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    How Teach Us All Hopes to Inspire a Student-Led Integration Movement

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 25, 2017

    Teach Us AllOn September 25, 1957, armed federal troops escorted nine African-American students past angry, white crowds and through the doors of Little Rock Central High School—a moment that continues to embody our nation’s struggle for true equity in education.  

    Timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock school crisis, today marks the debut of the Netflix documentary Teach Us All. Directed by Sonia Lowman, the film examines the current realities of public school segregation and launches an impact campaign that will leverage community-based screenings, discussion forums, educational outreach, and more to advocate for meaningful policy changes.

    We had the privilege of hosting an early screening of the documentary at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in July, and it opened the doors to an honest, difficult, rule-breaking conversation about the stubborn persistence of structural racism and implicit bias in today’s education system.

    As educators, this historic anniversary is an opportunity to engage students in a meaningful conversation about the event’s impact on the civil rights movement, the resegregation of today’s schools, and the power of young students to effect social change. The following resources weave history, context, and personal narrative to provoke a powerful response in the classroom:

    Teach Us All will also publish Student Movements for School Equity and Integration,” a year-long elective course that equips high school students with the historical background, communication skills, collaborative work habits, and other problem-solving tools they need to be “conscious, compassionate, effective” agents of change in their communities.

    Watch the documentary on Netflix now or find a screening near you.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Year in Review: Catching Up With Some of ILA's 30 Under 30 Honorees

    By Maura C. Ciccarelli
     | Sep 21, 2017

    Jeff FondaA lot has happened since last September when ILA announced its 2016 class of 30 Under 30 honorees, a list that celebrates the up-and-coming generation of literacy champions. After hearing from Kathryn Lett at the Closing General Session of the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, we also wanted to check in with her fellow honorees to see what they’ve been up to.

    Read on to see how some of their lives have changed and how they continued to change the lives of so many others in just the past year.

    Babar Ali, founder and headmaster of Ananda Siksha Niketan (“Home of Joyful Learning”) in Murshidabad, India, announced that the first floor of his new free school was constructed in early 2017, enabling even more students to enroll this year. Students also are taking part in a social forestry program to promote awareness of the problems around deforestation, and senior students are working with the school’s adult literacy program to spread learning wider in the community.

    Seventh-grade English teacher Alex Corbitt spent last year at his school, MS331 in the Bronx, New York, developing and facilitating a Teen Activism class that used current events to focus on social justice issues such as the prison industrial complex, racism in society, mental health, substance abuse, animal rights, and bullying. “The 2016–2017 school year was fraught with sociopolitical tragedy and confusion,” he says. “Our Teen Activism class created a space for my students and me to reflect, process, listen, and heal.”

    For Tanyella Evans, cofounder/CEO of the New York-based Library For All, the last year has seen close to 10,000 children from 50 schools in Haiti, Rwanda, Congo, Cambodia, and Mongolia get free access to their online reading library accessible by low-cost mobile devices. The library now includes 3,806 titles in seven languages. While creating the library, the group discovered a surprising gap: As many as 40% of people around the world are not learning to read a language they speak or understand. In response, Library For All launched writer workshops to teach local authors and illustrators how to publish e-books in their native language. The first two were held earlier this year in Haiti and another was hosted in Montreal, with members of the Haitian diaspora. Kids in Haiti got to “test read” print versions of some of the books. “They were delighted to see an entire stack of books written in their own language, with illustrations of Haitian children and landscape that remind them of home,” Evans says.

    Since last year, Jeff Fonda’s nonprofit, The Literate Earth Project, has opened three more libraries in Uganda: at Lwani Memorial College in Amuru District, Nkumba Quran Primary School in Entebbe District, and St. James Primary School in Entebbe District. The project, which is based in Pennsylvania, has now created 13 libraries and is on target to meet its goal of creating four each year.

    In Brazil, Gustavo Fuga’s 4You2 social program continues to teach English to help people access higher education opportunities and have the potential to earn an additional 64% in wages. This spring, the group further honed its teaching tools and methodology. “We would like to launch a literacy project for papers and research this year,” he says.

    Anneli Hershman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral student, reports that her literacy app development team at the MIT Media Lab completed an extensive research pilot with families using their SpeechBlocks app in their homes. “It has been really exciting to see how we can incorporate families into the literacy learning process with our tools,” she says. The group is also researching the literacy learning process and creating new apps that go beyond a focus on learning and using individual words to emphasizing the importance of storytelling and self-expression to encourage literacy.

