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    ILA's Latest Brief Helps Educators Explain Phonics Instruction to Families

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Feb 20, 2018

    Explaining Phonics InstructionDespite ongoing debates over how to teach reading, research has proven that phonics instruction is an essential element of a comprehensive literacy program, according to ILA’s latest brief, Explaining Phonics Instruction: An Educator’s Guide. Phonics helps students to learn the written correspondences between letters, patterns of letters and sounds, leading to word knowledge.

    “Because phonics is often students’ first experience with formal literacy instruction,” states the brief, “families might be anxious about their children’s learning.” Educators can assuage these concerns by answering families’ questions and by providing effective at-home learning activities.

    The brief shares research-based insights to explain the what, the when and the how of phonics instruction to noneducators, providing guidance on phonics for emerging readers, phonological awareness, the layers of writing, word study instruction, approaches to teaching phonics and teaching English learners.

    Key takeaways include:

    • Students should have acquired phonological awareness, concepts of print, concepts of word of text and alphabetic principles before beginning to learn phonics.
    • Most phonics programs incorporate both analytic and synthetic activities.
    • Word study is an approach to teach the alphabetic layer (basic letter–sound correspondences) and pattern layer (consonant–vowel patterns) of the writing system by including spelling instruction that is differentiated by students’ development.
    • Phonics instruction depends on the characteristics of a specific language; students who learn to read in multiple languages apply phonics that fit the respective letter–sound, pattern and meaning layers.
    • Emergent bilingual readers and writers use their knowledge of one language to learn other languages.

    To read more, visit the brief here

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

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    A Pathway to Equity: Resources for Administrators

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Feb 01, 2018

    administratorsMore than ever, administrators who are passionate, knowledgeable, and advocates for literacy are needed in our schools and districts. According to ILA’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report, more than 81% of literacy/instructional coaches and 76% of reading/literacy specialists said the topic of Administrators as Literacy Leaders is extremely or very important to them. Results show a desire for more preparation and knowledge for wider support and involvement across communities.

    Principals and administrators provide direction and guidance in communities worldwide, setting both the standards to which teachers aspire and the goals for students to meet. They influence curriculum and instruction, hiring and training practices, resource allocations, discipline policies, and more—elements of school culture that promote literacy and educational equity. Without their support, even the most competent and ambitious educators will find it difficult—if not impossible—to bring about meaningful change.

    ILA West 2018 attendees will participate in focused, hands-on, workshop-style sessions to address issues of equity in education and discuss how to bridge the opportunity gap for historically underserved students. As we count down to the event, administrators can gear up with the free online resources below:

    • Last April, ILA conducted an #ILAchat on “Literacy Begins With Leadership.” Hosted by superintendents Glenn Robbins and Randy Ziegenfus, participants discussed the value of administrators as literacy leaders in communities and schools. The conversation is archived on Storify.
    • The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development compiled a list of articles, webinars, and other online learning resources that school leaders can use to promote a positive school climate and school culture.
    • Launched by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the Digital Equity Action Toolkit for district leaders aims to help district leaders develop thoughtful and measured strategies to narrow the digital divide in their communities.
    • Building and Sustaining Talent: Creating Conditions in High-Poverty Schools That Support Effective Teaching and Learning, a report published by the Education Trust, describes the urgency of making low-income, low-performing schools attractive workplaces, and how some schools and districts are doing it.
    • Responding to Hate and Bias at School and Speak Up at School, two free booklets published by Teaching Tolerance, provide direction for administrators and educators trying to build an inclusive, affirming school climate.
    • Closing the Gap: Creating Equity in the Classroom, a report by Hanover Research, provides strategies, resources, and tools to help district leaders craft schoolwide reform efforts that address academic expectations, access to learning opportunities, high-quality instruction, resource allocation, and accountability to achieve educational equity.
    • Chris Lehman, Founding Director of The Educator Collaborative, wrote an article for Edutopia on “How Leaders Can Improve Their Schools’ Cultural Competence.”
    • Last December, ILA and the National Association of Secondary School Principals cosponsored a briefing titled “Improving Student Literacy: Leadership Needed at Every Level” in Washington, DC. The briefing brought together a group of literacy leaders, policymakers, advocates, and educators who spoke to Congressional staffers from key Senate and House education committees about the critical importance of effective leadership at all levels. A recap of the event is available here.

