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    The Teacher’s Assistant

    By Scott Alessi
     | Sep 22, 2016

    Illinois Reads (2)Last year, Anne Bond received what may have been the most daunting assignment of her college career. Bond and her classmates in Loyola University Chicago’s reading teacher program were each tasked with crafting a curriculum for books selected by Illinois Reads, an initiative of the Illinois Reading Council that promotes literacy by highlighting the work of local authors. But this was more than just a classroom exercise—the students were told their work would be made available to teachers statewide for use in their classrooms.

    Bond, a student in Loyola’s School of Education, admits to being a bit nervous about creating something that would have such a broad reach. But she also recognized it as an excellent opportunity to hone her skills as a teacher. She selected The Detective’s Assistant by Chicago author Kate Hannigan, which is aimed at the same elementary grade levels that Bond hopes to one day teach, and she began developing a curriculum to include thematic discussions, digital whiteboard activities, and a vocabulary review. Her goal was to create engaging activities for students and an easily accessible guide for teachers. Bond and her classmates helped each other make their lesson plans as classroom-ready as possible. “We all thought about what we would want to pick up if we were teaching,” she says.

    The assignment stemmed from a collaboration between Loyola and Illinois Reads, selecting annually a group of books aimed at age levels from pre-K through adult. Loyola professor Jane Hunt developed the project as a way for students to gain experience in designing curriculum materials while supporting literacy education in Illinois. Over two years, 17 Loyola students have completed teacher guides that are currently available for download on the Illinois Reads website.

    “It has been a really great way for our undergraduates to become involved in a statewide project,” says Hunt. “There are so many teachers who are hired who never write any kind of curriculum that is even shared at a school or district level. And our teacher candidates are working on materials that teachers anywhere can have access to.”

    For Bond, the project had another unexpected benefit. She decided to send a message to Hannigan through the author’s website and was pleasantly surprised to receive a prompt reply. The two struck up a conversation, and Hannigan provided insight that allowed Bond to expand her work on the book’s themes. She also added information to her guide on how teachers can connect with Hannigan for school visits or Skype chats with their classes. When Bond shared her work with the author, Hannigan was so impressed that she asked permission to post a copy of the guide on her website, too.

    “I think the partnership between all of these people who really care about reading and who care about kids getting a quality reading education is so beneficial,” Bond says. “It has created so many great guides for teachers to use and great relationships with authors and teachers all around the state. So many children have benefitted.”

    Tammy Potts, chairperson of Illinois Reads, agrees that the collaboration has been a big success. When she’s shown the guides created by Loyola students to teachers, Potts sums up their response in one word: “Wow!” She says that’s a testament to the talent and creativity of the students, which in turn has furthered the mission of Illinois Reads.

    “It’s a win–win,” Potts says. “Students get to learn and practice in the Loyola environment, and the teachers in Illinois get to reap the benefits.” 

    This article appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Loyola magazine, the official publication of Loyola University Chicago, and is reprinted with permission.

     
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    LEAPing Into Action

    By Jennifer Nelson
     | Aug 30, 2016

    LT341_LEAP1Many teachers in Nigeria were never taught how to encourage their students to read and write critically and creatively. It’s not often a prioritized objective in their country’s education system—but that’s changing.

    “Some teachers simply assume that reading is all about English language, and others think the task of teaching reading and literacy is the business of the English language teacher alone,” explains Gabriel B. Egbe, president of the Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN).

    Complicating matters, there are no Nigerian higher education institutions with degree programs in either reading or literacy, and the country struggles with limited access to books. Egbe notes that many teachers are also hesitant to collaborate with each other or pursue opportunities to develop their own literacy or teaching skills.

    Enter RAN, which aims to shift priorities and improve literacy instruction in schools through teacher training and student reading programs. One of ILA’s more than 75 affiliates, RAN continues to face obstacles, ranging from a lack of resources to the inability of students to read and write even in their native language, but it is making significant strides.

    RAN recently teamed up with the state government to institute the Literacy Enhancement and Achievement Project (LEAP) as a pilot program in Anambra State, Nigeria. Designed to empower teachers to develop their skills in the core subjects of English, mathematics, and basic science and technology at the junior secondary school level, LEAP is a school-based collaborative learning model created to promote literacy enhancement and achievement.

    “We wanted to develop and implement a standard blueprint for enhancing the literacy empowerment of every child in the schools and colleges in the state,” explains Willie M. Obiano, executive governor of Anambra State.

