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    Reversing Readicide

    By Karin Kroener-Valdivia
     | May 18, 2017

    Reversing Readicide“This will be the first book I ever read,” shouted one of my seniors. I had left him little choice; he could either read or not graduate. A week earlier, a 10th grader made the same comment. When asked how she made it through so many years of school without reading a book, she explained, “English teachers ask for quote analysis, and it’s really easy to do that without reading the book.”

    I’ve heard many similar confessions throughout my 18 years of teaching. Many of my students are reading five to six years behind grade level. I have seniors about to graduate high school who do not meet the literacy demands needed to fully function in society.

    Kelly Gallagher (2009) defines readicide as “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.” He attributes this genocide to two main factors: high-stakes testing (which often leads teachers to value test-taking skills over reading proficiency) and limited authentic reading experiences.

    Gallagher’s theory echoes observations and experiences from my own teaching career. I’ve seen English classrooms with no books, or only tattered copies of classic titles. The urban high schools where I teach in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are becoming book deserts.

    Even when books are available, some administrators and educators do not allow students to read during class out of fear of losing valuable learning time. I believe that when students are allotted time for free voluntary reading, they become better readers, score higher on achievement tests, and expand their content knowledge.

    Teachers can use free reading time to supplement textbook learning. For example, when studying the Holocaust, students might choose to read Elie Wiesel’s Night: a teen’s account of his survival from the Nazi death camps. Another example is Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan’s Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, which offers creative explanations for geometry concepts.

    I understand that building a strong classroom library can be difficult with budget restrictions. Teachers can try borrowing a class set of novels from the public library, browsing secondhand bookstores, or applying for grants from education nonprofits. I have received $1,000 in book grants from donorschoose.org every year for the past five years.

    Ray Bradbury captured the importance of voluntary reading when he said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

    Concerned educators—it’s time to take action. Let’s reverse readicide.

    Karin Kroener-Valdivia is an 18-year English teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District in California. She is also National Board Certified and a UCLA Writing Project Fellow.

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    #VisualLiteracies Through Instagram in the Primary Classroom

    By Stephanie Branson
     | Apr 28, 2017
    Boy and Girl at LaptopWhen I started teaching first grade, I used an old 35mm camera to capture daily experiences, document learning, and create materials for students. Eventually I learned to hand the camera over to my students to let them capture and share their learning experiences. But beyond some surface level conversations, I never spent much time focusing on the image as a text to be read and understood. As a novice teacher, I didn’t appreciate the importance of developing foundational visual literacy skills and dispositions.

    National initiatives for education promote competence in understanding, evaluating, and using diverse media formats for teaching and learning. These initiatives recognize shifting literacies and the need to embrace digital and media practices in the classroom. As digital spaces continue to change, and as more young students participate in these spaces, visual literacy skills are becoming increasingly critical.

    Visual literacy is the ability to recognize, understand, and interpret static and moving images and produce visual messages. Primary students are inundated throughout the day with visual messages, but how much time do we spend explicitly teaching them how to think about, analyze, and question the visuals they see? Visual literacy involves not only making factual observations, but also critically analyzing content, appreciating composition techniques, understanding the author’s intention, distinguishing points of view, identifying fake or misleading content, and recognizing the ability of visuals to influence and persuade.

    Primary teachers can start developing visual literacy through the analysis of photographs and book illustrations. Online resources, such as the National Archives’ archives.gov, or the Annenberg Learner’s learner.org provide practical and systematic ideas for analyzing images and videos. Additional resources include CEO of Southwest Educational Consultants Frank Serafini’s resource analysis guides, The New York Times online column What’s Going on in This Picture and the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies’ “Every Picture Has a Story” lesson plan.

    The next step is for students to create and analyze their own visuals. When I was teaching, I quickly discovered that photography was more powerful when I put the camera into the hands of my young students. I noticed them talking differently about the shots they composed and the strategies they were using to choose pictures for projects. As the years went on, I found new tools and ways of engaging my students with visual literacies. Instagram became a particularly useful platform to have students compose their own digital photo or video for discussion. Asking my students to become both the creators and critical consumers of visuals led to deeper discussions, insights, and connections to what they were exposed to online.

