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    The “Tale” of Advocacy in Texas

    By Laurie A. Sharp and Roberta D. Raymond
     | Oct 05, 2016

    TALE-thinkstock100516The Texas Association for Literacy Education (TALE) is a state-level chartered ILA council that was recently recognized with ILA’s 2015–2016 Advocacy Award. To qualify for this award, state and provincial councils must have a fully functioning legislative committee and a particular issue that the council addressed through targeted legislative advocacy activities.
    We believe taking an active role in educational advocacy is essential for the effective influencing of public educational policy.

    TALE began its journey in July 2014 with the creation of a fully functioning Advocacy Development Committee that consisted of a director and four active committee members. The mission was to educate about, advocate for, and support the importance of lifelong literacy learning in and through education by building alliances and creating a network among literacy educators and other educational stakeholders.

    Identifying the issues at hand

    During the 2014–2015 membership year, TALE’s Advocacy Development Committee identified two specific issues to address.

    First, TALE sought to create awareness and promote action among its membership with several public education topics that were addressed during the 84th Texas Legislative Session, such as the expansion and improvement of pre-K programs and alternatives to high-stakes testing.

    The second issue was the commencement of the Texas State Board of Education’s (SBOE) review and revision process for the mandatory state standards—the English Language Arts and Reading Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (ELAR TEKS)—which delineate the required knowledge and skills for students in kindergarten through grade 12.

    TALE became an active participant in a statewide literacy coalition consisting of literacy organizations that work collaboratively with other stakeholders. Included were Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas, National Writing Project of Texas, Texas Association for Bilingual Education, Texas Association for the Improvement of Reading, and Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. We also worked with the Texas Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and Texas Association of School Administrators.

    Each group worked with other literacy stakeholders—community members, parents, and publishers of state-approved education materials—to advocate ELAR TEKS revisions and provide feedback.

    Educating our members

    TALE used a variety of outlets, both print based and electronic. We published articles in quarterly newsletters, the Texas Journal of Literacy Education peer-reviewed journal, and the proceedings from TALE’s annual conference. We also kept members informed by sending e-mails and posting relevant information on an established advocacy website.

    With the ELAR TEKS review and revision process, TALE collaborated with the literacy coalition to develop and distribute advocacy resource packets among all SBOE members. These packets included a joint letter, suggested framework for the ELAR TEKS, and talking points for testimony given at an SBOE committee meeting.

    The framework identified high-priority learning standards that emphasized depth over breadth, a clear description of content and depth of knowledge, and skills necessary for student success on state standardized assessments and for fostering college and career readiness. TALE also held coalition workshops for framework creation and sent representatives to attend and observe SBOE committee meetings, which resulted in revisions made to the framework.

    For example, the new framework embodied the interconnectedness of the English language arts and integrated the following strands within each grade level: foundational language skills, comprehension, response, collaboration, multiple genres, author's purpose and craft, composition and presentation, and inquiry and research.

    Organizing our efforts

    TALE demonstrated an organizational plan that promoted a commitment to building advocacy skills within its membership by establishing an advisory board for the Advocacy Development Committee, which included TALE’s executive officers and board members.

    During monthly board meetings, the director of the Advocacy Development Committee reported on the committee’s activities. Communicating information among members is critical, so TALE established procedures to streamline dissemination of information among its members, such as e-mailing legislative action alerts and communications encouraging members to contact their elected officials regarding specific legislative issues.

    TALE’s organizational plan also included creating a service network of 30 literacy experts throughout Texas as part of TALE’s involvement with the literacy coalition. This network’s purpose was to elicit feedback from K–12 teachers, administrators, and central office staff members regarding the proposed revisions to the ELAR TEKS. Organized by grade bands, the network examined proposed revisions within their assigned band and provided feedback addressing what they liked and what needed to be changed.

    Feedback obtained was compiled and shared with the statewide literacy coalition.

    Final thoughts

    As TALE grows, we remain dedicated to our ongoing, strategic advocacy efforts. Our success comes from two main aspects: (1) identifying issues that require significant advocacy efforts and employing strategies that educate, organize, and activate, and (2) incorporating a strong collaborative spirit into advocacy work.

    Advocacy efforts must be tailored to state and provincial councils’ unique needs and diverse challenges in order to effectively influence public educational policy.

    Advocacy work truly takes a village, and we have built many collaborative relationships within our literacy community. Creating and maintaining relationships among council members and others is essential to advancing these efforts.

