Below are a few ways to celebrate the holiday while improving literacy skills!

    • Have students make an “I Am Thankful for…” book, where they write and illustrate what they are most thankful for. This encourages students to demonstrate gratitude while also strengthening their reading and writing skills. 
    • Create your own Feed the Turkey game to help tone reading skills. Using an interactive game keeps students interested and constantly learning throughout.
    • Construct felt depictions of traditional Thanksgiving characters, such as turkeys and vegetables. These can be used to retell fun Thanksgiving stories or to invent your own!
    • See how many different words your child can build by rearranging the letters in Thanksgiving-themed words, such as “thankful,” “turkey,” and “pilgrim.”
    • Play the Gobble Gobble Game. This is a fun, competitive way to practice the alphabet.
    • Help students create Thanksgiving dinner menus. This will give them a chance to show off their writing skills to dinner guests!
    • Challenge students to The New York TimesThanksgiving-themed crossword puzzle.
    • Learn about the language and culture of the Wampanoag tribe.

    For more ideas, check out our previous Thanksgiving-themed blog posts.

    Samantha Stinchcomb is an intern at the International Literacy Association.           

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    Picture Book Biographies

    By Sandip Wilson and Carolyn Angus.
     | Nov 20, 2017

    November is Picture Book Month, and it’s the perfect time to celebrate that books in picture book format are for everyone. The picture book biographies reviewed this week introduce readers of all ages to creative individuals who have made contributions in the visual, literary, and performing arts. These books make great read-alouds for students at different grade levels to spark interest and discussion in a topic and to pair with related books and works in other media.

    Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton. Sherri Duskey Rinker. Ill. John Rocco. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Big MachinesBig Machines is both a biography of children’s book author and illustrator Virginia Lee Burton (1909–1968) and an introduction to the stories she created for her sons about “the things they loved best: BIG MACHINES.”. Rinker and Rocco’s telling of Burton’s creation of the adventures of Choo Choo (train), Mary Anne (steam shovel), Katy (snow plow), and Maybelle (cable car) is the perfect companion to Burton’s books about these big machines and The Little House 75th anniversary Edition.

    —CA

    A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White. Barbara Herkert. Ill. Lauren Castillo. 2017. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.

    The Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider“E. B. White / celebrated life through / a mouse’s journey, / the pact between a pig and a spider, / and the power of words.” Herkert’s poetic text, complemented by Castillo’s warm ink-and-watercolor illustrations, expresses beloved author E. B. White’s love of animals and words. After a career writing for various newspapers and The New Yorker, White made a farm in Maine his home. It was there that he wrote his first two children’s book featured in the biography, Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte’s Web (1952). An author’s note about the life of Elwyn Brooks White (1899–1985) includes a mention of White’s revision of William Strunk Jr.’s book on writing well, The Elements of Style, in 1957 andhis third children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan (1968).

    —CA

    Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico México. Duncan Tonatiuh. 2017. Abrams.

    Danza!Enthralled with the dancing she saw on the streets of Mexico City as a child, Amalia Hernández (19172000) convinced her parents to support her study of ballet and modern dance. As a choreographer and dance teacher, Hernández created dances inspired by the traditional folk dances of Mexico. Tonatiuh’s signature Mixtec-inspired illustrations depict graceful, energetic, and colorful folklórico performances, representing traditions of celebration and community. The dance company Hernández founded in 1952 grew and was celebrated in her homeland and globally. The back matter includes a glossary of Spanish terms, bibliography, and an author’s note.

    —SW

    Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos. Monica Brown. Ill. John Parra. 2017. NorthSouth.

    Frida Kahlo and ;her Animalitos Brown and Parra’s colorful child-friendly biography of Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) focuses on the relationship between the famous Mexican artist and her animalitos (monkeys, parrot, dogs, turkeys, cat, and many others), which were her companions in her childhood home, La Casa Azul, and throughout her life. Although she was always in poor health due to illnesses and a serious accident, she created hundreds of folk art paintings influenced by Mexican culture, including more than fifty self-portraits, many of which include her animalitos. The author’s note contains a selected list of Kahlo’s paintings that feature her pets.

