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  • Joy KollerJoy Koller is the liaison and project director for the Little Learners Initiative in Mexico, a project trying to make a difference in early education.
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    IRA Member Helps Make Strides in Mexican Literacy Education

    by Sara Long
     | Oct 28, 2013
    Joy Koller
    Joy Koller

    Based on her experience in literacy education, International Reading Association (IRA) member Joy Koller was recently appointed the official liaison and project director for all activities related to the Little Learners Initiative in Mexico (LLI-MEXICO), a collaboration of the Early Education for Every Child Foundation (EEECF) and JkGlobal Connections. Koller and Helene and Victor Alihaud of UniverMaya worked together to build and coordinate LLI-MEXICO.

    The Little Learner Initiative (LLI) is a global campaign to empower schools and teachers with the tools needed to provide children with high quality early education, irrespective of their socio-economic status, language ability, or geographical location. The LLI is made possible through generous ongoing grants of early learning programs and curricula by BrillKids Inc. EEECF will offer their English Little Readers Software programs, a premade English curriculum, to young learners in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.

    LLI MexicoThe theoretical framework of LLI-MEXICO grew from discussions regarding the state’s initiatives to improve Early Education Development (ECD) and the need to provide and implement quality English programs in the basic public education sector. One of the goals of the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico is making ECD a priority in public policies’ social development. The state achieved considerable progress on issues of care for vulnerable children with the implementation of the Mission Girls – Children 2011 program. Specific objectives are now in place to build and adapt spaces for the ECD program over the next six years. The new Integrated Early Childhood Centers will offer an innovative approach with the design and construction of the necessary infrastructure and the implementation of programs of teaching and pedagogy.

    Koller and her colleagues recognize that several local public schools continue to struggle with a lack of resources, materials, funding, and implementation of quality English programs, so building on the state’s initiatives, they launched LLI-MEXICO in the Mayan City of Coba in the fall of 2012. Their goal is to make a difference in early education and English literacy development by providing innovative curriculum and learning opportunities to our young learners. Their objectives are:

    • To offer literacy programs for young English language learners using a proven, systematic, premade English reading instructional software program.
    • To provide teachers with an opportunity to observe the learning outcomes of research-based reading instruction.

    Their hope is to empower schools, teachers, parents, and leaders in educational policy with the knowledge and tools needed to encourage early learning and English literacy instruction.

    “We are passionate people, educators with a proven program that expands early learning services by providing access to an innovative English curriculum,” says Koller. “Providing a chance for our children to succeed in life and school is our only motivation and this drives our desire to launch strategic alliances with foundations and sponsors to enable the growth of this program for children from low-income communities in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. We are committed to the success of this program because we know it can change lives and we know that the growth of a child can help change the world.”

    LLI Mexico

    For more information on LLI-MEXICO and sponsorship grants for the basic Little Reader Kit visit

    This article was orginally published in the April/May 2013 issue of Reading Today. IRA members can read the interactive digital version of the magazine here. Nonmembers: join today!

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  • Social Book AwardThe House on Dirty-Third Street and Summer on the Moon were the first recipients of this new award from the Literacy and Social Responsibility SIG.
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    First Annual Social Justice Literature Awards

    by Carolyn L. Cook, Kenneth Fasching-Varner, and Aimee Rogers
     | Oct 25, 2013

    Social Book AwardThe International Reading Association's Literacy and Social Responsibility Special Interest Group (SIG) awarded the first annual Social Justice Literature Awards at the International Reading Association’s 2013 conference in San Antonio, Texas. The Award was given to two books: The House on Dirty-Third Street by Jo S. Kittinger and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez for Best Picture Book and Summer on the Moon by Adrian Fogelin for Best Non-Picture Book.

    The Literacy and Social Responsibility SIG created this award to highlight children’s and young adult literature that illustrates qualities of social justice. The award is the result of a year-long process of the SIG. This process included selecting co-chairs Carolyn Cook, Kenneth Fasching-Varner, and Aimee Rogers; developing criteria for evaluating nominated texts; reviewing all entries; and coming to a final decision. The main categories created were Picture Books and Non-Picture Books with the potential subcategories of poetry, narrative and nonfiction. The committee was supported by the generous mentoring of Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy, both of whom have experience with similar book awards.

