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    ILA's First-Ever Social Justice Panel Primes Educators to Discuss Race in the Classroom

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 20, 2017

    Cinnamon scones.

    social-justice-panelThat’s what was on Cornelius Minor’s mind as he left for the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2016 Conference & Exhibits for his first ILA conference experience. Just two days earlier, he had watched the livestream of the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, which came on the heels of the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge, LA.

    He felt angry, helpless, and heartbroken.

    “I walked into school that day, visibly carrying my hurt. Wondering what I would say. I needed allies. And my colleagues were eating scones,” said Minor. “Cinnamon scones. I can still smell them.”

    Minor, a lead staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, had reached a breaking point.  He never wanted a student to feel the way he felt walking into the breakroom at work that day. He sent a letter to ILA’s Executive Board, asking if it was possible to add a space for educators to gather and talk about the week’s events, which also included the killing of five Dallas police officers. The resulting “Impromptu Conversation Led by Cornelius Minor” was immediately added to the conference’s agenda. Minor modeled how teachers could talk about emotionally charged and controversial topics to a passionate, standing-room-only crowd.

    It was considered by many to be a highlight of ILA 2016.

    Minor’s session inspired ILA to add a new event to this year’s lineup: “Disrupting a Destructive Cycle: How Literacy Drives Social Change.” Moderated by The New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, ILA’s goal was that the panel would encourage more literacy educators to facilitate difficult conversations in the classroom centered on topics like racism, implicit bias, and equity—issues confronting students every day. Students need an outlet and support. Educators need tools.

    Partnering with Heinemann to broadcast the event via Facebook Live to reach more educators around the globe, the forum took place on Saturday, July 15 at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in Orlando, FL. Approximately 250 educators attended in person and 7,500 people on Facebook Live have watched it to date.

    Joining Minor on the panel were Monita K. Bell, senior editor for Teaching Tolerance; Deborah Delisle, executive director at ASCD; Zareen Jaffery, executive editor of Salaam Reads; Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education; and Gene Luen Yang, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

    In her keynote speech, “Literacy as Liberation,” Hannah-Jones walked the audience through the history of the criminalization of literacy and segregation in education, starting with 18th-century slavery and arriving at present day. Her takeaway? Despite landmark decisions like Brown v. Board of Education and (mostly) well-intentioned education reform efforts, the U.S. education system is still separate and unequal.

    “The classrooms in Detroit are abysmal,” Hannah-Jones said. “You have students who’ve never taken home a textbook in 13 years. Who don’t have enough chairs. Who have moldy food. Where the water is not drinkable. Who are being assigned third-grade worksheets when they’re in high school, but that’s because they’re reading at a second-grade level.”

    This was not shocking to Thomas, a “product” of the Detroit public school system who returned to the Detroit classroom as a teacher for six years before she, and most of her other young, black colleagues, were fired.

    “I was expensive to employ. I was a traditionally certified public school teacher,” she said.

    Over the next hour, the panelists talked about what they’re doing to disrupt cycles of inequality and affect social change. Thomas believes that one of the most important steps administrators can take is to remove the structural barriers to teacher candidates of color by developing a strategic plan around diverse hiring practices.

    Delisle, who formerly served as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama, recognized the social constructs on very early stages of children’s lives. She emphasized the need for stronger teacher training programs that prepare teachers to walk into a classroom and challenge the status quo.

    “Are they ready to have critical conversations among themselves? In addition, are they willing to question what books are used, what novels are promoted, what kinds of conversation and discourse they can actually have in a classroom? And even among themselves, are they able to question their own practices?”

    Panelists also discussed the importance of using books and texts that reflect a mosaic of races, cultures, religions, ages, genders, and sexual orientations to help students identify with literature and connect books to their life.

    “When I was a kid, it was hard to find stories with characters who looked like me or lived like me,” said Yang. “I think one of the reasons why I love superheroes so much is because almost every superhero has a dual identity. As an Asian American, that was my reality.”

    As a Pakistani-American Muslim, Jaffery also failed to see her own experiences reflected in the books she read as a young girl. In 2016, she founded Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that focuses on children's and young adult books featuring Muslim kids and families. Her intent was to promote a more nuanced and honest portrayal of the everyday lives of Muslim families.

    Bell believes that bias reduction starts internally. She said that educators should practice self-reflection to observe their own biases, with the assistance of online tools such as Project Implicit's Hidden Bias Test, or by seeking out professional development opportunities that engage specifically with bias. Once they have conquered their own biases, she recommends educators use Teaching Tolerance’s classroom activities with their students.

    “You don’t know what you don’t know about yourself,” said Bell. “Once you recognize these things in yourself, you can start to do the work to counter it.”