    Laurie A. Sharp, an ILA member since 2002, is the Dr. John G. O’Brien Distinguished Chair in Education at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, TX. Along with serving as president-elect of TALE during the 2016–2017 membership year, she is the director of the Advocacy Development Committee. Roberta D. Raymond is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Houston–Clear Lake in Houston, TX. She is the past-president of TALE during the 2016–2017 membership year.

     
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    AUA members begin program to support students entering college

    By Maria Hernandez Goff
     | Oct 04, 2016

    LT342_AUA1The spring of 2015 was a momentous one for Arizona State University (ASU). It was when we saw the first class of students graduate from Arizona State University Preparatory Academy-Phoenix (ASU Prep), an urban public K–12 school chartered by ASU.

    Teachers, administrators, and students alike worked diligently throughout the inaugural class’s four years of high school to prepare them for success in college; however, questions remained as to how the largely first-generation group of college students would fare.

    Josephine Marsh, associate professor, professor-in-residence at ASU Prep, and advisor to ASU’s Beta Beta chapter of Alpha Upsilon Alpha (AUA), ILA’s honor society, raised this concern and voiced a solution—pairing up these students with AUA mentors.

    It was an ambitious idea, but we wrapped up our first year of the mentorship program this spring—and we learned a lot in the process.

    We started with research

    All members of our AUA chapter are in either literacy or educational policy doctoral programs, and many previously taught or worked with students in out-of-school settings. AUA members quickly agreed to develop the mentoring program and began planning this exciting service project and research opportunity.

    We first surveyed the ASU Prep seniors to determine their interest. We wanted to know if they would participate, their preferences for mentoring (in-person, over text or e-mail, small group or one on one, etc.), and their concerns about starting college.

    Results showed 87% of the 98 seniors were concerned about keeping up with their college coursework, 91% were concerned with time management in college, and 89% worried about taking on debt and managing their money. Of those surveyed, 90% expressed an interest in participating in the program.

    After reviewing results, three AUA members conducted a focus group interview with seven seniors attending either in-state universities or community colleges to uncover more specific concerns and develop a plan for supporting students during their freshman year.

    We followed up, and made adjustments, throughout the year

    As the ASU Prep graduates started their first year at community colleges and universities, we began by having informal gatherings for alumni to socialize and sign up to participate in our program. We reached out to students through e-mail and through their high school teachers, offering to be points of contact and sounding boards as they started college.

    AUA members met with ASU’s Office of Student Services and Financial Aid to learn about the programs available for undergraduates and the financial aid process for freshmen. Students interested in mentoring were matched with an AUA member who kept in contact and served as the student’s mentor for the academic year.

    In the fall, our mentee numbers were small (7) compared with the larger graduating class (98). Wanting to know how the larger group was faring, we created a midterm survey aimed at discovering how many credits students were enrolled in, if they had dropped or withdrawn any classes and why, how they perceived their academic performance so far, what college resources and supports they accessed, and if they felt a sense of belonging at their schools.

    We administered the survey through e-mail and an ASU Prep alumni Facebook group. The 19 responses indicated only 4 students had dropped or withdrawn from a class, and while 7 were confident in the academic performance, a majority reported feeling overwhelmed with their coursework. Most students had reached out to some type of on-campus service like tutoring or advising, and 10 out of 19 students reported feeling a sense of belonging.

    Using the results of the survey, I, as AUA president and lead mentor, created monthly topics the AUA members could discuss with their mentees such as studying and homework tips, staying healthy in college, planning for final exams and projects, and meeting with advisors for class registration.

    We had a head start on next year

    In the spring, AUA members were concerned by the number of students not participating in the program and thought that by forming relationships then with the current ASU Prep seniors, the class of 2016, students would be more likely to participate.

    ASU Prep offers a senior Capstone class, a course designed for students to meet with the same group and teacher throughout all four years of high school with a focus on preparing for college. For two months, AUA worked with the Capstone teachers and visited the seniors every two weeks to participate in meetings. We shared our own college experiences, answered any questions students had such as living in a dorm or choosing a major, and conducted exercises on identifying goals and the support systems needed to meet them. We recorded our experiences and reflections in a shared Google Doc.

    For the last visit, we invited ASU Prep alumni, many of whom participated in mentoring throughout the year, to share their first year of college experience with the seniors.

    AUA members interviewed 13 of the senior Capstone students at the conclusion of the visits, and students responded positively. One student who planned to attend ASU said hearing the mentors’ college experiences made him more comfortable with starting college and living in a dorm.
    Another student explained how having the AUA mentors visit opened her eyes to school beyond the undergraduate degree, saying how the visits made her want to “pursue my education, go to graduate school, and get as much knowledge as I possibly can.”

