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    Choosing Care When Choosing Books

    By Diana Wandix-White
     | Mar 28, 2019

    the-greatest-giftA caring and inclusive classroom environment can have a significant impact on student outcomes, and one way teachers can demonstrate caring is through the books they choose for student learning. By carefully selecting the literature used in our classrooms, we aid our own growth and development as culturally responsive teachers while cultivating our students’ literacy development, capacity for compassion, and acceptance of themselves and others.

    Teachers practice culturally sustaining pedagogy when they choose literature that acknowledges and respects the gamut of students’ backgrounds and experiences. This practice shows students they are cared for and valued and creates a classroom culture of care that encourages students to respect and understand diversity.

    Culturally sustaining pedagogies and diversity in literature

    Django Paris, professor of multicultural education at the University of Washington, theorized that culturally sustaining pedagogy “seeks to perpetuate and foster—to sustain—linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling.” To practice culturally sustaining pedagogy, teachers must recognize that they have a leading role in initiating and encouraging discussion and dialogue about the meanings students draw from the texts they read.

    Lauren Leigh Kelly, professor of urban education at Rutgers University, comments that by acknowledging the cultural identities of students, “educators can simultaneously engage students in critical literary and social dialogues while also sending a clear message that students’ lives and communities are present and relevant to classroom learning and culture.” By providing students with literacy-rich environments that promote critical thinking, we can help them to better understand the wider world and their own role as a global citizen.

    Diversity in literature promotes student voice

    Perhaps more than any other academic activity, reading has the potential to facilitate identity development and give voice to marginalized students. As Paris states, there can be no “democratic project of schooling” if students don’t feel confident and secure enough to contribute to the democratic process.

    Scholars agree that providing diverse texts in literacy development helps students connect to or challenge the various representations of “truth” presented to them through their assigned readings. The voice students gain from finding themselves in literature creates an opportunity for classrooms to come alive with multiple perspectives and divergent thinking.

    Diversity in literature provides access to other worlds

    As part of the goal of culturally sustaining pedagogy is to foster respect and appreciation for linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism, recognizing that literature—especially children’s literature—is a powerful medium for entering other worlds is important. Exposing students at a young age to other worlds through children’s books creates multiple safe opportunities to recognize and explore human variations. Conceivably, this early access to diverse realities could positively influence a child’s present and future humanity toward others. These mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors, a phrase coined by children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop, help students to better understand themselves and the world around them.

    Some studies suggest that books may even provide children who are otherwise socially isolated by mind-set, geographic location, or life circumstances, with a vehicle to meet people unlike themselves and gain a broader acceptance and appreciation of individual likenesses and differences. To extend cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling, teachers must ensure all students have an opportunity to hear the stories that tell their own narrative and those of others. 

    Diversity in literature fosters social justice

    When individuals have access to other people, other cultures, other lifestyles, and other worlds, they tend to recognize systemic inequities and their own personal biases and predispositions that threaten peaceful coexistence. By analyzing beliefs and values of characters in a book, teachers and students can realize and then challenge long-held biases that negatively affect human interaction.

    Ultimately, teachers pave the road toward authentic, caring relationships when they choose books that demonstrate interest and respect for the variety of cultural, social, spiritual, and socioeconomic variances represented by their students. Teachers assign value to books simply by choosing to place them on the class bookshelf or include them on the course syllabus, and the message teachers promote through the literature they choose should convey respect and acknowledgment of diverse cultures.

    Diana Wandix-White, an ILA member since 2016, is a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant at Texas A&M University, College Station. After teaching English/language arts for over 20 years, she decided to pursue her PhD, researching urban education and the culture of care in K–12 public schools. Additionally, her teaching experience, along with her master’s degree in reading education, continues to draw her to issues of literacy. Combining her research interests leads her to the study of issues at the intersection of literacy, cultural diversity, and the importance of care as demonstrated through teachers’ selections of culturally relevant texts.  

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    Fall in Love With Reading: Bringing Access to Books to Rural Areas of China

    By Emily Spink-McCarthy
     | Nov 15, 2018
    Bringing Access to Books to Rural Areas of ChinaAt American Eagle Institute, we believe that reading is the foundation from which a child grows to become an educated person. It is the key skill from which other language skills develop and is one of the greatest gifts we can pass on to our children.

    One of the skills reading develops is empathy because reading allows us to see the world through another's eyes. With this knowledge comes responsibility. For almost 20 years at Eagle, an English education school in Taiwan and mainland China, we've insisted that schooling must include education of our character.