    Kathryn Lett, an EL teacher with Kentwood Public Schools in Michigan, says the school held its second annual Parade of Nations, where “students proudly waved their country’s flag while their nation’s anthem and classmates’ cheers played in the background.” After the parade, her school held a multicultural night and each class prepared presentations, games, and decor that focused on a country belonging to one of the classmates. “It was amazing to see my school come together for one common goal: to celebrate diversity as our strength and to eradicate the idea that differences equal deficits,” says Lett, who also serves on the board of the West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center. Lett also began developing a literacy initiative to better equip non-English-speaking parents with helping their children learn to read. Parents will be provided with reading comprehension questions in their native languages so that they can provide literacy support in the home. 

    The LitPick Student Book Reviews program continues to grow, attracting even more students to write reviews for the website, says administrator Tynea Lewis, who is based in Pennsylvania. Some students have turned their written reviews into animated videos that are shown on the organization’s YouTube channel. She also has been volunteering as a judge for the Story Monsters LLC’s Dragonfly Book Awards. She adds, “I have completed a few children’s poetry manuscripts and am currently working on a larger project for an adult audience.”

    Sean T. Lynch, English department head for the Commonwealth Academy for Inner City Scholars in Massachusetts, is taking the gaming model he developed to help with reading skills and developing it into other areas that involve game-based teaching practices and student-directed learning. He is creating an experimental curriculum for the ELA classroom that uses narrative and text-based cell phone apps to get kids hooked. “I used the app ‘A Normal Lost Phone’ to great success in class,” he says. “It got students reading, instructed on social justice, and produced thoughtful responses. It turns out that I was misguided in my technophobia...the future of education I now believe is games and gaming.”

    Aarti Naik, founder of SAKHI for Girls’ Education in Mumbai, India, says her group has continued to expand its Girls Book Bank project, in which adolescent girls from SAKHI become “Reading Leaders” for their neighborhood. Each Sunday, they go door-to-door to give books to 20 girls and gather them together in fun activities to inspire reading, improve vocabulary, and build confidence. They also receive a monthly educational scholarship for their work. This spring, Naik was recognized for her work in the education category of the Femina Women Awards 2017.

    Deborah Ahenkorah Osei-Agyekum was pleased to report that her Accra, Ghana-based publishing company, African Bureau Stories, has produced its first books: two picture books and two early chapter books created by talented writers and illustrators from Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, Egypt, and Nigeria to reflect the worlds of their young readers. “I’m launching a Ghana Corporates for Literacy project to partner with companies to place brand new, culturally relevant storybooks into the hands of children across Ghana, one classroom at a time,” she says.

    Ekaterina Popova, educator and researcher in Moscow, Russia, has been busy as secretary of the Reading Association of Russia with attracting new members. She helped launch a new e-mail-based digest that outlines best practices in reading and literacy, the Association’s research results, and new opportunities for members. In addition to developing a survey and processing data from the group’s longitudinal “Reading That Unites Us” research project (featured in the May/June 2017 issue of Literacy Today), she helped design a new project with colleagues called “Dialogue of Generations: Reading, Communication, and Social Behaviour.” The mission is to search for books and movies to create a unifying cultural platform that is significant for several generations.

    Matt Presser, formerly a teacher and coach at King-Robinson Inter-District Magnet School in Connecticut and now a doctoral student at Harvard University, designed a pen pal project between incarcerated teenagers and tenth graders he was working with in Boston. “My students were concerned about the effects of mass incarceration and wrote back and forth with incarcerated teens to understand their experiences,” he reports. “Their correspondence project had deep impact. It inspired my students to write to Boston Public Schools officials with recommended alternatives to suspension and to New York City teenagers to encourage them to lobby their state legislators about the Raise the Age legislation that their state was considering.” Presser is a 2017 recipient of Harvard’s Presidential Public Service Fellowship.

    Kelly Taylor, a teacher at Peel Language Development School in Perth, Australia, recently embarked on an action research project to collect evidence around using the arts as a pedagogical approach to teaching literacy in a special education context. “Specifically, I’m looking at how all aspects of the arts can be used to elicit and extend students’ vocabulary,” she says. She hopes the study will contribute to existing evidence that all students, regardless of their abilities and challenges, should be entitled to a learning environment rich in the arts to enhance their education. As a speaker at the ILA 2017 Conference, she shared strategies for empowering students with language delays.

