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    Earth Day 2020 Resource Roundup

    By ILA Staff
     | Apr 22, 2020

    Young Child With SunflowerToday, April 22, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a celebration of our planet and a day to reflect upon the choices we make and how they affect the world around us.

    Children often have an innate curiosity for the natural world and a drive toward ecological activism. During this time of sheltering in place and stay-at-home orders, help foster students’ curiosity and motivate them with inquiry-based activities and project-based learning. We’ve rounded up several resources you can share with families and caregivers to inspire green activities and environment-friendly activism today and every day.

    Follow @ILAToday and tell us how you are celebrating #EarthDay with your students and family.

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    Engaging Learning Through Disruptions

    ILA Staff
     | Mar 16, 2020

    Girl sitting on bed on computerTo slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), hundreds of K–12 school districts across the United States are closing for anywhere between two weeks and two months (or longer). This comes on the heels of similar closures of higher education institutions, many of which opted for early spring breaks and transitioning to online learning to finish out the semester.

    The problem? Not all schools are equipped for distance learning.

    This extends beyond the availability of devices and into communities where internet access isn’t guaranteed. Students who in the past have relied on the free Wi-Fi many public libraries offer may soon lose that resource, as more and more libraries temporarily halt operations.

    Some challenges are addressed more easily than others; the Comcast Corporation, for example, is offering free Wi-Fi for low-income residents with increased speeds and removing restrictions on data plans temporarily. But that doesn’t lessen the burden for educators who have limited or no experience in teaching remotely.

    In response, there’s been an outpouring of support from companies, organizations, and individual educators. Below you’ll find a list of resources now available to teachers, students, and their families and caregivers. We will update the list as more resources become available, so check back frequently. Help us grow the list by sharing new resources with us on Twitter, Facebook, or by email.

    Resources from ILA

    Children's Choices, Teachers' Choices, Young Adults' Choices reading lists

    From the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy and The Reading Teacher

    These resources are always available online to subscribers; however, we’ve made them open access to all educators during these school closures.

    From ILA E-ssentials

    We have also made these members-only resources open access to all educators during the school closures:

    From Literacy Daily

    Additional resources

    Resources for educators

    Resources for families and caregivers

    Remote learning for educators

    • Starting on Monday, March 16, 3:00­–3:30 p.m. ET, Kylene Beers is running Facebook Live events each day for at least a week or two. Each day will include a special guest speaker. Connect with Kylene on Facebook for more details.

    Coronavirus information

    • Children and Coronavirus: 4 Questions Answered”—With the incidence of the coronavirus on the rise, understanding the ramifications this virus has for educators' students is important.
    •—Want to keep up to date with the latest data about the coronavirus? Look no further than this site, created by a high school junior in Washington State.
    • The New York Times is providing free access to articles containing the most important news and guidelines about the coronavirus outbreak.
    • The Washington Post has a created a free email newsletter that sends subscribers a compiled list of all breaking news stories about the coronavirus outbreak.

    This post was updated May 4, 2020, to reflect addition of the 2020 Choices reading lists.

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    Books About Everyone, for Everyone, in NEA’s Read Across America

    Sharyl Kay Lawson
     | Mar 03, 2020

    Children reading books on floorThe world is filled with many different kinds of people. Getting to know them is interesting, exciting, and fun. The same can be said about the world’s books. Cracking open a good book is to understand that the world is far richer than just our own individual experiences.

    As a special education teacher at Kemp Elementary School in Commerce City, CO, students are at the center of everything I do. I strive to connect with all students, to discover their passions, and to unlock their potential. Introducing new books to my students inspires their natural curiosity, imagination, and love of learning.

    That’s why I’m excited my school will soon benefit from a Read Across America grant from the National Education Association (NEA) that will bring 1,000 books into the school districts of Adams County, north of Denver and a rural school district outside Colorado Springs.