    LEAP, which began last September and wrapped up in April, was the first major collaboration between RAN and the state government.

    “The LEAP proposal had two goals: to ensure that teachers themselves could learn to appreciate and enjoy reading and writing, as well as to empower them to teach their students how to effectively and efficiently receive, give, and use information through written texts,” adds professor Chukwuemeka Eze Onukaogu, chair of the board of trustees for RAN, who served on the LEAP implementation team along with Egbe, Irene Mbanefo, Irene Ossisioma, Chinwe Muodumogu, Gabriel Oyinloye, Grace Abiodun-Ekus, and Iroegbu Ahuekwe.

    Encouraging meaningful interpretation

    Three local government areas were selected for the pilot: Awka South, Anambra East, and Orumba South, and a toolkit with literacy materials was developed to assist the master trainers and trainees. In total, there were 478 teachers in 41 schools with a student population of 15,600 involved. The schools were divided into clusters on the basis of proximity.

    One teacher for each of the three core school subjects was selected from the 41 schools and was trained as a master teacher for 18 days to flow his or her training to other teachers in each school. The cluster meetings were facilitated by master teachers and lasted for 16 weeks.

    According to Alis Headlam, lead presenter for LEAP’s JSS Literacy Training Workshop, the teachers were first engaged in theoretical and scientific knowledge about learning and literacy, followed by practical strategies and techniques that encourage interaction, demonstration, and discussion.

    “Literacy instruction in Anambra State tended to focus on blackboard lessons and government texts that students were required to purchase. Those lessons were often more about grammar and skills than meaningful stories and text,” Headlam explains. “For the purposes of this training, teachers were encouraged to use authentic, culturally relevant texts that would encourage meaningful interpretation and creative thinking.”

    Broken into small groups, teachers participated in hands-on lesson demonstrations, role-playing, and more. Headlam notes that presenters aimed to find ways to incorporate small-group instruction, story writing, and activity-based learning—all beneficial elements when dealing with often large class sizes.

    “One of the initiative’s greatest successes is that teachers started to find creative ways to make their lessons more interesting,” Obiano adds.

    Changing practices

    Pre-tests were administered to the students and teachers prior to the program, and post-tests were given at the end of the period. Only 4.3% of teachers indicated that they had effective strategies for teaching literacy skills and strategies at the pre-test, whereas the post-test results showed an upsurge of more than 62%.

    Similarly, only 3.5% of teachers were familiar with journals at the pretest, compared with 46.4% at the post-test.

    “The post-tests show that over 80% of the students now read at the independent level…but in the pre-tests, the reverse was the case, where over 80% of the students read at the frustration level,” Onukaogu adds.

    The success is also evident in the testimonials from teachers who say the program changed their practice and changed their students.

    “LEAP has successfully made teaching and learning fun,” said Frank, a teacher in Anambra State. Chidi, another teacher, said his students now believe in themselves and have a much more positive attitude toward school.

    Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of LEAP is a new educational policy known as Drop Everything and Read. For the first time, the state government has made it mandatory for all schools to set aside one hour each week for uninterrupted sustained silent reading.

    Schools are also promoting journal writing and encouraging teachers to incorporate opportunities to read and write in their lesson plans. “These are truly innovative policies in the Nigerian school system,” Egbe says.

    However, the country still faces obstacles when it comes to satisfying students’ newfound desire to read—including limited access to reading materials. “The challenge is having stimulated students who want to read and write when we are unable to provide them with diverse reading materials that would be appropriate for their reading levels as well as sustaining their interest to read,” Onukaogu says.

    To that end, many students are working with their teachers to write their own books, while RAN and the state government are working to freight books from outside the country.

    RAN is also planning its first-ever Literacy Festival to be held in the Anambra State capital in July to showcase the impact LEAP has made in the lives of students and teachers. Egbe is hopeful that the project may be extended to all other schools in the state.

    “Students are excited that class texts are no longer frightening to them. We are also seeing teachers collaborate among themselves in order to enhance the literacy performance of their students,” Onukaogu concludes. “We hope to replicate the entire program at the primary or basic education level so that when children begin their formal education at that early stage, they will receive literacy empowerment for lifelong learning.”

    Jennifer L. Nelson is a freelance magazine writer specializing in education and parenting.

