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    Leading From Within

    By Colleen Patrice Clark
     | Apr 17, 2018

    Gonzalez(Photo courtesy of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation.)

    There’s a conflict in Adan Gonzalez’s voice that you’re sure to hear when he speaks at the ILA 2018 Conference. It’s the intersection of hope and frustration—and although that sounds like an uncomfortable place, it’s where he wants to be.

    Being uncomfortable has brought him to this point, from a young boy growing up in a high-poverty borough of Dallas, TX, to a graduate of both Georgetown and Harvard.

    Now a first-year teacher at James Bowie Elementary, the same school he once attended, being uncomfortable is something Gonzalez urges his young students to embrace. There are three pillars in his classroom: be bold, be confident, be disruptive. That’s how you meet discomfort head-on.

    “I want them to explore their own curiosity,” Gonzalez says. “Fail, learn, and be OK with that.”

    It’s also about defying the status quo. “Do not stand on the line,” he says. “The line doesn’t benefit your community.”

    Gonzalez feels an immense responsibility to the community of Oak Cliff. That’s why when he was still in high school, he declared he wanted to one day be mayor of Dallas, though the goal now is to become superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. It’s why he prioritized his education from an early age so he could make life better for himself and his family, becoming the salutatorian of his class and earning a Gates Millennium Scholarship.

    It’s why as a sophomore at Georgetown, he founded Puede Network, an organization in Oak Cliff that began simply with a luggage drive for college-bound students—inspired by his experience arriving at college with his belongings in trash bags. It has since grown into a full-fledged education and leadership program providing opportunities in sports, community service, and scholarships.

    And it’s why when he completed his master’s in education policy at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard, he knew the only place to go from there was back home.

    “Making my neighborhood a place I want to be part of”

    It’s easy to concentrate on how hard life is in Oak Cliff. Composed mostly of immigrants, it’s a working-class neighborhood of Dallas, a city with one of the highest rates of child poverty in the United States. Those who leave don’t often come back, which is part of a problem that Gonzalez didn’t want to contribute to.

    That’s why, in a way, he never left.

    Running Puede Network from the campus of Georgetown in Washington, DC, and from Oak Cliff during school breaks kept him connected to the community’s challenges, its youth, and its potential.

    “It’s frustrating now as an adult to understand why things were the way they were when we grew up,” says Gonzalez, 24, but it makes him only more determined to highlight what they can become. It’s about maximizing the potential that’s already there.

    “We have the social capital and the talent,” he says. “We have the answers.”

    Recognizing that is what’s led Puede Network to grow. The grassroots organization now serves some 350 families and provides a network of support to students as they grow up. It’s similar to the type of safety net Gonzalez felt when, as a high school senior, he was accepted to the Coca-Cola Scholars Program, which invests in service-minded leaders of the future. That feeling of safety is what he wants to replicate at home to help break the cycle of undereducation for others. “How do we beat the system ourselves and not wait for anyone else?” Gonzalez asks.

    There are requirements to be part of Puede Network, such as participating in group activities (sports, music, or art), conducting community service, and attending civic events throughout the year. The young scholars are also required to read because, as Gonzalez says, when you read, you think for yourself.

    He refers to Puede Network as a “people-made” organization, but Gonzalez is undoubtedly its backbone. He touches every part of the group. He coaches soccer and boxing. He organizes community forums for parents (in a space in his parents’ backyard) and town hall events where local leaders and professionals share their advice. Preschool through high school students proudly come up to him at practices and meetings to show off their most recent academic accomplishments. One 15-year-old recently won a scholarship that Gonzalez too received at the same age.

    “For me, this is about making my neighborhood a place I want to be part of.”

    “Believing that every kid can succeed”

    Leading Puede Network for the past six years—already being imbedded in the community and aware of students’ unique challenges—helped prepare Gonzalez for his role as a third-grade teacher at Bowie Elementary.

    “I think once you’re aware of the weaknesses kids are coming in with, no matter what, it’s ‘What are you going to do about it?’” Gonzalez says. “I think being able to walk in the classroom really believing that every kid can succeed has been helpful. Understanding how important it is to know every student, tailoring their learning, and maximizing the smallest strength they have and focusing on that.”