    —CA

    Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat. Judy Sierra. Ill. Kevin Hawkes. 2017. Random House.

    Imagine That!In 1954, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was asked to write a book that would help children enjoy reading as they learned to read. Thinking the task would not take long, he soon discovered he had to rethink everything he knew about writing a story. Sierra’s engaging text and Hawkes’s illustrations, which combine Dr. Seuss’s whimsical drawings and paintings of the famed author at work, show Geisel’s processes of creating a first-grade reader that incorporated a “No-Nonsense List” of simple words. Lines such as “I will draw two nice kids to have fun with the cat, / And two naughty Things, and a keen cleaner-upper” reflect his clever language. The back matter includes tips on writing and illustrating from Dr. Seuss, notes from the author and the illustrator, and a list of books by written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss.

    —SW

    John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien. Caroline McAlister. Ill. Eliza Wheeler. 2017. Roaring Brook.

    John Ronald's DragonsLiving in the English midlands, the young John Ronald loved trees, words, and—above all—fairy-tale dragons. When his mother died, he and his brother went to live with their distant, cold aunt, he longed for dragons, but his life as a student at school, and later at university, came first. After World War I, as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, he had the idea for The Hobbit and told his four children stories of Bilbo Baggins. Wheeler’s fanciful illustrations depicting moments in Tolkien’s life show how he created Smaug, the dragon who first appeared in The Hobbit. The back matter includes McAlister’s extensive note about her writing process and Wheeler’s illustrator’s note, which explains references in the illustrations.

    —SW

    Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song. Kathryn Erskine. Ill. Charly Palmer. 2017. Farrar Straus Giroux.

    Mama Africa!Miriam Makeba (19322008) grew up feeling free in her singing, but not free in her homeland of South Africa, where she and all nonwhite people lived in increasingly oppressive conditions of apartheid.  Encouraged by singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, she sang songs of protest in other African languages to disguise the lyrics. Bright paintings depict her powerful voice, while somber hues depict the oppressive conditions of nonwhite people living in danger of being imprisoned in South Africa. Having left the country in 1959, Makeba was forbidden to return and began a thirty-year campaign to draw global attention to apartheid. The back matter includes an author’s note about her life in South Africa, a timeline of Makeba’s life along with events of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, a bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and a glossary.

    —SW

    Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters. Michael Mahin. Ill. Evan Turk. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    Muddy“But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told” is a refrain that runs throughout the blues-infused lyrical text of this picture book biography of McKinley Morganfield (1913–1983), who became Muddy Waters, the blues legend who left his childhood home in Mississippi and went north to Chicago. Even though his style of music didn’t fit in with “the bebop jazzing swing of horns and strings” popular in the clubs, Muddy, “never good at doing what he was told,” continued to play his own kind of music. Persistence paid off, and Muddy’s blend of traditional Mississippi Delta blues and jazz became the basis for the Chicago blues. Turk’s energetic, boldly colored mixed-media artwork gives Muddy’s story visual expression. Back matter includes an author’s note, bibliography, and a suggested list of collections of the “best of Muddy Waters” for listening. 

    —CA

    The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano. Elizabeth Rusch. Ill. Marjorie Priceman. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    The Music of LifeThe Music of Life tells two stories, one about Cristofori, an Italian builder of harpsichords, and one of his invention, the pianoforte: a musical instrument that combined the loudness of the harpsichord and the soft sound of the clavichord. Prince Ferdinand de Medici of Florence, a musician and patron of the arts, retained Cristofori to repair and build harpsichords and clavichords. Rusch’s integration of primary and secondary sources in the text gives a sense of the culture in which Cristofori worked, and the integration of the language of music—pianissimo (softest) and crescendo (becoming louder)—in Priceman’s lively gouache-and-ink illustrations convey the meaning of each double spread of this beautifully-crafted picture book. The extensive back matter includes an author’s note detailing Rusch’s writing process and notes on the history of the pianoforte and the modern piano.

