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    The Transformative Trifecta: Driving Change Through Literacy, Equity, and Social-Emotional Learning

    By Alina O’Donnell
     | Sep 19, 2019

    Eckert_680wIn June 2019, the Ohio State Board of Education adopted a set of social-emotional learning (SEL) standards for K–12 students. This comes as part of the state’s new strategic plan for education, in which SEL is one of four “learning domains” outlined—a move that essentially says SEL is as important to a child’s education as literacy, numeracy, and technology.

    Ohio isn’t alone in these efforts. Between 2011 and 2018, the number of states with K–12 SEL standards jumped from 1 to 18. Outside of the U.S., the popularity of SEL has also grown significantly.

    This isn’t surprising, given today’s social climate. More and more schools around the globe are prioritizing SEL, which aims to develop interpersonal skills, self-regulation, and the ability to feel and demonstrate empathy. Educators are turning to SEL-embedded instruction to foster equitable learning environments.

    What is surprising is that despite this, and despite how SEL-informed literacy instruction paves a powerful pathway to equity, very little has been written about how the three intersect.

    This is the driving goal of the Equity in Education Program at the ILA 2019 Conference, October 10–13 in New Orleans, LA. The program, which has expanded across all four days of the conference, will draw clear connections between literacy, equity, and SEL.

    The intersection of literacy, equity, and social-emotional learning

    Over the past 15 years, the United States has increasingly emphasized assessments as an index of school performance. This emphasis on academic rigor has left many educators feeling pressured to choose between strengthening SEL skills and growing academic skills.

    Justina Schlund, one of this year’s Equity in Education Program speakers, is here to shatter that false dichotomy. Central to her work as director of field learning at The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is her steadfast belief that social-emotional competence is inextricably tied to academic achievement.

    “Foundational to how all learning happens is how students engage socially and emotionally with each other, with themselves, and with teachers in the classroom,” she says. “In order to achieve any other goals, we need to be focused on students as whole people.”

    A long body of research shows that inequities such as disabilities, poverty, and discrimination can pose barriers to children’s social and emotional development. Schools have an important role to play by helping students develop the skills, habits, and dispositions that equip them for success in school and beyond.

    Schlund sees social and emotional development as a lever not only for academic achievement but also for increasing educational equity.

    “I’m not saying SEL is the solution, but it contributes to how people understand each other, how we explore and examine our own biases, and how we make decisions that impact others,” she says.

    Supporting teachers’ social and emotional development

    Although Schlund stands by CASEL’s definition of SEL, she believes it’s often misinterpreted to apply exclusively to children. She views SEL as a lifelong process needed to navigate every context, from the classroom to friendships and first jobs.

    “We do not talk about SEL exclusively for kids, even though that is often the focus of SEL in schools,” says Schlund. “I think it’s important to remember that everyone is engaged in this process of learning and answering questions like, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How do I relate to the world?’ and ‘How do I make decisions that benefit the community and the world at large?’”

    Just as a history teacher needs to learn history to be effective, educators wishing to teach and model SEL must first build their own competencies in self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness.

    “In order to do this work, you need to take care of yourself and you need to take care of your own social-emotional needs,” says Katherine Theodore, senior technical assistance consultant at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), also a speaker during the upcoming Equity in Education Program.

    The Equity in Education Program session on Friday, Oct. 11, “The Intersection of Literacy, Equity, and Social-Emotional Learning,” will focus on preparing teachers to develop their own social-emotional skills through self-reflection on practice, curriculum, personal biases, and growth opportunities.

    After a short opening keynote, five literacy leaders will share how they build capacity and prepare educators to accomplish goals around SEL in their schools and communities. Along with Schlund and Theodore, attendees will hear from Pedro A. Noguera, distinguished professor of education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA and founder of the university’s Center for the Transformation of Schools; Jovanni Ramos, principal of Foundation Preparatory Charter School in New Orleans, LA; and Stephanie K. Siddens, senior executive director of the Ohio Department of Education’s Center for Student Supports.

