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    This Is Your Class on Zoom: Videoconference Literacies During COVID Quarantine

    By Christy Wessel-Powell and Julie Rust
     | Jul 17, 2020

    Young girl at laptop“Hi! Hiiii!”
    “Hi! Hi, Rylan!”
    “Hi, Penny. Penny!”

    A chorus of enthusiastic 6-year-olds wave and smile from the gridded squares of a Zoom conference. Multiple voices overlap and vie for attention from their friends to show off pets, toys, bedrooms, and new haircuts. Then the clock hits the predetermined class time, and the teacher begins morning meeting.

    “Everyone, remember to hit mute,” she prompts, smiling. “It is so wonderful to see all of your faces this morning!”

    It is day 15 of e-learning, and we have one eye on our professional role supporting current and future teachers and the other eye on our children, who are now learning remotely at home and navigating a host of new digital platforms and interactional norms during quarantine.

    Across the world, committed K–12 teachers have been given the challenging task of managing virtual classes and have done so with incredible grace. As the parents of elementary-age children, we are in awe of how many new literacies our children and their teachers have learned in such a short time.

    Virtual real-time (synchronous) class meetings in the midst of this crisis are not the norm in every school district or community. The fact that our children’s schools can support (and expect) families to have internet access and devices to attend class Zoom meetings regularly indicates immense privilege. Many other districts and families are focused on supporting children’s most important needs: access to food, mental health, and safety. However, working from home while our own children use Zoom has been an eye-opening opportunity to report on new literacies happening up close.

    What kinds of literacies are required of young children and their teachers on Zoom or similar digital meeting platforms? There’s good old traditional literacy at work here: listening, speaking and, of course, read-alouds. But we have been privy to a peripheral view of other literacies that have unfurled during this crisis. Even when synchronous conferencing is frustrating or didn’t go smoothly (teachers’ words), meaning making manifests in many surprising forms, weaving together social, digital, and even artifactual literacies.

    Social literacies

    We have heard teachers confess how grateful they are that this instructional shift happened in the last quarter of the school year rather than the first largely because they already had established relationships face-to-face and procedures for being together. The move to online classes necessitated a host of new routines and procedures that promote social literacies (e.g., ways of communicating and connecting with others), but teachers were able to build off preestablished classroom procedures.

    Now teachers are using videoconferencing for whole-class sessions as well as small reading groups and individual conferences. During videoconferences, students are adapting to new norms established by their teachers, like muting themselves to avoid background noise, leaving toys out of the picture during discussion, turning their video camera on, and sitting up in the frame.

    Even informal socializing occurs on these platforms. For instance, it is not uncommon for a handful of students to stay on the video chat to connect after the official class is over.

    Digital literacies

    It doesn’t matter which platform they use, students and teachers are discovering how to communicate in countless ways using digital literacies.

    Take, for example, the mere process of getting ready for a synchronous class meeting. We’ve watched our own young children set a digital alarm to remind them when it’s time for class. They choose the best lighting for visibility, turn on their device and find and click the meeting link, and frame their video so it avoids the messy pile in one corner and instead highlights the pretty view out of their window. Once they log in, they often participate in informal chat using the text-chat feature or spoken voice. Sometimes they may start muted, depending on the routine their teachers established.

    Teachers, too, are making sense of these tools and how to best scaffold their use. For example, one kindergarten teacher played the song “Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar” so that the class could practice muting and unmuting themselves. Another teacher modeled for third-grade students an appropriate (and inappropriate) use of the chat function during remote learning.

    Artifactual literacies

    Just because students and teachers are engaging more through digital platforms doesn’t mean that physical artifacts and spaces have lost their significance. On the contrary, artifactual literacies often feature prominently in Zoom sessions. We have noticed teachers deliberately incorporating meaningful nontech objects and experiences into video classes. A common practice in elementary video meetings involves a digital version of show-and-tell, during which students take turns showing off something or someone special in their homes. Situating the learning community in toys, siblings, and home spaces undoubtedly serves to connect students and teachers in powerful ways and reinforces how our rootedness to things and places around us makes us human.

    Even when synchronous video conferences don’t go smoothly, students (and their teachers) are still engaging in and developing important 21st-century literacies.

    Christy Wessel-Powell (cwesselp@purdue.edu) is an assistant professor of teacher education at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, where she teaches elementary literacy methods. She is also a mother of two great kids, ages 6 and 8, who probably get too much screen time these days. She has just joined Twitter, so be sure to follower her at @cwesselpowell.