    Themed “Literacy: A Pathway to Equity,” the inaugural ILA West 2018 will take place March 16–17 in San Diego, CAWithin the strand for administrators, participants will hear from students, teachers, principals, and district leaders about what is most important when leading literacy in schools and communities. Breakout sessions will focus on learning, sharing, and discussing key concepts around equity and student language support when reviewing your literacy program, including pedagogy and materials. Learn more and register here.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    A Pathway to Equity: Resources for Teachers and Coaches

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jan 18, 2018

    ILA WestOne of the major takeaways from ILA’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report is that equity in literacy education is a critical global issue, which we will be tackling at ILA West 2018 in March. As we examine inequity across the United States and around the world, we see that variables such as socioeconomic status, culture, geography, and disability all affect students’ access to quality literacy development. Survey respondents, mostly classroom teachers, expressed frustration that they do not have the supports needed to overcome these disparities and to level the playing field.

    Luckily, sites such as Teaching Tolerance, Edutopia, and Teaching for Change are treasure troves of free resources for advancing equity in the classroom. Below is a list of some of the most helpful tools we’ve encountered.

    1. The International Literacy Association’s last #ILAchat of 2017, produced jointly with Teaching Tolerance, focused on equity and the inclusive classroom. Participating educators discussed why and how educators can analyze their curriculum, their classrooms, and themselves to reduce bias practices and build inclusive learning spaces. The powerful conversation is archived on Storify
    2. Teaching Tolerance’s piece, “Two Heads Are Better Than One,” discusses how mentors and coaches are uniquely positioned to serve as antibias allies.
    3. Brown University’s website, Teaching Diverse Learners, shares publications, educational materials, and research that promotes high achievement for English language learners.
    4. Teaching for Change equips teachers and parents with the tools to transform schools into “centers of justice.”
    5. Elena Aguilar, author of The Art of Coaching, published a five-part series on How to Coach for Equity in Schools via Education Week.
    6. Teaching Tolerance’s compilation of classroom resources for antibias education includes teaching strategies, lesson plans, perspective texts, student tasks, and more.  
    7. TeacherVision’s “Strategies for Teaching Culturally Diverse Students” provides guidelines for considering students' cultures and language skills when developing learning objectives and instructional activities, monitoring academic progress, and more to help improve outcomes for a culturally diverse student body.
    8. Edutopia houses a wealth of educational equity-related content for closing achievement gaps.

    Themed “Literacy: A Pathway to Equity,” the inaugural ILA West 2018 will take place March 16–17 in San Diego, CA. In the strand for teachers and coaches, participants will explore close reading, visible learning for literacy, quality instruction for English learners, vocabulary instruction, and many more topics that can ensure that all students, even our most vulnerable, become literate. Learn more and register here.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Education Talk Radio Unpacks ILA’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jan 11, 2018

    whats-hot-2018-infographicYesterday ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post and Vice President of the Board Bernadette Dwyer joined Education Talk Radio host Larry Jacobs on air to discuss some of the major takeaways from ILA’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report.

    Released Monday, the report provides a snapshot of what 2,097 literacy professionals, representing 91 countries and territories, are “talking about, thinking about, and worrying about.”

    While the topics and responses change each year, one conclusion remains: the conversations happening in the teacher’s lounge, on Facebook, and yes—even around the policymaking table—are not necessarily the ones that matter most.

    “We take a look at what’s hot and at what’s important,” said Post. “One of the most fascinating elements of the report is that those things don’t always match up.”

    Promoting teacher professionalism

    “When I read the [What’s Hot in Literacy Report] I thought of the McKinsey report back in 2007, which looked at the best performing schools, and asked, what were they doing?," said Dwyer. “One of the quotes in that report was ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teacher.’ I think that’s crucially important.”