    Following these TED-style presentations, Noguera will facilitate an audience-driven Q&A, allowing time for attendees to respond, exchange ideas, and ask questions.

    Identifying key challenges and outlining next steps

    Led by a panel of classroom practitioners, the Equity in Education Program session on Saturday, Oct. 12, “Integrating Social-Emotional Learning in the Literacy Classroom,” will shift the focus onto classroom implementation.

    Following the same format as Friday, presenters will demonstrate what evidence-based SEL looks like in literacy education, highlight potential pitfalls, and offer recommendations for educators seeking to implement SEL.

    Attendees will hear from Kimberly Eckert, 2018 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year, high school English teacher, and reading specialist at Brusly High School; Shawna Coppola, middle school language arts teacher and literacy specialist/coach; Gerald Dessus, middle school cultural studies teacher at The Philadelphia School in Pennsylvania and an ILA 30 Under 30 honoree for 2019; Tiana Silvas, fifth-grade teacher at PS 59 in Manhattan and former Heinemann Fellow; and Tamera Slaughter, manager of educational partnerships with Center for the Collaborative Classroom.

    Eckert will deliver the opening keynote, during which she’ll share her own SEL journey and discuss the main challenges to implementation—one being recruitment.

    “Too often, teachers enter the profession because they still follow the antiquated ideal of ‘you love English, so you teach English’ instead of ‘you love humanity, so you teach,’” she says. “We need to recruit and attract people who are seriously engaged in changing the world and who have a 4.0 in people, not necessarily a 4.0 in physics.”

    In addition to the Friday and Saturday sessions, this year’s Equity in Education Program is also bookended by events on Thursday, Oct. 11, and Sunday, Oct. 13—Institute Day and Children’s Literature Day, respectively.

    These all-day events require separate registration and are not included in Core Conference.

    On Thursday, educators Kathy Collins, Shawna Coppola, Matthew Kay, and Aeriale N. Johnson will lead the Equity in Education Program institute—“Equity in Education: Roles, Tools, and Approaches for Engaging in Bias-Free Practices.” During Children’s Literature Day on Sunday, a morning session, “Equity Through Empathy,” will be led by educators, authors, and activists including Chad Everett and Tricia Ebarvia, who will examine the role children’s literature plays in social-emotional learning. Finally, an afternoon workshop, “Empathy and Identity,” led by Everett, Ebarvia, and San Diego State University’s Virginia Loh-Hagan, will unpack the latest research about representation in the classroom.

    Takeaways

    When asked about what they hope attendees will take from this year’s program, presenters said they hope attendees will start to see SEL as an indelible landmark in today’s educational landscape rather than a fleeting fad.

    “It needs to be tightly embedded within the curriculum. You can have an SEL program, but when you are designing your lessons and your curriculum, you need to have that SEL language in there,” says Theodore. “It cannot be taught in isolation of the curriculum.”

    “SEL is the underbelly of everything that we’re doing,” adds Schlund. “If we care about our kids and we care about the world at large, we have to care about SEL.”

    Alina O’Donnell is the former editor of Literacy Daily and communications strategist for ILA.

    This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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    Are RPPs the Future of Education? A 2.0 Approach

    By Debalina Maitra
     | Sep 17, 2019

    RPPs_680wResearch–practice partnerships, or RPPs, are a relatively new strategy developed to address a complex research problem or complex problems under a generic problem space in education.

    These long-term collaborations between practitioners and researchers are becoming an increasingly popular way of conducting educational research.

    As a postdoctoral researcher in Chicago, I worked with an RPP with the goal of implementing equitable computer science education in Chicago Public Schools. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science (CAFECS) is composed of computer scientists, mathematicians, educators, teachers, coaches, and district officials. My role as an equity-focused qualitative researcher was to analyze classroom videos to identify equitable practices and gaps in practice.