    Although our curriculum can help with academic success, it's the role models and the community members at Eagle who help shape our students and represent our founding values of respect, honesty, and discipline.

    Every child deserves a fair starting point

    In 2016, the Chinese government began promoting several initiatives to improve literacy. These initiatives aim to promote reading excellence for everyone in China. But despite the efforts of many organizations, there remains a wide reading gap between urban and rural areas in China.

    To add to the obstacles that Chinese families face when trying to promote reading excellence, academic pressure from regular schooling and other extracurricular activities make it even more difficult to increase time spent on reading for pleasure.

    One of the founding values that American Eagle Institute was built on is that "every child deserves a fair starting point," and I'm proud to say that this year we initiated the Fall in Love With Reading project to help provide access to high-quality books to rural children and to help raise awareness for families in both the countryside and the city of the importance of reading.

    Fall in Love With Reading is a charity project that revolves around the idea of improving literacy and providing better access to books for those in need. The project includes a reading seminar hosted by a linguistics expert from Massey University of New Zealand, a national bookmark making competition, a book donation drive, and the creation of a library in an underprivileged rural school with books from the donation drive.

    As part of the drive, we ran two separate challenges that allowed our students across 80 campuses to accumulate charity points on line. The challenges were an online bookmark-making activity and a book reading challenge. Both activities included reading books in exchange for charity points. For every charity point raised, Eagle agreed to donate one Chinese yuan toward completing a library in a rural school in Hubei province.

    We also invited influential organizations such as the International Literacy Association, McGraw-Hill Education, the Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore, and Smiling Library to work in collaboration with Eagle to encourage more children to take part in the project.

    Through bringing together the forces of our community, we hope to provide high-quality reading resources to rural children. At the same time, we can help students experience the gift of giving and cultivate their sense of social responsibility.

    The magical power of charity

    During the book donation drive, we experienced something bigger than simply accumulating books. We felt the power of communities pulling together to give to those in need. We saw our Eagle students thinking about those not as lucky as themselves. Some of them finished reading more than 300 books before we were even halfway through the reading challenge. Our thanks go out to all the wonderful families and caregivers who helped by setting great examples for the next generation.

    After one month of collecting books, our students across the country donated more than 1,000 titles. On June 13, 2018, Eagle staff set out to bring this donation to Yu-Yan Elementary School in a village 750 kilometers away from Shanghai. Benjamin Spink-McCarthy, one of our teachers and trainers, ran an English class for their fifth graders. The class was interactive and immersive, and local teachers were there to observe and learn about a different way to teach English. With these high-quality English and Chinese books, we were able to create a library space for the school as well.

    Literacy requires understanding and support

    Reading requires a personal decision and a personal transformation that can be difficult to establish from commands or the forces of the marketplace. Only when society at large advocates for reading will we have a future where everyone enjoys and benefits from the power of reading.

    The urgent need to improve literacy demands the attention of families and caregivers to make reading a priority in daily life and to encourage literacy from a young age. We call out to everyone to fall in love with reading and to make sure every child—from the cities to our most remote communities—has access to quality literature. 

    Emily Spink-McCarthy is president of American Eagle Institute, an English education school in Taiwan and mainland China.

    This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of 
    Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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    Teach the Sewer (Writer), Not the Sewing (Writing): My Sewing Life Meets My Teaching Life

    By Kathryn Caprino
     | Nov 14, 2018

    Teach the SewerIn my literacy assessment course, my students and I are reading Lucy Calkins’s Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions (Heinemann). We have been focused particularly on her idea of teaching the writer, not the writing. 

    This concept really struck a chord with my students, many of whom want to teach at the elementary level. Many of them were familiar with the process whereby teachers correct student papers and students go back and copy the corrections in their final drafts. We talk about how though these final drafts may be “perfect papers,” the writer is not growing in these instances.

    It is important to me as a teacher educator to help my students understand that their students’ writing pieces may not be perfect. They may be working on only a few elements at a time. And their pieces will reflect that they are improving as writers. And this is hard work when our students often come to us from environments that privilege The Writing Assessment, which needs to be perfect.

    And, as happens many times when I am teaching, I began to apply our work to my life beyond the classroom. And this led me to thinking about my sewing.