    SW

    Silent Days, Silent Dreams. Allen Say. 2017. Scholastic.

    Silent Days, Silent DreamsSilent Days, Silent Dreams is a tribute to James Castle (18991977), American artist, born into a poor Idaho farm family, who was deaf and never learned to speak. In his silent and solitary lifetime, Castle created thousands of pieces of art. Say’s extensive author’s note details how he was introduced to the work of Castle, learned more about his life, and came to create this book in which he emulated the artist’s style in many of the illustrations, using the same kind of materials that Castle did— burnt matchsticks, soot mixed with spit, shoe polish, and laundry bluing—to make drawings on used grocery bags and scraps of paper. The result is what Say describes as “an imagined biography of a most original and enigmatic artist, whose fame continues to grow.”

    —CA

    Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky. Barb Rosenstock. Ill. Mary GrandPré. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    Vincent Can't SleepA lyrical text accompanied by stunning illustrations, rendered in acrylic, pen, and watercolor, chronicle the life of Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890), “A sensitive boy. / A hidden genius. / A brilliant artist.” Throughout his life, insomnia led to his wanderings and contemplation of the nature of the nighttime sky. One year before his death, Van Gogh created “The Starry Night,” which captures the colors, textures, and rhythm of the darkness of night that he perceived. Back matter includes an author’s note and photographs of his famous paintings.

    —CA

    Sandip LeeAnne Wilson serves as professor in the School of Education and the English Department of Husson University, Bangor, Maine. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
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    Where I’m From: Using Technology to Connect Students Across Cultures

    By Tim Flanagan
     | Nov 17, 2017

    Where I'm From“Thank you for teaching us to find ourselves through poetry.”

    One of my students made this comment at the end of the semester I spent teaching autobiographical poetry in Vietnam as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher. One of my goals was to increase students’ global competence.

    Finding your voice in another language

    Over several months, I taught middle school, high school, and college students how to write poems about themselves, using templates such as “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon and “Fourths of Me” by Betsy Franco. All were native Vietnamese speakers, with varying levels of English proficiency. Few of the students had ever written a poem before.

    Although many students struggled to find the words in English, they were eager to get their ideas on paper. I was struck by the small details of their lives, especially the details that reminded me of my students in Connecticut, a half a world away. Pop culture (especially Korean pop bands), love, pressure from parents, stress from too much homework, challenging stereotypes, and understanding one’s place in the world were all popular themes throughout the poems. Here are a few notable excerpts:

    I am from my mother
    From love and sweetness
    I am from the colorful kite in the sky
    I am from the sunshine around the sunflowers giving me inspiration
    From my countryside where I run to my horizon
    Lying on the grass and feeling my heart
    But at that moment
    I am from a boy who I always think of
    From his eyes when we meet
    Oh my boy! Please understand me and feel my soul.

    (Trang, “I Am From”)

    one fifth of me
    is standing on the ledge of a rooftop
    wondering if today's a good day to die

    one fifth of me
    is sitting on a tree
    yelling out me! me! me!

    one fifth of me
    is doing espionage in Europe
    moonlighting for the Commies

    (Claire Daring, “Fifths of Finch”)

    My mom makes me every meal
    My dad drives to dig for every “dong”
    My sister is seeking love from the other side
    My family is forced to find what is needed for our future

    (Thang, “Frustration”)

    Connecting across cultures

    My students hesitantly submitted poems to the website I created. They wondered if their English was good enough, if they had anything important to say, if anyone cared. There were shouts of joy when I showed them that visitors from faraway places such as the United States, Australia, and Palestinian territories had left comments for them. At that moment, the students realized the power of their words and felt a connection to the outside world. And the students who read and commented on their poems began to understand that Vietnam is more than a war.

    Today there are nearly 200 poems from students in four countries on the website. Visitors from 45 countries have read poems and written over 500 comments.  And more poems are being submitted.