    At the core of any strong RPP is equity. To ensure a full partnership, each organization involved in the partnership generally provides at least one principal investigator (or coprincipal investigator) to the partnership to take on a leadership role. After some extensive research, I learned RRPs are a common approach in STEM education but not as popular in other areas of education.

    The reason is obvious—more funding goes toward STEM education. In most of the field of education, traditional ways of conducting research are more popular than collaboration with a multidisciplinary team. When I first got the call for my CAFECS job, I wondered how I would contribute to an NSF-funded grant that is heavily quantitative and computer science driven. Later I found my path, and I contributed to building an equity framework with its indicators. This work is still under progress.

    As a millennial or Gen Y researcher, my education philosophy is moving toward a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates technology. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is building a simulation practice space for teachers that is based on artificial intelligence. In another example, I recently came across research in which students learn about computational thinking and robotics through Shakespeare’s literature. Therefore, to fit in today’s research-scape, acquiring new technological knowledge is essential. That’s why educators incorporating a hybrid approach of blending content area literacy and disciplinary literacy while researching and teaching is important.

    In literacy, we often form RPPs to assess reading and writing. But my approach to an RPP in literacy/teacher education programs would be to think beyond just content area—students transferring content area skills to decipher discipline-specific areas yet getting engaged and reflecting is vital. Therefore, our knowing more about other disciplinary areas, researching them, and building a strong partnership becomes crucial, because our responsibility is to prepare a generation for jobs that don’t exist yet.

    Another advantage of RPPs is that they bring together a diverse range of skill sets, as people from different areas of expertise come together and work on problem spaces and exchange insights. Additionally, securing funds to conduct research becomes easier with a multidisciplinary team with a diverse range of skill sets.

    Finally, my strong recommendations are as follows:

    • If you are a practitioner, try to collaborate with teachers from diverse disciplinary areas. Reading, writing, language, and other content area skills are transferrable to disciplinary areas. This will equip the next generation of students with skills they need to succeed in the workforce.
    • If you are researcher, consider collaborating with multidisciplinary teams and teachers. Find the problem space and tackle it from all angles.
    • The dichotomous approach of researchers versus practitioners needs to be balanced.

    Debalina Maitra has a PhD in literacy education from the University of Wyoming and a minor in qualitative research methods. Her dissertation research focused on academic writing and cultural identity of culturally and linguistically diverse undergraduate students. She is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher for CAFECS (Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science), a NSF-funded research practitioner partnership grant in Chicago. Her research is focused on equity in computer science for culturally diverse students at Chicago Public Schools. She is particularly focusing on Hispanic students and trying to build an equity framework.

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    Roads Old and New

    By Charles Moore
     | Sep 16, 2019

    roads-old-and-new_w680Driving back from Austin, TX, last July felt like flying. The road back to Houston is pretty enough: rusting barbed wire fences, rolling hills covered in bluebonnets rising and falling like waves on the ocean. I left the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2018 Conference ready to conquer the world, feeling euphoria course through my nerve endings, yearning to write about my experience, seeking more of those who share this passion for literacy.

    I knew, as I left ILA 2018, that I was rushing back to a new school, a new team, and that newness would be both a challenge and a blessing. What I later learned was that I would find myself welcomed with open arms.

    The energy of those I met in person at ILA 2018, or revered from afar, filled me with confidence and reminded me that traveling familiar roads can lead me back to people and places that provide comfort and much-needed reassurance as I face what is certainly the greatest work I’ll ever do.

    Soon, I’ll follow a new road that will lead me east, through the crawfish farms on the Louisiana border, to Lafayette, and on to the Big Easy: New Orleans and ILA 2019. This time, though, I won’t be at ILA as an attendee. By some stroke of luck, my badge will read: Presenter. Nor will I be traveling that road alone; I’ll ride in the company of two teachers who are passionate about literacy in ways that I can describe only as inspirational.