    Arcadia Elementary School literacy coach Melissa Wells reports that she and her South Carolina–based school continue to focus on including family members as vital partners in students’ literacy development. The school’s library now has a Family Literacy Center that lets families check out bundles of books to read at home. In addition, Wells finished her dissertation and earned a doctorate in language and literacy from the University of South Carolina. “In the fall, I will be joining the education department faculty at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA, where my focus will be on early literacy,” she says. “I am excited to be working with our newest educators as they prepare to support students as readers, writers, and thinkers in their future classrooms.” Wells also presented her dissertation research at ILA 2017.

    For more information on the entire 2016 class of 30 Under 30 honorees, as well as the 2015 list, visit literacyworldwide.org/30under30.

    Do you know an educator or literacy advocate making an extraordinary impact in the lives of students and others in their community? Nominations for the next 30 Under 30 list, to be published in January 2019, are open. Submissions must be received by June 1, 2018. For more information, visit literacyworldwide.org/30under30.

    Maura CiccarelliMaura C. Ciccarelli is a freelance writer specializing in education and nonprofits as well as a wide variety of other topics.


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    In Memory of Phylliss Joy Adams

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 15, 2017

    Phylliss AdamsWith great sadness we announce the passing of Phylliss Joy Adams (1987–88), past president of the International Reading Association (IRA, now the International Literacy Association), the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association (CCIRA), and the Denver local council of IRA. We offer our deepest condolences to her family along with our sincerest gratitude for all that she accomplished.

    Adams dedicated her life to improving literacy instruction.  After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Northwest Missouri State University, and master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Denver,  she began a long career of teaching at public schools and universities in the fields of reading and literacy.

    An internationally known speaker and consultant, she presented in over 30 states, as well as for international council in more than 10 countries. Still she found time to author more than 40 books for young readers as well as professional development materials for educators.

    When Adams wasn’t reading, writing, or traveling for work, she was doing so for fun. She and her husband of 65 years, Keith, visited all 50 states and over 100 countries. After retiring she was active in three different book clubs and volunteered as an ambassador at the Denver International Airport for over eight years.

    “She was an extremely hard worker for IRA, for her state association, and for literacy in general,” said past president Jack Cassidy (1982–83).

    Past president Carl Braun (1990–91) served on the Board during Adams’ presidency and remained friends with her since. He described her as an always-prepared, highly organized, fiercely ethical leader and “an open and friendly” person.

    During her tenure, Adams worked hard to raise the visibility of IRA councils, traveling across the U.S. and internationally to help them attract members, survey regional needs, and define their goals. She also promoted the value of children’s literature in the teaching of reading—a progressive approach to instruction at the time.

    “She always preached that whatever the [teaching] method, children’s literature has to be the centerpiece. That was the kind of belief that certainly raised eyebrows in the late 80s,” Braun said.

    Above all, he said she will be remembered as an indefatigable advocate for teachers.

    “Of the many people I’ve known in literacy education, she was one of the most avid advocates. A completely unabashed advocate for teachers everywhere. I think that’s one thing that a lot of people will remember her for, and certainly hundreds of thousands of teachers,” he said.

    In lieu of flowers, it is requested that a donation be made to CCIRA in honor of Phylliss J. Adams. The donations collected will provide scholarships to CCIRA’s annual conference held in February in Denver, CO. Checks should be made out to Cathy Lynsky, CCIRA Treasurer, 161 Quakie Way, Bailey, CO 80421.

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily. 
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    30 Under 30: As Told by Former Honorees

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 15, 2017

    30 Under 30 HonoreesThrough our 30 Under 30 list, ILA recognizes young innovators, disruptors, and visionaries who are leading efforts to overcome the challenges of today’s education field and to advance our vision of a literate world for all. Beyond visibility, 30 Under 30 honorees gain confidence, professional development opportunities, and new and expanded networks. Here’s what some of our former honorees have to say about the experience, in their own words:

    “The ILA 30 Under 30 award is more than a global tag/title or recognition. It has provided me a platform upon which a lot of contemporary programs and reforms can be replicated to Liberia. As ILA members, we now have a pool of resources to ensure our programs are meeting the evolving literacy needs of the people we serve. Our participation as the only exhibitor from Africa at the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits in Boston, MA, provided us with important contacts that we continue to leverage as we seek to expand our scale and impact in Liberia.” 