    Puede Network also helped prepare him for his position as director of parent engagement at the school.

    “It entails bringing power to the families and making the school a place where it’s serving the families,” Gonzalez says. “It’s teaching them how to ask tough questions of the teachers and hold them accountable.”

    Creating new activities and initiatives for families is a large part of the job. For example, he organized the first Thanksgiving dinner this school year. In the spirit of Puede Network and maximizing resources already available, the food was all donated and prepared by the families. More than 1,400 people attended.

    He’s had local pantries bring food to the school for families. He’s even gone out into the community himself to hand out more than 1,200 book bags stuffed with school supplies. In total, he has spent more than $5,000 of his own money this year, which includes buying tablets for his classroom.

    Gonzalez doesn’t hesitate to spend his own savings because he knows his childhood is not unique among the stories of hardships in Oak Cliff. When he was 6, his father—who worked countless hours as a custodian—was shot while breaking up a fight and left unable to work. Gonzalez and his older brother went to work selling snacks at the local flea market to help pay for school uniforms.

    His parents moved to Texas from Mexico with the typical American Dream, but while they worked and struggled for it, the family of seven lived in a one-room apartment.

    Today, many of his students live a similar story.

    “That’s when you’re really serving”

    There was a recent article in a Dallas- area newspaper that included this cringeworthy line: “Some say Adan Gonzalez will be burned out before the end of his first year as a teacher.”

    Bring that up, and there’s an audible sigh.

    “I’ve heard it all my life,” Gonzalez says. “‘He’s a small fish in a big pond. He won’t make it.’ They said it when I went to Georgetown. They said it when I went to Harvard. They said it when I went to the White House and the Department of Education (where he worked as an intern). They say it now.”

    But, although he admits to getting frustrated at times, he’s not backing down. As long as he enters his classroom and sees a smile on the face of a student who believes in himself or herself, that’s all he needs.

    Gonzalez recalls being in third grade, sitting in the classroom he now stands in front of. The teacher asked everyone to get up. One by one, the teacher stated a statistic and had students sit if they fell into a certain category. At the end, only Gonzalez was left standing. He’d be the only one, the teacher said, to attend college—that is, if they wanted to live according to the status quo.

    “That’s where I started changing the trajectory of my life,” Gonzalez says. It’s when he started to realize he was part of a system that was failing its most vulnerable because he knew any one of his classmates could succeed too.

    “It’s so important for every one of my kids to feel they can be a leader,” Gonzalez says. “It doesn’t have to be based on luck.”

    That’s part of the message he’ll be bringing to ILA 2018, along with this: Unless you’re going above your job description, you’re not serving your community.

    “What people don’t get is that for me, this isn’t work,” he says. “When you teach, that’s your job. You’re getting paid. But whenever you do a little bit more, that’s when you’re really serving.”

    This article originally appeared in the open access March/April issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    Adan Gonzalez will be a keynote speaker during the General Session at the ILA 2018 Conference, July 20–July 23, in Austin, TX. Learn more at ilaconference.org.

    Colleen Patrice Clark is the managing editor of Literacy Today.

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    Key Takeaways From This Year’s NAEP Results

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Apr 13, 2018

    naepday1Test scores released Tuesday for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) marked a decade of stalled educational advancement, with negligible improvements measured only for performance in eighth-grade reading. 

    Aside from a handful of outliers—most notably Florida and California—national averages have barely budged, despite billions of dollars invested to improve outcomes.

    Compared to 2015, there was a one-point increase in the average reading score in eighth grade, but no significant change in the average score for reading in fourth grade. Only 36% of eighth graders and 37% of fourth graders ranked at or above the Proficient achievement level.

    Widening achievement gaps

    Moreover, the results reveal a concerning trend in which the nation’s highest-performing eighth graders inched higher, while the results for the lowest-performing students declined—an indication that achievement gaps are widening.

    In fourth-grade reading, the gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10% of students widened by four points. For eighth graders, national reading scores increased by three points—but only because students in the top 10% and top 25% scored higher. Scores for average and below-average students were flat.