    During the conversation, half of the attendees were silent, motionless, absorbed. The rest couldn’t sit still; they were live Tweeting, clapping, and shouting out in agreement.

    Juli-Ann Benjamin was among the attendees who was too enthralled to pick up her phone. In the 22 years she has served as a teacher, assistant vice principal, and now, a literacy coach, in the New York and New Jersey public school systems, very few professional development experiences have truly resonated with her experiences as a black educator.

    “I’ve come to ILA for seven or eight years and have never felt more included and happy to be a black educator,” she said. “I’m a happier ILA member because I now see myself within the workshop sessions.”

    Outside of the session, a flurry of social media activity has sustained since Saturday.

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    Hannah-Jones, along with ILA, hopes that the panel will continue to reach more educators and help them normalize conversations about race and social justice, and empower their students to become agents of social change.

    Watch the archived recording here.

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.
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    ILA Celebrates Literacy Achievements at Annual Awards Ceremony

    Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 17, 2017

    Katie Lett Kelly TaylorThe International Literacy Association (ILA) celebrated achievements in literacy research, instruction, and advocacy on Sunday afternoon at the ILA Literacy Leader Awards, part of the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in Orlando, FL.

    ILA applauded both new and familiar faces—from 30 under 30 honorees to former presidents. Attendees traveled from as far as Perth, Australia, to accept their awards in person and deliver remarks.  

    ILA Associate Executive Director Stephen Sye said he is thrilled to honor this class of literacy leaders, and he looks forward to seeing what they accomplish next.

    “ILA is proud to recognize and present the Literacy Leader Awards to so many magnificent educators who are working tirelessly to bring literacy to all,” said Sye. “From our up-and-coming rising star teachers to our veteran educators who have served the organization with grace and passion, we’re confident that we can achieve our mission of advancing literacy worldwide with champions like those we were able to honor today.”

    Award highlights include:

    • ILA presented the inaugural Corwin Literacy Leader Award, which honors a district or school administrative literacy leader who has worked to increase student literacy achievement within a school or district by advancing professional development, instructional resources support, and the development of literacy programs. The first recipient of the Corwin Literacy Leader Award is David Wilkie, principal at McVey Elementary in Newark, DE. After returning from the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits, Wilkie was inspired to rebuild the school's culture of literacy. Wilkie has been working with ILA to implement independent reading time, school-wide author and book studies, interactive read-alouds, and other reading initiatives at McVey Elementary. This year, he returned to conference with a group of 23 teachers and staff members.
    • The ILA William S. Gray Citation of Merit Award, recognizing a nationally or internationally known individual for his or her outstanding contributions to the field of reading/literacy, was awarded to John Guthrie, the Jean Mullan Professor of Literacy Emeritus at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD. Guthrie is the former research director of ILA, a former fellow of the American Education Research Association and the American Psychological Association, a member of the ILA Hall of Fame, and a member of the National Academy of Education. His research focuses on motivations and strategies in reading at all school levels. 
    • Marique Daugherty, a 2015 ILA 30 Under 30 honoree, received the Technology and Literacy Award, which is given to a K–12 educator who is making an innovative contribution through the use of education technology. A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Daugherty is currently a language and literacy specialist at Rosedale Hewens Academy Trust in Slough, UK. She holds a master’s degree in literacy studies from the University of the West Indies and has created and led literacy programs and institutes in Jamaica, including The Five Steps Literacy Program, which supports reading, comprehension, fluency, and word recognition.
    • Recognizing newly published authors who show extraordinary promise, ILA Children's and Young Adults' Book Awards were presented to Lori Preusch, Aimée Bissonette, Lindsay Eagar, Sandra Evans, Reyna Grande, Jeff Zentner, Karen Fortunati Devlin, and Nicolaia Rips.
    • The Jerry Johns Outstanding Teacher Educator in Reading, presented to a college or university teacher of reading methods or reading-related courses, was awarded to Peggy Semingson, professor of language and literacy studies at The University of Texas at Arlington. Her research interests include digital pedagogies to engage preservice and inservice teachers, socially distributed knowledge sharing that takes place online, and students who have difficulty in literacy learning. She has won two prestigious awards related to distance learning.
    • The ILA Outstanding Dissertation of the Year Award, honoring an exceptional dissertation completed in the field of reading or literacy, was awarded to  Laura Northrop for Breaking the Cycle: Cumulative Disadvantage in Literacy, completed for the University of Pittsburgh. Chaired by Sean P. Kelly, Northrop’s dissertation was published in Reading Research Quarterly.
    • ILA past president Carmelita Williams received the ILA Special Service Award, which is given to an individual who has demonstrated unusual and distinguished service to the International Literacy Association. Williams is the former director of Norfolk State University’s Center of Excellence for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement.