    The award committee selected the top 10% of the nominations received from publishers. In reviewing texts the committee considered two principles: recognition of the literary and artistic qualities of the text, as well as the reader response. With respect to literary and artistic qualities, texts were evaluated on how they fostered respect and understanding of diverse populations, promoted social responsibility (including equity, justice, and peace), presented social issues in their complexity, and addressed social responsibility towards individuals, communities, societies and/or the environment.  With respect to reader response, books were evaluated for the extent to which the text invites reflection and socially responsible action by the reader. Furthermore, in the reader response the committee judged how the text encourages the analysis of past injustices showing possible alternatives and/or challenges and how the text opens the reader’s imagination to other possibilities. Lastly, the committee considered the appeal of the text to the targeted readers.

    Selected Picture Book

    The House on Dirty-Third StreetThe House on Dirty-Third Street by Jo S. Kittinger and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
    Peachtree Publishers, 2012, 32 pp.
    ISBN 978-1561456192
    Age Range: 4-8

    In The House on Dirty-Third Street, a mother and her daughter have just moved into a different house to get a new start. As a result of limited income, it is located in an uninviting neighborhood. They spend much time and energy cleaning the house and yard, but they are discouraged because there is so much work to be done. People appear to paint and repair the house. Through the help of the community the house soon lives up to the visions mom had when she bought it. The double-page illustrations pull the reader into the emotions of the story. The illustrations are rendered in dull colors which gradually brighten as things improve for the mother and daughter. The reader understands life as a single mom and sees the power of faith and a giving community.

    Selected Non-picture Book

    Summer on the MoonSummer on the Moon by Adrian Fogelin
    Peachtree Publishers, 2012, 256 pp.
    ISBN 978-1561456260
    Age Range: 9-12

    In Summer on the Moon, summer vacation is just beginning for Socko and his best friend Damien. The first problem is dealing with Rapp, the leader of the local gang and neighborhood bully. However the best the friends can do is to postpone, but not solve the problem of Rapp. The next problem comes when mom unexpectedly moves Socko away from this bad neighborhood to Moon Ridge Estates, a half-built housing development. Socko is lost without Damien and the comfort of his former neighborhood. He spends his time taking care of his grumpy great-grandfather, the General. With this new responsibility and his deepening understanding of the situation at Moon Ridge Estates, Socko discovers that it is not where one lives that determines one’s character, but rather one’s actions. In addition, the reader learns with Socko the power found in family and friends no matter where you live.

    2014 Committee and Award

    The Committee is currently taking nominations from publishers for the 2014 award. Please contact Carolyn (, Kenny (, or Aimee ( with book submissions or questions. The 2014 committee will consist of Sarah Harrison-Burns, Patricia Dean, Zanthia Smith, Denise Stuart, and Joyce Wheaton. Nominations for the 2015 committee are also being taken. The committee will proceed with members rotating off after a multi-year commitment.


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  • Sue Ann SharmaSue Ann Sharma shares her "Jönköping Experience" as an American presenting at the the 18th European Reading Conference in Sweden.
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    The Jönköping Experience: 18th European Conference on Reading

    by Sue Ann Sharma
     | Oct 22, 2013

    I was thrilled to discover that the 18th European Reading Conference was going to be hosted by the Swedish Council of the International Reading Association (IRA) and held in Jonkoping, Sweden. Visiting Sweden and learning more about how the world reads were two items on my must do list. As an added bonus, members of IRA’s Diversity Learning Committee, Wendy C. Kasten, Diana Sisson and I, presented on “Diversity in United States Teacher Education Programs in Literacy and Reading: A Nationwide Investigative Study” (Kasten, Sharma & Sisson, 2013).

    Sisson, Kasten, and Sharma
    Sisson, Kasten, and Sharma

    Boat Tour
    Boat Tour

    Sue Ann Sharma

    In between fulfilling these aspirations, the conference itinerary included superb keynotes, new report findings, and rich conversations. Here are some impressions for anyone considering participating in an IRA affiliated conference in a distant country.

    Exploring Jönköping

    Jönköping is Sweden’s 9th most populated city. It is known for it matchstick industry 1845-1970 and home to ABBA’s group member, Agnetha Faltskog. When arriving via a three-hour train ride from Stockholm, the city can be spotted nestled against Lake Vättern, Sweden’s 2nd largest lake. The Sommarstället Munksjön’s boat ride is a must. Waiting to be explored are the many different shops from antique to hip. Taste an array of ethnic cuisine among the city’s 85 restaurants. The cuisine is indicative of the diversity in this university town, which has attracted 1500 students from over 65 countries. The food and people of Jönköping will capture your heart.

