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    Access to Literacy: An Inalienable Right to Quality Education

    By Anasthasie N. Liberiste-Osirus
     | Apr 03, 2019

    Within the world of international education, there are more than 175 million children unable to read. In Latin America alone—in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Nicaragua, and Haiti—the national literacy average is below 80% countrywide. When looking specifically at Haiti, there is a 49% literacy rate, which makes it the lowest in the western hemisphere and the 12th lowest globally.

    Such numbers are shocking and call for a global paradigm shift centered on access interventions that support a culture of literacy.

    The issue at large

    Students everywhere have an inalienable right to quality education and literacy resources, but they are being denied this right because of systemic variables that are far too great to maneuver alone.

    Because of the generational and situational poverty within rural communities in Haiti, many children are subjected to toxic stressors as well as lack of available print and the foundational skills necessary to achieve academically. Yet reading is one of the core foundational skills needed for academic and economical success in modern society. Reading allows one to discover unfamiliar realms, provides exposure to vocabulary, develops positive self-image, invites creativity, and navigates the vehicle of change when one is forced to endure difficult situations.

    You see, starting the academic race late can have larger critical implications for societal growth in the long run. Research has shown us that a country's success in national academic assessments, such as in reading and math, can account for more than 70% of that country's economic growth. In countries such as Haiti, with large disparities in the acquisition of reading and writing skills, this link is daunting when considering national assessment results that reveal incoming third graders' zero fluency rate in either Haitian Creole or French.

    So what can be done to mitigate this harsh reality?

    Children's Rights to Read

    The work we do at the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) in Haiti program at the University of Notre Dame aims to address these issues. The ACE program strengthens underresourced schools through leadership, research, and professional service, with programs in place across the United States, as well as in Ireland, Chile, and Haiti.

    In Haiti, expanding access is one of the pillars of the program, which began as a way to help rebuild schools across the country following the devastating 2010 earthquake.

    Our mission is supported by the framework of ILA's recently launched Children's Rights to Read initiative. Composed of 10 fundamental rights ILA asserts every child deserves, the campaign aims to activate educators around the world to ensure every child, everywhere, receives access to the education, opportunities, and resources needed to read.

    This campaign shines a poignant spotlight on the current global literacy crisis.

    Among the rights

    •  Children have the right to access text in print and digital formats.
    • Children have the right to read for pleasure.
    • Children have the right to supportive reading environments with knowledgeable literacy partners.
    • Children have the right to read as a springboard for other forms of communication, such as writing, speaking, and visually representing.
    • Children have the right to benefit from the financial and material resources of governments, agencies, and organizations that support reading and reading instruction.

    Our intervention efforts in Haiti begin with access. Children must be afforded the opportunity to reflect on life's possibilities, and they can do this through high-quality resources such as books.

    There has been a series of interventions around increasing the level of access to books in countries such as Haiti. With many parents having fewer than three books in their homes and schools having minimal access to supplementary books in the classroom, the need to increase a modal response is vital.

    Organizations such as Libraries Without Borders, Library For All, and World Readers, to name a few, have made a ripple effect in the basin of illiteracy in Haiti. The University of Notre Dame's ACE program has also become innovative in its approach to literacy intervention by providing classroom libraries within its supported schools.

    We partner with local organizations to implement literacy interventions that deliver a scripted literacy program, teacher training, supportive coaching, quality resources, and leveled texts within the classroom. The goal is to support emergent readers, strengthen teaching pedagogy, and link community and school, all while increasing access.

    Anecdotal reports from students and teachers clearly demonstrate that they welcome having access to books in their mother tongue of Haitian Creole as well as the language of instruction, French. Students find reading sessions meaningful as they can practice reading all while extending oral vocabulary in Haitian Creole and French.

    Teachers participate in read-aloud sessions that provide students with the occasion to be reflective while thinking critically. The classroom libraries provide manipulatives such as phonics dominoes and vocabulary bingo. Teachers are also trained on the importance of increasing print in the classroom as well as how to set up and use Haitian Creole and French interactive word walls.

    One step at a time

    Though the establishment of schoolwide libraries is ideal for supplementing reading materials, it is not always a feasible option because of the financial constraints of many schools. However, it is important to remember that the battle to shift the axis of access must start small. Our efforts can be building blocks toward larger interventions.

    ILA's Children's Rights to Read initiative is the constant reminder we need that education for all is possible—­one building block at a time.

    Anasthasie N. Liberiste-­Osirus, an ILA member since 2011, is the associate director of the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education in Haiti program.

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

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

    By Jacqueline McBurnie
     | Feb 26, 2019

    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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    Young Authors' Studio: Writing and Learning Together in Arizona

    By Wendy R. Williams and Stephanie F. Reid
     | Feb 05, 2019

    Picture this: a Saturday morning, the room buzzing with conversation and movement. The youth writers sitting at the Comics/Graphic Novels table laugh and nudge each other, pointing out details in their images and words. The university student who has organized this breakout session sits nearby, guiding and encouraging them.