    The full list of award winners is available here.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    We’re in This Together: How Chapters and Affiliates Can Work With Other Organizations to Promote Literacy Worldwide

    By Leandra Elion
     | Jul 13, 2017

    MRAJust the very act of reading this article sets us apart from millions of people in the world who do not have the skills to read and write. According to UNESCO, 12% of the world’s population is not functionally literate. Reading this staggering statistic and thinking about the vast numbers of people affected can be overwhelming. But the solution is not for the individual to solve; it is for all of us to solve.

    And when we want to be part of this work, it turns out that we are not alone. There are so many people and organizations around the world that are doing the important work of advancing literacy.

    The following is just one example. This is how the Massachusetts Reading Association (MRA) has become involved in the work of two important projects to advance literacy in South Africa.

    Forming partnerships

    Since 2009, MRA has made financial donations to the Family Literacy Project (FLP), a program based in a rural area in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Rooted in the knowledge that literacy begins at home before a child even enters formal schooling, the FLP supports parents and caregivers to create everyday opportunities to build early literacy skills. FLP trains home visitors to visit isolated rural families and support their literacy interactions with children. Very often the parents and caregivers want to improve their own literacy skills, and the FLP provides this training as well.

    In addition, the organization runs community libraries so adults and children alike can build and strengthen their reading skills. FLP runs four community libraries and other smaller libraries in boxes, much like Little Free Libraries, so that people throughout the 15 villages in the region can have access to reading materials. An outgrowth of these libraries has been reading clubs for children and teenagers.

    MRA’s newest international partnership was established last summer when our members attended a session at the ILA conference in Boston. Judith Baker, a consultant for the South African organization African Storybook, presented its creative and pragmatic work. One of the barriers to literacy in Africa is the lack of reading material in a child’s mother tongue. African Storybook has found a way to address this lack of reading material, not only for vernacular languages but also for culturally relevant characters and settings. African Storybook’s goal is to provide open access to picture storybooks in the languages of Africa so that children can develop literacy in their home language and experience the enjoyment and spark of imagination that reading can bring.

    On the basis of the difficulty of providing printed books and acknowledging that cell phone use is widespread throughout Africa, African Storybook creates stories in a digital format that can be downloaded and read on smartphones. Because the stories are all created as open source material, people can translate the stories into their language. They can also write their own stories to add to the collection.

    What you can do

    I traveled to South Africa, the country where I am originally from, last August. The purpose of my trip was not only to visit family but also to explore closer literacy connections between my former home and my new home in Massachusetts. During my visit, I was fortunate enough to make connections with the directors of both of these projects.

    In Johannesburg I met with the project leader of African Storybook, Tessa Welch. The remoteness of FLP precluded a visit, but I had many conversations with its director, Pierre Horn. From these discussions, it was obvious that financial support is always welcome. It takes money to buy books for FLP’s community libraries. It takes money to develop the apps and software to make stories accessible through African Storybook. But our support for the crucial literacy work of these organizations will go beyond our continued financial support.

    MRA’s International Projects Committee has plans to exchange expertise and strengthen the personal connections between the organizations. FLP is looking for skilled literacy teachers to provide training, especially in the area of struggling readers. This, of course, necessitates face-to-face training, either in Massachusetts or in South Africa. The logistics of raising funds and recruiting volunteers to travel and teach has become our new challenge to embrace.

    African Storybook needs people to translate and edit their open source stories into a myriad of African languages. Anyone literate in an African language can help directly in this project. And even if MRA and ILA members may not be fluent themselves, through our associations with universities and others, we can recruit the needed editors and translators.

    These are just two examples of what MRA is doing, but they show what any chapter or affiliate can do to get involved and make a global impact. Here are some starting points that can help your organization:

    • Form an International Projects Committee to explore and promote international literacy projects.
    • List the assets (not just financial) of your organization. Do you have members who are teacher educators, are EL teachers fluent in other languages, have experience teaching abroad, have emigrated from or who have connections to other countries?
    • Attend conferences and look for presentations that focus on international literacy initiatives.
    • Connect on social media to learn about new projects and initiatives. Follow @ILAToday on Twitter and also search for ideas with #InternationalLiteracy or #WorldLiteracy.

    Possibilities abound to promote literacy worldwide. By connecting with people in your local literacy organization and with people engaged in literacy work around the world, our ability to read, write, and communicate will, as ILA promotes, connect us with people and empower all of us to achieve things we never thought possible.

    Leandra ElionLeandra Elion is the chair of the International Projects Committee for the Massachusetts Reading Association, a 2016 ILA Award of Excellence recipient.

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

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    What Happens When the Coach Needs Coaching

    Turkesshia Moore
     | Jul 12, 2017

    Literacy Professional Coaching“Any questions?” asked a member of our district leadership team at our quarterly meeting. I braved the silence and looks from my colleagues that were meant to hush me, and raised my hand. I stood up and asked, “What path is available for those of us in coordinator and coaching positions?”

