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    ILA Issues Brief on Roles and Limitations of Standardized Reading Tests

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 14, 2017

    Standardized Reading TestsThe use of standardized test scores to measure reading proficiency is a long-standing source of debate in education reform. Although these scores provide useful information that may contribute to students’ reading growth, they are often considered the “coin of the realm”—silencing other valuable indicators and assessments while disproportionately influencing important educational decisions. Furthermore, low test scores can have cascading, negative impacts on students, schools and their surrounding communities—leading to poor student morale, high staff turnover, lower real estate prices and more.

    According to ILA’s recent brief, the dominance of standardized reading tests “stems from an insufficient understanding of their limitations.” Without endorsing or negating their value, the brief explores the roles, uses and caveats of standardized reading tests to assess student achievement, compare students, evaluate programs, create educational policy and determine accountability.

    ILA advocates for a different weighting of standardized reading tests as well as a more thorough understanding of reading development that recognizes “an array of formative classroom-based assessments.” The brief ends with five salient considerations that teachers and administrators can use to inform internal decision making:

    • There is no research that supports a correlation between increased standardized testing and increased reading achievement.
    • Standardized reading tests do not fully reflect students’ reading achievement and development.
    • Standardized reading tests can impede the development of students’ self-efficacy and motivation.
    • Standardized reading tests confine reading curriculum and can undermine high-quality teaching.
    • Standardized reading tests are time-consuming and expensive—demanding resources that could be used to support students’ reading achievement in other ways.

    To read more, visit the brief here.

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Celebrating Literacy Leadership: David Wilkie

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Oct 19, 2017

    dave-wilkieWilkie, principal at McVey Elementary in Newark, DE, is the first recipient of ILA’s inaugural Corwin Literacy Leader Award, which honors a district or school administrative literacy leader who has worked to increase student literacy achievement by advancing professional development, instructional resources support, and the development of literacy programs. To learn about 2018 award and grant opportunities, visit our Awards & Grants page.

    At McVey Elementary School, books are everywhere. They are hidden under desks as students read surreptitiously during class, displayed on decorative bulletin boards in the hallways, tumbling out of lockers, and even strewn throughout the cafeteria, having strayed from the “borrow and return” pile.

    But it hasn’t always been this way.

    “We knew that we had to change what literacy looked like at McVey. Our students did not show a love of reading and writing—they saw it more as a chore. A lot of reading instruction was being done in the classroom, but there wasn’t a lot of reading being done by the students,” says principal David Wilkie.

    McVey’s literacy transformation began in April 2016 when ILA received a grant from an anonymous donor as part of the Delaware Community Foundation’s Fund for Children’s Literacy. The grant was to be used at a public elementary school in Delaware to build a culture of literacy through professional learning opportunities for staff, schoolwide reading programs, and family engagement.

    ILA chose to use the funds at McVey on the basis of the school’s history of high staff retention and strong leadership. In its first year, ILA decided to focus on professional development; the grant covered the cost of Wilkie and seven other staff members and teachers to attend the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits in Boston, MA.

    “Most of us had never attended an ILA conference before. We didn’t really know what we were walking into,” says Wilkie. “We were reenergized; we came with so many ideas. We met as a team every night at dinner. Our dinners were about two to three hours long because we were sharing information and talking about what we could do at McVey.”

    At one of their dinners, the group decided that the theme of the school’s literacy makeover would be “wonder.”

    “We felt that our students had lost that sense of wonder at an early age,” says Wilkie. “They were all about asking questions in the early years, but by third grade, they start losing that.”

    The once-plain walls at McVey are now vibrant “wonder walls,” covered in questions—some content related, some general—written by students. Every “Wonder Wednesday,” the questions are read aloud and answered by teachers, students, or Wilkie himself during morning announcements. Wilkie says plans for “wonder centers” and “wonder windows” are in the works.