    Receiving a portion of this generous grant will help my school overcome two barriers that hold educators back from providing the rich literary experiences that help every student thrive. First, new, quality reading materials can be hard to come by in Colorado, a state that currently lags about $2,700 behind the national average in per-pupil funding. We struggle mightily providing the resources our students need to become successful readers in and, in turn, successful contributors to our communities. Even a modest, one-time infusion of new literary resources will create countless learning opportunities for today’s students and the ones to come to us in future years.

    So, yes, I’m excited about the things money can buy for my classroom, but I’m also very impressed by the focus in diversity NEA took in awarding Read Across America grants to Colorado and other state affiliates. There’s a growing need for schools and libraries in my district and across the United States to include and promote diverse books. Students need books that capture their life experiences if we are going to create more readers, writers, and people who feel included and recognized in our multicultural society.

    Readers who feel included, recognized, and a part of the world are engaged readers. In the variety of NEA-recommended titles we’ll receive, students will see their experiences mirrored by characters in some books, making them feel valued and welcome in school. In other books, students will see a world or a character that will be much different from their own experience, challenging them to learn about and build empathy for the lives other people lead, perhaps even their own classmates.

    Aligning the largest celebration of reading in the U.S. with a fresh take on celebrating a diverse nation of readers is masterful. NEA launched Read Across America in 1998 to motivate kids to read and bring the joys of reading to students of all ages, offering limitless opportunities to get communities involved in our children’s reading throughout the year. Most students and parents have associated Read Across America with the big celebrations of reading on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and throughout National Reading Month in March. Dr. Seuss reading parties are fun and engaging; they’ll no doubt continue in our schools. My hope for Read Across America, though, is that it grows in our national conscious as something bigger than a single-day event paying homage to a certain set of classic books. Read Across America is a year-round program that can fit reading fun and discovery into daily, weekly, and monthly calendars with older and newer books about everyone, for everyone.

    Educators, families, and the community at large can celebrate Read Across America with students anytime with these activities:

    • Share NEA’s recommended early grade picture books, middle grade stories, and young adult titles in your school and community. Read these books with kids and use Read Across America’s resources daily to promote the message that there is room in our community for all readers.
    • Use Read Across America to help kids relate what they read to other experiences in their lives and on the school year calendar (e.g., Hispanic Heritage Month, a school science fair, Memorial Day). Include guest readers, activities, and conversation about reading as you raise awareness about the importance, value, and fun of reading throughout the year.
    • Make your community the place where Read Across America is on everyone’s calendar. When all people—teenagers to parents to grandparents—make the time to read with children, children get the message that reading is important. Governors, mayors, and other elected officials can recognize the role reading plays in their communities with proclamations and floor statements. Athletes, actors, and local celebrities can issue reading challenges to young readers. Any person can participate in Read Across America to help motivate kids to read, celebrate the diversity in our communities, and bring reading excitement to children of all ages.
    • Visit NEA’s tools and resources to get the help you need to rock Read Across America and bring a reading celebration to your community. Contact your local school, education association, library, or bookstore about planning an event or participating in one.
    • Sign up on the NEA page on the First Book Marketplace to find NEA-recommended diverse book titles. First Book makes these titles available at affordable prices to educators serving students in need.

    School is a place where discovery happens. When educators nurture the love of learning in students today, we are growing tomorrow’s inventors, thinkers, artists, and leaders. Celebrating a nation of diverse readers is an important way to become our very best community and country.

    Sharyl Kay Lawson is a special education teacher at Kemp Elementary School in Adams County School District 14 in Colorado.

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    Battle of the Books: How 25 Books Can Help Shape Students

    Julie Scullen
     | Feb 21, 2020

    Each year, our district middle schools participate in the Battle of the Books. If you are unfamiliar with the Battle of the Books, it is a massive book trivia contest in which participants battle in teams of three to answer questions about a list of 25 books everyone has read. It’s a shared reading experience of epic proportions. About 10 years ago, we started Battle of the Books merely to get kids reading and talking about books they might not normally choose. In hindsight, we recognize these battles have impacted our students far beyond that initial goal. The following are four areas in which these battles of the books have had an impact on our students far beyond our initial goal.

