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    #ILANevada: Recapping Two Days of Critical Conversations on Equity

    By Colleen Patrice Clark
     | Jun 26, 2019

    intensive-nevada-5When was your lightbulb moment?

    That was one of the first questions opening keynote speaker Sharroky Hollie asked the crowd of 500+ educators at ILA Intensive: Nevada last Friday, June 21.

    Hollie, an educator renowned for professional development on cultural responsiveness, wanted to know the moment they realized that schools were not set up to serve students equally, that they still were not even close to equity for all.

    The volume of voices rose exponentially in the high school student center of Somerset Academy-SkyPointe Campus, the host site for the event held June 21–22 in Las Vegas, NV. The attendees discussed their answers with each other after Hollie shared that for him, it was when he was a middle school teacher in Los Angeles in 1992—the year of the Rodney King riots.

    “You cannot do the work of equity if you have not had your lightbulb moment,” Hollie stressed as the conversation came back around. “One of the reasons why we’re stagnating, why we’re still talking about this after all this time, is because we have not had a collective lightbulb moment. We have not collectively said that all students are not educated equitably and our plan A is not going to work. We need a plan B.”

    His message summed up the impetus for ILA Intensive: Nevada. Focused on the theme of Equity and Access to Literacy, the Intensive was for educators looking for a network of like-minded peers and resources geared toward confronting systemic issues and improving outcomes for all students.

    In short, it was for educators looking to enact what Hollie referred to as plan B.

    He kicked off the two-day event by confronting the issues head-on: The work of responsiveness, he said, isn’t simply about “not being racist.” It’s about constantly reexamining our biases about a multitude of differences. As such, it’s not unexpected to have multiple lightbulb moments throughout your career.

    “If you are an educator, then you are on a journey to responsiveness,” Hollie said. “You are on a journey to be more understanding, more aware of, and more sensitive to the students who need you the most.”


    “Be beacons of light”

    With sessions geared toward early literacy educators, classroom teachers, specialized literacy professionals, and administrators, ILA Intensive: Nevada overflowed with ideas for either starting or continuing on that journey of responsiveness.

    Session topics ranged from early literacy practices to engage African American students to incorporating STEM literacies as a pathway toward equity, from phonics to healing-centered engagement, and from linguistically responsive teaching to preparing future teachers for inclusive practices. Multiple Friday sessions had an encore on Saturday because of the high demand and energy around them.

    And of course, there was a multitude of text suggestions in nearly every one of the 50+ sessions.

    There were ideas shared for contemporary text pairings, such as Little Women and The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano; The Grapes of Wrath and My Papi Has a Motorcycle; and The Outsiders and Dealing in Dreams. There were numerous suggestions for new culturally authentic books—Something Happened in Our Town, Delivering Justice, The Undefeated, One Last Word, They Call Me Guero, and Separate Is Never Equal, just to name a few.

    The idea of “cracking the canon” was weaved throughout both days of the Intensive, and with good reason. According to the latest statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Books Center, School of Education, University of Michigan, only 23% of books published in 2018 featured characters of color. In addition, black, Latinx, and native authors combined accounted for only 7% of new books in 2017.

    This begs the question: “Who gets to tell our stories?” asked Lilliam Rivera, the afternoon keynote on Friday.

    Rivera, a young adult author whose works include The Education of Margot Sanchez and Dealing in Dreams, focused on issues of representation during her talk.

    For example, she pointed to Pew Research Center statistics that state Latinx students accounted for 25% of the 54 million K–12 students in the United States in 2016. Yet, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, they could only see themselves in 5% of books published in 2018.

    “They crave representation,” said Rivera, who travels the country speaking to students. “They want to be the heroes in their stories…They want to see themselves.”

    She worries, though, that the word representation is used so much these days that it could lose its meaning.

    She warned against that with a quote from actress Sonia Manzano, who played Maria on Sesame Street: “I grew up wondering how I was going to contribute to a society that didn’t see me because I felt invisible.”

    That quote resonates with Rivera, who says she felt invisible in her own childhood, both in books and in her schooling, until her English teacher, Mr. Latimer, recognized her talent and encouraged her to join the high school newspaper. (Rivera would go on to be published in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and Los Angeles Times, among other publications, before becoming a YA novelist.)

    “He shined a light on something I didn’t even know I was capable of,” Rivera said—and that is what she urged the Intensive attendees to do: be guides for students and show them the path toward their future, show them what they are capable of accomplishing.

