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    Changing Their Trajectory: A Small Caribbean Territory’s Big Lessons on Early Intervention

    By Brad Wilson
     | Jul 04, 2017

    Cayman IslandsCatching young readers before they stumble is one of the most important actions literacy educators can take. As world-renowned educational expert Avis Glaze often says, “The children cannot wait!”

    When it comes to learning to read, they certainly can’t.

    Solid foundational reading skills are key to future success and prosperity, yet too many teachers around the world feel helpless as they watch small reading gaps among their students widen into long-term reading challenges. This is an unfortunate reality given what contemporary research says about the vital importance of early literacy interventions via frameworks such as Response to Intervention (RTI).

    The good news is, no matter the position you hold in your current system, there are six professional attributes you can adopt that will allow you to begin the change process and move your school toward an effective implementation of a reading intervention framework.

    With these attributes, the gears of change will begin to turn. As educators, we cannot wait for senior administrators to set the vision, nor can we sit by as readers struggle to gain access to the supports they require.

    After two years of applying a new intervention program here in the Cayman Islands, the verdict is in: RTI frameworks and reading interventions are essential aspects of any high-performing school.

    1. Vision

    In 2012, the need for early reading intervention in the Cayman Islands was obvious, as too many capable students were missing small, basic early literacy skills. At the time, I was working with a few schools as a literacy coach for the Ministry of Education, which wasn’t a particularly influential role. I watched as the majority of teachers worked diligently to meet the varying needs of students in their classrooms, but it wasn’t enough to close the gaps. The system had diagnostic reading assessments and even some intervention resources, but they weren’t being used effectively, if at all.

    We needed a vision if we were to see future success.

    2. Research

    Around the same time, educational psychologist Monty Larrew was advocating for the introduction of an RTI framework as a research-informed method of addressing the kinds of inefficiencies I’d been noticing. Through well-researched presentations and dialogue, Larrew began to advocate for an RTI approach, and after a few conversations, we decided to work together to implement an RTI pilot project that would use the research-based assessments and interventions we already had in place.

    No new money, staff, or assessments; we were just looking to work smarter with what we already had.

    3. Planning

    A research-based vision was in place, and we knew we needed to get buy-in from teachers and administrators. We developed a sellable plan that required minimal new workloads with the opportunity for maximum results. We required the gathering of Developmental Reading Assessment data, the use of resources that were already in the system (namely Jolly Phonics and Leveled Literacy Intervention), regular progress monitoring using the formative assessment methods internal to the programs, a commitment to six- to eight-week data review meetings, and a minor restructuring of one assistant teacher’s timetable to allow the interventions to take place regularly.

    We pitched the research-based plan and received permission to run a pilot in two kindergarten classrooms in two of our smallest schools. It was a major step forward.

    4. Patience

    There were challenges during the early days of the program, such as obtaining and maintaining participants’ fidelity to the intervention and its schedule and facilitating training around basic early literacy skills, but for the first time we had a dataset that showed increases in student achievement. We knew we needed to be resilient in the face of frustration and patient enough to let our plan take root.

    5. Community

    With positive results in hand, improving the breadth and depth of the interventions was vital, and we knew that expanding the framework across the system required a community effort. We needed administrators, literacy coaches, and special education teachers to take on key roles that would allow the expansion of programming and the implementation of a formal screening assessment like DIBELS. From two small schools, we grew the RTI framework to include all Cayman Islands Government schools across two-year grade spans and eventually involved dozens of staff members.

    Developing a community beyond the system was also essential to RTI’s success. Private partners, including Rotary and local nonprofit Literacy Is For Everyone, donated thousands of dollars to purchase reading interventions based on the identified needs arising from system data. In addition to monetary support, our private partners also provided encouragement and accountability.

    6. Resilience

    What started as two professionals with an idea has grown into the successful implementation of five researched-informed reading interventions across two-year groups, teams working together to identify problems of practice, the inclusion of our special education experts in testing and support, and best of all, an upward trajectory in student achievement.

    For example, after developing consistency of methods across the school system, incorporating 90 minutes of literacy teaching a day for Year 1 students and regular screening along with small-group and one-on-one intervention as necessary, 86% of Year 1 students in our public school system met the expected literacy level for their age group last school year, which was the first full year of our program. At one school, Edna Moyle Primary School, students achieved 100% proficiency.