    I am a general who loves peace.
    I fight for peace, to save my Karen people.
    I hear the Karen people need freedom to be free.
    I dream for my people and my country.
    I am a general who loves peace.

    (Saw Char, “I Am”)

    The power of poetry and technology combined can help students form a deeper understanding of people from around the world on their journey to becoming globally competent citizens.  

    Tim FlanaganTim Flanagan is a sixth- and seventh-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Pawcatuck Middle School in Stonington, Connecticut. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter. Teachers can access a complete Where I’m From Curriculum Guide online with poetry lessons, model poems and directions for how to submit student poems to the website.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Reaching for Excellence

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 16, 2017

    Reaching for Excellence2015–2016 was the most challenging year of Julie Stover’s career.

    Pennsylvania had just rolled out the overhauled PA Core Standards and a new, more rigorous Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) that contained critical thinking and open-ended questions as well as more nonfiction reading. PSSA scores weigh heavily on School Performance Profile—the “report card” used to evaluate students, teachers, and students. Low test scores set up schools for possible state intervention.

    “Being teachers, we already pressure ourselves. We hope to have every child reach his or her potential. But we felt a new and different push to raise ‘rigor’ and move full speed ahead. We saw more test practice, data walls, and higher teacher accountability,” says Stover, a reading specialist at East York Elementary.

    When the scores came back, the teachers at East York Elementary breathed a sigh of relief. They hadn’t just done well, they had performed in the top 5% of Title I schools in the state.

    Their celebration was short lived.

    “Some of us gave a weak cheer. Then we began to wonder. We were successful, but at what cost?” says Stover. “How could we justify the cost of the accomplishment when students were excited to stop learning? The children couldn’t wait to get away from books. We wanted them running toward them.”

    Data talk

    On the basis of its test results, East York Elementary was identified as a High Progress School, recognizing its progress in closing achievement gaps in PSSA scores among all students and historically underperforming students. Under this designation, schools are eligible and encouraged to apply for Innovation Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which must be used to implement new learning structures and processes that support individual needs.

    Stover was responsible for managing the application process, which required her to substantiate PSSA data and to provide a detailed plan of how East York Elementary would use the grant money, if successfully awarded.

    As she scoured the school’s PSSA data, she noticed that the fifth grade had shown the most improvement from the previous year. Aside from their age, the only common denominator among these students was their shared participation in the Notice and Note close-reading strategies. Authored by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, Notice and Note provides students with six “signposts” that signal readers to pause and reflect at “aha moments,” and other significant moments in the text. The tool kit also includes anchor questions to help facilitate discussion.

    Wendy Ross, a fifth-grade teacher, says she introduced the strategy to give students a stronger sense of ownership over their reading routine.

    “I think I was frustrated; my students didn’t seem to be enjoying reading. I felt like they didn’t have any power, not just in choice but in how they approached the text,” says Ross. “This strategy passed that power back to them—now, they’re in charge of finding meaning in their reading.”

    After observing Ross’s success, Stover and writing teacher Amy Mason helped her deliver the Notice and Note strategies to the rest of the fifth-grade class. They too noticed improvements—not only in the students’ comprehension, but also in their attitude towards reading.

    “It went beyond the quantifiable data. Kids were talking, the depth of their conversations was greater, and their writing was starting to tell more—there was detail and evidence,” says Stover.

    Stover proposed that, if awarded an innovation grant, East York Elementary would use the funds to implement Notice and Note strategies throughout the school. Everyone was on board.

    “We saw this small pocket of success in one classroom. We wanted to spread that success through the rest of the school,” says Denise Fuhrman, principal at East York Elementary.

    Boosting staff morale

    Of the 90 Innovation Grant applications, only 20 were funded. East York Elementary received one of the highest overall ratings and a grant.

    Stover’s first step was to restore staff morale. After a year of rigorous exam preparation, she feared burnout for students and teachers alike.

    Part of the problem, she knew, was the school’s outdated library. The staff sifted through Goodreads recommendations and ILA Choices selections to refresh their selection with a diverse range of titles that were highly engaging but also would enhance the Notice and Note reading routine.

