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    Should a Book Be a School Supply?

    By Justin Stygles
     | Sep 18, 2018
    Classroom Library

    For years I have wondered if a book should be considered a school supply. Recently, I posed this question to parents, educators, and “friends” on social media.

    As a research question, I must concede that clarity is lacking; the question is rather open-ended. I expected the respondents to assume I meant an independent reading book. I posed the question because I sought to evaluate what parents think about ensuring students come to school with their own independent reading book.

    Twenty-four hours after posting my question, I gleaned two major observations.

    First, either due to vagueness or the open-ended nature of the question, many people considered a “book” to be synonymous with a textbook. Second, most educators agreed that a book should be a school supply. Parents and community members felt that books should come from the classroom, or at least a library.

    Before I discuss the results, I would like to share some information. I am not a data analyst; I am merely making conclusions based on the information posted. Second, I posted my question in two forums: my personal Facebook page and a closed group representing parents. My “friends” consisted of colleagues and coworkers from my current career fields and several previous jobs as well as friends and acquaintances from high school, college, and today. Many of the responses on my personal page were from current educators. The closed group included parents from a rural community whose children were enrolled in the local school system.

    As educators, we should consider the implications and questions that need to be raised beyond this very informal study. I wonder how many students, past and present, consider reading to be an act performed in a textbook?  Is this why a certain number of students do not read beyond school? Does this suggest that students who have experience reading independently outside of the classroom are more likely to become lifelong readers? 

    Because I did not define a book as a trade book or an independent reading book, I can see why many parents revolted at the notion that a book be considered a school supply. What parent wants to invest in a basal reader or a textbook? However, if they believe I am the sole supplier of independent reading, I am quite concerned about that value of reading in a maturing reader’s life. There is a strong reality that, although we impart the value of reading, our students might be resistant because reading is not prioritized in the child’s overall existence. This also places a tremendous, and honorable, responsibility to ensure the best books are available to my students for independent reading so that they may be inspired to read beyond the limitations of our school day.

    My question did not consider whether one book constitutes a school supply for an entire year, much like a package of pencils. Nor did my question suggest an invitation for consistent participation in the class book order.

    To conclude, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances, the idea of a reading book as a school supply was met with heavy resistance. Although reading is the integral component of education, books are materials that many people consider a responsibility, if not an obligation, of the school. Although I agree that our schools and district have a fiduciary (or moral) obligation to stock and maintain classroom libraries for the sake of readers, I am left to wonder how invested families are (again, disregarding those who do not have the time or resources to support independent reading habits) in the development of reading and lifelong reading outside the classroom.

    If I can take anything away from my tentative, informal research, it’s that we have no greater responsibility than to show our students that reading is more than a practice performed in a classroom and to help readers develop their relationship with an individual text and the desire to seek reading beyond our brick and mortar walls. Our responsibility begins with an earnest commitment to curate classroom libraries.

    Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher in Wiscasset, Maine. He’s taught for 15 years in various settings. You can follow him on Twitter at @justinstygles.

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    The Greatest Gift We Can Give Our Youth Is a Passion for Literacy

    By Warren Adler
     | Aug 30, 2018
    The Greatest Gift

    I believe that literacy provides our youth with the soul of education and allows them to attain a deeper understanding of what makes us human—the joys, perils, and insights of our experience. I applaud and celebrate those who understand the importance of instilling a passion for literacy in our young people, and I am a firm believer that it can start with just a single spark.

    Looking back to my childhood, which took place in Brooklyn in the 1920s, the memory of my mother’s reading habits takes root. When she finished her chores for the day and I returned home from school, she would be sitting and reading, waiting to serve the evening meal. She was a prodigious novel reader and I watched her read day after day, getting her books out of storefront lending libraries for what I think was 10 cents a day.

    It has taken many years to discover this as the seed that grew my own obsession to read and write, but that image of my mother living in a parallel world of fictional characters has stuck with me throughout my entire life. It is almost as if I am writing my stories and novels for her, and I think that is my biggest tribute to her.