    “I feel our job as educators and authors is to be beacons of light,” Rivera said. “We are in this struggle together. Let us continue to be compassionate guides, to be open to new views and new concepts, to always be willing to see the students, the young people right in front of you, to see them and hear them and try to understand their struggles.”

    intensive-nevada-1“Why aren’t we there yet?”

    One quote overheard in the hallways of Somerset, echoing out from a session room, stood out: “If this were easy work, we would have fixed it by now.”

    That idea came up again during the Saturday morning keynote from Cornelius Minor. The staff developer for Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, a frequent speaker on equitable practices and dismantling systemic oppression, summed up the focus of his talk with a question he was asked recently by his daughter about five minutes into a recent road trip. “Why aren’t we there yet?”

    “As I was considering that question, it connected me to the work we’ve all pledged our lives to doing,” Minor said. “When we think about outcomes we want for schools, for children, for communities…I often look at our work and I ask the question, ‘Why aren’t we there yet?’”

    There are plenty of things we’ve accomplished so far on the journey, he said: We’ve initiated a movement for diverse, inclusive books. We’ve studied powerful reading, writing, listening, and speaking practices. We’ve invested in universal design for learning and culturally sustaining pedagogy. We’ve embraced understanding emotional intelligence and examining our own biases. “We’ve done all of this, and yet we’re not quite there yet,” he said.

    There are three main reasons: we’re mired in 19th-century ways of thinking about 21st-century students; we’re stuck in the belief system that things will get better “If I wait/hope”; and we tend to think some other leader will do the work for us. “That isn’t quite true,” he said. “The leader is us."

    Hope and waiting are not strategies, he added, but what is a strategy is systemic awareness.

    “It’s really easy to look at the oppression down south and really hard to see the oppression down the hall,” he said. “It’s really easy to look at the oppression in that other district and it’s really hard to look at the oppression on the other side of your classroom.”

    To initiate change, we must measure policies based on outcomes and not on intentions. Then, when looking at outcomes, we have to resist the temptation to blame stereotypes based on inherent beliefs and biases. Instead, we must examine and confront our policies, practices, and systems.

    “We cannot think about this work with intention alone,” Minor said. “We’ve got to think about the mind-sets that govern our scholastic habits and the impact that these habits and structures have on children.”

    “What happens in Vegas”

    During his breakout session Q&A on Friday, Minor reminded everyone that change starts with them, even if they don’t feel like they have a wave of support behind them.

    “You don’t need 100% buy-in to make sustainable change happen,” he said, adding that progress can start with just two allies and grow from there. “If we keep waiting until we get everybody, we’ll never get started.”

    If one thing is certain, it’s that allies and a wave of support were built at ILA Intensive: Nevada. Attendees left feeling invigorated and armed with strategies for dismantling bias in their school systems, meeting students where they are, and creating equitable learning environments.

    As ILA President of the Board Bernadette Dwyer said during the opening session—a thought repeated several times throughout the event—“What happens in Vegas, goes home with you from Vegas.”

    Colleen Patrice Clark (cclark@reading.org) is the managing editor of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    For more highlights from ILA Intensive: Nevada, check out our archive of conversations on Twitter here.

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    Steps to Authenticity

    By Sharroky Hollie
     | May 22, 2019
    lt366_hollie_ldAll culturally relevant texts are not equitably yoked. Meaning that to simply have books that feature people of color (dare I say the d word: diverse) or that have content related to social, political, and civil issues is necessary but not sufficient. There needs to be a parsing of your culturally relevant texts, a screening if you will, that indicates levels of authenticity.

    The premise is the more authentic the texts, the more equitable and culturally
    responsive they will be for not only students of color but also all students. The
    question then is, what are the steps to cultural authenticity?

    There are three primary steps:

    Step 1: Give students access

    Today, finding a legitimate argument against ensuring access to texts that
    represent traditionally and historically underserved students would be a
    challenge. In 2019, having diverse books should be a given, a basic right, not a
    choice or a privilege. 

    Yet there are too many instances where students of color can matriculate from grade to grade and not be exposed to core texts, and in some cases supplemental texts, that are reflective of who they are culturally and linguistically. The first step toward cultural authenticity is grounded in a commitment to guaranteeing access to culturally relevant texts.

    Question: Is your school/district committed to giving students access to books that are mirrors and windows?

    Step 2: Know your brand of culturally responsive teaching

    Whether teaching in a very diverse school setting or with a homogenous population, cultural and linguistic responsiveness is necessary for any classroom, especially as it applies to increasing academic literacy for all students. Variations of culturally responsive teaching (CRT) include culturally responsive pedagogy, culturally relevant teaching, cultural proficiency, cultural competency, and culturally sustaining. Regardless of the name, CRT pushes teachers to recognize their own cultures and the cultures of their students.