    Assorted graphic novels and comics, how-to books, art supplies, and templates are within easy reach. Amid the hum, one writer’s attention is fastened on a How to Draw Superheroes book. He turns some pages quickly and pauses on others. When he is ready to stop reading, he claims a big box of crayons and begins his own Superman and Doctor Octopus story.

    At a time when we are seeing cuts to creative writing and arts education in schools, having spaces such as this one where young people can pursue their love of writing and explore different ways to write is crucial.

    This has been the philosophy behind our Young Authors’ Studio (YAS) initiative, a free writing workshop at Arizona State University (ASU) for students in grades 5–12. During the seven-week program, these elementary through high school students write and learn alongside ASU students, who guide them through a range of high-interest activities they design.

    The structure of Young Authors’ Studio

    YAS is held at ASU’s Polytechnic campus. Upper-division ASU students from Wendy Williams’s project-based English course, Mentoring Youth Writers, earn internship credit as they plan, promote, and run the program.

    Williams created YAS in fall 2017 to reach students who like to write in forms that are not always taught in school (e.g., spoken word poetry or songwriting). Her student mentors spent five, four-hour sessions designing the program, which then evolved into a seven-week writing series running from October to December for approximately 18 students. The series, held again in 2018 with 31 students, consisted of six themed workshops and a public performance and writing gallery.

    The mentors also hosted an information session for families. The YAS writing workshops took place from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays, and mentors were on campus from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to plan, run YAS, and debrief.

    Mentors typically began each workshop by inviting everyone to write in their journals. Afterward, the youth writers attended their choice of two small-group breakout sessions (each mentor offered a different breakout each day). Then the writers met in teams, small communities where they shared and reflected on their writing each week with an assigned mentor.

    This program aims to show young people how fun and varied writing can be. For example, themed workshops have included narrative writing, music and poetry, art and writing, drama, genres, and revision and rehearsal. Small-group breakout sessions have explored novel outlining, songwriting, comics, tableaux, character creation, and many other topics. Breakout sessions encourage youth writers to focus on writing elements and experiment with different types of writing.

    Celebrating youth writing

    The program culminated in a public performance and writing gallery for families and friends. Mentors helped set up the gallery with the writers’ name cards and samples of their work. Sticky notes and pens were available so guests, youth writers, and mentors could leave comments. Then everyone headed into the performance space, where the writers shared pieces they composed.

    This showcase highlighted one of the primary missions of YAS: celebrating youth voices.

    Just as it benefits the student writers, it also benefits the student mentors. Our mentors cultivated a range of real-world skills. They problem-solved with each other, developed and led writing activities, worked with youth, and communicated with parents. Mentors designed marketing materials, promoted the program, and ran the YAS email account and social media. The 2017 cohort also presented their curriculum to English teachers at a local conference.

    Inspiring the next generation

    Adding another layer of purpose to the initiative, YAS is set up as a writing lab that allows researchers to learn more about mentoring and youth authorship. ASU graduate students are encouraged to study an aspect of the program and write for publication. As a bonus to us, study findings will help shape future iterations of our program.

    Moving forward, we expect to watch our YAS initiative continue to grow, and we look forward to bringing more creative writing opportunities to our area students to help shape the next generation of authors and creative thinkers.

    Wendy R. Williams, an ILA member since 2011, is an assistant professor at Arizona State University and the director of Young Authors’ Studio. She recently published Listen to the Poet: Writing, Performance, and Community in Youth Spoken Word Poetry (University of Massachusetts Press).

    Stephanie F. Reid, an ILA member since 2016, is a doctoral student in the Learning, Literacies, and Technologies program at Arizona State University.

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

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    ILA Announces 2018 Board Election Results

    By Wesley Ford
     | May 16, 2018
    The results are confirmed, and we are pleased to announce the International Literacy Association's (ILA) elected Board members, including our new Vice President:

    VP Headley HeadshotKathy N. Headley, Professor of Literacy & Senior Associate Dean, Clemson University, South Carolina

    Three new Board members-at-large were also elected:

    Benjamin headshotJuli-Anne Benjamin, Veteran English Educator in NYCDOE; currently Instructional Coach, Leadership Mentor, Newark, New Jersey

    Carss HeadshotWendy Carss,
    Lecturer in Literacy Education, University of Waikato, New Zealand

    Kunz headshotKenneth Kunz, Ed.D.,
    K-12 Supervisor of Curriculum & Instruction, Middlesex, NJ Public Schools; President, New Jersey Literacy Association

    Their terms will run from 2018–2021.

    The entire ILA community extends its best wishes to the newly elected Vice President and Board members.

    Wesley Ford is the social media strategist for ILA.
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