    As a very young child, before I was able to read on my own, my parents read to me from storybooks. My parents’ gift to me one holiday when I was 6 years old meant more to me than they could know, and it was absolutely essential to my grounding in literature. They bought me a set of My Bookhouse by Olive Beaupré Miller, which was six volumes of stories and rhymes chosen from international literature for children. The offerings in these wonderful books began with nursery rhymes and progressed to material for children as they grew.

    I loved those books. I read them over and over again. They were gorgeously illustrated, and I never grew tired of reading them. It was like crossing a moat from the reality of a world of struggle and strife, to a paradise of storytelling, which opened infinite possibilities and aspirations in a young boy confronting a strange and scary future.

    When I had my own children, the set had been moved so many times that I had unfortunately lost track of it. But one day when my oldest child was about 5 years old, I found them in the book section of Marshall Field’s in Chicago during a business trip. Honestly, I had the feeling that I had struck gold and the discovery brought a rush of memory and stirred deep emotion and heartfelt tears. Of course, I immediately had a set shipped home for my children.

    Literacy is a prize to be savored and a path to insight and wisdom. Lack of literacy is a creeping danger, and neglecting the teaching of literacy to children through indifference, impoverishment, and neglect is a travesty that can condemn them to a life of ignorance and enslavement. To truly appreciate the power of literacy is to understand its ability to empower.

    My own love affair with reading inspired my dream to become a novelist by the time I was 15. After high school, I went to New York University and pursued a degree in English literature, where I was introduced to the roster of great American novelists, becoming bewitched by the works of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald. My freshman English professor, Dr. Don Wolfe, inspired me, and I later went on to study creative writing with him at the New School, along with Mario Puzo and William Styron.

    As a writer of the imagination and a reader of works of the imagination, I believe reading and writing have given me the necessary insight, understanding, and greater comprehension of the human condition on all levels. It has taken me out of the living moment into the mind and motivation of others, both past and present, and showed me a path to empathy and potential wisdom.

    No matter who it is that first sparks that flame, dedication to instilling the values and wisdom that come to us through literacy is sublime, offering a lifetime treasure trove for the soul, the most valuable gift that someone can provide a young person as he or she navigates life.

    Watch his video, "For the Love of Reading: How Books Shaped My Destiny," here.

    Warren Adler is the prolific author of over 50 works of fiction including his iconic The War of the Roses, Private Lies, and Random Hearts. You can read about his latest film/TV developments here. He recently launched Writers of the World, a campaign featuring aspiring and established writers. He has been featured in The New York Times, EntrepreneurPublishers Weekly, and Pfizer and is a regular contributor to Lit Hub, Huffington Post, and The Daily Beast. With a growing fanbase of over 600,000 fans on Facebook, Adler regularly shares advice to aspiring writers and is considered a pioneer in the digital publishing world.

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    Celebrating Open Education

    By Todd Bryant
     | Mar 29, 2018

    Open EducationEarlier this month, educators, technologists, and learners across the world celebrated Open Education Week, a global event that seeks to reduce barriers, increase access, and drive improvements in education through open sharing and digital formats. 

    Organized by the Open Education Consortium, the event showcases open projects, resources, and ideas and encourages the further creation and dissemination of educational resources. While OEW may have passed, advocates can continue to celebrate and advance open education all year long. Here’s the why and how:

    What is open education?

    The open education movement started in response to two critical issues facing educators and students. Most are aware of the rising costs of learning materials; a study published by U.S. Department of Labor found that the cost of textbooks increased by 88% from 2006–2016. Eliminating these costs can significantly reduce financial barriers for our most disadvantaged students.

    Furthermore, open resources have the additional advantage of being published under a Creative Commons license. This means teachers can take portions of open texts or digital materials, add their own material or include them within a lesson, and share with other teachers. One example of this is the Mixxer Language Exchange site hosted by Dickinson College, which connects language learners with native speakers as part of a mutual language exchange. Users can practice via Skype or submit a short writing piece and ask for corrections. The site also provides “lessons” that integrate materials from the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) to support and guide exchanges.