    When it comes to selecting culturally relevant texts, knowing your brand of CRT is imperative. The brand that fits best with seeking cultural authenticity is cultural and linguistic responsiveness (CLR), which focuses specifically on going to where the students are culturally and linguistically for the purpose of bringing them to where they need to be academically.

    The basis of this brand is four words: validate, affirm, build, and bridge. To validate and affirm means making legitimate and positive that which historical institutional knowledge, research, social media, and mainstream media have made illegitimate and negative about traditionally marginalized cultures and languages. Students have been told their cultural and linguistic behaviors are bad, incorrect, insubordinate, disrespectful, and disruptive. In CLR, educators refute this narrative when talking to, relating to, and teaching students.

    An equal part of validating and affirming is building and bridging. This is where the focus on school culture or traditional behaviors occurs. These behaviors are reinforced with activities that require expected behaviors in traditional academic settings and in mainstream cultural environments. Ultimately, the goal is for all students to learn situational appropriateness, which is determining what the most appropriate cultural and linguistic behavior is for the situation and to do so without losing one’s cultural and linguistic self in the process.

    Questions: What is your brand of CRT, and is it conducive to cultural authenticity?

    Step 3: Know the three types of culturally responsive texts

    The capacity to be authentic is hinged on how texts are selected and purchased. The selection process must include an awareness of the three types of culturally responsive texts to decide which materials are most authentic and appropriate. The three types of texts are culturally authentic, culturally generic, and culturally neutral.

    Culturally authentic texts are the preferred type of text for the culturally responsive educator. A culturally authentic text is a piece of fiction or nonfiction that illuminates the authentic cultural experiences of a particular group—whether it addresses religion, socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or geographic location. The language, situations, and illustrations must depict culture in an authentic manner. Examples are The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray), Ghost by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum), and Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter). For more examples of texts, visit responsivereads.com.

    Culturally generic texts feature characters of various racial identities but contain few and/or superficial details to define the characters or storylines. Culturally generic texts tend to focus on mainstream cultural values but with the use of nonmainstream characters. Many culturally generic texts qualify as “multicultural.” A current example is Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Ember) and a classic example is Corduroy by Don Freeman (Puffin).

    Culturally neutral texts feature characters of “color,” but the stories are drenched with a traditional or mainstream theme, plot, and/or characterization. Culturally neutral texts are the least preferred texts because they are essentially race based. The only aspect of these texts is the color of the character’s skin. Note, however, that there are always exceptions, as there are many quality texts that build literacy skills but are still culturally neutral. What you need to avoid is using a culturally neutral text thinking it is culturally authentic. Examples are the Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series by Octavia Spencer (Simon & Schuster) and The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (Wendy Lamb).

    Question: How many culturally authentic texts are in your library?

    When does the road to authenticity begin?

    Now! Granted, these three basic steps are easier said than done, but they are the prerequisites to equitable outcomes for your students. A commitment to have culturally responsive texts is a necessary ingredient.

    Knowing the brand of culturally responsive teaching you are using will determine your level of authenticity. Understanding the types of culturally responsive texts will give you focus and precision in your journey to responsiveness. 

    Sharroky Hollie is the executive director of the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, as well as the author of Strategies for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning (Shell) and the curator of the Culturally Authentic and Responsive Texts collection (Teacher Created Materials).

    Hollie will be a keynote speaker at ILA Intensive: Nevada, a two-day event focusing on equity and access to literacy taking place June 21–22, 2019, in Las Vegas, NV.

    This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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    The Promise in Books

    By Lilliam Rivera
     | May 15, 2019
    lt366_ld_riveraThere’s a vivid memory I have from when I was 6 or 7 years old. My mother, Ana Maria Rivera, holds my hand while pushing a stroller with my baby brother tucked inside. My other hand holds tight to my other brother while my older sister holds on to the other side of the stroller. Four of us children in total, all under the age of 8. A tiny caravan walking the wide Bronx, NY, streets.

    I remember passing the fire engine house, waving to the firemen as they cleaned their trucks, and I remember my mother pressing tight to my hand as we crossed the busy streets. Our destination was the public library, roughly 15 blocks away from the housing projects where I spent my childhood. I couldn’t wait. 

    The wooden steps that led up to the library were long, or perhaps they seemed that way back then. How my mother managed to climb the stairs of the library with the stroller and all of us beside her I can’t even fathom, but she did it without much of a hitch. As we entered the library, everything smelled old and musty and it was so very quiet.

    I entered the silence with excitement and wonder. 