    “It brought the joy of reading back into teaching and revitalized the staff,” says Fuhrman.

    Stover established weekly literacy team meetings where staff held book studies and discussions using the Notice and Note tool kit and designed posters, anchor charts, and bookmarks displaying signpost questions.

    The grant even provided for a training session hosted by authors Beers and Probst. Afterward, the teachers delivered mock lessons for the authors to troubleshoot.

    “This gave them the confidence and the physical support to say ‘We can actually do this,’” says Stover.

    A newfound love of reading

    Though the district has yet to receive its PSSA scores, Stover is confident that they will mirror the performance she sees in the classroom. She says the students have become more incisive thinkers, articulate speakers, and effective writers.

    “It teaches them to respectfully discuss things with one another. They may not agree with each other, but now, they can go back and look at the evidence and prove their point with facts,” says Stover.

    Mason noticed that students are more willing to share their ideas.

    “They have a voice and they feel confident in sharing what they found,” says Mason.

    Above all, the teachers were thrilled to see students’ newfound excitement towards reading. In an end-of-the-year survey, more than 80% of students said they gained a joy of reading.

    “When Common Core first came about, we all felt overwhelmed. We felt like we were plodding along. We’re no longer plodding along—we’re dancing through books,” says Ross.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of ILA’s blog, Literacy Daily.

    This piece originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Literacy Today, ILA's member magazine.

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    You Can Now Register for ILA West 2018: “Literacy: A Pathway to Equity”

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 15, 2017
    ILA West 2018

    September marked the 60th anniversary of Little Rock Nine, a pivotal moment in the march toward educational equity in the United States. Yet, despite tremendous progress made over the last six decades, data show that racial gaps stubbornly remain. As we examine inequity across the United States, we know that literacy is the gatekeeper to overall academic success—opening a world of possibilities for students.

    As educators, what can we do to help close the achievement gap for minority and low-income students? And what role does literacy play in these efforts? With so many factors to consider—pedagogy, technology, assessment, teacher preparation, professional learning, and more—where do we begin?

    ILA will confront these questions head-on at ILA West 2018, to take place March 16–17 in San Diego, CA. With the theme “Literacy: A Pathway to Equity,” the inaugural conference will give attendees the tools they need to attain more equitable learning environments through general session talks, hands-on learning, and community building.

    “ILA believes that literacy is integral to leveling outcomes for kids,” said ILA President of the Board Doug Fisher, during an appearance on Education Talk Radio today. “[ILA West 2018] is a really powerful event to help us think about what do we need to do to ratchet up our learning expectations and our strategies to deliver on that promise.”

    Among 19 celebrated leaders in educational equity, keynote speakers Stephen Peters, superintendent of Laurens County School District 55, South Carolina, and CEO and president of the Peters Group; Glenn Singleton, founder of Pacific Educational Group Inc. (PEG) and author of Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools; and Valerie Ooka Pang, professor at San Diego State University and author of Diversity and Equity in the Classroom and Multicultural Education: A Caring-Centered, Reflective Approach; will share their equity-based, literacy-driven, blueprints for reform.

    Attendees will also hear from Olivia Amador, founder of Few for Change, Jana Echevarria, internationally known researcher and codeveloper of the SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) Model, and Cornelius Minor, lead staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

    Designed to deliver more focused sessions and to encourage a schoolwide approach, ILA West 2018 will feature three strands—teachers and coaches, early childhood educators, and administrators. All attendees will leave with culturally responsive pedagogical approaches; practical, proven “use-it-tomorrow” instructional strategies; administrative supports, and more.

    “Every student deserves a great teacher. Not by chance, but by design,” said Fisher. “A lot of our education is up to chance. We’re on a mission to reduce that variability.”

    Over the next few months, we’ll introduce some of the faces of ILA West 2018 and offer sneak peeks into programming. Stay tuned!  

    Learn more or register for ILA West 2018 here.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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