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  • IRA's work with teacher training in Sierra Leone continues despite the Ebola crisis.

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    Bringing Diagnostic Teaching to Sierra Leone

    by Nancy Allen and Peter McDermott
     | Oct 16, 2014

    Editor’s Note: This story was originally printed in Reading Today magazine. Currently,  Sierra Leone is highly impacted by the Ebola crisis and schools are closed throughout the country and to compensate, students are learning some subjects at home via radio. As of this online publication, the Koinadugu region is Ebola-free and teacher training continues. IRA sends our sympathies for Ebola losses and our hopes the region will soon eradicate the disease.

    As rain thunders from the sky on the tin roof and the generator rumbles, 30 Master Teachers from villages across the Koinadugu region of Sierra Leone demonstrate best practices in literacy education. Volunteers from the International Reading Association (IRA) look on in celebration. This scene is part of an IRA initiative that was successfully launched in July 2013, through which approximately 640 teachers have been trained in Diagnostic Teaching Methods (DTM). The two-year project is co-sponsored with Catholic Relief Services and funded through the United States Department of Agriculture. The ultimate goal of the project is to improve classroom teaching and children’s learning throughout Sierra Leone.

    What Is the Diagnostic Teaching Methods Model?

    DTM is a K–12 model of instruction that is based on current literacy research and effective classroom
    practices. It is intended for countries where literacy educators have not been exposed to contemporary methods of teaching. A central component of DTM is its emphasis on participatory teaching methods that integrate research about prior knowledge, emerging literacy, vocabulary, comprehension, and the writing process. Teaching strategies such as KWL (what I Know, what I Want to know, what I did Learn), prediction, retelling, story structure, reciprocal teaching, and every-pupil-respond techniques are presented through demonstration lessons. After each demonstration lesson the participants discuss and reflect about how the DTM method might be effectively applied to their own school contexts. The project has been implemented in other African countries, such as Tanzania and Kenya, but this is the first time it has been taught in this West African country.

    Civil War Recovery, 80 Students Per Class

    Sierra Leone is a beautiful country that rests on the Atlantic Ocean and stretches inland to the neighboring countries of Guinea and Liberia. Although it has many natural resources—such as one of
    the finest ports in the world, iron, diamonds, and gold—the country continues to recover from a devastating civil war that created enormous challenges to its infrastructure and schools. The majority
    of its teachers are volunteers who are uncertified by the educational ministry. These volunteers teach in the hope of someday becoming certified. Teachers are typically faced with large classes containing
    as many as 80 children and have limited, or nonexistent, books and supplies. Most schools have no electricity or even plumbing, and certainly no technology. Yet despite these formidable challenges the teachers, both certified and uncertified, are highly motivated and committed to helping all children learn to read and write.

    The purpose of the project is to prepare school leaders in DTM so that they can later prepare other teachers throughout their regions. Two IRA members, Nancy Allen (Qatar University) and Peter McDermott (Pace University) conducted three one-week workshops spread across the academic year. Participants who complete all three workshops are eligible to be certified as DTM trainers. During the course of the program, they have been training other teachers in their districts in DTM methods and will be expected to continue to do so in the future. There are challenges in sharing DTM’s literacy methods in Sierra Leone. Many of the schools lack sufficient literacy materials such as books, paper, and pencils, and participants must learn to become creative with the few resources they do have. There are language differences to overcome, as the first language of people in Sierra Leone is Kreole, with English as a second language. Often written materials that seem clear in the United States are difficult for teachers in Sierra Leone to understand because of specialized vocabulary used in literacy education (e.g., schema, text structure, etc.).

    Combining Local Tradition With Teaching Methods

    The most exciting and engaging DTM lessons are those that actively involve the participants in discussion and critical thinking about the familiar. For example, to teach story structure, Nancy and Peter asked a volunteer to tell a traditional story. Kai, an experienced teacher, shared a story his father taught him when he was a boy. The story was about a boy who was always lazy and later became a
    poor, lazy man who could not afford a wife or children. Realizing that his life was a mess, he sought the advice of a sorcerer, who told him that he could easily become a rich man. All he had to do was collect a bucket of sweat! The man set out to collect his magic bucket of sweat, which required that he work without stopping. To his surprise, he soon found that he had filled the bucket and had also become rich. He married, had children, and lived happily ever after.

    After listening to Kai’s story, the trainees analyzed it according to its narrative structure and discussed its similarities and differences to other stories they knew. They discussed how story structure could be effectively used when teaching children how to understand, retell, and question other narrative texts. Culturally specific connections such as this were often used to demonstrate how to use the teaching strategies in the DTM Handbook. IRA’s efforts to contribute to literacy education in Sierra Leone are greatly needed and appreciated by all the people with whom Nancy and Peter met. The 21st Century requires skilled readers and writers, and countries such as Sierra Leone will only prosper when their children are literate and well educated. IRA is making important contributions to literacy education in this western African country.