    Our plan for the 2016–2017 year is to continue mentoring the students who previously participated and actively recruit the now-sophomores and current freshmen to participate in mentoring. We also plan to focus part of our research on the literacy practices the alumni find most useful for success in college.

    We hope our efforts to form meaningful, long-lasting relationships will result in even more mentor/mentee pairings and a successful college experience for many students, for years to come.

    Maria Hernandez Goff, an ILA member since 2013, is a PhD student in Learning, Literacies, and Technology at Arizona State University. She is the president of the Beta Beta chapter of AUA.

     

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    The Teacher’s Assistant

    By Scott Alessi
     | Sep 22, 2016

    Illinois Reads (2)Last year, Anne Bond received what may have been the most daunting assignment of her college career. Bond and her classmates in Loyola University Chicago’s reading teacher program were each tasked with crafting a curriculum for books selected by Illinois Reads, an initiative of the Illinois Reading Council that promotes literacy by highlighting the work of local authors. But this was more than just a classroom exercise—the students were told their work would be made available to teachers statewide for use in their classrooms.

    Bond, a student in Loyola’s School of Education, admits to being a bit nervous about creating something that would have such a broad reach. But she also recognized it as an excellent opportunity to hone her skills as a teacher. She selected The Detective’s Assistant by Chicago author Kate Hannigan, which is aimed at the same elementary grade levels that Bond hopes to one day teach, and she began developing a curriculum to include thematic discussions, digital whiteboard activities, and a vocabulary review. Her goal was to create engaging activities for students and an easily accessible guide for teachers. Bond and her classmates helped each other make their lesson plans as classroom-ready as possible. “We all thought about what we would want to pick up if we were teaching,” she says.

    The assignment stemmed from a collaboration between Loyola and Illinois Reads, selecting annually a group of books aimed at age levels from pre-K through adult. Loyola professor Jane Hunt developed the project as a way for students to gain experience in designing curriculum materials while supporting literacy education in Illinois. Over two years, 17 Loyola students have completed teacher guides that are currently available for download on the Illinois Reads website.

    “It has been a really great way for our undergraduates to become involved in a statewide project,” says Hunt. “There are so many teachers who are hired who never write any kind of curriculum that is even shared at a school or district level. And our teacher candidates are working on materials that teachers anywhere can have access to.”

    For Bond, the project had another unexpected benefit. She decided to send a message to Hannigan through the author’s website and was pleasantly surprised to receive a prompt reply. The two struck up a conversation, and Hannigan provided insight that allowed Bond to expand her work on the book’s themes. She also added information to her guide on how teachers can connect with Hannigan for school visits or Skype chats with their classes. When Bond shared her work with the author, Hannigan was so impressed that she asked permission to post a copy of the guide on her website, too.

    “I think the partnership between all of these people who really care about reading and who care about kids getting a quality reading education is so beneficial,” Bond says. “It has created so many great guides for teachers to use and great relationships with authors and teachers all around the state. So many children have benefitted.”

    Tammy Potts, chairperson of Illinois Reads, agrees that the collaboration has been a big success. When she’s shown the guides created by Loyola students to teachers, Potts sums up their response in one word: “Wow!” She says that’s a testament to the talent and creativity of the students, which in turn has furthered the mission of Illinois Reads.

    “It’s a win–win,” Potts says. “Students get to learn and practice in the Loyola environment, and the teachers in Illinois get to reap the benefits.” 

    This article appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Loyola magazine, the official publication of Loyola University Chicago, and is reprinted with permission.

     
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    LEAPing Into Action

    By Jennifer Nelson
     | Aug 30, 2016

    LT341_LEAP1Many teachers in Nigeria were never taught how to encourage their students to read and write critically and creatively. It’s not often a prioritized objective in their country’s education system—but that’s changing.

    “Some teachers simply assume that reading is all about English language, and others think the task of teaching reading and literacy is the business of the English language teacher alone,” explains Gabriel B. Egbe, president of the Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN).

    Complicating matters, there are no Nigerian higher education institutions with degree programs in either reading or literacy, and the country struggles with limited access to books. Egbe notes that many teachers are also hesitant to collaborate with each other or pursue opportunities to develop their own literacy or teaching skills.

    Enter RAN, which aims to shift priorities and improve literacy instruction in schools through teacher training and student reading programs. One of ILA’s more than 75 affiliates, RAN continues to face obstacles, ranging from a lack of resources to the inability of students to read and write even in their native language, but it is making significant strides.