    How the World Reads: New Challenges, New Literacies, Global Context

    Mirroring the international students that attend Jönköping University, teachers and teacher educators from around the world gathered together to learn and have grand conversations about contextual issues related to 21st Century literacy practices. My fingers couldn’t keep up as I tried to capture every word of the variety of literacy aspects being addressed during the plenary sessions. Here’s a glimpse at both European and American context.

    European Context

    Insights gleaned from Digital Futures: Learning and Teaching Literacy in the Digital Age affirmed for me that teachers worldwide are meeting the challenges of new media literacies in many different ways. During this lecture, Jackie Marsh, from the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, shared some unique ways in which children use virtual worlds. Examples included children selecting a bedtime story from QR codes on pajamas and the blurring of online/offline classroom investigations in which children retrieve information from QR codes placed on trees.

    American Context

    While sharing results from several online research projects, Donald Leu, from University of Connecticut, United States, helped us contextualize the social practices of literacy in a digital age using the dual level theory of new literacies (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, Castel, & Henry, 2013). The dual level theory of new literacies focuses on trends and patterns emerging from “Upper Case New Literacies,” based on common findings from localized and domain-specific “lower case new literacies” such as social interactions occurring with text messaging. The Digital Futures in Teacher Education Project and Online Research and Comprehension Assessment (ORAC) projects promote new insights in both theory and practices that prepare teachers and students for the future.

    Creating Opportunities for International Collaboration

    Literacy topics across nine strands framed the parallel sessions and verified for me common literacy challenges being addressed worldwide including “The Third Progress in International Literacy Study (PIRLS)” report which revealed information on international trends in reading achievement in fourth graders from 49 countries. In response to the adolescent reading difficulties made evident by the PISA studies, an international team formed to address the lack of reading instruction across the curriculum. This collaboration resulted in the European Comenius Project: “BaCuLIt” – Basic Curriculum for Teachers’ In-Service Training in Content Area Literacy in Secondary Schools.

    International Teacher Educator Exchange

    As Americans, we know our classrooms are becoming increasingly more diverse. However, I can now testify from the discussion with teacher educators from around the world, that this is the case worldwide. Ultimately, this conference heightened my curiosity about addressing the complexities teachers face when meeting the diverse needs of learners globally.

    Final Thoughts

    I loved the learning that took place during breaks and lunch. These informal interludes held their own charm. They provided time for thoughtful dialogue concerning teacher educational programs around the world while sipping tea with colleagues from countries such as Australia, Turkey, and Russia.

    The European Reading Conference was an incredible experience.  I discovered    many admirable literacy practices.   Mark your calendar for the 19th European Reading Conference.  In 2015 this biennial will be held in Klagenfurt, Austria.


    Leu, D. J. (2013, August). New literacies of online research and comprehension: Reading with a lens to the future as well as a lens to the past. Paper presented at the 18th European Reading Conference. Jönköping, Sweden. Retrieved from.

    Leu, D. J. (2013, August). Online reading comprehension assessment. Paper presented at the 18th European Reading Conference. Jönköping, Sweden. Retrieved from.

    Marsh, J. (2013, August). Digital futures: learning and teaching literacy in a digital age. Paper presented at the 18th European Reading Conference. Jönköping, Sweden. Retrieved from. Retrieved from

    Marsh, J. (2013, August). Digital futures in teacher education.  Paper presented at the 18th European Reading Conference. Jönköping, Sweden. Retrieved from
    Institute for German Language and Literature II, University of Cologne, Germany (2013). BaCuLit. Retrieved from

    International Development in European Committee of the International Reading Association (2013). 19th European Reading Conference. Retrieved from

    International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), 2011. Retrieved from

    Kasten, W. C., Sharma, S. A., Sisson, D. (2013, August). Diversity in United States teacher education programs in literacy and reading: A nationwide investigative study. Paper presented at the 18th European Reading Conference. Jönköping, Sweden.

    Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C.K., Coiro, J., Castek, J., Henry, L.A. (2013). New literacies: A dual level theory of the changing nature of literacy, instruction, and assessment. In N. Unrau & D. Alvermann (Ed.s), Theoretical models and processes of reading (6th ed., pp. 1150-1181). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

    Sue Ann SharmaSue Ann Sharma is a visiting assistant professor at Oakland University in Michigan,

    This article is an addendum to an article from the October/November 2013 issue of Reading Today. IRA members can read the interactive digital version of the magazine here. Nonmembers: join today!

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  • BahamasAlbury Sayle Primary School in Nassau, The Bahamas, celebrated International Literacy Day with a parade of students, read-alouds, and a “Foodimals Festival.”
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    Bahamas School Celebrates International Literacy Day

    by Loreen Patrick
     | Oct 14, 2013

    Albury Sayle Primary School in Nassau, The Bahamas, celebrated International Literacy Day with a parade of students, read-alouds, and a “Foodimals Festival” to coordinate with IRA’s “Invent Your Future” theme in conjunction with Sony Pictures Animation’s film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.


    Students of Grade 3 display their posters before leaving the school campus for the community walk.


    Grade 5 students displaying their posters during the community walk.


    A Grade 2 and Grade 6 student read to the children of the Willard Paton Pre-school. Also present are the District Education Officer Mr. Lightbourne and our school’s principal, Mrs. Katherine Rose. In the background, is a supportive parent Officer Davis. 


    Miss Belizaire, a Grade 4 teacher, reads to students during the “Reading in the Park” community outreach program.


    The school’s Principal, Mrs. Katherine Rose, reads Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs to the Grades 4–6 students.


    Officer Ware, from the South Street Police Station opposite our school campus, volunteered to read to our Grade 4 students during the Volunteer reading sessions.



    Foodimals, (that won the Foodimals Festival), on display in the campus foyer, outside of the main office. The winners from each grade level were presented with free movie passes to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.

    Loreen Patrick is from the Albury Sayle Primary School in Nassau, The Bahamas.


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  • Jack CassidyIRA Past President and "What's Hot" survey creator Dr. Jack Cassidy received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Literacy Education in Texas.
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    Cassidy Receives Award

     | Oct 02, 2013

    Jack CassidyOn Saturday, October 12, Dr. Jack Cassidy, received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Literacy Education at the annual conference of the Texas Association for Literacy Education (TALE). Also, the TALE Board voted to name the award in his honor. The award will now be called the “Jack Cassidy Lifetime Achievement in Literacy Education Award.”

    Cassidy was one of the founders and the first President of TALE in 2011-2012. Texas is the second largest state in land area, and coincidentally Cassidy is one of the founders and first elected President of the Diamond State Reading Association (DSRA) in Delaware, the nation’s second smallest state in land area.

    In the almost forty years between his first and second state presidencies, Cassidy was elected president of the International Reading Association and the Association for Literacy Education and Research (ALER - formerly the College Reading Association). In 1994, he received the IRA Special Service Award, which is given, from time to time, for unusual and distinguished service to the International Reading Association recognizing admirable service to the organization in some specific capacity or capacities, requiring special skills, knowledge, and creative effort. In 2007, ALER gave him the A.B. Herr Award for distinguished service in reading. It recognizes a professional educator who has made outstanding contributions to the field of reading. In 2010, Cassidy was inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame, considered one of the most prestigious awards granted to those in literacy education.

    Cassidy has over 100 national publications including over 50 nationally refereed journal articles, books, and book chapters. In addition, he has been an author, editor  or consultant on over a dozen series of texts and materials for children and youth. For 18 years, with various co-authors, he has written a column, “What’s Hot What’s Not in Literacy." The most recent column appears in the August/September 2013 issue of Reading Today. Longer discussions of literacy trends and issues (also with various co-authors) appear in a number of refereed journals, the most recent of which is the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (“What Was Hot–and Not–in Literacy: What We Can Learn”). He has worked as a consultant for Educational Testing Service and was part of the Verbal Advisory Panel for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. In addition to hundreds of presentations in the United States, Cassidy has also presented papers in Australia (two times), Belgium, Canada (five times), Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Hungary (two times), Ireland (three times), New Zealand (two times), Philippines (two times), Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

    In 2011, Cassidy retired as associate dean in the College of Education at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He is also Professor Emeritus at Millersville University (PA). Cassidy has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in reading from Temple University in Philadelphia.


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