    Below are a few ideas for incorporating different aspects of visual literacies across the curriculum using a tool such as Instagram. I chose ideas for a primary-grade classroom (K-6), but all ideas and questions can be adapted and modified to meet the needs of a secondary audience. Furthermore, in order to maintain confidentiality and protect students online, I would recommend a classroom Instagram account that is monitored and maintained by a teacher.

    Vocabulary instruction: Give students a word of the week and have them search the school for visual representations of that word. They can post the image to a classroom Instagram page with an appropriate hashtag and brief caption, or create a GIF or Instagram boomerang video. Inspire other classrooms to upload their visuals as well and investigate the multiple representations and meanings of words. This is a great way to encourage and develop different perspectives, explore visual relevancy, and study social media behaviors. Questions might address angles, lighting, composition, setting, movement, filters, and focus.

    Visual and embodied storytelling: Using the collage feature, have students tell a story in four frames or recreate the plot of a story visually (bodies, illustrations, still animation). Ask readers to interpret and retell the story in the comments. Remove a picture or rearrange the images. How does the story change? As an alternative, ask students to create and post a tableau (living picture) as a single image. Dramatic tableau offers students a way to physically embody learning and explore content. Capturing the still image and posting online invites others to interpret the scene in the comments section. Questions might include: How do the interpretations differ from what you intended? How did your facial expressions and body positions tell the story or convey the message? In visual storytelling, students consider body movements, expression, background, camera angles, lighting, movement, objects, actors, and setting.

    Book hooks & advertisements: Ask students to film or depict a scene from a book that will hook readers and leave them wanting more. As a culminating product, ask students to create an advertisement for a classroom event or concept. Challenge them to create a brief video clip in less than 60 seconds that conveys meaning about a favorite book or upcoming event. This task requires knowledge of audience, text comprehension, composition techniques, the art of persuasion, and the use of symbolism. Questions might include: Who is your intended audience? What persuasive techniques did you use? How did you frame the shot or choose the scene? If it was a book, why did you choose that part as the hook? For audience members, how did the hook move you? What captured your attention?

    Capture science inquiry: Use photo blogging as a way to collect data for long-term investigations or capture science experiments. For example, students might track the growth of a plant over time, or changes in the sky at different points of the day. Questions could include: What’s the importance of lighting and camera angles? How does changing the position of the camera or point of the view impact data collection? How should we caption the images to accurately represent the investigation? Through Instagram, students will have a record of their experiments and a way to document growth, change, and unusual occurrences over time.

    Create personal primary artifacts in social studies: Digital photography serves as a way to document a particular period of time. Students can create their own primary documents and track events that occur in the classroom and school across the year through images and captions. “Every Picture has a Story” is a great starting point for discussing primary artifacts and how they preserve moments in time. As students create their own primary artifacts, they are learning about historical context, evidence-based reasoning, and storytelling. Questions might include: Whose story is being told? How does body language and facial expressions impact the story? How might someone interpret your artifact ten years from now? How might your peers in the next classroom/school interpret your story? Students in older grades might discuss cultural differences in interpretations.

    Create your own Fake News: In her blog post “Media Literacy is Critical,” Susan Luft describes the importance of developing critical literacy skills and ideas for integrating visual messages. Extending on her ideas, ask students to create two copies of an image they created, but with two different headlines (one true and one fake). Have the readers investigate the context and ask their peers questions like: How did you determine authenticity? What is misleading? What was the purpose of the fake news? Or, ask students to capture the image from two different angles. How does the angle change the context of the photo or tell a different story? What is our ethical responsibility? How do interpretations differ? 

    These digital tools and social media apps create opportunities to involve students in visual literacy and social media practices that are ubiquitous in our digitally mediated world. As teachers, our job is to search for ways to bring students interests and tools into the classroom. Instagram and similar Web 2.0 tools are just another way to incorporate visual literacy into the curriculum.