    “We know we need to accelerate the pace of reform and improvement in our urban schools, and we know our achievement gaps are still too wide,” said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, speaking at a “NAEP Day” event in Washington, DC, “but these NAEP data give us the tools we need to ask hard questions about our instructional practices and where we need to improve.”

    Improving reading comprehension

    naepday2After the presentation of scores, Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of the Common Core ELA standards, moderated a panel focused on improving reading comprehension through knowledge-based curriculum, rigorous texts, and home–school partnerships.

    Daniel Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, said that, once students are fluent decoders, the key determinant of reading proficiency is background knowledge.

    Ian Rowe, the CEO of Public Prep, agreed, using his own district as a powerful example. In 2010, the New York State Education Department dropped social studies state assessments for fifth and eighth graders, prompting teachers to replace social studies instructional time with English and math learning. As a result, students began struggling with reading comprehension because they did not have the necessary context or content knowledge.

    “What really keeps us up at night are the early literacy outcomes,” said Rowe. “Because, frankly, that’s where the foundations are built.” 

    Pimentel stressed the importance of providing all students with rich, challenging texts. She said that although it’s common for teachers to give lower-level texts to struggling readers, this denies students exposure to more advanced vocabulary and language features.

    Tim Shanahan, distinguished professor emeritus of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a past president of the International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association), agreed that this practice is a disservice to struggling students, who spend the rest of their academic careers playing catch-up.

    “What we need our kids to do is read things that are demanding enough to drive them to overcome barriers to understanding,” he said.

    The panelists also touched on the importance of out-of-school factors, specifically family structure. Rowe said he would like to see a metric that measures the effects of home stability on educational achievement.

    “Poor reading performance is a problem for all racial groups,” said Rowe. “Poor white kids are far from proficiency.”

    What can we learn from Florida and California?

    The event ended with a series of presentations by state superintendents, who shared what they’ve done to increase performance. Common threads included robust standards, strong accountability and evaluation measures, ongoing professional development, and equity-building practices.

    Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, reported that “Something very good obviously is happening in Florida,” where 41% of the state’s fourth graders were proficient or better, compared with the nationwide average of 35%. Eighth graders scored three points higher on the reading test compared with 2015.

    Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said she attributes these gains to the state’s more rigorous academic standards, tougher state tests, and long-standing accountability system.

    California was another stand-out state, with a four-point increase in eighth-grade reading, driven by major gains in San Diego, Fresno, and Los Angeles. Glen Price, chief deputy superintendent for the California Department of Education, said the state has been working to build  districtwide cultures of literacy.  

    “Students read and write every day. Students truly understand the content and context of what they’re reading and how it’s connected to their own lives,” he said. “They leave our system not just with increased test scores, but prepared for the world.”

    Price said he looks forward to deep-diving into the NAEP results and using them to drive further improvements.

    “We use them as a flashlight,” he said. “We use them to inform work at every level.”

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

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    Defeating Decision Fatigue With ILA’s Conference Tracks

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Apr 10, 2018

    ila2018-tracksA growing body of research, based on a seminal study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1998, suggests that willpower is finite, like a muscle that gets tired with overuse. When left unchecked, we reach decision fatigue—a state of mental exhaustion that leads to impulsive decision-making.

    Studies show that a teacher makes over 1,500 decisions on any given day. You do the math.

    This is one reason why the International Literacy Association has introduced three new learning tracks for ILA 2018.

    “Each year, attendees tell us that they’re overwhelmed by the number of conference offerings and stuck on which sessions to attend,” says Professional Learning Manager Becky Fetterolf. “We created the conference tracks to help attendees better prioritize their time and plan a more personalized learning experience.”  

    Attendees can select one of the following three tracks:

    • Designed for school leaders, Administrators as Literacy Leaders presenters will discuss how to create a culture of literacy in your building or district by mobilizing teaching staff and by engaging students and families. Sessions will explore culturally responsive administration, professional learning networks, productive partnerships, and more.
    • Sessions within the Literacy Coaching track will introduce innovative tools, best instructional practices, and job-embedded professional development models to drive positive literacy outcomes. With a strong technology focus, attendees will learn how literacy professionals can effectively collaborate with teachers to shape digital literacy instruction.
    • Led by experts in the field, the Literacy Research track will unpack the latest findings in literacy learning and discuss how that research informs and translates to best practices. Attendees will examine the preferences of young readers, the impact of teaching culturally relevant texts, existing conceptions and misconceptions of academic language, and other topics of relevance.