    Inside, the librarians prepared to read a story aloud. There was barely anyone there, so we took up most of the front row. My legs dangled from the wooden chair as I sat there enraptured, completely in awe of what the librarians read.

    Afterward, Mami allowed us to check out one book each. I browsed the shelves wondering which book to choose, the gift that will take me to a new world, my ticket to enter another wondrous place. I grew more and more anxious trying to decide.

    “You can’t make a mistake here,” Mami said. “We’ll be back and you’ll be able to pick another book. I promise.”

    At home, we sat in the living room as my mother prepared dinner for everyone. When she was done, Mami pulled out her word puzzles as we read. And although her English wasn’t up to par, in that she couldn’t figure out what the words meant on the pages of my book, it was enough to be seated next to her on that small couch, reading together.

    My mother grew up in Corozal, Puerto Rico, a small town located in the mountainous area of the island. She was one of 12 children. There are few pictures of her childhood, even fewer of her as a teenager. My mother could attend school only until the third grade. She had to help take care of her younger brothers, and that is where she would spend most of her working life—being a caregiver to young kids. Her loving ways with young people eventually led her to leave Puerto Rico and move to New York.

    My mother’s story may not seem remarkable or unusual, but I find empowerment in the subtleness of her migration story. How she left her family to start anew in a sometimes cold and hard city without understanding the language. My mother is not a very verbal woman. She’s quiet and strong. It’s in her quietness that I find strength in my own writing. 

    My latest young adult novel, Dealing in Dreams (Simon & Schuster), is set in the near future where girl gangs rule the streets. Sixteen-year-old Nalah and her crew, Las Mal Criadas, use violence to gain status. Access to literature and information is controlled by only a select few. Books are such a rarity in this world that they are found only in the markets and nightclubs. There is a scene in my novel where Nalah ventures outside of her city and reads a poem that transports her back to a time when she was certain her father must have read those same words to her. The words she reads are like ghosts, nudging her back to family and hope.

    The past few years have been an exciting time for children’s books. So many diverse books have been published, garnering awards and hitting The New York Times best-selling list. The conversations have shifted to spotlight different voices, but has it been enough?

    According to The Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 215 kids’ books published in 2017 featured “significant Latinx characters and/or content,” with only 73 books written by Latinx authors. Most can agree how vital it is for young people to see themselves reflected back, but these numbers beg the question: Who gets to tell our stories? I can’t help but wonder how transformative the trips to the library may have been if the books I picked featured a Puerto Rican girl like me.

    My mother is 82 years old now and she still lives in the Bronx where I grew up. Now that I live in Los Angeles, I try to visit her as much as I can. When I do, she usually has a book or two of mine to sign for her various doctors or neighbors. She hasn’t read my latest book, Dealing in Dreams, or my debut YA novel, The Education of Margot Sanchez (Simon & Schuster). The books haven’t been translated to Spanish— not yet, anyway.

    When she can, Mami attends my events, always sitting in the front row. It’s such an honor for me to continue this oral tradition she presented to me so many years ago in that library, where she kept her promise to me to return for more literary magic, as we did again and again.

    Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and young adult author of The Education of Margot Sanchez and Dealing in Dreams (Simon & Schuster). She will be a keynote speaker at ILA Intensive: Nevada, a two-day event focusing on equity and access to literacy taking place June 21–22, 2019, in Las Vegas, NV.

    This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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    Five Things We Love About Cornelius Minor: Shining a Spotlight on the ILA Intensive Keynote’s Dedication to Equity in Literacy

    By Bailee Formon
     | May 08, 2019
    lt366_minor_ldEducator and author Cornelius Minor, an ILA 2018 General Session speaker, returns
    to the ILA stage again this year—this time as a keynote speaker at ILA Intensive:
    Nevada. A well-known advocate for equity in literacy education, Minor works with
    teachers and school leaders across the globe to help them reflect on their practices
    and grow alongside their students.

    Minor, a lead staff developer for Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, uses his many professional platforms—social media, podcasts, workshops, and conference presentations—to encourage improvements in the classroom from the point of view of both an educator and a parent. One such platform is his new book, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be (Heinemann), which describes his teaching experiences and the ways those experiences have shaped his current ideologies and practices.

    Minor is a perennial favorite at ILA events. His insights and bold actions make him an admirable and sincere role model, and his unique way of helping teachers lean into discomfort and feel confident discussing difficult topics has impacted educators around the world—and inspired us as well.

    Here are just five of the many things we love about Cornelius Minor and his passionate work for equity in education.

    He gets the conversation started.