    The road is still being traveled and we still have challenges, but because of our team’s resilience, we have overcome major obstacles and are eager to tackle what’s to come.

    The Cayman Islands is small, but it has big lessons to share. The six attributes discussed have been essential to the successful development of our RTI framework. No matter your role in education, the adoption of these attributes can start the change process within your system.

    As Dr. Glaze says, “The children cannot wait!”

    Brad Wilson is currently the literacy specialist with the Ministry of Education in the Cayman Islands. He also worked as a literacy coach in the Cayman Islands and started his educational career as a teacher in Canada.

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

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    Putting Books to Work: Jordan Sonnenblick’s Notes From the Midnight Driver

    By Julie D. Ramsay
     | Jun 30, 2017

    Notes From the Midnight DriverLike many of our middle school students, Alex’s life is in turmoil. His parents are in the midst of a very expensive divorce and his college fund is quickly depleting as lawyers battle over his time. Compounding that, Alex’s dad has moved in with his third-grade teacher and his mom has started dating. He has had enough. So Alex gets drunk, takes the keys to his mom’s car, and heads out to give his dad a piece of his mind.

    Of course, things do not go as planned. Alex finds himself in police custody having decapitated a neighbor’s garden gnome. His actions land him with a strict grounding at home, teasing at school, and assigned community service at a local nursing home with a notoriously cantankerous patient.

    The beautifully composed story perfectly blends poignant moments with the humor that typically follows the lives of early adolescent students. Readers easily connect with Alex’s plight while seeing his character develop as he becomes less self-centered and learns how to serve others.

    Cross-curricular Connections: English language arts, social studies/history

    Ideas for Classroom Use:

    This book lends itself to several different types of activities to support all of our diverse learners.

    Cause and Effect

    Notes From The Midnight Driver provides students with many opportunities to evaluate cause and effect relationships. Students can discuss and reflect on Alex’s choices and answer questions like What could have been done differently? What would have been a different outcome? In addition to having large and small group discussions, blogging is a great platform for students to share their thoughts. Unlike oral discussions, blogging gives students more time to contemplate, form their own ideas, and then share them with their peers. Through blog commenting, students can hold ongoing conversations outside of the classroom

    Character development

    In our classroom, we will use a “plot mountain” graphic organizer to study how Alex’s character develops and to analyze how Sonnenblick creates a character that the audience can identify with. Students will use that as a model and create a character for their own narratives.

    Letter writing

    Although we live in the age where digital mediums reign our interpersonal communication, Alex uses letters to communicate with the judge on his progress. This lends itself to a discussion about communication mediums, audience, and impact. Students can select a topic, such as the dress code or the equitable use of physical education equipment, and determine how that would be communicated to a friend, a kindergartner, a parent, a grandparent, or a superintendent. Students can then compose their message for different audiences using different tools. They have to ask themselves, Would I text message, e-mail, Tweet, or write a letter explaining my argument? This is an authentic opportunity for students to practice communicating their message across different mediums for different audiences.

    Living history

    This book inspires readers to learn from the wisdom and experiences of older generations in their communities. Students can interview persons of interest, record their stories and then publish them to share with future generations. Some of my students favorite ways to publish are through video (iMovie or We Video), digital picture books (Mystorybook or Storyjumper), graphic novels, blog posts (KidBlog), and animation (StikBots or PowToon).

    Service learning projects

    Students want to know that what they are learning in school is relevant to their lives and empowering them to make a difference in the world. Although Alex is assigned community service, he eventually becomes invested in providing the residents at the nursing home, especially his assigned patient, with a jazz concert. This sets an example for students to really examine their communities, identify an area that may be underserved, and use their own talents to provide a service that positively impact the lives of others.

    Through many of these learning experiences, students will develop empathy for others while promoting social justice in their own communities.

    Additional Resources:

    Jordan Sonnenblick's official website links to Sonnenblick’s full list of books, his calendar, blog, and other resources.

    "Service-Learning: The Time is Now" is an article explaining why service learning projects are powerful for our students. The article provides several examples of successful projects as well as steps for classroom implementation.

    Julie D. Ramsay is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing? She teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, AL. She also travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog, eduflections.