    1. Exposure. We select our books for our yearly list with an eye toward ”something for everyone.” Our list starts with the Minnesota Maud Hart Lovelace Award nominees to ensure books are available and likely to have been read by many other educators. This list always offers a wide variety of genres and styles of writing. To that list, we choose a few books that represent the first in a series (hoping to get kids hooked), a few graphic novels, a couple of sports books, and a nonfiction title or two. Every year, we add at least one book to the list our students’ parents were likely to have read in middle school, hoping to spark nostalgia and conversation at home. We seek out books representing multiple perspectives to ensure all students both see themselves and gain insight into the experience of others. Finally, we ensure that our list has books representing a range of difficulty so that everyone can participate and be challenged.
    2. Teamwork. In their teams of three, students attend monthly strategy meetings. They talk about the books and recommend ones they have read to others. Although most teams start by splitting the number of books to be read evenly, students learn to accommodate and shift responsibility for particular titles as life happens over those six months. Students learn to accept and honor the reading styles and preferences of their teammates. Those who participate for multiple years recognize the value of having more than one team member read each book. The teams come up with their own team names each year; names that represent them. One of the most memorable teams named themselves “My Favorite Students of All Time,” so that each time I read them a question I had to say, “And the next question goes to My Favorite Students of All Time.”
    3. Background knowledge. We know that one of the best ways to become smarter is to read. Students participating read as many as 25 books between September and February. Not only does this make students better, stronger readers, but also it introduces them to topics and perspectives we just don’t always have time to teach deeply in our harried classrooms.
    4. Insight. An entirely unforeseen benefit of the Battle of the Books has been the impact on staff. Our teachers and media specialists write our Battle of the Books questions (we don't purchase them through outside sources), which means our teachers read from a wide variety of middle grade literature each and every year. This enhances staff’s ability to recommend books to their students and allows them to say the most incredible thing to students: “When I read this, I thought of you.”. Our conversations about books are richer. Conferring with readers becomes more targeted. Inspired by this reading, several of our teachers have become Maud Hart Lovelace readers.

    Before the final battle for the district trophy every February, I provide students and families with a reminder of what reading does for them: The books we read help shape who we are

    Prior to last year’s battle, I read aloud the following list to students, staff, and families: 

    “Readers, this year in your wide reading for this battle, you learned:

    • What it’s like to be on a relay team in track
    • What it feels like to live in a theme park as well as all the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep animals safe and happy
    • What obsessive compulsive disorder feels like
    • What it feels like to have cerebral palsy, and how you’d like people to treat you if you have it
    • The ins and outs of our legal system
    • That butterflies drink their own pee
    • That it’s never too late to change
    • How to teach dragons to fly
    • How to deal with the death of a friend
    • How to dissect an earthworm
    • What life was like in the Old South
    • The impact of mental illness on families
    • How the culture of India is both the same as and different from ours
    • What is involved in climbing Mount Everest
    • The backstory and history of famous artists and authors
    • The training and responsibilities of the Secret Service
    • What important works are found in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art
    • The problems faced and sacrifices one makes when forced into witness protection
    • What it’s like to be a major league baseball player
    • What war is like for those directly involved
    • What it’s like when someone in your family is a veteran
    • What it means to live and survive in refugee camps in Africa
    • The impact of heart transplants
    • What it would have been like to attend segregated schools

    ….and about 25 ways to deal with a bully.” 

    This year’s list will have another long list of things our students learned without worksheets or quizzes, but simply enjoying books. Reading is about more than fluency, reading rates, and test scores. Reading shapes who we are and makes us better humans.

    Julie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Judson University.

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    Literacy and Social Action

    Gerald Dessus
     | Feb 11, 2020


    I vividly remember reading The Bully (Townsend Press) in Mrs. Collier-Bacon’s seventh-grade language arts class at Wagner Middle School. As I often mention to my students, Paul Langan’s teen novel was the first time I felt reflected in literature. There was a character who looked like me and shared similar experiences in public education, and that windows and mirrors moment helped me fall in love with literature. After reading this text from the Bluford Series, I read every book I could get my hands on.