    Nancy Allen, PhD (nancyjaneallen@gmail.com) is a visiting professor at Qatar University and has been an IRA member since 2009.
    Peter McDermott, PhD (pmcdermott@pace.edu) is a professor at Pace University and has been an IRA member since 1986.

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  • As teachers, we are fortunate to see positive change in our classrooms every day. To make a difference in my community, I look to my local council, the Toledo Area Council of the International Reading Association (TACIRA) in Ohio, to volunteer my time. And this year’s council service opportunities really touched my heart.
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    Helping Kids With Cancer: Local Council Makes a Big Impact in Ohio

    by Julie Greenberg
     | Sep 17, 2014

    As teachers, we are fortunate to see positive change in our classrooms every day. To make a difference in my community, I look to my local council, the Toledo Area Council of the International Reading Association (TACIRA) in Ohio, to volunteer my time. And this year’s council service opportunities really touched my heart.

    In 2013–2014, TACIRA collaborated with Cancer Connection of Northwest Ohio (CCNWO). Our work together has made our members aware of several important issues within our community. We have now learned that there are not many resources for children with cancer, there are very few resources for teachers who may have a student with cancer and there are many misconceptions about cancer,
    especially childhood cancer.

    We supported CCNWO by offering resources to assist with teacher education about cancer and share the goals of raising awareness for children with cancer in the Toledo area. We also offered insight into creating a cancer awareness program for schools with resources found on teacher websites, assisted with research to help CCNWO reach educators, and sought out materials from other cancer agencies to help with teacher education about students with cancer. Our members even worked together to reach out to our local chemotherapy patients served by CCNWO. TACIRA opened our September meeting during National Childhood Cancer week to be the first organization to view the CCNWO PowerPoint presentation.

    In September, I met a 7-year-old girl, Zoey, by chance.

    She was at the hospital to give out her rubber band bracelets to patients while visiting and comforting her grandfather who was undergoing chemotherapy. Zoey was asked to leave the cancer hospital due to an emergency at the facility. I got in touch with Zoey’s family to see if she would like to sell her bands
    for the Toledo Council’s Childhood Cancer Awareness project.

    The Zoey Band sale was very successful, and the Council sold out at our first meeting. The money raised was used to purchase the materials for the holiday ornament project to reach out to chemotherapy patients at several clinics and hospitals.

    Hundreds of area students made handmade ornaments and cards with a positive message using readwritethink.org’s interactive tool to create theme poems. We were able to purchase 200 ornaments thanks to Zoey Bands. This Childhood Cancer Awareness project resulted in additional supports from Mercy College of Ohio, who attended our TACIRA meetings and presented to their students about the efforts of our local IRA council and sold Zoey Bands there at the college. CCNWO was awarded funds to support the needs of children with cancer in part due to our work to spread the word. Several members of the medical college and Cancer Connection of NWO are now members of TACIRA.

    The children served by CCNWO were invited to attend our May 2014 Children’s Literacy Day event at the Wildwood Metro Park, a collaboration with Metro Parks of Toledo. More than 600 parents, teachers, and students attended the event to meet award-winning Ohio Author David FitzSimmons (Curious Critters series), and many of our members purchased and donated Curious Critters books for the children attending!

    To further connect literacy with healing, I collaborated with Jean Schoen, founder and director of CCNWO, to develop a children’s book for cancer awareness. Created by CCNWO, Someone I Know Has Cancer helps children who may have loved ones with cancer. We are very proud of all that we were able to do to help CCNWO, and we hope to continue making a difference in our community. For more information about our council, see www.tacira.org. To find your local IRA council, see /councils.

    Julie Greenberg is the TACIRA President, a reading teacher and intervention specialist at Coy Elementary, Oregon City Schools, and has been an IRA member since 2008.

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  • The Illinois Reading Council was recently awarded International Reading Association’s first Distinguished Council Award for its work in community engagement, teacher empowerment, and public awareness.
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    Illinois Reading Council Honored at 2014 Council Leadership Academy

    by IRA Staff
     | Sep 02, 2014

    Longtime IRA member and current president of IRC, Cindy Gerwin, said to receive the award was an honor.

    “Literacy teachers across the state know the Illinois Reading Council (IRC) is an organization empowering teachers, and raising community engagement and public awareness,” Gerwin said. “I am so excited and proud to be part of the incredible leadership team that has accomplished so much in a relatively short time, and of the energy for the direction we are heading as an organization.”