    Learn more and register at literacyworldwide.org/conference. To view the full list of sessions under each track, use the “Event Search,” located in the iPlanner.

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

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    Your Guide to Institute Day at ILA 2018

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Apr 05, 2018

    Institute Day 2018ILA institutes take an in-depth look at pressing issues facing literacy instruction with leaders in the field. These full-day courses unpack the latest research findings and explore best practices in leadership, curriculum, instruction, and more.

    At ILA 2018, attendees can choose from 10 institutes designed to accommodate a variety of audiences. Here’s your guide to choosing the one that best fits your goals, interests, and learning style.

    Set a high-level goal

    To make the most out of Institute Day, it is critical to set a goal. Whether it’s something general, such as to build your professional network, or something specific, such as to learn new read-aloud techniques, setting a goal will help you filter through the offerings and find the course that will benefit you most—even after the conference is over.

    Ask yourself, what do you want to take away from the experience? If you want to build specialized knowledge and expertise, look for a course that aligns with ILA’s conference tracks, such as Institute 01: ILA 2018 Research Institute: Best Practices in the Teaching of Reading, Institute 02: Principals’ Leadership for Literacy Instruction: It Matters, or Institute 03: Coaching for Comprehensive Literacy Improvement: A District-Wide Approach.

    Some courses, such as Institute 08: More Mirrors in the Classroom: Increasing the Effectiveness of Literacy Instruction with Culturally Relevant Texts will introduce new information, trends, and best practices while others, such as Institute 10: Rethinking Reading Instruction with Technology: Strategies for K-8 ELA Teachers, will yield more actionable tactics. Whatever the goal, make sure you’ll be able to apply what you learn to your daily practice.

    Seek out the people you want to connect with

    With a more intimate setting and focused content, institutes serve as a unique opportunity to engage with like-minded professionals, ask questions, bounce off ideas, and receive feedback in real-time. Institute presenters and copresenters include prominent scholars such as Maureen McLaughlin, John Guthrie, Douglas Fisher, and Ernest Morrell as well as inspiring educators and authors, such as Kylene Beers, Colby Sharp, Cornelius Minor, and Donalyn Miller.

    What goal is your institution, district, or classroom currently working toward? What practices or programs could you learn from or adopt? Identify presenters who have overcome similar challenges and can impart valuable insights and advice.

    Choose your learning format

    As an educator, you’re accustomed to offering students differentiated learning opportunities. Institute Day incorporates a variety of learning formats, from interactive workshops to all keynote formats.

    For those who learn by doing, Institute 05: Creating Engaged and Attentive Readers and Writers: Texts and Tools that Change How Kids Read and Write will integrate breakout sessions, group presentations, and other hands-on activities. At Institute 04: Changing Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction: Implementing Word Study in Classrooms, Schools, and Districts, presenters and group leaders, including Donald Bear, Latisha Hayes, and Kevin Flanigan, will work side-by-side with attendees to help them develop tailored word study implementation plans.

    For the experiential learner, several institutes offer strong case study content, relevant examples, and practical applications. During Institute 07: Let’s Talk About That! How Purposeful Conversation Improves Middle and High School Literacy and Learning Across Content Areas presenters will share classroom-tested “protocols, tips, and ideas” to promote productive student discussions.

    At Institute 09: Reframing the Gradual Release of Responsibility: Connecting Read Aloud, Shared, Guided, and Independent Reading for Deeper Comprehension, literacy consultants will present effective reading strategies and demonstrate "next generation" instruction.

    If you prefer to learn through words, Institute 06: Intentionally Planned Best Practices That Motivate Early Literacy Development presenters will drive a conversation around evidence-best practices for developing literacy for early learners.

    To learn more and register for Institute Day, visit literacyworldwide.org/conference/institute-day.

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

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    Reimagining Reading: Connecting and Promoting Lifelong Readers through Book Clubs

    By Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher
     | Apr 04, 2018

    LT Book ClubsAlmost all of our students have abandoned the regular reading of books.