    Learning to sew for me has been a multiyear process (as is often the case with our student writers). For my birthday three years ago, my husband bought me a sewing machine that has probably more capabilities than I will ever know what to do with. Then, my mom gave me a few lessons on how to make coasters.

    I made some good coasters. And some even had beautiful double stitching. And some had straight corners. But more of them were not any of these. And that’s OK.

    So when my mom came up about a few months ago to visit, she gave me another lesson. She did all of the first lessons again about how to thread the machine, how to get the needle into position, and how to work the foot pedal. And she showed me some stitching and some backstitching. And then I practiced.

    And once again, some of my lines were straight, and some were not. Some of the corners were perfect. Some were not. And that’s OK.

    When my mom came up most recently, I wanted to learn how to do curves for some burp cloths I want to make for my friends who are expecting. And once again, my mom modeled for me how to do curves. And then she let me practice. And I did all right. Beginner’s luck, perhaps.

    I have not made a perfect coaster or a perfect burp cloth yet. My mom’s lessons are not about creating a finished piece. But they are able helping me learn to sew—no matter how many lessons I may need.

    Maybe not for a particular piece. But in the future.

    So, with all of that, here are some tips for teaching your writers, not the writing, in your classroom.

    • Encourage students to share hobbies they are developing that have nothing to do with writing. Having students share how they are progressing in other hobbies (e.g., sharing a new video game level they reached or a new recipe they want to try) will help them think more about the process than the end goal.
    • Showcase works in progress around the classroom or out in the hall. We have to convey to ourselves and our students that writing takes time and that we are all—even those of us who teach writing—constantly working on our writing. Showcasing more examples of our works in progress and those of our students can help convey this belief.
    • Create process videos. One of my favorite projects in my children’s literature class is having students create process videos as they create one image in the style and media of an illustrator of their choosing. On the due date, students bring in the final, completed illustration and a video that highlights their process—from blank canvas to final product. It is very cool to see the work and effort they go through to create wonderful illustrations.

    I look forward to hearing the ways in which you are teaching the sewers (I mean, writers) in your classroom.

    Kathryn Caprino is an assistant professor of pre-K–12 new literacies at Elizabethtown College and a book blogger for teachers and parents at

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    NWEA Study Shows Weak Relationship Between High Poverty and Low Rates of Growth

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 08, 2018

    NWEA StudyWhen research consulting director Andy Hegedus toured the hallways of an urban school in Delaware, he saw all the characteristics of a high-performing school—dedicated teachers and responsive, motivated, and engaged students.

    “I thought the principal was on her game, the teachers were working hard, the energy was high, and the kids were happy—all the things you want to see in a school,” he says.

    But the numbers told a different story. Hegedus was surprised to learn that this school was named a “priority school,” a designation for the lowest 5% of Title I schools in the state, based on achievement on the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS), with a demonstrated lack of progress over the past two to three years.

    “I was like, this doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “There was a disconnect between my experience with the school and how the school got rated.”

    A study recently published by NWEA, a not-for-profit assessment solutions provider, suggests that these students are doing better than the data convey.

    Using NWEA’s MAP Growth data from 1,500 randomly selected schools, Hegedus investigated the relationships between student achievement and growth measures and school-level poverty variables, such as free and reduced-priced lunch status. By dynamically adjusting to each student’s responses, MAP Growth creates an individualized assessment experience that precisely measures what each student knows and tracks their growth over time.

    This achievement data are used to predict proficiency and determine college readiness. A student’s growth is also determined between testing events and can be fairly compared to national norms, regardless of starting achievement levels or instructional time. Educators can monitor improvement throughout the school year and across multiple years.

    The study shows that while there is a strong relationship between schools with high rates of poverty and low student achievement, there is a weak relationship between schools with high rates of poverty and low student academic growth. These findings suggest that the use of achievement measures to evaluate school performance fails to recognize schools that are making remarkable progress and biases the evaluation system against schools serving vulnerable populations.

    “What the studies show is that there are high poverty schools where kids learn a lot, and low poverty schools where they don’t, and vice versa” says Hegedus. “If we just reflect on achievement, and how ‘on track’ kids are, it only paints part of the picture.”

    Unlike the No Child Left Behind Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows states to include student growth as an indicator of school quality or success. When asked how these findings may impact state accountability plans, Hegedus says he hopes they will assign more weight to growth without losing sight of long-term achievement goals.

    Hegedus also hopes these results will help validate the hard work of teachers and administrators that isn’t always mirrored by achievement measures alone.  