    By facilitating an impromptu space for discussion at the ILA 2016 Conference, Minor was able to initiate conversation on subjects that educators might be hesitant to acknowledge in the classroom. Minor put together this last-minute session as a response to the police-involved shooting death of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and the shooting of Dallas, Texas, police officers that killed five and injured nine, both of which had occurred the week before the conference. Minor modeled for educators how to not shy away from having critical conversations with students about tragic events, and he stressed that discussing difficult topics with students is an educator’s responsibility. “If we can’t use literacy to build understanding, then we’ve got nothing,” he said.

    His family sets an example.
    Minor and his wife, Kass—advocates who together form The Minor Collective—use their social media platforms to set positive examples as both educators and parents, showing how they live as inclusive, affirming educators and individuals. Whether sharing calls to action for disrupting the education status quo or posting new favorite readalouds with their young daughters, their online presence overflows with inspiration and ideas for incorporating literacy practices into classrooms and homes alike. If they aren’t already part of your professional learning network, you need to add them. They’re a literacy power couple.

    He challenges our thinking.

    In his presentation at the Sparks Lunch at the ILA 2017 Conference, Minor asked educators to reflect on their teaching methods and ask themselves how their lessons relate to students’ communities outside of the classroom. “If something that I teach a kid works only in the classroom, then it’s not worth teaching,” he said. “It has to work in the real world.” In addition, he discussed literacy as a social and political tool, stressing the importance of applied knowledge. His presentation prompted many attendees to take a closer look at their curriculum and the way they engage their students.

    He’s all about empowerment.

    Between The Minor Collective and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Minor puts his powerful rhetoric into action through hands-on professional development offerings rooted in improving equity and access. No matter what the topic, be it digital literacy or writing workshops, inclusive classrooms or design thinking, Minor aims to empower educators to be the change agents their students need them to be. During his ILA 2018 General Session keynote, Minor urged attendees to practice “disruptive kindness” as a form of advocacy work that all can participate in: “Being nice in the face of oppression is not enough. Nice does not create change—kindness does,” he said. “Kindness means I care enough about you to call you out and help you learn and change.” He continued by saying that, although educators might not be able to dismantle the discriminatory systems in government, they can—and should—change the discriminatory systems that govern classrooms, districts, and schools.

    He’s “got this.”

    Minor’s new book, We Got This, highlights the importance of listening to students and acknowledging that their education should be relevant to their reality. Minor draws on his experiences and conversations with students to show that there is more to education than the standard math and English curriculum, and there are steps all educators can take to play a role in equity work by confronting the issues of racism, sexism, ableism, and classism that students live with each day. He shows readers that the responsibility to be present, to improve access, and to make education authentic and relevant to students’ lives is critical, referring to the closest thing to a superpower that educators have today—the ability to truly listen to their students.

    Bailee Formon is a communications intern at ILA. She is a senior psychology and cognitive science major, with a writing minor, at the University of Delaware.

    Cornelius Minor will be a keynote speaker at ILA Intensive: Nevada, a special two-day event focusing on equity and access to literacy taking place June 21–22, 2019, in Las Vegas, NV. For more information, visit literacyworldwide.org/nevada.

    This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of
    Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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    ILA Launches Equity Scholarship for New Orleans–Area Teachers to Attend ILA 2019 Conference

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Mar 12, 2019
    ila2019-equity-scholarshipThe International Literacy Association (ILA) is offering scholarships to the organization’s 2019 conference, taking place at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center October 10–13 in New Orleans, LA. The program is open solely to educators who live within 100 miles of the location.

    The ILA 2019 Conference will attract thousands of literacy educators, professionals, and advocates from around the world. This is not the first time New Orleans has welcomed the organization (formerly the International Reading Association), who selected the city as the location for their 2014 conference.

    Each equity scholarship includes a complimentary two-day registration and a stipend for related expenses. Recipients will have opportunities to attend sessions that are peer reviewed and rooted in research; explore innovative products and meet their favorite authors in the Exhibit Hall; and build valuable connections in their own backyard.

    Location isn’t the only determining factor. To qualify, applicants must demonstrate experience, dedication, and need. Priority will be given to those working in underserved populations.

    Scholarship recipients must agree to share the knowledge gained at the conference with their colleagues. By requiring this, ILA hopes to extend the impact from a single attendee to an entire community of practice.

    “Teachers, and especially those working in underserved districts, often face insurmountable obstacles to professional development,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “This new initiative supports ILA’s commitment to equity and access.”

    The application period will be open March 12–April 30, and submissions will be evaluated by a panel of member volunteers.

    To learn more, visit ilaconference.org/scholarship.

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