    Julie D. Ramsay will facilitate a workshop titled Putting Books to Work Mid-Level (featuring authors Jordan Sonnenblick, Pablo Cartaya, and George O’Connor) at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.
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    Fostering Critical Literacy Through Popular Culture in English Language Arts

    By Kathleen Colantonio-Yurko
     | Jun 29, 2017

    Critical LiteracyWhen I want to relax after a long day of teaching, I often choose to watch a television show. With my “teacher eyes,” I frequently end up thinking about how the show flashing across my screen might relate to the content of an English language arts class.

    For example, when watching an episode of Black-ish, I wonder how the show’s underlying commentary on race in America might help students understand a complex social issue related to an assigned text. I ask myself, How can this television show foster critical thought? What questions can I ask my students to help them develop their critical literacy skills?

    As a teacher educator, I wonder how I can help current and future teachers address these questions in their own practice. 

    In my experience as a high school English language arts teacher, my courses generally focused on one core text—a piece of fiction that I used as the foundation of a unit. However, I did my best to incorporate popular culture artifacts that were tied to central themes, conflicts, or ideas within the core text. I wanted my students to see the connections between their fictional text and the world in which we live. Moreover, I wanted students to grow into critical beings who questioned the world around them.

    Teachers can integrate popular culture into their class curriculum as an avenue for students to explore themes from their assigned fictional readings. Increasingly, more popular culture artifacts address sociopolitical issues in a variety of mediums. For example, Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat offer rich storylines that openly address critical issues such as race, class, immigration, and gender.

    Students’ understanding of sociopolitical issues can be deepened by connecting the issues to current events. Teachers can think of the core text as a starting place. Perhaps the teacher then connects a theme from the core text to a popular culture television show. However, students’ emerging understanding can be extended.

    How can this be accomplished? The news is a good place to start. News events and political movements offer rich opportunities for students to critically examine dominant narratives in our society. Additionally, popular culture artifacts allow teachers to meet the needs of mandated initiatives that require nonfiction readings be included in class curriculum. Teachers can integrate nonfiction into their course by pairing texts with news articles that address themes and topics from a selected episode.

    Popular cultural artifacts can bring complex issues to life. After all, the more perspectives students are offered, the more nuanced their understandings become. Consider the ways in which you might integrate popular culture artifacts with contemporary issues in your own courses.

    Kate YurkoKathleen Colantonio-Yurko is currently an assistant professor of literacy at The College at Brockport, State University of New York.

    Kathleen Colantonio-Yurko will present multiple sessions including “All TV Shows Are Political?!: Fostering Critical Literacy Through Popular Culture in English Language Arts” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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    Finding Meaning in Literacy Learning for Second and Foreign Language Learners

    By Yueh-Nu Hung
     | Jun 27, 2017

    Finding Meaning in Literacy LearningIn Taiwan, there is a great demand for effective strategies to teach English literacy skills. English textbooks used in elementary schools contain mostly short dialogues, and vocabulary and sentence exercises are usually controlled and graded linearly. These materials often don’t deliver meaningful, interesting, and effective literacy learning experiences.

    In 2013, I worked with a group of elementary school English teachers to develop theme-based English reading and writing lessons to partially replace textbooks. Each theme consisted of children’s books of various genres, poetry, songs, or videos. We chose topics that were interesting and relevant to students’ lives, such as dentist visits, pet care, traveling, and cooking.

    Reading materials were selected based on a few criteria: First, they had to be interesting and connect to students’ life experiences. Next, they had to be authentic materials that were not modified for the purpose of language teaching. Last, the language needed to be appropriate and not-too-challenging.

    Writing is usually the aspect of language learning that second and foreign language learners find most frustrating. In our theme-based, meaning-focused teaching, we made sure that writing activities always came as a natural extension of reading activities. Students always wrote to express personal meaning. In the writing activities we designed, there was never a “correct answer.” Unlike writing activities recommended by textbooks, we never asked students to write copy or practice patterns. High achieving students were free to share what they wanted to say, and low achieving students practiced guided writing such as fill-in-the-blank prompts or sentence completion supported with word banks.

    We were very curious about the effectiveness of this theme-based and meaning-based literacy teaching endeavor, so we conducted quasi-experimental research and invited another school of a similar size and parent socioeconomic status background in the same city to be the control group. Students from both schools received English reading and writing proficiency pre- and post-test. It was a delight to see that our students performed significantly better after receiving only one semester (four months) of this theme- and meaning-based literacy instruction. Interviews with students also revealed that they preferred the experimental instruction and wanted it to continue.