    Professional development is a high priority not only for the state council, but the local councils as well, Gerwin said. While IRC has an annual conference that is always well-attended and highly regarded, the local councils build on the conference’s theme through the year, offering professional development to supplement the state conference offerings or to give local teachers who cannot attend the main gathering as opportunity to participate in continuing education.

    “The council raises awareness and engagement statewide by funding grants for teachers and their learning communities,” Gerwin said. “IRC provides classroom libraries that are culturally diverse through the Obama Library Award and libraries that support rural towns through the Pamela J. Farris Library Award.”

    She said that, again, local councils augment statewide efforts in community engagement.

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  • The IRA and Rotary International SIG hosts a conference symposium and invite applications for the IRA-RI-Pearson Foundation Literacy Awards.
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    Expanding Your Literacy Opportunities through Collaboration

    by Judy Backlund
     | Mar 27, 2014
    Books Freeing Minds Rotary Project
    Books Freeing Minds IRARI Project: IRA Council
    members and Rotarians collect, sort, and fill
    shelves at the local jail.

    Book Mobile Rotary Project
    Book Mobile IRARI Project: IRA Council members,
    Rotarians, and school district members worked
    together to put this Book Mobile on the road
    last summer. Year 2 coming up!

    If your IRA Council/Affiliate is looking for a group to collaborate on educational projects in your school, community, or internationally, then look no further than joining together with a Rotary Club in your area. 

    Working with Rotary

    Rotary International works to provide education, in addition to their other local and international efforts to improve the lives of people around the world. I have been a teacher for 30+ years, an IRA member for about 20 years, and a Rotarian for 8 years. Since connecting these life components together, I feel that I have made a more positive contribution towards “teaching the world to read.”

    One of IRA’s Special Interest Groups is International Reading Association and Rotary International (IRARI). IRARI provides opportunities for IRA Councils and affiliates and Rotary Clubs to share resources, expertise, and a passion for literacy by collaborating on sustainable literacy projects locally and around the world. 

    IRARI Symposium in New Orleans

    We encourage you to attend the IRARI Symposium on May 11 at the IRA 59th Annual Conference in New Orleans to discover some ways your school or group can work with Rotary and how it can benefit your students or individuals locally or around the world. The symposium title is Expand Your Teachable Moments and Increase Your Volunteer and Financial Support:  Consider an IRA/Rotary (IRARI) Literacy Based Partnership Focused on Changing Lives.

    Highlights for this years’ symposium include:

    • Featured Speaker Pam Allyn, Executive Director of LitWorld
      LitWorld is a nonprofit organization fostering resilience, hope, and joy through the power of story. Their programs build self-confidence, promote leadership, and strengthen children and their communities. Pam will be inspiring us to work together in order to bring literacy to every child by empowering them to read and write, thus changing their world and the worlds of others. 
    • IRARI Project Presentations
      We will also hear briefly from some of the amazing IRARI projects occurring locally and around the world that will hopefully encourage all of us to seek opportunities to work with our local Rotary clubs to further promote literacy.
    • IRA-RI-Pearson Foundation Literacy Awards Discussion
      Lastly, we will be hearing about the IRA-RI-Pearson Foundation Literacy Awards. These three organizations work together to strengthen literacy in local and international communities. The Pearson Foundation will share about two $2,500 Literacy Awards for literacy service projects jointly undertaken by Rotary Clubs and IRA Councils and affiliates. The awards will be presented at IRA’s International Literacy Day celebration in Washington, D.C. on September 8, 2014. 

    Stop by the IRARI Symposium for fellowship, information, prizes, and snacks!

    Apply for the $2,500 Award

    The application deadline for the IRA-RI-Pearson Foundation Literacy Awards is June 15, 2014. For information, IRA members can contact irawash@/, and Rotarians can contact rotary.service@rotary.org. The IRARI webpage on the IRA website contains a short PowerPoint which shares more about the award, and information about the 2012 Literacy Award winners. It also provides more information about IRARI and how you can join.

    Judy Backlund is the Past President of Ellensburg Morning Rotary and the Chair of IRARI, an International Reading Association Special Interest Group, focusing on promoting joint literacy efforts between Rotary Clubs and IRA Councils, backlundju@cwu.edu. 