     
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    Changing School Culture Through Literacy and Literature

    By Shawna Erps
     | Aug 17, 2016

    LT341_Key1The Carlton Innovation School in Salem, MA, has been on quite a journey. For many years, we were an under-performing school. This year, however, we were recognized with the Massachusetts Reading Association’s Exemplary Reading Program Award and were designated a Level One school by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

    Our journey hasn’t been an easy one, but it is one rooted in our desire to help students become readers and writers who think deeply, love books, and have high expectations for themselves.

    A culture of reading

    One of the first things people notice when they enter our school is that we have books everywhere. There are book racks tucked into hallway corners, art books outside of the art room, and new favorites outside of the library.

    We also have three large bookcarts on each floor in the hallway. They are stocked with leveled texts in a range of genres and interests. Students can stop by as often as needed to pick “just right” books to read during independent reading time each day and at home each night. The carts guarantee that our students have books of their choosing in their homes.

    Kiara Eveleth, a fifth-grade student at Carlton, feels the books in the carts are a major contributing factor to her love of reading. “I think it’s great that we choose our own books,” she says. “It gives us choices about what we read instead of everyone reading the same book. I get to have a book that I’m really into that makes me want to read more and more.”

    Students can often be heard at the carts talking about books and suggesting titles to peers. Teachers also stop and talk with students about their choices and make recommendations. The culture extends beyond students and teachers as well, as parent volunteers work in the library most mornings to help students make their selections.

    A yearlong celebration

    Our students and staff work hard every day, but we also celebrate reading in fun ways throughout the year. Every winter, for example, we have a reading Snowball Slam. Students earn paper snowballs by reading and recording books on logs, and then they “slam” their snowballs on classroom doors in a schoolwide competition to have the most snowballs. We announce weekly totals for how much each class is reading and which class is leading the slam. This past winter, our students read more than 39,000 books or chapters.

    One unique event is our annual Vocabulary Parade, used as a kickoff to winter break. Students and staff dress up to illustrate vocabulary words in interesting ways (think a roving cardboard rowboat full of sailors for the word nautical) and we walk the runway to themed music while the audience attempts to guess our words.

    Even our monthly assemblies are rich with literacy. Our principal reads a book that is projected on a large screen to the entire school. Students stop and talk with partners at various points. Sometimes, they discuss the author’s craft or what they think the theme is, or they debate various sides of an argument.

    At Carlton, we even reward students with language. If students are noticed exhibiting one of our school values, they wear a sticker prompting others to ask them how they earned it. All day, teachers and staff engage with that student and talk about how they exhibited the core value.

    How we got here

    Everything we do fosters language and literacy development. Our teachers work hard throughout the day to ensure students have opportunities to read, write, speak, and listen every 20 minutes.
      
    Our school has turned around in student achievement and culture over the past five years. One major change was that we began using a balanced literacy approach within a diagnostic teaching model. We determine what each student needs to grow as a reader and a writer through formal and informal ongoing assessment, and then we design small group instruction to move students, ensuring everyone is making progress.

    We use the workshop model to structure the different kinds of instruction our students need each day. Classrooms have at least 2 hours and 15 minutes of literacy workshop every day. We use the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for our focus lessons in both reading and writing workshop and explicitly tie the required standards to these lessons. The workshop involves a brief focus lesson, guided practice, and independent practice with conferring, strategy groups, and guided reading instruction, and ends with a group share.

    This structure allows teachers to strategically plan whole-class focus lessons that are based on the standards with guidance from the Lucy Calkins Units of Study, while providing diagnostic instruction on students’ development as readers with increasingly complex texts to foster deep thinking and comprehension.

    I would love to say that what we do is easy, but we know that teaching students to read in balanced, authentic, and meaningful ways is not an easy task. At various points along this journey, easier alternatives were suggested. Each time, however, we took the hard road because, in the words of our principal, Jean-Marie Kahn, the students in front of us are “inconveniently human.” They do not fit into one-size-fits-all programs—nor should they.

    They come to us unique with different backgrounds and experiences. Meeting them where they are and taking the hard road to promise that they leave us better than they came to us—with self-confidence, a love for reading, and a desire to work hard that will stay with them long after they pass through our book-filled halls—is our job.

    Shawna Erps, an ILA member since 2015, is a literacy coach in Salem, MA. Her background is in early childhood education and literacy. She played an integral role in the turnaround initiative at the Carlton Innovation School.

     
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    A New Summer Tune to Close the Reading Gap

    By Amber Garbe and Paula Bartel
     | Jun 21, 2016

    LT336_Book Cycle3I am sure you’re familiar with a certain summer tune—the one announcing that the ice cream truck is on its way.