    “Having a measure that more closely reflects the role of a school or the role of a teacher will help us do a better job of not only identifying schools performing well, but also helping people in that school see their work reflected one way or the other,” he says.

    Hegedus noted the importance of publicly reporting of “well-designed metrics of growth and achievement” that accurately describe how much students know when they arrive at school and how much it changes once they are there. He says this transparency, especially around low achievement, often triggers community attention and action.  

    “Knowing that students are not achieving as well as desired can create urgency, galvanize a community around a school, and force conversations about improvement,” he writes.

    The full study is available at

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

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    Out of the Classroom and Into the Office

    By Nancy Veatch
     | Oct 26, 2018

    Out of the Classroom I wandered from room to room on the first day of school, feeling a bit lost without my own group of students to teach. I observed kindergartners as they wholeheartedly tried to listen to their energetic new teacher read a story aloud. I progressed to the other side of the building where seventh and eighth graders sat in a circle discussed their summers under the guidance of their industrious teacher, who ensured equity of voice.

    No matter which room I entered, literacy instruction was happening, and I felt at a loss for how I could help provide authentic literacy opportunities for students now that I was out of the classroom and in my office serving as the principal and assistant superintendent of educational services for the district.

    But physically leaving the classroom and moving into an administrative role does not mean the end of guiding instruction. Rather, it’s an opportunity to support more teachers and students. However, I’ve learned that leaders must be mindful of several practices as they transition into an expanded role.

    You can be everywhere, be nowhere, and accomplish nothing

    I am confident that this feeling of aimlessness is familiar to other leaders who have transitioned into an administrative role from working 180 days a year providing instruction for students. On that first day of school, I spent the entire day  assisting in classrooms, helping serve lunch, meeting with parents, supervising recess, and checking in with students. By that evening, I confirmed that this was an absurd way for me to spend my time; I had burned an entire day. All the teachers and staff were fully qualified to instruct and provide services for these students. I had spent the day being present everywhere, but actually being nowhere, and at the end of the day I had accomplished nothing.

    No leader will be productive in his or her role unless he or she makes a balanced, intentional plan to support the teachers and students on a daily basis. Effective leaders must schedule a specific time each day to visit classrooms and check in with teachers, as teachers need to know leaders are present, involved, and supportive of their efforts. Additionally, leaders must devote periods of the day to ensuring that the management and leadership of the school are attended to with a focus on helping the system move forward.

    Don’t forget what it feels like to be a teacher

    I believe that teaching is the most rewarding occupation that exists. Teachers are responsible for helping children to develop the skills they need to become productive citizens who will make a difference in the world. It can be hard, exhausting work, riddled with challenges that can come from addressing varied groups of students with unique needs, but anyone who has witnessed a child begin to read knows that it is well worth the effort.

    Teachers need support in their work with students as they strive to meet their academic, social–emotional, and physical needs and challenges. This does not equate to the leader doing the work for the teachers but, rather, the leader providing the teachers with opportunities to expand their own professional learning so that they can most effectively attend to their students’ needs. It also includes empowering teachers by providing them with the space to exercise their teacher leader capabilities and lead initiatives. An effective leader understands and appreciates that if you grow teachers, they can excel and better serve their students and school community.

    Build reciprocal relationships based upon trust

    Years ago, I heard an insensitive administrator who I overheard criticizing what was perceived as teachers’ lack of knowledge. I was highly offended by this remark and to this day cringe whenever I hear anyone echo this sentiment. While there are consistently mounds of new initiatives and expectations placed on teachers, they are running as fast as they can to address the needs of the students before them each day. It is the leader’s responsibility to weed through this clutter and provide teachers with the guidance and information they need to adjust their instruction as the changes occur.

    Effective leaders must guide teachers in their new learning and provide continued support, affirmations, and suggestions as needed along the way. This is impossible to do unless both parties have established a reciprocal relationship based upon trust.

    Notes to self:

    • Intentionally set aside time each day to be visible and available for teachers with equal time devoted to the management and leadership of the system; don’t burn a day wandering.
    • Support and empower all teachers in their work; serve them.
    • Be the master teacher you wish you had.

    The world of education often is so harried and scattered, but it does not need to be. By leading with intention and focusing on priorities, school leaders who work outside of the classroom can ensure they are growing teachers who can provide quality authentic literacy and learning experiences for all the students they serve.

    Nancy Veatch is assistant superintendent of educational services and principal at Bend Elementary School.

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