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  • IRA’s new District Literacy Leadership (DiLL) Special Interest Group invites you to their session at IRA 2014.
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    New SIG Addresses District Literacy Leadership Issues

    by Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell; Estanislado S. Barrera, IV; Bonnie L. Hoewing; Kim Skinner; and Tynisha D. Meidl
     | Mar 17, 2014

    Several years ago, a group of longtime International Reading Association members interested in and concerned about the literacy knowledge and dispositions of school district literacy leaders petitioned the International Reading Association for formal recognition of a new Special Interest Group (SIG). Unified by a common interest centered on the pivotal role of district-level educational administrators—principals, assistant principals, curriculum supervisors and directors, all levels of superintendents, and any individuals who typically make crucial literacy decisions for their districts—these founders used grassroots measures and social media to reach out to literacy colleagues in the effort to establish this new SIG. In March 2013 the originators of the new District Literacy Leadership (DiLL) SIG received validation of the significance of their endeavors with IRA Board of Directors’ approval of this new special interest group. Moving quickly, the founding members of DiLL sent notices to those who might be interested in meeting while in attendance at IRA 2013 in San Antonio. With little advance publicity, charter members and others interested in district literacy leadership convened for the first time in San Antonio, hosting an hour long informational meeting.

    The inaugural meeting on Sunday, April 21, 2013 in San Antonio was all too brief but absolutely inspiring. Thirty-two current IRA members (including an IRA member from Africa) affirmed interest in and exchanged ideas about the notion of reaching out to district literacy leaders, culminating the session by brainstorming about the future direction of the DiLL SIG. Results of the inaugural meeting's discussion included plans to create by-laws, build a website, and successfully submit a proposal for IRA 2014 in New Orleans. During this initial collaboration, several attendees also inquired about the likelihood of future SIG journal sponsorship, and others queried about the creation of an annual award to recognize an outstanding district literacy leader. These serious considerations are ongoing.

    Seeking to Collaborate and Inform

    The purpose of the DiLL SIG is to provide a forum for literacy educators, such as teachers, coaches, and specialists, who interact daily with building principals and district administrators to explore the skills sets and knowledge district level administrators such as principals, assistant principals, curriculum supervisors and directors, and all levels of superintendents, should possess in order to make informed literacy decisions. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell, chair of DiLL, is also a former assistant superintendent of 64 elementary schools in Baton Rouge. Estanislado (Stan) Barrera serves as co-program chair of DiLL and was a former Title I administrator in Texas. 

    Sulentic Dowell articulated the need for a SIG: “Literacy leadership is vital in order for any educational entity to move forward; from a school campus to a district, the decisions district literacy leaders make impact children’s lives and those decisions need to be informed by research and practice.” 

    By providing a space for collaboration, literacy and educational leadership researchers and the public can present perspectives and engage in dialog about district literacy leadership concerns.

    Given the importance and complexity of literacy and language learning, literacy leadership at the school, district, state, national, and international levels requires current literacy knowledge. The DiLL SIG will provide opportunities for individuals to explore the knowledge and skills that literacy leaders should possess, including but not limited to: 

    • literacy content knowledge
    • knowledge of best practices spanning developmental age ranges
    • knowledge of school structures that support literacy 
    • the importance of access to print (literature)
    • knowledge of instructional strategies used by educators, librarians, coaches, and
    • skills required to supervise, lead, and evaluate literacy teaching, coaching and learning 

    An Open Invitation

    Join the effort that established the need for this SIG. Our first formal conference session will be at the 59th IRA Annual Conference in New Orleans, scheduled for Saturday, May 10, 2014, from 3:00-4:00 p.m. At the session, titled District Literacy Leadership (SIG): Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Operationalizing Literacy Expertise at the Elementary Reading Level, a panel of district leaders and literacy experts from Louisiana, Arizona, and Missouri will share experiences as district literacy leaders. Aligned with the conference theme, the teachable moment "happens" in elementary schools when a quality teacher, engaged students, families, communities, and a principal with literacy expertise coalesce. Elementary principals need to be skilled in ways to supervise & evaluate literacy educators, understand the complexity of literacy processes, be mindful of the myriad instructional strategies used by great coaches and educators, and balance the demands of leadership and supervision to promote consistent, high-quality literacy instruction. In this session, panelists will explore the quality of school-level leaders and the practices they engage in, as part of the district literacy leadership continuum. All interested attendees are encouraged to attend. 

    For information on joining the DiLL SIG, contact any of the authors/officers listed below or visit the DiLL webpage

    Margaret-Mary Sulentic DowellMargaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell, Ph.D.,is Associate Professor of Literacy and Urban Education at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, and Director of the LSU Writing Project, sdowell@lsu.edu.

    Estanislado S. BarreraEstanislado S. Barrera, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of reading and literacy at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, esbareraiv@lsu.edu.

    Bonnie L. HoewingBonnie L. Hoewing, Ph.D., is a reading faculty member at the Maricopa Community College District in Phoenix, AZ, hoewing@gatewaycc.edu

    Kim SkinnerKim Skinner, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of reading and literacy at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, kskinner@lsu.edu.

    Tynisha D. MeidlTynisha D. Meidl, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of teacher education at St. Norbert College, DePere, WI, tynisha.meidl@snc.edu.


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