    But imagine this: Instead of indicating a vessel full of treats is making its trip down the street, a new tune signals something entirely different—opportunities for summer reading.

    That’s the case in our community of Stevens Point, WI, where children come running to get their hands on picture books and chapter books instead of ice cream cones and water ice.

    We call it the Book Cycle. Sponsored by the Central Wisconsin Reading Council, it is an adult-sized tricycle complete with a basket stocked with a variety of high-interest texts, and it is ridden by a book devourer ready to help whet the appetites of enthusiastic and reluctant readers alike.

    The goal is simple: Match students with a book that leads them to pick up another book and then another, igniting the passion for reading.

    Witnessing the excitement

    Educational researchers have found that one of the simplest ways to hook kids into a lifelong love of reading is to provide access to high-quality texts. The Book Cycle provides just that—fingertip access to texts children can select for the pure pleasure and intrigue offered by the title, cover, images, and text.

    The Book Cycle brings a level of excitement to kids. It even becomes part of the neighborhood social scene as a community gathers at the book cart to find their next read, which sometimes starts as soon as the bike pedals off.

    As volunteer riders, we’ve looked over our shoulders to capture the beautiful view of siblings enjoying a book on the stoop of their front porch. At another stop, we’ve seen children select a book and begin reading under the shade of a tree. As cofounders, those moments bring us heart-thumping pleasure.

    The inspiration for the project was borne out of children’s need for access to books during the summer. In 2006, our school welcomed several Hmong refugee immigrants, all whohad tremendous interest in books but little access. Many other children attending the school also had limited access to books over the summer. Transportation to a public library was difficult, which only accentuated the problem.

    As members of our local reading council, we looked to our colleagues to help get the idea of a summer mobile library off the ground. Through fundraising and the generous support of local businesses, the Central Wisconsin Reading Council raised funds for two trikes and materials for our lending library to begin the mobile library in the summer of 2009.

    Our Book Cycle trikes have been cruising the Stevens Point streets two afternoons per week during the months of June, July, and August for the past seven years, making stops along the way at spots marked by yard signs declaring: “The Book Cycle Stops Here: Come and Get a Free Book.”

    Although the design of the mobile library is an exchange system, which increases the distribution, the system is informal and the emphasis is on matching children and books. If a child isn’t able to find the borrowed book, he or she is not denied another read.

    You could say it has been a bit of an evolution, with a lot of support from our local and state councils, the school district, and local businesses. Over time, we have partnered with organizations that service children, including the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, to bring the Book Cycle library to children participating in those programs.

    Going the extra mile

    We measure the success of the Book Cycle by anecdotal stories and the relationships built. Our 20–30 volunteers, often teachers, offer recommendations to help match a child and a book. There are typically 300–400 books to choose from, but the volunteers also take requests. While children are browsing, volunteers talk with the children, parents, and grandparents.

    One family has been borrowing books for all seven years of the Book Cycle’s existence. Initially apprehensive to borrow books out of fear that their younger children might destroy them, we assured the parents and grandparents that the Book Cycle did not have fines. We don’t know what these children’s reading achievements would be without the Book Cycle, but we know that this family, arriving in the United States in 2006, has elementary-age children who are meeting and exceeding grade-level benchmarks.

    Another family on the route, at times hesitant to be part of the school community, comes out together to pick out books. When one child in the family wasn’t home, the others began selecting books for their missing family member. Conversations during the selection process showed what the family knew about one another as readers.

    Our volunteers go the extra mile—literally—to establish a relationship with students and families. When a grandmother reminisced about the countless times she read Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino to her own daughter and expressed frustration in not finding the book at local garage sales, a volunteer purchased the book so the grandmother could enjoy it with her grandchildren.

    Building a reading relationship

    We realize the Book Cycle is not about the tunes or the shiny trikes. It is about building relationships with children and extending access to high-interest texts. Our anecdotal stories and connections with children and families reflect the success and are the only fuel we need to keep the Book Cycle going.

    As volunteers, we can’t help but smile as we pedal through town. As cofounders, we hope the moment of hearing the trike coming spills over and transfers to the excitement of turning the pages of a captivating book.

    Amber Garbe, an ILA member since 2009 and a past president of the Central Wisconsin Reading Council, is currently the literacy coordinator for Mosinee Schools in Wisconsin. Paula Bartel, an ILA member since 1988 and also a past president of the Central Wisconsin Reading Council, is currently a reading specialist in the Stevens Point Area School District in Wisconsin.