    Let us say this again: Almost all of our students have abandoned the regular reading of books.

    A strong statement, for sure, but not one we have come to lightly. We have reached this conclusion after surveying our high school students, many of whom have come from years of classrooms focused only (or mostly) on the whole-class reading of difficult texts. In these environments, they have found alternatives to actually turning the pages. They are practiced in participating in fake discussions spun from reading SparkNotes summaries. They have become experts in the art of hiding. And, sadly, we have found that this applies to all our students—even those at the honors level.

    If we do not alter our approach to the teaching of reading—if we don’t figure out a way for students to rediscover the magic of books—we will graduate a generation of nonreaders, fake readers, and unprepared-for-college readers.

    So how can we reconnect kids to reading? We believe the answer lies in providing our students with a balanced reading diet. In our classrooms, “balanced” means a rich foundation of independent reading, regular book club opportunities, and the study of a few core texts in a school year.

    Though independent reading and whole-class study of texts are critical, we have found that creating vibrant book club experiences are particularly helpful in reestablishing reading habits in our students. Specifically, book clubs do three kinds of important work:

    • Book clubs allow our classrooms to be responsive. This year, we selected book club titles around the topic of equity. Students picked from a wide range of fiction and nonfiction titles, from below–grade-level to college-level texts, thus meeting the needs of the diverse reading abilities found in our classrooms. (Check out the sidebar for the list of books we used.) We picked equity as a theme because it is a vital part of discourse today. Our students need a part in the conversation. Charlottesville, “Take a Knee,” DACA, and Black Lives Matter are dominating headlines, and they demand to be studied in the moment. Our unit was responsive to the times, and relevancy motivates our students to read.
    • Book clubs raise reading volume. One thing we are sure all students need—and too many students will graduate without—is a deep volume of reading. What should college freshmen expect in the first year? Five thousand pages of reading (according to reDesign, an organization that specializes in teaching and learning practices) and 75 text-based discussions with students who come from many parts of the world and from religious traditions and family cultures unlike their own. We must create opportunities for our students to practice the speaking and listening, the reading and responding, and the thorny thinking that can result from examining current issues with peers. Book clubs increase the volume of reading because students are responsible to their peers. Having an audience beyond their teacher brings a renewed energy for reading.
    • Book clubs connect students to other readers. We build conversations around books to engage more students in productive talk. Students are too often alone together, as MIT professor Sherry Turkle named the isolation that is caused by a devotion to screen time. You know this. Our classes are quiet when we come in from hall duty. Most students scroll through likes and posts or are animatedly texting. Their friend groups are larger than ever, but less intimate. In the awkwardness of adolescence, it is easier to cultivate a presence online than to make eye contact and to speak, or to actively listen as others respond to your thinking. Small-group conversations are less natural and occur less frequently outside of school today, so they must become an essential part of our classrooms.

    We used Flipgrid to connect our students across the United States, from New Hampshire to California, and then to education majors at Miami University in Oxford, OH. We included college students in our book clubs this year because many young adults find the adjustment to college in the first year difficult, particularly those who are the first in their family to attend. We teach those students, so we used book clubs to build a bridge from our students to college readers.

    Both of us teach students from the working class. Their parents want them to rise above financial struggle, but they don’t know how to prepare their children for the demands of college or the workplace. They depend on us—teachers in the local public school—to know what their kids need. It is a sacred trust. We stand on the front line of preparing students for the future, and motivating them to read is a crucial part of this preparation.

    When we recognized that almost all of our students had abandoned regular reading, it was time to reimagine our teaching of reading. We look forward to sharing more thinking on motivating young readers at the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, TX, this July. We hope you will join us.

    Penny Kittle, an ILA member since 1999, teaches English at Kennett High School in New Hampshire. She is coauthor of 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents with Kelly Gallagher and author of Book Love: Developing Depth, Passion, and Stamina in Readers (Heinemann).

    Kelly Gallagher, an ILA member since 2003, teaches at Magnolia High School in California. He is the author of several books, most notably Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It (Stenhouse).

    This article originally appeared in the open access March/April issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher will be featured speakers at the ILA 2018 Conference, July 20–July 23, in Austin, TX. To learn more, visit literacyworldwide.org/conference.

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