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    Seven Powerful Lessons About Reading From ILA 2018 Featured Speakers Kylene Beers and Bob Probst

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | May 03, 2018

    Beers and Probst ILA 2017If anyone knows how to engage readers, it’s literacy experts and authors Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. Their latest book, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters (Scholastic), is lauded not only for its techniques and strategies, but also for its humor and accessibility—no small feat for a professional development text. In fact, the book was such a hit at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits that Scholastic sold out of copies halfway through day two. Thankfully, Beers and Probst will return to the stage at the ILA 2018 Conference as featured speakers to talk about why reading is our most important skill in the 21st century.

    If you missed their session at ILA 2017 or simply need a refresher, here are seven quotes from Beers and Probst that made us stop, reflect, and think about reading in new ways.

    1. Reading should be transformational

    beers-probst-1Beers and Probst believe that, “If the reader isn’t responsive, if she doesn’t let the text awaken emotion or inspire thoughts, then she can barely be said to be reading at all.” Their Book, Head, Heart (BHH) framework alerts readers to pay attention to the text, their thoughts about it, what they feel, and how they might have changed by reading it.

    2. Give choice with direction

    Beers and Probst acknowledge that, for students who do not see themselves as readers, personal choice may be overwhelming.

    “Giving kids choice doesn’t mean that you just sit back and say, ‘Go pick a book.’ Giving kids choice means showing them what’s out there that they might really enjoy. So, what we would encourage you to do is to say ‘What is the structure I’ve set up in my classroom that helps kids make an informed choice? Am I providing book talks? Do I have a limited number of books on the chalkboard ledge? Do I have titles up in the room for kids to look at?’” says Beers. “I want to give kids choice, but I want to give that within limits, because when I’m learning about books and genre and topics, limits help me.”

    3. Focused silent reading is key

    beers-probst-3In an interview with Education Week, Beers and Probst note that today’s students live in a time when “information and entertainment can come to us in ways that don't require we read.” Those who rely on “political pundits, television commentators, flashy salesmen, unscrupulous preachers, or corner-hawkers” relinquish control of meaning-making. Silent, independent reading invites self-reflection and unguided interpretation—providing the reader with full ownership over his or her response to the text.

    4. Relevance reigns

    The authors maintain that getting kids’ attention is about interest—but sustaining it is about relevance. Instead of striving to satisfy interest, which is often fleeting, Beers and Probst encourage educators to introduce texts using strategies that increase engagement and point out relevance, which is always personal. “When they discover the relevance, their energy for and attention to the task will soar,” the authors write in Disrupting Thinking.

    5. Competence starts with confidence

    beers-probst-4In a video produced by Scholastic, Beers says, about disenfranchised readers, “If you want to improve his skills, or her skills, what you have to do is start by building that child’s confidence.” The authors maintain that the interdependence between skill and will is research-based.

    6. Create understanding—don’t check for it

    Research shows that most classroom conversations stem from monologic questions—those for which the teacher already has an answer. Beers and Probst encourage teachers and parents to instead talk with students about what they don’t understand, through dialogic questions that develop thinking. Compared with monologic questions, dialogic questions are viewed by children as "authentic" problem-solving opportunities, resulting in higher engagement; increased student-to-student interaction; more frequent use of complete sentences; stronger inferences; and improved test scores.

    7. Nonfiction ≠ not false and not false ≠ not true

    beers-probst-5Many children—and adults—believe that if fiction is invented and imaginary, nonfiction must be real and true. Beers and Probst dispel this notion, asserting that, “nonfiction is that body of work that offers us information—and we have a job to decide if it is or is not true in our world.” The authors urge educators to present nonfiction as an exercise in critical thinking—an opportunity to assess the quality of statements offered, ask questions, and challenge preexisting beliefs.

    For more insights, visit Scholastic’s “Ten Tips with Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst” YouTube series. Happy disrupting!

    Kylene Beers and Bob Probst will present a session titled “Revising Reading” on July 22 during the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, TX. For more information, visit ilaconference.org.

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

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    Embedding Windows and Mirrors With Jeff Zentner

    By Ally Hauptman and Michelle Hasty
     | May 02, 2018

    The Serpent KingThis is the first of a three-part series highlighting the winners of the 2017 ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards, which honor newly published authors who show extraordinary promise in books for children and young adults. Young readers need books that provide a mirror in which they can see themselves as well as a window to understand the perspectives of others, especially those whose experiences differ from their own. In this series, award recipients Jeff Zentner, Aimee Bissonnette, and Reyna Grande share how their books may provide readers with “window and mirror experiences.” First, Ally Hauptman and Michelle Hasty, chairs of ILA's Children's and Young Adult Book Award Committee, discuss Zentner's The Serpent King.

    When we heard Donalyn Miller at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention describe stuffing Kleenex in her glasses while reading Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King, we were in. Who doesn’t love a book that is so moving and suspenseful that you don’t want to move, even for a tissue? We fully trusted Miller’s recommendation to run—not walk—to get the book.

    In lyrical language and pitch-perfect dialogue, Zentner tells the story of three friends, a group of outcasts in the small, fictional southern town of Forrestville, Tennessee. The book opens as the friends begin their senior year of high school, each contemplating their next steps. Music helps Dill fight the alternating guilt and rage that result from the blame his mother places on him for his father’s term in the state penitentiary. Lydia is fiery and opinionated, having virtually escaped the confines of Forrestville with her acclaimed fashion blog; however, she struggles with her own insecurities and integrity. Reading is an escape for Travis, who deals with an abusive father, enabling mother, and the loss of his older brother.