    Julie Rust (rustju1@gosaints.org) is an administrator and teaching/learning coach at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, MS. Her three kids—ages 6, 8, and 11—have taught her pretty much everything she knows.Follow her on Twitter: @jurust.

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    Experts in Action: The Creativity and Hearts of Teachers

    By Katie Schrodt and Erin FitzPatrick
     | Jul 10, 2020

    Teacher with iPadIn March, teachers waved goodbye to students heading into spring break. Soon after, state and local authorities mandated stay-at-home orders in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Spring break was extended by a week, then two, until finally students were instructed to stay home for the remainder of the school year, and teachers were asked to do the impossible—and they did.

    As professors of education at large universities in the United States, we train and support preservice and inservice teachers. In awe of how these teachers have responded to this unprecedented situation, we felt inspired to share their stories. Through a widely distributed survey, we gathered stories from educators about how they navigated the immediate and unexpected need for remote learning and how they stayed creative and connected with their students.

    Teachers adapt

    “None of my colleagues have done anything like this, but you would never know it because of the willingness of everyone to jump in headfirst to things that were uncomfortable from the start.”

    Every day, teachers make hundreds of in-the-moment decisions in order to adapt to the needs of their students. Perhaps that is why, when faced with moving their classrooms online, these educators rose so effectively to the challenge.

    For some there were concerns over access and special education needs. One teacher said, “I created three weeks of instruction for eight students’ specific IEP goals in two days. I wasn’t going to let them fall through the cracks.” Another said, “We got every student school supplies and had them packed and ready to pick up within two days.”

    Teachers not only learned the ins and outs of online meeting platforms but also made instructional videos for parents, such as “How to Use Zoom” and “How to Download and Use the Libby App.” One school hosted online roundtables for families and teachers to learn from each other about how to make the most of online classrooms.

    Using feedback from parents and students, many teachers altered their approaches to make the learning more accessible. They even made “choice boards,” allowing families to choose the week’s instructional preferences.

    One school simplified the deluge of learning materials by standardizing lesson plans across grade levels and narrowing online resources to the top three per grade level, which helped ease parents’ confusion and stress.

    Teachers give

    “Two of my families told me they needed food. I boxed up what I had, threw on a mask, and went to the store to grab milk and eggs. I left the boxes on their doorsteps.”

    Ninety-four percent of teachers in the U.S. spend their own money on school supplies. When the pandemic hit, teachers extended the same generosity they display every day in the classroom.

    After discovering a student was home alone without a device and unable to participate in online learning—the student’s parents are essential workers—one teacher donated her personal iPad. The teacher delivered and set up the device and proceeded to connect with the student daily.

    Concerned about lack of access to books at home, another teacher purchased, gathered, and delivered mini libraries for each student in her class.

    Teachers create

    “I implemented a program called ‘Cooking in Kinder’ every Friday. We sent out a simple ingredient list to our parents on Monday, and on Friday at 11:00 we would go live and cook with our kids. During this time, we’re incorporating ELA lessons, math, and science as we’re reading recipes, measuring things out, and looking at changes in matter. It has been fantastic!”

    Teachers organized car parades, virtual spirit weeks, and socially distanced graduation celebrations. A principal continued the school’s daily morning announcements to provide a sense of normalcy for the students.

    Teachers at one school led art projects on Thursdays that encouraged students to create artwork using everyday household items. One “ARTragious” Thursday featured making robots from items like popsicle sticks, aluminum foil, and paper scraps.

    Teachers connect

    “I [connected remotely with] a child at the parents’ request when he was having a meltdown about not being able to go to school. I sat on the phone with him for a very long time, feeling his pain with him and waited until he was calm.”

    For many students, school is a safe haven, the only place they receive the social interaction they crave. Teachers, when forced to teach from distance, continued finding ways to support these students.

    Many teachers hosted livestreamed story times. One read picture books to her middle schoolers every night. Because so many of her students participated, this teacher is now considering continuing the story time through summer.

    Teachers made extra time for one-on-one connections. “I have a student who is very quiet and struggles with anxiety,” one teacher said. “I have connected with her through email every day. I do not know if this deep of a connection could have happened in class.” Another teacher created a sign-up schedule for her students, offering 15-minute time slots for one-on-one phone calls or virtual meetings.