    Next steps

    We believe that education should be open and free, and there are several resources to help teachers interested in collaborative learning. Those just getting started may want to check out  MERLOT, an open educational resource project from the California State University. Anyone can contribute or use materials from the repository, which includes whole courses, open textbooks, small instructional modules, and more. Those looking for open textbooks should browse California’s Cool4Ed library, Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library, OpenStax from Rice University, and aggregators of these resources, such as OER Commons’ hub.

    Finally, institutions and governments are becoming proponents of openness in education. The Cool4Ed library was established by California legislation that called for the establishment of an open educational resources council and a digital open source library. Community colleges have started an OER Degree Initiative to create entire degree programs that exclusively use open textbooks and online resources. The open education movement has also for the first time succeeded in allotting federal funds for the creation of open and free textbooks. Open education still has a long way to go, but it’s slowly becoming a reality.

    Todd Bryant is a language technology specialist at Dickinson College.

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    Reaching for Excellence

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 16, 2017

    Reaching for Excellence2015–2016 was the most challenging year of Julie Stover’s career.

    Pennsylvania had just rolled out the overhauled PA Core Standards and a new, more rigorous Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) that contained critical thinking and open-ended questions as well as more nonfiction reading. PSSA scores weigh heavily on School Performance Profile—the “report card” used to evaluate students, teachers, and students. Low test scores set up schools for possible state intervention.

    “Being teachers, we already pressure ourselves. We hope to have every child reach his or her potential. But we felt a new and different push to raise ‘rigor’ and move full speed ahead. We saw more test practice, data walls, and higher teacher accountability,” says Stover, a reading specialist at East York Elementary.

    When the scores came back, the teachers at East York Elementary breathed a sigh of relief. They hadn’t just done well, they had performed in the top 5% of Title I schools in the state.

    Their celebration was short lived.

    “Some of us gave a weak cheer. Then we began to wonder. We were successful, but at what cost?” says Stover. “How could we justify the cost of the accomplishment when students were excited to stop learning? The children couldn’t wait to get away from books. We wanted them running toward them.”

    Data talk

    On the basis of its test results, East York Elementary was identified as a High Progress School, recognizing its progress in closing achievement gaps in PSSA scores among all students and historically underperforming students. Under this designation, schools are eligible and encouraged to apply for Innovation Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which must be used to implement new learning structures and processes that support individual needs.

    Stover was responsible for managing the application process, which required her to substantiate PSSA data and to provide a detailed plan of how East York Elementary would use the grant money, if successfully awarded.

    As she scoured the school’s PSSA data, she noticed that the fifth grade had shown the most improvement from the previous year. Aside from their age, the only common denominator among these students was their shared participation in the Notice and Note close-reading strategies. Authored by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, Notice and Note provides students with six “signposts” that signal readers to pause and reflect at “aha moments,” and other significant moments in the text. The tool kit also includes anchor questions to help facilitate discussion.

    Wendy Ross, a fifth-grade teacher, says she introduced the strategy to give students a stronger sense of ownership over their reading routine.

    “I think I was frustrated; my students didn’t seem to be enjoying reading. I felt like they didn’t have any power, not just in choice but in how they approached the text,” says Ross. “This strategy passed that power back to them—now, they’re in charge of finding meaning in their reading.”

    After observing Ross’s success, Stover and writing teacher Amy Mason helped her deliver the Notice and Note strategies to the rest of the fifth-grade class. They too noticed improvements—not only in the students’ comprehension, but also in their attitude towards reading.

    “It went beyond the quantifiable data. Kids were talking, the depth of their conversations was greater, and their writing was starting to tell more—there was detail and evidence,” says Stover.

    Stover proposed that, if awarded an innovation grant, East York Elementary would use the funds to implement Notice and Note strategies throughout the school. Everyone was on board.

    “We saw this small pocket of success in one classroom. We wanted to spread that success through the rest of the school,” says Denise Fuhrman, principal at East York Elementary.

    Boosting staff morale

    Of the 90 Innovation Grant applications, only 20 were funded. East York Elementary received one of the highest overall ratings and a grant.