    Major themes

    Over pizza at the Farmer’s Market in Nashville, Tennessee, we discussed with Zentner the universal themes in The Serpent King, such as 

    • Isolation. At the top of Zentner’s list was the feeling of being an outsider—not fitting in anywhere, as if there is a “vast, beautiful world, but none of it is for you.” Zentner said he made a conscious decision to tell the story of adolescents in a small, rural community, where “kids who were marginalized in a way.” His goal, he told us, was for the experience to be “resonant outside that specific milieu.” He said he’s surprised by how strongly young readers relate to these characters.
    • Poverty and class. Zentner addresses class divisions through Lydia, Dill, and Travis’ varying post-graduation plans. Lydia plans to attend NYU in the fall, while Dill faces pressure from his mother to stay in Forrestville and help repay his family’s debt. Here, Zentner “wanted to show how Lydia uses the privilege she has been given to lift up Dill and Travis and make their lives better.”
    • Mentall illness. Dill’s family is living in the shadow of his father—a disgraced minister who is currently imprisoned for the possession of child pornography. Zenter illustrate how mental illness has impacted Dill’s family. In a School Library Journal review, the author writes, “Zentner deals with Dill’s depression in an extremely thoughtful and positive way, providing a light and an example for younger readers who might also be struggling with this disease.”
    • Religion. Faith is a recurring theme in The Serpent King. "It was important for me to put a book out there that had an honest struggle with faith," said Zentner. "It is not something you can just walk away from, it’s a lot thornier of an issue.”  
    • Authenticity. One of the most compelling aspects of Zentner’s writing is his dialogue. When asked about his writing process, he said he lets the characters "sit in his head and have conversations with each other.” His writing shows a deep respect for young adults and a trust in their wisdom and capabilities. Zentner told us that he holds nothing back from his writing—no turns of phrase or words—because he knows his readers can handle it.

    We hope Zentner will continue to not hold back—we want to hear more of his powerful stories.

    Resources for classroom use

    Ally Hauptman is the chair of the ILA Children's and Young Adult Book Award Committee and a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.  

    Michelle Hasty is the chair of the ILA Children's and Young Adult Book Award Committee and a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. 

    Hauptman and Zentner will copresent a session at the ILA 2018 Conference, July 20–July 23, in Austin, TX. Zentner will discuss the writing of The Serpent King and his second novel, Goodbye Days. Be the first to know the 2018 ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards winners, coupled with ideas from committee members for implementing these important texts in the classroom. For more information visit ilaconference.org.

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    Mind-Mapping Highlights of ILA West 2018

    By Amy Miles
     | Apr 26, 2018

    ilawest2As a literacy educator, I am always interested in new instructional ideas that promote learning for my scholars. I was excited to see that ILA had restarted regional conferences and even more excited when I received the ILA tweet notifying members that there was a chance to win a complimentary two-day registration for ILA West 2018, taking place in San Diego, my hometown.

    I won! I went! And I would like to share just a few highlights of the experience.

    Three strands, three keynoters, and a panel of children’s literature authors comprised the smorgasbord of learning opportunities across the two days. Although I could not attend everything, here are a few main takeaways, shared through my mind-maps and words.

    In the Teachers and Coaches Strand, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey spoke about the importance of creating and cultivating assessment-capable learners—students who can assess their own learning—through purposeful and intentional instruction. Based on John Hattie’s research on the factors that affect student achievement, assessment-capable learners demonstrate an effect size of 1.44, which is more than three times the learning effect size of .4—the expected growth for one year of education.

    ilawest4This session reminded me to evaluate my impact cycle to determine if I am encouraging my scholars to be aware of their current levels of understanding and then use their insights to identify their next learning steps, including deciding if they can proceed alone or if they need additional supports from me. It made me ask myself, Do my scholars know how to select the best tools to grow their learning? My scholars and I often talk about "moving from good to great" and say there is always room for growth. Because of this session, I want to empower my students to take charge of their own learning, to self-monitor, and to seek feedback.

    As a reading specialist, I was especially excited to attend sessions in the Early Literacy Educators Strand. I appreciated the opportunities Diane Lapp, Kelly Johnson, Aida Rotell, Hilda Martinez, and Lisa Forehand provided through their discussion of close reading and their live demonstration of guided reading with first-grade readers. They encouraged everyone to watch students’ movements while reading and to use these insights to promote comprehension when working with both small and large group reading instruction. The Q&A session allowed participants to gain a deepened understanding of their own practices as they reflected on and compared instructional moves. A lively conversation ensued with participants feeling empowered to improve their teaching practices.

    ilawest3My coteachers and I discussed and left with an understanding of how to incorporate opportunities for guided reading and close reading during daily instruction, and how to use the assessment data to target areas for further instruction. Other highlights in the Early Literacy Educators Strand included Jan Hasbrouk’s discussion about the “goldilocks zone” of data collection and analysis; learning how to promote equitable instruction using culturally inclusive literature with Angie Zapata, Amy Seeley Flint, and their coleaders; practicing guided writing activities and strategies with Lori Oczkus; and learning about engaging comprehension and word study strategy with Hallie and Ruth Yopp.

    The day also included three outstanding keynote presentations by Glenn Singleton, Val Pang, and Stephen Peters that expanded everyone’s understanding of equity and how to promote it during daily instruction.

    An additional highlight was the opportunity to connect with and share equity-related ideas with other educators from across the country. These two days of professional development made me excited to start each new teaching day with the intent of putting into practice all of the new ideas I learned. I look forward to having a similar experience at the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, TX, this July.

    Amy Miles is an English teacher and teacher leader at Health Sciences Middle School in San Diego, CA. You can find her on Twitter @teacherinchucks

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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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    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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