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    Launchpads to Literacy

    By Diana Sharp and Megan Diaz
     | Mar 15, 2019
    launchpads-literacyWhen you think of community organizations that support literacy, what comes to mind? The library, certainly. But what about zoos and aquariums? Or science museums and performing arts centers? Or the city parks department? These organizations and more have been key partners for Explorers Club, a community-wide summer program for preschoolers and their families operating in Tampa, FL's lowest income neighborhood since 2014.

    Through this program, children and their families are not only given free access to these area cultural venues during the summer, but also are engaged in meaningful literacy activities to bring them together as a family, connect them with local resources, and help ensure they are ready for kindergarten.

    How we began

    In 2012, the YMCA and Champions for Children, a nonprofit provider of family education and child abuse prevention programs in the Tampa Bay region, opened a community learning center called Layla's House in the heart of the Sulphur Springs neighborhood. Approximately 40% of Sulphur Springs residents live below the poverty line, close to double the overall poverty rate of Tampa. Layla's House wanted to offer something special in the summer for families of children ages 0- 5.

    At the same time, literacy researchers at RMC Research Corporation were looking for a partner interested in creating a program for supporting the oral language and vocabulary growth of preschool children from economically disadvantaged homes. When the two organizations came together, the adventures began.

    Together, we approached the educational directors at different cultural venues in Tampa. We explained how "school readiness" meant more than knowing numbers and letters. We described research about how oral language and vocabulary need to be strengthened early, and how these skills are key to literacy success in kindergarten and beyond. We also described the important role of building children's knowledge and interests around rich topics such as zoo animals, sea creatures, outer space, and even children's own neighborhoods, so that families could have extended conversations and read more about whatever their children found most fascinating.

    We called the approach Fascinate Forward: looking for things that fascinate a child, then using that fascination to move learning forward. The cultural organizations responded generously and enthusiastically, and Explorers Club was born.

    Visits to the cultural venues are the highlights of Explorers Club activities, but the real power comes from wrapping each visit with layers of fun, intentional learning support. Families meet at Layla's House two mornings a week for activities themed to the places they will visit. Each learning theme takes place over two weeks. The activities at the community center include music and dance, storytimes, crafts, and learning centers, with a heavy emphasis on helping families talk with their children in ways that will support children's learning about each theme before, during, and after the venue visits.

    For most of the venue trips, families have complete flexibility regarding when they will visit. The family members are the primary learning facilitators during the trips, using what they learned at Layla's House to engage their children in conversations about what they see. The partnership with the venues has grown over the years. In addition to providing free tickets, venue staff come to Layla's House, bringing interactive presentations and intriguing items-including live animals.

    This past year, venue staff began lending Layla's House sets of items for a Curiosity Table that was added to the learning centers. For example, the zoo and aquarium lent us real and replica samples of hair, bones, teeth, eggs, feathers-even a tarantula exoskeleton. At the Curiosity Table, children and their families can see, touch, and learn about the items, guided by a university student volunteer.

    Diana Sharp, an ILA member since 1993, is a cognitive psychologist and literacy activist in the Tampa Bay area. working as a senior research associate at RMC Research Corporation.

    Megan Diaz is an undergraduate at the University of South Florida and will be pursuing a masters in speech language pathology.

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

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    ILA Launches Equity Scholarship for New Orleans–Area Teachers to Attend ILA 2019 Conference

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Mar 12, 2019
    ila2019-equity-scholarshipThe International Literacy Association (ILA) is offering scholarships to the organization’s 2019 conference, taking place at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center October 10–13 in New Orleans, LA. The program is open solely to educators who live within 100 miles of the location.

    The ILA 2019 Conference will attract thousands of literacy educators, professionals, and advocates from around the world. This is not the first time New Orleans has welcomed the organization (formerly the International Reading Association), who selected the city as the location for their 2014 conference.

    Each equity scholarship includes a complimentary two-day registration and a stipend for related expenses. Recipients will have opportunities to attend sessions that are peer reviewed and rooted in research; explore innovative products and meet their favorite authors in the Exhibit Hall; and build valuable connections in their own backyard.