    Stover’s first step was to restore staff morale. After a year of rigorous exam preparation, she feared burnout for students and teachers alike.

    Part of the problem, she knew, was the school’s outdated library. The staff sifted through Goodreads recommendations and ILA Choices selections to refresh their selection with a diverse range of titles that were highly engaging but also would enhance the Notice and Note reading routine.

    “It brought the joy of reading back into teaching and revitalized the staff,” says Fuhrman.

    Stover established weekly literacy team meetings where staff held book studies and discussions using the Notice and Note tool kit and designed posters, anchor charts, and bookmarks displaying signpost questions.

    The grant even provided for a training session hosted by authors Beers and Probst. Afterward, the teachers delivered mock lessons for the authors to troubleshoot.

    “This gave them the confidence and the physical support to say ‘We can actually do this,’” says Stover.

    A newfound love of reading

    Though the district has yet to receive its PSSA scores, Stover is confident that they will mirror the performance she sees in the classroom. She says the students have become more incisive thinkers, articulate speakers, and effective writers.

    “It teaches them to respectfully discuss things with one another. They may not agree with each other, but now, they can go back and look at the evidence and prove their point with facts,” says Stover.

    Mason noticed that students are more willing to share their ideas.

    “They have a voice and they feel confident in sharing what they found,” says Mason.

    Above all, the teachers were thrilled to see students’ newfound excitement towards reading. In an end-of-the-year survey, more than 80% of students said they gained a joy of reading.

    “When Common Core first came about, we all felt overwhelmed. We felt like we were plodding along. We’re no longer plodding along—we’re dancing through books,” says Ross.

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

    This piece originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Literacy Today, ILA's member magazine.

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    What’s Missing in MTSS/RTI Implementation?

    By Susan Hall
     | Oct 25, 2017

    MSSI/RTI Implementation Many schools are currently implementing multitier systems of support/response to intervention (MTSS/RTI). So why aren’t there substantial gains in literacy scores? The reason is some of the very components that make MTSS/RTI effective are missing when implemented. Let’s take a look at two critical elements that administrators often overlook when introducing campus reading intervention plans.

    The first is building staff buy-in by focusing on a few key goals. The schools that achieve success have personalized MTSS on their campuses and use data to focus on reading intervention strategies and goals. When MTSS is positioned as something the district expects, teachers are less likely to embrace it. They do respond when the principal says we need to implement RTI because of a specific reason related to our students. An example is when fewer second graders leave the school year at benchmark than entered in the fall. When principals exude their passion that this data is not OK, and together we can change it, more teachers will rally around to help.

    Leaders who get the best staff buy-in work collaboratively with their staff to establish a few key goals to monitor throughout the year. Few is the key word here. The number of goals should be limited and the goals should be meaningful to the school’s situation.

    The second key component is achieving clarity about the school’s assessments and how to use the data collected from them. Too many schools are giving assessments and not really utilizing the data to inform decisions. Schools getting the best results are clear about what each assessment provides. They are aware that they need four kinds of assessments: one early literacy universal screening instrument (like DIBELS, AIMSweb, etc.), two diagnostic assessment tools (one for phonological awareness and one for phonics), the ability to progress monitor after intervention instruction, and one good outcome measure typically designated by the state. Too often there is a lack of understanding that effective universal screeners can’t do the job of a diagnostic assessment and visa-versa. Having too many overlapping assessments is equally unproductive and demotivating to staff.

    Schools achieving the most gains are using MTSS/RTI as a framework to improve literacy outcomes for students. One important yet often overlooked component is articulating a few meaningful goals personalized to the school. A second important component is choosing effective assessment instruments and supporting teachers in learning how to use the data to make decisions for the benefit of students.

    Is your MTSS/RTI implementation missing these key components?

    Susan HallSusan Hall is an ILA member, educational consultant, and founder of 95 Percent Group, Inc. She is the author of multiple books including Jumpstart RTI: Using RTI in Your Elementary School Right Now (Corwin) and Implementing Response to Intervention: A Principal’s Guide (Corwin). Follow her on Twitter.

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