    Stephanie Branson HeadshotStephanie Branson is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida, pursuing literacy studies and elementary education with a special focus on digital literacies and teacher development. Connect with her on Twitter to find upcoming literacy Instagram 

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    Going Beyond Book Donations to Create Readers in Uganda

    By Honey Halpern
     | Apr 27, 2017

    boy with glasses and bookOver the course of seven weeks and two separate visits to an elementary school in Kampala, Uganda, I learned that the gift of books is only the first step toward helping students become readers. When I brought books into their classrooms, everyone—including the teachers—was excited and grateful to receive them. But as there was no infrastructure in place for their regular use, after the initial introduction, the books were not made available to the children.

    Books, I came to understand, were viewed as valued gifts, an extraordinary rather than an ordinary part of school learning, and were held in locked cabinets.

    Addressing this issue became my challenge. How could I integrate books into the school program in a sustainable manner, considering the pressures of the state-mandated curriculum and focus on exam preparation?

    Thanks to the global literacy fund of the British Columbia Council of the International Literacy Association, I purchased 22 contemporary, colorful, attractive nonfiction books to enhance the curriculum. A Ugandan teacher provided me with a list of topics in the academic subjects they needed to cover for exams: electricity, magnets, bones, the brain, the digestive system, cell division, and the Rift Valley.

    I also helped students develop the skills they needed to learn from books. To provide an example, I filmed sixth-grade students in a Vancouver school as they browsed, read, and talked about library books.

    With my books and videos, I returned to Kampala for the third time and put into action the following plan:

    • I introduced new nonfiction books one by one, class by class. The class practiced how to choose a book and how to share what they found interesting about the book.
    •  I showed the demonstration videos of children interacting with library books. The class discussed the video afterward, and students were encouraged to ask questions.
    • I helped create a timetable. After consulting with the teachers, I scheduled a detailed book circulation system into the weekly timetable. The collection, which included fiction from my first trips along with the new nonfiction books, traveled from class to class twice a week for 30 minutes.

    I happily witnessed the effect I was hoping for. The books were regularly distributed to students with sufficient time allowed for reading and discussion with one another and their teachers. The books were freed from locked cabinets and they became a regular part of every student’s school experience.

    My hands-on experience as a book donor progressed from simply providing books to consulting with teachers and children to integrate classroom libraries into the daily curriculum. I learned that the implementation of resources is a key factor in improving literacy.

    How did the learners do on those critical final exams? Very well, I am pleased to report.

    Honey HalpernHoney Halpern has taught for more than 30 years in elementary and secondary schools and faculties of education in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, Canada. Her experience has mainly been with reading programs and courses. Most recently she has been helping out in a school in Kampala, Uganda, where she works with the children and their teachers to improve reading and writing skills.

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    For This Award-Winning Educator, Reimagining Literacy Means Showing Students the Power Writing Has to Redirect Their Lives

    By Colleen Patrice Clark
     | Apr 18, 2017
    IOW_2017-04-18_w220

    Room 404 at Miami Norland Senior High School in Florida is a second home for Precious Symonette’s creative writing students. The love and acceptance they feel upon entering is something they treasure and hold onto long after graduation.

    Symonette is a Freedom Writer teacher. She teaches students, many of whom are inner-city teens from troubled backgrounds, that no matter what challenges they face, they can find success in the classroom and beyond. By embracing writing as a tool to discover their identity, Symonette is literally transforming their lives through literacy.

    She founded Miami Norland’s Viking Freedom Writers Club and annual Writing Gala, she regularly has her students compete in spoken word competitions and, most recently, she created the Florida Freedom Writers Foundation with her students to encourage others to use writing as a means to explore some of today’s most important topics such as racism, diversity, and empathy.

    “I actively create lessons that reinforce the idea that there is strength in diversity,” Symonette writes on the national Freedom Writers Foundation website. “I force my students to learn about themselves so that they can learn to love themselves.”