    Finding familiarity in the passion for literacy that my coworkers embody empowers me to continue down that new and unfamiliar road. Megan Thompson and Helen Becker, two incredible educators, feel the pull of that road too. That subconscious force that compels them to advocate for students and teachers in our school and across our country. As culture creators, they throw their hearts and souls into their work.

    Teaching feels a lot like traveling down a road. Sometimes I feel too robotic, like my GPS took control, and other times I feel lost in time and space with a sense of panic spreading over my consciousness like spilled ink. But when I lean on our culture, our literacy ethos, the panic and fear vanish, and suddenly those post-conference emotions emerge from the work we hurl ourselves into every morning.

    Creating a Culture of Literacy, this year’s conference theme, implores us to bring our best ideas together. Roads far and wide converge on New Orleans in October and, at this point of convergence, literacy culture will reflect on itself and radiate back across our world, empowering teachers and students to explore their place in it.

    Please join us at ILA 2019. We’ll be the trio with matching outfits and nervous—but determined—expressions on our faces.

    Charles Moore, an ILA member since 2017, teaches sophomores and juniors at Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas. He blogs monthly for threeteacherstalk.com.

    This article originally appeared in the open access July/August issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    The trio of Charles Moore, Megan Thompson, and Helen Becker will present “Not Averse to Verse: Using Novels in Verse to Engage English Language Learners” on Saturday, Oct. 12, from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM. For more information, visit ilaconference.org/iplanner.

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    The #BookYourself Reading Challenge for Teachers

    By Stephanie Affinito and Kris McGee
     | Sep 13, 2019
    BookYourself_w680Teachers have great power in shaping students’ reading identities and reading lives. As the lead learners in the classroom, we model reading habits, invite students into reading with powerful read-alouds, cultivate diverse classroom libraries, and protect sacred, student-led independent reading time in the classroom. But before we can create the kind of vibrant literacy community that readers thrive in, we must first live as readers ourselves. And not just readers, but readers who read wide and diverse children’s literature selections and understand the potential power reading and writing has to change our lives and our place in the world.

    This past summer, we created the #BookYourself Challenge to help teachers think about their reading lives and create the spaces they need to tend to it. Each day, we posted “Think Abouts” across multiple social media platforms to remind teachers to find the time to read daily, connect with other readers and broaden their reading community, and boost their book knowledge to include current and diverse children’s literature. 

    Teachers across the United States came together for 21 days to renew their commitment to their reading lives. The #BookYourself Challenge pushed participants to change their daily routines to include time for reading, explore new titles and genres, and showcase their efforts through screenshots and “shelfies” (a photo of a person with the book that person was reading).  Participants read books in print and online, listened to audiobooks, subscribed to podcasts, explored local bookstores, and connected with the adult and student readers in their lives. The impact was immediate and a strong community emerged, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. This is a community that continues to thrive. 

    The #BookYourself Challenge was so successful that we plan to offer an abbreviated challenge over the winter months to help keep us and our participants’ reading lives strong and to recharge our reading community. Over each day of winter break, we will post daily Think Abouts to help our participants find the time to read and broaden their reading selections using #BookYourself. 

    You can access the #BookYourself Think Abouts on your favorite social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) or you can choose to receive a daily email sent directly to your inbox instead. You can follow the hashtags, like and retweet the posts, and share the challenge with other educators you think might enjoy the daily reminders. You can even join our Facebook community to connect with other teachers and educators to share book recommendations and to contribute your own ideas for carving out time to read. You’ll find a supportive reading community of teachers and educators who read, waiting there for you!

    Stephanie Affinito is a literacy teacher educator in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning at the University at Albany in New York. Stephanie regularly teaches graduate courses on elementary classroom literacy instruction, literacy intervention, and children’s literature. She has researched literacy coaching as part of her doctoral studies and focuses much of her current work on how technology and digital tools can impact teacher learning and collaboration. You can find her on Twitter at @AffinitoLit.

