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    Implementing Children's Rights to Read

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Mar 04, 2019
    In September, ILA launched a global movement aimed at ensuring every child has access to the education, opportunities, and resources needed to read. ILA’s Children’s Rights to Read—ten fundamental rights ILA asserts that every child deserves—frames reading as an issue of equity and social justice. 

    Since then, more than 1,000 individuals and organizations, representing over 50 countries; 30 organizations; 20 schools, districts, and universities; and 175,000 students, have pledged support to the initiative, which focuses on activating educators, policymakers and literacy partners to join ILA in their efforts to raise awareness of these Rights and see them realized for every child, everywhere.

    In this blog series, teachers and literacy professionals share how they are implementing the Rights in their daily practice.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily. 

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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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    ILA Announces 2019 Conference Speakers

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Feb 20, 2019

    ila2019-registrationChelsea Clinton tops the list of notable speakers at the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2019 Conference, to be held in New Orleans, LA, October 10–13, 2019. Clinton, a longtime champion of early learning, will take the main stage on Friday, October 11 to discuss the connection between literacy and advocacy, as well as her newest book, Don’t Let Them Disappear.  

    Scheduled for publication on April 2, 2019, Don’t Let Them Disappear will introduce young readers to a selection of endangered animals and offer tips on how to help save them from extinction. Following her address, Clinton will participate in an interactive Q&A moderated by 2018 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year Kimberly Eckert.

    For the 2019 conference, ILA, a global advocacy and membership organization advocating for evidence-based literacy instruction and equitable educational policies, will focus on creating a thriving culture of literacy in schools, districts, and communities.

    Other keynotes include Pedro A. Noguera, distinguished professor of education at the University of California–Los Angeles, who will draw on his body of research to discuss how educators can provide all students with an equitable and empowering education; Hamish Brewer, an unconventional middle school principal from Fredericksburg, VA, whose educational philosophy is “be relentless”; and Renée Watson, a New York Times bestselling author who facilitated poetry workshops with New Orleans youth in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

    Clinton also has ties to the New Orleans community. In summer 2018, she helped launch a local “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read and Sing” campaign—a Too Small to Fail initiative of the Clinton Foundation—that provides parents and caregivers with resources to boost early brain development and language skills. In Louisiana, nearly half of all children (46%) enter kindergarten unprepared, lagging in critical language, reading, and social-emotional skills.

    “As a person and a public figure, Chelsea has been outspoken about her early love of reading and how that shaped her future success,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “Her work demonstrates that growing a culture of literacy takes place outside of school as well as within it.”

    The ILA 2019 Conference will bring together thousands of literacy educators, professionals, and advocates from around the world to connect with and learn from leaders in the field and exchange ideas, best practices, and resources for literacy instruction. To learn more, visit

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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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 Highlights Benefits of Reading Practice and Volume

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jan 31, 2019

    In an era of technological distractions, instilling a love of reading in students has become increasingly difficult for teachers. The solution, according to a new brief from the International Literacy Association (ILA), is deceptively simple: Give students control over their reading lives through independent reading.

    In Creating Passionate Readers Through Independent Reading, the organization draws on research that demonstrates how independent reading builds student competence, confidence, and joy.

    “We have decades of studies proving the power of independent reading,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “It’s why we advocate for independent reading that is truly independent.”

    Post describes independent reading as an activity driven by student selection and motivation that’s free from assessment and accountability, but not support. ILA’s definition of independent reading includes the important role teachers play in the practice, such as offering suggestions about text selection based on students' self-identified interests, initiating conversations with students about what they’re reading, and facilitating similar discussions among peer groups.

    To heighten reading motivation, ILA recommends that educators not only ensure choice, but also provide texts that reflect topics of interest and stories that are representative of all students in the classroom and beyond. An added benefit? Diverse and inclusive classroom libraries help foster a love of reading.

    Due to increased emphasis on test preparation, assigned reading, and other curricular requirements, many teachers struggle to carve out time for quality independent reading. But, as ILA points out, when independent reading isn’t prioritized or encouraged in the classroom, students miss out on important benefits, such as improved reading stamina, vocabulary, and background knowledge.

    Additionally, teachers lack valuable opportunities to coach, instruct, provide feedback, and assess the effectiveness of independent reading.

    The brief includes a list of takeaways to help educators boost student interest in and engagement with books.

    Access the full text here.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of
    Literacy Daily. 

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