    Location isn’t the only determining factor. To qualify, applicants must demonstrate experience, dedication, and need. Priority will be given to those working in underserved populations.

    Scholarship recipients must agree to share the knowledge gained at the conference with their colleagues. By requiring this, ILA hopes to extend the impact from a single attendee to an entire community of practice.

    “Teachers, and especially those working in underserved districts, often face insurmountable obstacles to professional development,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “This new initiative supports ILA’s commitment to equity and access.”

    The application period will be open March 12–April 30, and submissions will be evaluated by a panel of member volunteers.

    To learn more, visit ilaconference.org/scholarship.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily. 
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    Implementing Children's Rights to Read

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Mar 04, 2019
    In September, ILA launched a global movement aimed at ensuring every child has access to the education, opportunities, and resources needed to read. ILA’s Children’s Rights to Read—ten fundamental rights ILA asserts that every child deserves—frames reading as an issue of equity and social justice. 

    Since then, more than 1,000 individuals and organizations, representing over 50 countries; 30 organizations; 20 schools, districts, and universities; and 175,000 students, have pledged support to the initiative, which focuses on activating educators, policymakers and literacy partners to join ILA in their efforts to raise awareness of these Rights and see them realized for every child, everywhere.

    In this blog series, teachers and literacy professionals share how they are implementing the Rights in their daily practice.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily. 

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    Unlocking Our Potential: Our Journey to Being Named Literacy School of the Year

    By Jacqueline McBurnie
     | Feb 26, 2019
    schooloftheyear

    I think it would be fair to say that education is one of those news items that is often reported on negatively. So, at a time of teacher shortages, workload concerns, and a recruitment crisis, it was wonderful to be able to share the good news that our school, St. Anthony’s Primary in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland, was named the 2018 United Kingdom Literacy School of the Year.

    This is a fantastic achievement in itself, but even more so when you consider that St. Anthony’s is the first Scottish school to win the award from the United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA).

    Before I go into the hard work that led to this, allow me to outline the background and starting point of our literacy journey.

    Examining current practices

    In 2015, the Renfrewshire Literacy Approach was launched, involving a collaboration between the University of Strathclyde, led by professor Sue Ellis, and the Renfrewshire Council. The initiative required the head teacher and one classroom teacher from each primary school in the region to take part in a professional development program to improve the teaching of reading.

    For us, this led to comprehensive discussions on our current literacy practices. The renewed focus gave our staff the confidence to appraise and critique how we were teaching literacy, and our findings highlighted a focus on phonics, word banks, and reading schemes. It had been some time since we considered what it is that makes children want to read.

    Our starting point was simple: Revamp unappealing libraries and rejuvenate classroom library corners into places central to children’s learning.

    Reading areas were designed with comfortable seating. Fairy lights and brightly colored throws created an alluring atmosphere. Books were displayed with their full covers to entice readers.

    Staff agreed that they had to be honest in their attitudes and use of the classroom or school library. The library too often had been regarded as an add-on as opposed to an intrinsic part of learning. Our evaluations helped reinforce the conclusion that, subconsciously, the staff were putting little value on reading. Something had to change.

    The solution lay in two words, which continually arose during our discussions: reading culture.

    Our understanding of the importance of the ways in which to teach reading had slid into a set of mundane practices that enthused neither students nor staff to read. If we were serious about turning our students into readers, then we had to make it exciting. We had to change our reading culture.

    Our school’s transformation

    We realized that to help create readers in every student, we needed to create readers in every teacher. The staff drive that followed to embrace a revived interest in children’s literature helped bolster the foundations of the plan. We now read enthusiastically every day to our students, and we studied a master’s degree module on children’s literature and theory with University of Strathclyde led by Vivienne Smith.

    We attended meetings with the university twice a month for a full year. We were judges for the UKLA Book of the Year Award. We even started a book club for the teachers of all 49 schools in the literacy initiative.