    Kris McGee is an associate professor of Literacy at Frostburg State University in Maryland. She has been sharing her love of teaching and children’s literature for 29 years with children, preservice teachers, and inservice teachers.

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    Keys to a Culture of Literacy: Equity, Access, Relevance, and Joyful Interaction

    By Julie Scullen
     | Sep 12, 2019

    Keys_to_culture_680wEducators are often asked, “How do we build a strong culture of literacy?” Within a secondary setting, this question is particularly complicated to answer. Middle and high school students are bombarded daily with a myriad of entertainment options, literally right in the palm of their hand. Literacy leaders and teachers often face disinterested, distracted, and dormant readers.

    By the time students get to secondary school, the focus has shifted. Our culture is vastly and necessarily different from that of elementary schools, and we must build a culture of literacy differently—with an eye toward adult literacy demands. We know this: Secondary school administrators rarely spend hours on a roof in the cold waving to gleeful high school students or reluctantly kiss a pig because their middle-level students reach a reading goal.

    A lasting culture of literacy isn’t created with contests and rewards and it isn’t measured in test scores. It’s about equity, access, relevance, and joyful interaction. It’s about an enthusiasm and a commitment by all staff—not just the English language arts (ELA) teachers—to ensure that all students have a text in their hands they are excited to read. Staff must embrace and value student choice as well as believe in the power of reading beyond the traditional, one-size-fits-all definition.

    A culture of literacy means students see themselves as readers, which means students must do the following:

    See themselves in texts

    Culturally relevant and inclusive texts are essential—or nothing else matters. Students need to see themselves, and their own culture, reflected in the texts they are assigned across the curriculum. Time and space must be dedicated to students thinking of themselves as readers and writers of social studies, mathematics, science, health, and world languages. Students should have frequent opportunities to experience other perspectives, and they should be encouraged to build bridges between worlds. They should have a say in what has relevance in their classrooms.

    See relevance and authenticity

    When embracing and celebrating a culture of literacy, students read and write these relevant texts for authentic reasons. Students witness literacy as necessary and valuable in the lives of adults. Staff must embrace and value student choice as well as believe in the transformative power of reading.

    In a school with a strong commitment to literacy, teachers rarely spend time telling students the key points in a text through a lecture. Instead, students read the text themselves, perhaps multiple times. Excerpts of crucial passages are analyzed and discussed across every discipline, and teachers use strategies and effective practices appropriate for their content. When a culture of literacy within a school is strong, students’ responses to text are deep and thoughtful. Their answers aren’t forced, and students don’t furtively look around for possible answers from which to choose. Teachers in every classroom ensure students engage meaningfully with text every day.

    See joy in literacy

    When a school system is committed to literacy, it is clear as early as within the hiring process. Potential staff members are asked, “What are you reading?” and “What would you recommend to our students?” Everyone is a reader. Administrators, custodians, cooks, the school nurse—they are all able to talk about and celebrate something they read lately. Staff members model what active literacy looks like in the adult world, from mundane to practical to joyous escape. Teachers themselves read with the hope of connecting a book to a student. Students need to see all staff members as readers, not just the ELA teachers. A real culture of literacy requires a commitment by a group of passionate people whose reach extends far beyond the library.

    How do you know if your building has a culture of literacy? If you have to ask, there’s work to be done—but there’s a plethora of personal and professional resources to help you get there.

    Julie Scullen, an ILA member since 1990, is a teaching and learning specialist for secondary reading in Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.

    This article originally appeared in the open access July/August issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    Julie Scullen, Cornelius Minor, Donalyn Miller, Carol Jago, Julia Torres, Minjung Pai, and Terry McHugh will lead one of the 10 institute sessions on Institute Day at ILA 2019 on Thursday, Oct. 10: Spark a Culture of Literacy: Build Positive Adolescent Reading Identities Through Relevance, Equity and Access. For more information, visit ilaconference.org.
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