    Over the past year, ILA and McVey have collaborated on a series of initiatives to help build a culture of literacy at the school. The grant also covered support from Carrice Cummins, professor at Louisiana Tech University, who is working with Wilkie to identify the school’s main challenges and to establish a long-term plan. With her assistance, McVey has set up four professional development experiences related to interactive read-aloud training.

    Wilkie believes that everyone at McVey—from the cafeteria servers to the P.E. teachers—needs to be involved in the project, excited by the mission, and committed to a set of shared goals.

    “A big part of this is shifting the mind-sets of teachers from teaching stories to teaching a love of reading and the importance of reading,” he says.

    Cummins helped to implement interactive read-aloud, independent reading time, and schoolwide and gradewide author and book studies. Last year, all the fifth graders read Bridge to Terabithia (HarperCollins), which culminated in a Skype session with author Katherine Paterson.

    Wilkie says his approach to literacy education is grounded in choice; he wants the students to feel a sense of ownership over their reading habits.

    “One class took a survey about what they enjoyed this year that they hadn’t in the past, and the majority made comments like ‘Thank you for giving us more time to read books and to choose books we like to read,’” he says.

    This year, 23 teachers and staff members attended the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in Orlando, FL.

    When asked about next steps, Wilkie says they are looking to get parents and the community more involved. Since starting the project, he says several parents have noticed a shift in their child’s attitude toward reading. One even said it’s a challenge to get her child to stop reading long enough to hold a conversation over dinner.  

     “He was always a reader but he wasn’t always this passionate about reading,” says Wilkie. “But now, he can’t put the books down.”

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Two Versions of Myself: What It Means to Win an ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Award

    By Lindsay Eagar
     | Oct 17, 2017

    Lindsay EagarI spend my days oscillating between two versions of myself.

    The first is Lindsay, the mother. My two daughters are seven and one, and they are willful, brilliant, demanding little tyrants. As a stay-at-home mom, much of my time every day is spent with my daughters, feeding them, dressing them, teaching them, and generally making sure they are happy and healthy.

    No small task.

    Most nights I collapse into bed, desperate for a few hours’ rest before the morning breaks and the exhausting, isolating task of caretaking begins again. I have always known I wanted to be a mother, but oh, I was not prepared for how hard it can be to give and give and give, and wonder if it will ever be enough.

    But this is the experience of being a mother.

    The second is Lindsay, the writer. I am a daydreamer, a silly heart, a creator of worlds and places and characters as dear to me as if they were real. As a child, I hoped that I would one day be a published author, and when I saw my debut book, Hour of the Bees, on shelves in bookstores, a new fire was lit—to tell every story I have inside me. To write, to be fearless with my pen, to illuminate with my words, to bring honesty and beauty and searing, sparkling magic to readers, and to stop only when I am dead.

    No small task.

    Most nights I fall asleep immediately, already plotting what sentences I will write when I wake—sometimes the words tease me out of sleep when it is still dark, whispering to me across the shadows. I have always known I wanted to be a writer, but oh, I was not prepared for how it feels to give and give and give, and wonder if it will ever be enough.

    But this is the experience of being a writer.

    And on most days these two versions of myself feel at odds—they battle for my attention, for my energy. They fight to be the defining Lindsay, but every once in a while I have a day where the two of them melt into one.

    The day when I opened the email telling me I was an ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Award winner in the category of intermediate fiction? That was one of those days.

    I looked up from my notebook, up at my sweet girls, and the connection was forged—the immense privilege I have of writing for children, of shaping their world, of opening a window of magic into their lives—that is celebrated with this award, which I share with the teachers who work with young children in classrooms and encourage their imaginations through literacy.

    There is a Lindsay who gets to mother my darling girls, and a Lindsay who gets to write books that children read with their teachers, books that hopefully develop a lifelong love of reading and learning for these minds. I am so, so grateful to the International Literacy Association for highlighting Hour of the Bees. This is such a great honor, to be recognized by an organization that looks at stories for children, every day, and to be seen as enough. I am delighted that my second novel, Race to the Bottom of the Sea, was released this month—it affirms that not only does writer Lindsay belong in this world, she thrives.