    Benjamin Freeman, 2015 30 Under 30 honoree and executive director of the Liberia Institute for the Promotion of Academic Excellence (LIPACE)

    “For the first time, I attended and presented at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in Orlando, FL, where I had the opportunity to meet some of my 30 Under 30 colleagues and other ILA leaders. Being able to meet the people behind so many of ILA’s impactful initiatives was empowering. Another life-changing moment occurred for me when Katie Wood Ray reached out to me about visiting my school! She had read the 30 Under 30 article, and she wanted to see our work with English learners and family engagement in action. As a literacy coach, sharing an opportunity with my staff to talk with one of the giants in elementary literacy was a truly incredible experience.

    Being a 30 Under 30 honoree reminded me that age does not define our contributions to community and society. We all have something to share and learn from each other—no matter our ages, our geographic locations, or the nature of our careers in education. We all have something to contribute. We can all be literacy leaders, if we take the time to listen and to act.”

    Melissa Wells, 2016 30 Under 30 honoree and assistant professor for the College of Education at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia

    “After receiving the award, I was asked to be one of the keynote speakers at the Closing General Session [at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits] and spent the subsequent months in a constant state of panic as I prepared to speak in front of a room of highly respected literacy advocates. The entire ILA team was extremely supportive and encouraging to me on the days that led to my speaking. They were so encouraging, in fact, that I felt confident enough to overcome my fear of public speaking. After I finished my session and returned backstage I was met with hugs and cheers.

    There’s a sense of family at the conference. Imagine a convention center full of individuals who share your same heart for empowering students through literacy. The feeling is indescribable and truly inspiring. I was able to connect with other 30 Under 30 honorees and hear their literacy success stories. It’s calming to know that the world is filled with other teachers whose life passion is the same as mine: literacy for all. I am still in contact with my fellow honorees and love seeing what they’re doing in their classrooms. I left conference feeling empowered and truly inspired to continue my work.”

    Katie Lett, 2016 30 Under 30 honoree and elementary teacher of English learners at Kentwood Public Schools in Michigan

    If you know someone who is under the age of 30 (as of March 1, 2019) and who has shown extraordinary dedication to ILA’s mission, we invite you to complete a short nomination form here. All nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 1, 2018.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Resources for Talking and Teaching About School Violence

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 14, 2017

    Freeman Reflections When traumatic events happen in schools, such as the shooting that took place yesterday at Freeman High School in Rockford, WA, it can be difficult for educators to know how to start a dialogue with students. The resources below prepare educators to provide the support and guidance students need to process the event and confront their questions and feelings.

    • "The Best Resources On Talking With Children About Tragedies”: Education blogger Larry Ferlazzo’s collection of recommended resources on talking with children about tragedies.
    • 15 Tips for Talking with Children About School Violence: Multilingual tips and resources to help parents and educators talk about school violence, discuss events in the news, and help children feel safe in their environment. 
    • Helping Kids During Crisis: Assembled by the American School Counselor Association, the webinars, websites, and publications on this exhaustive list aid in emotional recovery after a crisis.
    • How to Talk to Children About Shootings: The Today Show’s age-by-age guides help educators and parents in addressing tragedies with children.
    • "Resources: Talking and Teaching About the Shooting in Newtown, Conn.": Published by The New York Times, this article, written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, outlines classroom activities to help educators empower students to discuss the event, write about their reactions, and take action.
    • Responding to Tragedy: Resources for Educators and Parents: Edutopia offers a compilation of useful, informative, and thoughtful resources for helping children through traumatic situations.
    • School Crisis Guide: Created by the National Education Association, this step-by-step guide makes it easier for education professionals to implement effective leadership, crisis management, and long-term mental health support—before, during, and after a crisis.
    • School Violence Prevention: Tips for Parents & Educators: Produced by the National Association of School Psychologists, this toolkit offers advice on how to restore students’ comfort and empower them to play a role in their own safety.
    • Taking Aim at Violence in Schools”: Originally published by The New York Times in 1999 after the school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, these lesson plans encourage students to share, through discussion and writing, their feelings about violence in schools, as well as about ways in which such events could be prevented.
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    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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