    She did not have an answer.

    Literacy coaches, reading specialists, and literacy coordinators all have an important place in U.S. schools. ILA’s research brief, “The Multiple Roles of School-Based Specialized Literacy Professionals,” coined a new term to represent all of these roles: the specialized literacy professional. While ILA specifically refers to school-based professionals, district-level literacy professionals also provide a wealth of knowledge to districts, schools, teachers, and students. Because my experience has been at the school and district level, I know that these professionals are not always able to increase their content knowledge unless they pursue learning experiences on their own.

    The literacy professional for a school (or school district) is often the first person sought out for advice, strategies, data review, or observation. In order to provide effective coaching and assistance, these literacy professionals need to continue to develop their own skillsets and stay abreast of the latest literacy research. If the school or the district is not providing professional development opportunities, literacy professionals must find them independently. This can be time consuming and overwhelming if you do not know what to look for.

    Literacy professionals should first complete a self-assessment to determine their areas of strength and weakness. The Literacy Clearinghouse provides an easy-to-score self-assessment for elementary literacy professionals that would be a great starting point. Meeting with other literacy professionals in the area is another way to expand your skillset; you can each present on your most proficient areas (based on self-assessment results) and learn from one another.

    To be a successful literacy professional, you have to continue to evolve and grow, just as we expect of teachers and students. Seek this evolution and growth on your own, if necessary. Children are depending on it.

    Turkesshia MooreTurkesshia Moore is a literacy specialist with Wilson Language Training. She most recently served as a K-5 literacy coordinator in Greensboro, NC. She is currently pursuing her Ed.S. Degree in Educational Leadership. Her interests include the relationship between parental involvement and student achievement, providing adequate funding and effective instruction in rural communities, and the effect of generational dispositions of education on current student achievement.

    Turkesshia Moore will present a session titled “What Happens When the Coach Needs Coaching” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17. For more information, download the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits app or visit ilaconference.org/app.
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    Add African American Dads to your Literacy Programs and Watch Magic Happen

    Rachel Slaughter
     | Jul 12, 2017

    African American DadsA boy’s father is his first hero. Not only does the son look up to his father as his role model, but he also looks to his father for guidance. A child watches his father’s every move. He is watching when the father is aware. He is watching when the father is not aware. Sons imitate their fathers far more often than fathers wish to admit.

    For children, actions speak louder than words. In schools where African American boys may show little to no interest in reading, imitation can be a positive force in their reading success.

    Research shows that a boy who has a father as a reading role model during his early literacy years is more likely to develop the behaviors of a literate person. This fact creates a powerful charge for a father as a reading role model. Although a father who promotes reading can change his son’s entire future, some boys lack father figures in their homes. School administrators and literacy leaders can still reap the benefits of black male reading role models by adding African American dads to their literacy programs at schools. School administrators and literacy leaders can celebrate the idea that black male students can identify with other black males who are willing to serve as reading role models.

    Below are three simple ideas to get started:

    • Promote the idea of community. In the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau), Coates explores the "beautiful burden" an African American father has in educating his son. This beautiful burden is one the entire male community can shoulder. Reach out to the dads in your community to encourage their involvement in literacy programs.
    • Invite African American dads to share their stories. A father who didn’t like reading as a young person may still show a reluctance for reading as an adult. Invite fathers to the classroom to tell stories and share experiences. In my work as a literacy leader, I was able to find male relatives of a former Harlem Globetrotter, a Tuskegee Airman, and a Buffalo Soldier. These men shared stories that were passed down to them by these great men in history. As the literacy leader, I found books that dovetailed these experiences and ask the guests to read them to the class as side dishes to their stories.
    • Promote literacy through short pieces. Poetry is a fun form of expression. Hold a poetry slam night and promote the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Countee Cullen. And don’t overlook our contemporaries like Tupac Shakur and Will Smith. Men tend to be attracted to short literary pieces that pack big punches.

    You can access the content you need for themed literacy programs on sites such as The Poetry Foundation, Poem Hunter, and All Poetry. In order to find the men in your community who wish to get involved in your literacy program, distribute a survey. Celebrate the volunteers by promoting them on your literacy website. It doesn't hurt to offer food, either! 

    With a little effort, a literacy leader can fill the literacy program with dads who are eager and willing to share their stories. 

    Rachel SlaughterRachel Slaughter is a doctoral candidate specializing in literacy education at Widener University in Pennsylvania. Her research interest centers on promoting reading in African American males with the help of African American males as reading role models.

    Rachel Slaughter will present a session titled “Add African American Dads to your Literacy Programs and Watch Magic Happen” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17. For more information, download the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits app or visit ilaconference.org/app.

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