    At this point, I realized why I wanted to teach. For me, reading was an opportunity to experience life through the eyes of a character, allowing me to escape the reality of violence and poverty in my Philadelphia neighborhood. I began wondering how many lives I could change if I helped other black and brown students, specifically black boys, fall in love with literature.

    At the time, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to join thousands of educators from all over the world at a convening designed not only to unpack new research to support literacy instruction, but also, and more important, to explore the intersections among social-emotional learning (SEL), equity, and literacy.

    Our work is interconnected

    At the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2019 Conference in New Orleans, LA, in October, I attended the General Session and other keynotes and was moved by the thought-provoking statements shared. Literacy advocate and educator Chad C. Everett asked us to consider how we align the words on a page of a book with words in our world. Nationally Distinguished Principal Hamish Brewer challenged us to think about our legacy: “When you give students the opportunity to read and write, you give them a chance to change the world.”

    Brewer’s statement was a recurring theme at ILA 2019. As educators, we understand now more than ever the deep connection between literacy and social action, which is why equity—including ensuring access to literature that provides windows and mirrors—is so important.

    Although I had my own presentation to prepare for, I made space to attend Friday’s Equity in Education Program—“The Intersection of Literacy, Equity, and Social-Emotional Learning”—where Pedro Noguera shared a sentiment that teachers have echoed for years: “If you only focus on tests, you’ll fail to provide kids with what they need.”

    Later, Justina Schlund from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning asked educators who are doing the work of SEL to think about their purpose: “Are you doing SEL to produce calm and compliant students? Or do you engage in SEL work to produce active citizens who will be prepared to go out and positively impact society?”

    That question resonated with me because too often SEL becomes code for building stronger relationships with students in order to increase compliance, which undermines its essence and purpose.

    Later that day, I had the pleasure of sharing my work as a social justice teacher leader and curriculum writer alongside my fellow ILA 2019 30 Under 30 honorees. I met Matt Panozzo and heard how he uses literacy to teach middle school students about identity and empathy in Houston, TX. Patrick Burke discussed his work with teacher preparation programs in Ireland. I spoke at length with Nangamso Mtsatse about the work she is pioneering in South Africa around literacy instruction for elementary students in their native languages. And I was deeply moved by Shontoria Walker’s work with black boys in Texas. Through her research, she found that SEL does affect achievement. Sharing a platform with young educators who have a positive impact on communities around the world was an honor and a privilege.

    SEL is deeply embedded in literacy

    The next day, I joined Kimberly Eckert, Shawna Coppola, Tamera Slaughter, and Tiana Silvas for the Equity in Education Program event, “Integrating Social-Emotional Learning in the Literacy Classroom.” Eckert reflected on a field trip to a Louisiana prison with her students, where they explored the education system and how SEL permeated the classrooms. Slaughter reminded us that SEL begins with the teacher. We must do the work on ourselves first before we can support our students. Silvas shared powerful stories of her childhood and emphasized how critical providing students with space to share their stories is. And Coppola challenged us to meet students where they are. Storytelling and SEL can look different for all students.

    My time at ILA 2019 ended shortly thereafter, but not before I had the pleasure of joining six educators from different states for a collaborative session. We discussed the problems our school communities faced with implementing SEL and proposed solutions that would support our respective schools.

    From theory to practice

    ILA 2019 reminded me of the direct connection between literacy and social action, and that as educators, we must move with urgency to create academic and professional spaces that are diverse, equitable, and aligned to social action.

    When I returned to Philadelphia, I was hyperaware of just how important literacy was in my own school community. I connected with my grade team at The Philadelphia School and challenged them to think about how we can use narratives and discussions in our community meetings to emphasize themes of belonging, diversity, and empathy. We decided to move forward with a nine-session unit on identity development. We chose to push students to grapple with who they are, what experiences and thoughts influence the decisions they make, and the obligations to create inclusive and empathetic spaces within our school community.

    My experience challenged me to consider the deep value in creating spaces for educators and researchers to convene. The sessions we attend, the conversations and networking we engage in, and the partnerships we create in those spaces mean nothing if we fail to apply what we learn to how we practice.

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