    Teachers are heroes

    Every day, educators adapt, give, create, and connect. In the midst of a pandemic and the chaotic transition to virtual classrooms, teachers showed incredible courage and strength. As poet Maya Angelou said, “A hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” Teachers are true heroes. We celebrate them and hope you will too.




    Katie Schrodt (Katie.Schrodt@mtsu.edu), an ILA member since 2012, is an assistant professor for the Department of Elementary and Special Education at Middle Tennessee State University.

    Erin FitzPatrick (Erin.FitzPatrick@uncc.edu), an ILA member since 2017, is an assistant professor for the Department of Special Education and Child Development at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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    Overcoming Racial Injustice: A Call to Action

    By ILA Staff
     | Jun 19, 2020

    We Stand for Racial JusticeIn response to the tragic murder of George Floyd on May 25, there have been widespread demonstrations around the world calling for systemic changes to end racial injustices. The editorial teams from our three academic journals Reading Research Quarterly, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, and The Reading Teacher composed a joint statement about how to counter the racism within the academic setting. Below are the four steps identified by the ILA academic editorial teams, why each is important, and how ILA’s journals will rise to these challenges.

    1. Acknowledge, value, and support BIPOC colleagues and students.

    This work involves learning about histories of oppression, practicing anti-racist behaviors, and participating in just causes. It also involves looking beyond traditional research positions to see value in challenges to hegemonic positions and expansion of research methods. Last, it involves mentoring as well as actively promoting and collaborating with BIPOC scholars.

    ILA’s journals will activate this by promoting and supporting BIPOC scholars, including authors and editorial board members. We will do this by disseminating the work of BIPOC scholars through social media and other distribution outlets, as well as by providing more mentoring support to BIPOC scholars who hope to publish in ILA’s journals.

    2. Find ways to encourage and initiate more literacy research submissions that focus on supporting BIPOC communities.

    As journal editors, we are calling for manuscripts that provide deeper and better understandings of literacy and its role vis-à-vis BIPOC communities. We specifically ask researchers to submit manuscripts that highlight the voices and experiences of marginalized students, teachers, and underrepresented communities, as well as take a strength-based view.

    We have worked to make ILA journals a place where all methods and perspectives can find a home, but we are not receiving the volume of submissions needed in this vein. Recruiting and serving as reviewers allows us to fast-track submissions and adjudicate work with as much speed as we are capable.

    3. Get involved in efforts to fund more literacy research that addresses inequities across racial groups.

    All funding agencies depend on us as literacy researchers to tell them what work is worthy of recognition and support. We can and should make this a priority. ILA journals will support this by publishing more work by BIPOC scholars that attends to experiences of marginalized communities, which we hope will fuel interest and support of scholars applying for such grants.

    4. Increase the quality of literacy instruction grounded in representative curricular materials supported by research that addresses the specific needs of BIPOC teachers and students.

    Right now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional literacy instruction for students from nondominant communities has to a large extent ceased or slackened. Unless we can figure out ways to better provide this instruction (through digital devices, access to the internet, curriculum that meets the needs of BIPOC students), the literacy learning needs of BIPOC students will suffer. Again, we believe that our community of literacy researchers is uniquely well-positioned to address this need.

    Robert T. Jiménez and Amanda Goodwin
    Editors, Reading Research Quarterly

    Kelly Chandler-Olcott and Kathleen A. Hinchman
    Editors, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy

    Robin Griffith and Jan Lacina
    Editors, The Reading Teacher

    Marcie Craig Post
    ILA Executive Director

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    ILA Partners With #KidLit4BlackLives Community

    By ILA Staff
     | Jun 15, 2020

    KidLit4BlackLives logoThe International Literacy Association (ILA), in partnership with Kwame Alexander, award-winning children’s book author and founding editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt imprint Versify, announced today “How to Raise and Teach Anti-Racist Kids,” a Facebook Live event starting at 7:00 p.m. ET this Thursday, June 18.

    The free event is a follow-up to June 4’s overwhelmingly successful KidLit Rally for Black Lives, hosted by advocacy group The Brown Bookshelf. Alexander, a frequent ILA conference keynoter, organized the rally with fellow authors Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds in less than 48 hours—a “roll of thunder” call to action in response to the killing of George Floyd in late May.

    “Teachers and parents must educate and empower students to imagine a better world,” said Alexander. “For that to happen in the classroom and at home, they’ve got to be better prepared. The rally, this town hall, are all small efforts to get them ready for this paramount work.”  