     
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    Reaching Children and Parents Through Storytelling

    By Ruth J. Berg
     | Apr 06, 2016

    LT335_Storybook3Like thousands of literacy educators around the world, members of the Greater Boston Reading Council (GBC) reach out to parents and children in order to help them experience literature and to develop a love of reading. One of the initiatives we are most proud of that accomplishes this lofty goal is our annual Storybook Character Breakfast, which fosters an appreciation of literacy and exposes children to books, all while providing a wealth of ideas for parents to try at home.

    The GBC, in conjunction with the Medford Family Network, has sponsored the event on the first Saturday in May for 16 years. The Medford Family Network, a fitting partner, is a parenting education and family support program that prioritizes the family structure as the child’s primary and most important learning center. It aims to serve all families in Medford, MA, a working class, urban community just six miles from Boston—one where 65 languages are spoken among the school district’s families.

    On the surface, the event appears to be a simple get-together for preschool through second-grade students. But the thoughtful actions that make the day so much fun for families can have a long-lasting impact.

    Held in a school setting, the Storybook Character Breakfast involves GBC volunteers dressing up using professional costumes (think beloved characters including Curious George, Rotten Ralph, Lyle the Crocodile, and George and Martha), and more than 100 children from 80 families are consistently in attendance. Along with being treated to a free breakfast, the children are able to chat with their favorite characters, play games, pose for photos, receive autographs and free books to take home, and more.

    Children move among various, volunteer-run stations such as face painting, poems, and related arts and crafts, as well as a center where children can make bookmarks, learn songs and fingerplays, and listen to books and stories read by Mother Goose.

    Parental involvement

    Just as important as the kids’ activities, parents are offered packets of materials containing concrete suggestions for reading at home.

    We distribute two versions of the A Child Becomes a Reader pamphlet, issued by the National Institute for Literacy; one is intended for birth- through preschool-age children while the other is geared toward kindergarteners through third graders. The pamphlets list ways to develop a literate home as well as provide ideas and activities parents can do with their children. Each pamphlet includes a short summary of research on how children learn to read and write.

    Another pamphlet we give out is Raising a Reader, Raising a Writer, published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It contains suggestions for promoting literacy at home and information on what families should look for in early childhood programs.

    At each station, volunteers model research-based methods of reading instruction—another important method for reaching both the reader and the parent. The volunteers particularly emphasize interactive read-alouds, communication by discussing the books before, during, and after reading, and reflection on the story or the information in the book.

    At the various activity centers, volunteers demonstrate, explain, and model ways for parents to engage with their children to develop literacy, problem-solving, inquiry, observation, and collaboration skills.

    Also important, the organizers ensure the community’s diversity is reflected by the volunteers and in the books that the children get to take home.

    “Medford is quite diverse, so it is great to see families from all cultures and backgrounds come together in a very positive way, surrounded by resources and people who support and promote literacy in its greatest sense, in a joyful yet meaningful way,” said Marie Cassidy, a family specialist with the Medford Family Network.

    A memorable experience

    Not only does this breakfast nourish a love of favorite book characters, good stories, music, and fingerplays, but parents eagerly anticipate the different techniques they can learn and use at home to build on this budding enthusiasm for reading.

    “More than anything, I appreciate the experience as a whole: roaming from station to station, interacting with old friends, making new ones, and learning as a parent how to encourage my children to be curious (like George!) and to explore,” said Jen O., whose 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter attended the event. “It seems they use all their senses at this event, and I get to take home a great packet of helpful ideas to further my children’s healthy growth and development.”

    Saima A., the mother of a 5-year-old boy, agreed. “We have such a wonderful time at this event each year,” she said. “My son carefully chooses his free book and drags me to the Story Station to listen to several stories. I have learned some interesting ‘tricks’ from the readers, ways to keep him engaged, thinking, and discovering new ideas through the books.”

    Getting children interested in literature is truly a major achievement, and bringing their parents into the mission is vital. This event is a way other councils—or any group—can achieve such important goals.

    Replicating GBC’s Storybook Character Breakfast, whether sponsored by a preschool, an elementary school, the family-school organization, Title I, or a local reading council, is not difficult and the rewards are tremendous.

    Ruth J. Berg, an ILA member for more than 25 years, has served for nearly 30 years as a reading specialist at the Cotting School in Lexington, MA. She is a former Greater Boston Reading Council president, Celebrate Literacy Award recipient, and a Massachusetts Reading Association Literacy Award recipient. She is active in both organizations and serves on their boards.

     
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