    We put meaning and student interest at the forefront of what we chose and organized for students to read and to write. All educational and learning theories say that meaning and student motivation is important. What we learned is that while all English teaching theories and classroom research are important, the “meaning first” truth goes a long way. When meaning and student interests become the priority, everything else comes naturally in helping students to learn a new language.

    Yueh-Nu HungYueh-Nu Hung is an associate professor in the Department of English at the National Taichung University of Education in Taiwan. She is the director of the Center for Research on Elementary English Teaching, a project funded by the Ministry of Education of Taiwan that works on preservice and inservice elementary school English teacher training.

    Yueh-Nu Hung will present a session titled “Finding Meaning in Literacy Learning: Classroom Strategies in Second and Foreign Language Literacy Instruction” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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    High-Leverage Literacy Practices: Redefining Literacy Instruction in Diverse Contexts

    By Kindel Nash, Etta Hollins, and Leah Panther
     | Jun 21, 2017
    High-Leverage Literacy Practices

    The term “best practices” has become ubiquitous in educational policy due to legislation and reports related to the National Reading Panel, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The original intention of best practices was to involve teachers in making experience- and evidence-based decisions. These legislative acts mandated teaching practices that demonstrated positive academic gains using scientific research studies. 

    However, the studies informing best practices often minimize the strengths of urban communities. The concept of high-leverage literacy practices (HLLPs)—which we studied in the context of high-performing, urban schools—attempts to fill gaps in the current literature on best practices.

    HLLPs build upon and extend what the learner already knows, and are characterized by a purposefully sequenced, interconnected, and iterative progression of experiences that support cumulative and increasingly complex understandings of language and literacy protocols and usage.  

    High-leverage literacy practices are always concerned with questions such as: What does the practice mean in terms of supporting a child’s learning? How is the practice connected to learning theory? To date, HLLPs have been identified in math, science, foreign language, and secondary language arts but, until our study, no HLLPs had been unearthed in early childhood literacy contexts.   

    Kim, a high -performing, urban first-grade teacher from our study, enacted instructional decisions to create her classroom library that exemplify the three principles of HLLPs: purposefully sequenced, interconnected, and iterative progressions of experiences.

    First, the student-created label system was purposefully sequenced. Kim carefully planned the learning experience, paired students, and provided challenging text sets with varying levels of complexity.

    Second, the labeling activity was interconnected. Kim drew from multiple literacy skills to create an authentic learning experience. Students employed background knowledge, text features, and context clues to identify a common theme linking each text, and also designed, drew, and wrote the labels.

    Finally, the student-created labels were part of an iterative progression of experiences. Kim offered multiple opportunities to authentically apply new knowledge, such as continual revising of the labels as new text sets were introduced.

    This example highlights how HLLPs can be measured, sequenced, altered, and adjusted for other academic and personal outcomes. Teachers can observe and identify the points where students struggle within the activity. Additionally, the HLLP builds from one skill to another and can be repeated at various levels and progressions.

    Kim’s use of authentic, student-created labels in the classroom library facilitated student ownership of their classroom and academic and socioemotional growth.  

    Kindel NashKindel Nash is an assistant professor of urban teacher education and the coordinator for the language and literacy master’s program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She earned her doctoral degree from the University of South Carolina. Her current research explores high-leverage early literacy instruction and its intersections with culturally sustaining pedagogies and critical race theory. Her work can be found in Teachers College Record, Equity & Excellence in Education, Language Arts, and The Urban Review.

    Etta HollinsEtta Hollins is the Ewing Marion Kauffman Endowed Chair for Urban Teacher Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She was previously professor and chair of Teacher Education at the University of Southern California. She served on the prestigious Teacher Education Panel for the American Educational Research Association and has been an invited speaker for the American Educational Research Association, the Association of Teacher Educators, National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, the Council of Great City Schools, and the International Literacy Association. Hollins is regularly called upon as a consultant on the preparation of teachers for diverse and underserved students by colleges and schools of education, state departments of education, and school districts.

    Leah PantherLeah Panther is a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her research interests include high-leverage literacy practices, urban religious schools, and adolescent literacy. Her current research project involves high-leverage literacy practices in urban religious middle schools.

    Kindel Nash, Etta Hollins, and Leah Panther will present a session titled “High-Leverage Literacy Practices: Researching and Defining Literacy Instruction in Urban School Contexts” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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