    “How to Raise and Teach Anti-Racist Kids” is a perfect example of “the work we [at ILA] should be doing,” said ILA Vice President of the Board Dr. Stephen G. Peters, who will deliver opening remarks.

    “ILA is an anti-racist organization that stands for justice and equality,” Peters asserted in a joint statement issued by ILA leadership earlier this month.

    The first half of Thursday’s event will be a panel discussion moderated by Alexander, followed by a 45-minute Q&A. Panelists include educators Cornelius Minor, author of We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be; Tiffany M. Jewell, author of This Book is Anti-Racist; Pam Allyn, global literacy expert and coauthor (with Dr. Ernest Morrell) of Every Child a Super Reader; and Dr. Noni Thomas López, head of school at The Gordon School in Providence, R.I., in addition to Karyn Parsons, author and founder of Sweet Blackberry, a nonprofit with a mission “to bring little known stories of African American achievement to children everywhere.”

    Parsons is best known for playing Hilary Banks on the 1990s NBC sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” but hers is just one familiar face: Minor is a longtime ILA collaborator and an important figure in the organization’s social justice work.

    At the ILA 2016 Conference, which took place in Boston, MA, literally days after police shootings claimed the lives of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Minor facilitated an on-the-fly session modeling how teachers could talk about emotionally charged and controversial issues in the classroom.

    The following year, Minor delivered powerful remarks at ILA’s inaugural equity panel—inspired by his session at ILA 2016—which also featured Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones.

    Thursday’s event marks an important next step in the #ILAequity movement, said Peters. He added, “This is just the beginning of much more to come.”

    WHAT: How to Raise and Teach Anti-Racist Kids
    WHEN: Thursday, June 18, 7:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m. ET
    WHERE: https://www.facebook.com/InternationalLiteracyAssociation/

    HASHTAGS: #KidLit4BlackLives; #ILAequity

    The live event will have an ASL interpreter, available through the support of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Closed captioning will be available on the archived recording.

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    Challenging Eurocentric Perspectives and Practices in Literacy Education

    By Etta Hollins
     | Jun 11, 2020

    Etta HollinsWe received this letter from ILA member Etta Hollins, who granted her permission to publish it on Literacy Now. Thank you, Professor Hollins, for your thoughtful contribution and call to action.

    The police killing of George Floyd has brought discussions of systemic racism to the forefront. Colleges, universities, professional organizations, major companies of every description, and regular citizens have acknowledged the presence of systemic racism in the society and many have written letters to students, colleagues, and employees supporting the protests and making a commitment to equity and social justice. It is time for educational practitioners, scholars, and researchers to engage in introspection regarding systemic racism in teaching practices, teacher preparation, and educational research. We can begin this discussion by acknowledging barriers in African American people’s struggle for literacy.

    African American people’s struggle for literacy in the United States has been long, difficult, and framed by the barriers of systemic racism in pedagogical practices, educational research, and legal authority. During slavery, it was illegal to teach slaves to read. Yet, out of slavery came such notable individuals as educator Booker T. Washington and scientist George Washington Carver. The often-inferior facilities, resources, and materials provided in segregated schools after slavery produced notable scholars and leaders of the Civil Rights movement including the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Congressman John Lewis, and many education practitioners, scholars, and researchers. In the face of this historical background, many education practitioners, scholars, and researchers make the claims that African American children are unable to learn to read because they lack the necessary home environment, role models, access to printed texts, and vocabulary. These are nonsensical claims given the fact that many children learned to read while experiencing the trauma of slavery.

    Today, the struggle for African American children’s literacy is as challenging as its difficult history. Teachers are trained in recently mandated Eurocentric perspectives and practices that dominate research in reading instruction. Several familiar national panels, commissions, and committees have determined that the only proven way to teach early literacy is by using a Eurocentric code-based phonetic approach. The corollary to this conclusion is that those children not learning to read using this approach have either a learning disability or deficit and deprivation in the home or community. Consequently, African American children are disproportionately identified as learning disabled, placed in special education, and denied opportunities for developing full literacy. This fits the definition of systemic racism.

    I am proposing that we [in the field of literacy education] begin a serious discussion of systemic racism in literacy practices and research and that we take responsibility for our contribution to systemic racism in the society.

    We invite you to share your thoughts via email or social media by tagging our Twitter handle, messaging us on Facebook, or posting to our Linked In group.
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