    We read and read some more. We read authors and books we had never heard of. With increased knowledge, we became more informed in our book selection and we became better at choosing what we should read to our students. Our recommendations for the individual child improved and general reading skills across all levels improved.

    We no longer accepted being dictated to by reading schemes. Traditional book reviews were scrapped. Instead, children shared books with theirs peers over biscuits and juice during reading cafés. Supporting all of this are simple systems that promote self-recommendation of books for the children, by the children, and among the children.

    More recently, students have adopted Quick Response (QR) codes inside books. When the next reader scans these codes, he or she is linked to feedback on the book, such as a piece of writing, a photograph, or a video clip. Staff consider not only the cognitive knowledge, skills, and engagement but also children’s cultural capital and their own funds of knowledge and how they were positioned as a literacy learner by themselves or by others. We also use Aidan Chambers’s “The Three Sharings” as an oral scaffold for comprehension and response.

    We plan to open our school library to our community. St. Anthony’s serves an underresourced area, where around one third of our children is entitled to free meals and where the nearest library is a bus ride away. We believe having a library that the children can use with their families will enhance the reading opportunities available to them.

    A lesson worth teaching

    A few months after receiving the UKLA award, the achievement was further recognized when the school received a positive HMIE (Her Majesty’s Inspection of Education) report, which noted “the work of the school in improving approaches to literacy and English language and the shared and consistent approach to reading and writing which is creating for children a literacy rich environment.”

    There is little doubt that our journey has been challenging. However, acknowledging the staff commitment as well as the focused determination has been emphatic.

    So where do we go from here?

    We recognize there is still work to be done. We will continue with our book club, we will continue to recommend books to each other, and we will continue to work toward encouraging and supporting our community of readers.

    To recognize words as they are written on a page is one thing. However, to teach children that we can transcend to exotic lands, to times past, present, or future, or to be any character of our desire within the pages of a book is truly a lesson worth teaching and worth learning.

    Jacqueline McBurnie, an educator for 30 years, is the head teacher at St. Anthony’s Primary in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

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

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    ILA Announces 2019 Conference Speakers

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Feb 20, 2019

    ila2019-registrationChelsea Clinton tops the list of notable speakers at the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2019 Conference, to be held in New Orleans, LA, October 10–13, 2019. Clinton, a longtime champion of early learning, will take the main stage on Friday, October 11 to discuss the connection between literacy and advocacy, as well as her newest book, Don’t Let Them Disappear.  

    Scheduled for publication on April 2, 2019, Don’t Let Them Disappear will introduce young readers to a selection of endangered animals and offer tips on how to help save them from extinction. Following her address, Clinton will participate in an interactive Q&A moderated by 2018 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year Kimberly Eckert.

    For the 2019 conference, ILA, a global advocacy and membership organization advocating for evidence-based literacy instruction and equitable educational policies, will focus on creating a thriving culture of literacy in schools, districts, and communities.

    Other keynotes include Pedro A. Noguera, distinguished professor of education at the University of California–Los Angeles, who will draw on his body of research to discuss how educators can provide all students with an equitable and empowering education; Hamish Brewer, an unconventional middle school principal from Fredericksburg, VA, whose educational philosophy is “be relentless”; and Renée Watson, a New York Times bestselling author who facilitated poetry workshops with New Orleans youth in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

    Clinton also has ties to the New Orleans community. In summer 2018, she helped launch a local “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read and Sing” campaign—a Too Small to Fail initiative of the Clinton Foundation—that provides parents and caregivers with resources to boost early brain development and language skills. In Louisiana, nearly half of all children (46%) enter kindergarten unprepared, lagging in critical language, reading, and social-emotional skills.

    “As a person and a public figure, Chelsea has been outspoken about her early love of reading and how that shaped her future success,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “Her work demonstrates that growing a culture of literacy takes place outside of school as well as within it.”

    The ILA 2019 Conference will bring together thousands of literacy educators, professionals, and advocates from around the world to connect with and learn from leaders in the field and exchange ideas, best practices, and resources for literacy instruction. To learn more, visit ilaconference.org.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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