    RAN recently teamed up with the state government to institute the Literacy Enhancement and Achievement Project (LEAP) as a pilot program in Anambra State, Nigeria. Designed to empower teachers to develop their skills in the core subjects of English, mathematics, and basic science and technology at the junior secondary school level, LEAP is a school-based collaborative learning model created to promote literacy enhancement and achievement.

    “We wanted to develop and implement a standard blueprint for enhancing the literacy empowerment of every child in the schools and colleges in the state,” explains Willie M. Obiano, executive governor of Anambra State.

    LEAP, which began last September and wrapped up in April, was the first major collaboration between RAN and the state government.

    “The LEAP proposal had two goals: to ensure that teachers themselves could learn to appreciate and enjoy reading and writing, as well as to empower them to teach their students how to effectively and efficiently receive, give, and use information through written texts,” adds professor Chukwuemeka Eze Onukaogu, chair of the board of trustees for RAN, who served on the LEAP implementation team along with Egbe, Irene Mbanefo, Irene Ossisioma, Chinwe Muodumogu, Gabriel Oyinloye, Grace Abiodun-Ekus, and Iroegbu Ahuekwe.

    Encouraging meaningful interpretation

    Three local government areas were selected for the pilot: Awka South, Anambra East, and Orumba South, and a toolkit with literacy materials was developed to assist the master trainers and trainees. In total, there were 478 teachers in 41 schools with a student population of 15,600 involved. The schools were divided into clusters on the basis of proximity.

    One teacher for each of the three core school subjects was selected from the 41 schools and was trained as a master teacher for 18 days to flow his or her training to other teachers in each school. The cluster meetings were facilitated by master teachers and lasted for 16 weeks.

    According to Alis Headlam, lead presenter for LEAP’s JSS Literacy Training Workshop, the teachers were first engaged in theoretical and scientific knowledge about learning and literacy, followed by practical strategies and techniques that encourage interaction, demonstration, and discussion.

    “Literacy instruction in Anambra State tended to focus on blackboard lessons and government texts that students were required to purchase. Those lessons were often more about grammar and skills than meaningful stories and text,” Headlam explains. “For the purposes of this training, teachers were encouraged to use authentic, culturally relevant texts that would encourage meaningful interpretation and creative thinking.”

    Broken into small groups, teachers participated in hands-on lesson demonstrations, role-playing, and more. Headlam notes that presenters aimed to find ways to incorporate small-group instruction, story writing, and activity-based learning—all beneficial elements when dealing with often large class sizes.

    “One of the initiative’s greatest successes is that teachers started to find creative ways to make their lessons more interesting,” Obiano adds.

    Changing practices

    Pre-tests were administered to the students and teachers prior to the program, and post-tests were given at the end of the period. Only 4.3% of teachers indicated that they had effective strategies for teaching literacy skills and strategies at the pre-test, whereas the post-test results showed an upsurge of more than 62%.

    Similarly, only 3.5% of teachers were familiar with journals at the pretest, compared with 46.4% at the post-test.

    “The post-tests show that over 80% of the students now read at the independent level…but in the pre-tests, the reverse was the case, where over 80% of the students read at the frustration level,” Onukaogu adds.

    The success is also evident in the testimonials from teachers who say the program changed their practice and changed their students.

    “LEAP has successfully made teaching and learning fun,” said Frank, a teacher in Anambra State. Chidi, another teacher, said his students now believe in themselves and have a much more positive attitude toward school.

    Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of LEAP is a new educational policy known as Drop Everything and Read. For the first time, the state government has made it mandatory for all schools to set aside one hour each week for uninterrupted sustained silent reading.

    Schools are also promoting journal writing and encouraging teachers to incorporate opportunities to read and write in their lesson plans. “These are truly innovative policies in the Nigerian school system,” Egbe says.

    However, the country still faces obstacles when it comes to satisfying students’ newfound desire to read—including limited access to reading materials. “The challenge is having stimulated students who want to read and write when we are unable to provide them with diverse reading materials that would be appropriate for their reading levels as well as sustaining their interest to read,” Onukaogu says.

    To that end, many students are working with their teachers to write their own books, while RAN and the state government are working to freight books from outside the country.

    RAN is also planning its first-ever Literacy Festival to be held in the Anambra State capital in July to showcase the impact LEAP has made in the lives of students and teachers. Egbe is hopeful that the project may be extended to all other schools in the state.

    “Students are excited that class texts are no longer frightening to them. We are also seeing teachers collaborate among themselves in order to enhance the literacy performance of their students,” Onukaogu concludes. “We hope to replicate the entire program at the primary or basic education level so that when children begin their formal education at that early stage, they will receive literacy empowerment for lifelong learning.”