    Lindsay Eagar won the ILA 2017 Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Award for Intermediate Fiction for Hour of the Bees.

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    Celebrating Literacy Leadership: Laura Northrop

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Oct 11, 2017

    Laura NorthropNorthrop, assistant professor of literacy education at Cleveland State University, Ohio, is the recipient of the Outstanding Dissertation of the Year Award, honoring an exceptional dissertation completed in the field of reading or literacy. To learn about 2018 award and grant opportunities, visit our Awards & Grants page.

    Laura Northrop brings a former journalist’s mind-set to the field of literacy research, where she approaches each challenge like a news story, seeking a deeply contextualized understanding of the reader’s world.

    After a brief stint in journalism, Northrop decided she wanted to go into education. Her first teaching job was in the Chicago public school district. Although she taught grades 6–8, most of her students were reading below a middle school level. During this time, she became increasingly interested in struggling readers, particularly in the middle school context, and she decided to pursue a PhD in education policy analysis from the University of Pittsburgh.

    “I wanted to know, what’s the difference between children who enter kindergarten with low-level literacy skills, and go on to have average achievement, and those who enter with low literacy skills and continue to struggle?” Northrop recalls. She explored this question in her dissertation “Breaking the Cycle: Cumulative Disadvantage in Literacy.”

    Northrop’s research focuses on teacher attrition, instructional practices, and cumulative disadvantage in literacy. She believes literacy success lies at the intersection of choice, parenting behaviors, and instructional intervention.

    “It really is an alignment of child, home, and school factors. The child has to be motivated to want to be a better reader, the parents have to be on board, and teachers have to be knowledgeable enough to provide the right interventions at the right time,” says Northrop.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of ILA’s blog, Literacy Daily.

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    Celebrating Literacy Leadership: John Guthrie

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Oct 05, 2017

    GJohn Guthrieuthrie is the recipient of the 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. To learn about 2018 award and grant opportunities, visit our Awards & Grants page.

    John Guthrie has devoted his career to exploring what he believes is the “big, empty hole in human development for reading”—motivation.

    He discovered this uncharted territory while serving as codirector of the National Reading Research Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

    “The theme was motivation and engagement. We said, let’s shine a light on this topic that hasn’t gotten high awareness. What are motivators for students, and what kinds of classroom contexts and teacher practices boost motivation and engagement?” Guthrie recalls.

    Guthrie’s research focuses on the positive relationship between reading motivation and literacy achievement. He says skill and will go hand in hand.

    “If a student is relatively well motivated in several different ways, they then become engaged in reading. They’re putting out effort, following their passion for reading. Motivations drive effort, energy, and enjoyment,” Guthrie says.

    Guthrie, who received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in educational psychology from the University of Illinois, began his career as an assistant professor of education and project director of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University. In addition to his stint at the National Reading Research Center, he has served as the director of research for ILA and director of the Center for Educational Research and Development at the University of Maryland, College Park.

    Although he retired in 2007, Guthrie is currently involved in four research projects examining motivation in digital literacy. Like the field itself, his research has evolved to reflect the increasing multimodality of 21st-century texts.

    Guthrie says his research is helping to establish new tools in digital literacy engagement. Right now, he’s studying how computer systems can teach struggling readers in a way that’s motivationally adaptive (responds to the motivation of kids), helping teachers to develop practices that inspire a fuller range of motivations.

    When asked how he felt about receiving ILA’s William S. Gray Citation of Merit, Guthrie says he is humbled to receive an award named after one of his idols.

    “William S. Gray was my hero when I was working at ILA. He was one of my inspirations in terms of how he read and how he wrote and what he did,” Guthrie says. “It is a special honor to have this award linked to him.”


    Alina O'Donnell
    is the editor of Literacy Daily.

     

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