    It was no surprise to Symonette’s students when she was named Miami-Dade’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, as well as a 2016 National Education Association Superhero Educator. Her Freedom Writers all use similar words and phrases to describe her: more than a teacher; a mother; someone with the ability to help students discover who they are, the ability to help redirect their path toward a more positive future.

    Her class pledge says it all: “I am not everyone, but I am someone. I cannot write everything, but I can write something! What I can write, by the grace of the universe, I will freely write as a means to become the best person that can be for me, my household, my community, and the world. I have something to say because I am somebody. I am freely writing myself into existence. I am a Florida Freedom Writer.”

    To better understand the impact of this award-winning educator, we knew we only needed to turn to her Freedom Writers to discover that she truly is a teacher who comes along once in a lifetime.

    Read their words here in the open access March/April issue of Literacy Today, and hear her message about the power of writing during Opening General Session at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits.

    Precious Symonette will speak during the Opening General Session of the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits on Saturday, July 15. She will also take part in the ILA Meet & Eat Networking Lunch that day at noon, which is a ticketed event, and a workshop session on the iWrite My Story Movement on Sunday, July 16. For more information, visit ilaconference.org.

    colleen patrice clarkColleen Patrice Clark is the managing editor of Literacy Today.


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    Literacy and 21st-Century School Leadership

    By Ryan B. Jackson
     | Apr 13, 2017

    IOW-04-13-2017_w300As a former English and journalism teacher, I entered education with a bolstered bravado that I would teach America’s youth to become great writers. Naturally, the correlation between great writers and avid readers is significant, so my mission as a first-year teacher was to inspire my students to develop an indelible passion for reading and writing.

    Along the way, I founded Maplewood High School’s first-ever AP language and composition program, resurrected a dead journalism program, and advised the student-centered, student-run school news magazine. It is worth noting that Maplewood High School is an inner-city, high-poverty school in an area with all the familiar trappings: high-crime rate, high unemployment, food desert, gang violence, et cetera, et cetera. When our student news magazine began gaining notoriety and competing at the top-level of the Tennessee High School Press Association—and when one of my AP students went on to pass the AP exam and graduate as salutatorian with full-ride scholarship offers to more than 40 universities, I knew I had truly found my calling.

    Flash-forward 10 years: I am now the executive principal of the Mount Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone, the first pre-K–12 STEAM campus in the United States. My role in education has significantly changed, yet my unbridled passion and love for reading and writing has not wavered.

    I am often asked, “Just what is a STEAM school?” and my response echoes with each inquiry: STEAM is as much a mindset as it is a curriculum. Through a holistic learning model, we are synergizing content and curriculum with concentrated efforts to inspire a new generation of creators, not merely consumers. The bedrock of the STEAM mindset and curriculum, however, is literacy. Through literacy, students develop sought-after communication skills, which translates to effective writing, persuasive speaking, and ultimately coveted problem-solving.

    Thus, after all of the bells-and-whistles of the STEAM education zeitgeist, literacy remains at the heart of the school paradigm. Even with our school’s new 1:1 initiative, through which every student will have a mobile device and untethered access to a digital world of resources, the written word still stands true. How we prepare students to read and write is certainly changing—as it should be in the 17th year of the 21st century. Yet, let us not panic as digital platforms usurp traditional books or throw in the towel as text speak and 140-character tweets attempt to supplant proper grammar and well-written prose.

    Now more than ever educators are needed to connect students with their passions, using literacy as the thread. When educators serve as the conduit between student and student interest, the learning platforms become secondary to a greater, more sustainable purpose: creativity. The universal truth surrounding creativity is its relationship with literacy. Our STEAM campus is charged with inspiring a new generation of thinkers, problem-solvers, and creators, absolutely none of which is possible without literacy, writing across the curriculum, or effective public speaking.

    Has the how changed in our approach to teaching literacy? It has. But, the why remains.

    ryan-jackson_w80Ryan B. Jackson is the executive principal of the Mt. Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone in Tennessee. He is a former film producer and English teacher whose TEDx Talk details the significance of securing student belonging in the classroom. As an English teacher, Jackson also taught AP language and composition and journalism, and he believes literacy is the bedrock of education.


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