    Jennifer L. Nelson is a freelance magazine writer specializing in education and parenting.

     
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    Changing School Culture Through Literacy and Literature

    By Shawna Erps
     | Aug 17, 2016

    LT341_Key1The Carlton Innovation School in Salem, MA, has been on quite a journey. For many years, we were an under-performing school. This year, however, we were recognized with the Massachusetts Reading Association’s Exemplary Reading Program Award and were designated a Level One school by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

    Our journey hasn’t been an easy one, but it is one rooted in our desire to help students become readers and writers who think deeply, love books, and have high expectations for themselves.

    A culture of reading

    One of the first things people notice when they enter our school is that we have books everywhere. There are book racks tucked into hallway corners, art books outside of the art room, and new favorites outside of the library.

    We also have three large bookcarts on each floor in the hallway. They are stocked with leveled texts in a range of genres and interests. Students can stop by as often as needed to pick “just right” books to read during independent reading time each day and at home each night. The carts guarantee that our students have books of their choosing in their homes.

    Kiara Eveleth, a fifth-grade student at Carlton, feels the books in the carts are a major contributing factor to her love of reading. “I think it’s great that we choose our own books,” she says. “It gives us choices about what we read instead of everyone reading the same book. I get to have a book that I’m really into that makes me want to read more and more.”

    Students can often be heard at the carts talking about books and suggesting titles to peers. Teachers also stop and talk with students about their choices and make recommendations. The culture extends beyond students and teachers as well, as parent volunteers work in the library most mornings to help students make their selections.

    A yearlong celebration

    Our students and staff work hard every day, but we also celebrate reading in fun ways throughout the year. Every winter, for example, we have a reading Snowball Slam. Students earn paper snowballs by reading and recording books on logs, and then they “slam” their snowballs on classroom doors in a schoolwide competition to have the most snowballs. We announce weekly totals for how much each class is reading and which class is leading the slam. This past winter, our students read more than 39,000 books or chapters.

    One unique event is our annual Vocabulary Parade, used as a kickoff to winter break. Students and staff dress up to illustrate vocabulary words in interesting ways (think a roving cardboard rowboat full of sailors for the word nautical) and we walk the runway to themed music while the audience attempts to guess our words.

    Even our monthly assemblies are rich with literacy. Our principal reads a book that is projected on a large screen to the entire school. Students stop and talk with partners at various points. Sometimes, they discuss the author’s craft or what they think the theme is, or they debate various sides of an argument.

    At Carlton, we even reward students with language. If students are noticed exhibiting one of our school values, they wear a sticker prompting others to ask them how they earned it. All day, teachers and staff engage with that student and talk about how they exhibited the core value.

    How we got here

    Everything we do fosters language and literacy development. Our teachers work hard throughout the day to ensure students have opportunities to read, write, speak, and listen every 20 minutes.
      
    Our school has turned around in student achievement and culture over the past five years. One major change was that we began using a balanced literacy approach within a diagnostic teaching model. We determine what each student needs to grow as a reader and a writer through formal and informal ongoing assessment, and then we design small group instruction to move students, ensuring everyone is making progress.

    We use the workshop model to structure the different kinds of instruction our students need each day. Classrooms have at least 2 hours and 15 minutes of literacy workshop every day. We use the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for our focus lessons in both reading and writing workshop and explicitly tie the required standards to these lessons. The workshop involves a brief focus lesson, guided practice, and independent practice with conferring, strategy groups, and guided reading instruction, and ends with a group share.

    This structure allows teachers to strategically plan whole-class focus lessons that are based on the standards with guidance from the Lucy Calkins Units of Study, while providing diagnostic instruction on students’ development as readers with increasingly complex texts to foster deep thinking and comprehension.

    I would love to say that what we do is easy, but we know that teaching students to read in balanced, authentic, and meaningful ways is not an easy task. At various points along this journey, easier alternatives were suggested. Each time, however, we took the hard road because, in the words of our principal, Jean-Marie Kahn, the students in front of us are “inconveniently human.” They do not fit into one-size-fits-all programs—nor should they.

    They come to us unique with different backgrounds and experiences. Meeting them where they are and taking the hard road to promise that they leave us better than they came to us—with self-confidence, a love for reading, and a desire to work hard that will stay with them long after they pass through our book-filled halls—is our job.

    Shawna Erps, an ILA member since 2015, is a literacy coach in Salem, MA. Her background is in early childhood education and literacy. She played an integral role in the turnaround initiative at the Carlton Innovation School.

     
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