    85% of this year’s respondents agree with Dwyer. Teacher Preparation—ranking No. 12 among hot topics but No. 3 among important ones—represents the largest gap in the report. 

    Dwyer attributes this gap to differences in cultural values and attitudes around the profession of teaching. Nations where the profession of teaching has a positive image, such as Dwyer’s home country of Ireland, tend to rank higher on The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). She said Irela attract teachers from the top 10% of graduating classes.

    “We attract really highly intelligent, highly creative students into the course [The Institute of Education],” she said. “It’s a four-year course, and across the course there’s a focus on literacy.”

    Post said that the countries that have made the greatest leaps in the PIRLS have all made deliberate policy choices to make high-quality teachers the foundation for their education systems. To attract, recruit, and retain high-quality teachers, she said, we need to give them the respect and recognition they deserve—these values translate into better funding, more government support, and ultimately, more robust professional learning,

    “Where that shift has taken place in nations—where leaders in the country have embraced the notion that we are going to ensure that our teachers are well paid, are highly valued as a profession, and we’re going to put money into the preparation and the leadership in schools—those are the nations that have made the leap in their performance on PIRLS," said Post.

    Retiring English Language Learners and welcoming Mother Tongue Literacy

    Jacobs noted that English language learners was no longer in this year’s report. In its place, Mother Tongue Literacy emerged from the survey as an area in need of greater attention overall, but particularly in the United States. The topic is among those with the greatest gaps, but U.S. survey takers rate it 23% extremely or very hot (compared with 41%) and 62% extremely or very important (compared with 71%).

    Post said ILA made this change to reflect the global nature of the issue captures the challenges that teachers face in a diverse classroom. Mother Tongue Literacy encapsulates all second language learning as well a related issue of growing importance—the preservation of students’ indigenous and native languages.

    “There are so many tensions around this issue worldwide,” said Post. “There’s rarely a developing country that I go to where this isn’t an issue.”

    What is digital literacy?

    “What is a digital literacy skill?” asked Jacobs. “When we say that phrase, what do we mean?”

    Even Dwyer, 2017 recipient of the ILA TILE-SIG Technology in Reading Research Award, doesn’t have a concrete answer to his questions. Dwyer said there’s no clear definition to account for the depth and breadth of issues within digital literacy—which rose to the No. 1 hottest topic in literacy, but fell to No. 13 in terms of importance.  

    Post believes that many respondents conflate digital literacy with media literacy—a key concern in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

    “Digital literacy and media literacy are two different things, in many ways,” said Post. “I think that a lot of the respondents were talking about the use of digital tools and the literacies of learning.”

    Whether this is true, Post touches on another important observation— that lack of agreement on what digital literacy comprises is impeding the development of adequate policies and programs.  

    “We need to have more explicit discussions about what those skills are and how teachers can support them in the classroom,” said Post.

    Compounding the need for a shared definition, Dwyer believes this gap highlights an important disconnect between access and skills—just because young people are steeped in technology, doesn’t mean they know how to use it meaningfully.

    “Our young people are growing up in a digital world, but that does not mean they have the skills or the strategies or the dispositions to engage on the internet, or to use technology for literacy and learning," she said.

    If you build a good foundation, you build a good house

    Retaining its spot as the No. 1 most important topic in literacy instruction, Post said she will be surprised if Early Literacy ever comes off the list.

    “We’re continuously looking at new generations of parents who need and want that information about how to support their child’s literacy," she said.

    As research continues to underline the connection between early reading ability and lifelong success, policymakers and community leaders are becoming more aware of the importance of early literacy. Looking ahead, Post expects to see more financial and regulatory support for early literacy programs.

    In Ireland, said Dwyer, the early childhood curriculum framework is called Aistear—the Irish word for “journey.” One of the four major themes of Aistear, Identity and Belonging, promotes effective partnerships between parents, practitioners, and the community.

    “I think of it as a stool with three legs—you’ve got the parents, the nurturing adults, you’ve got the school, and you’ve got the community,” said Dwyer. “It’s really important to get the three working in tandem.”

    What’s ahead for ILA

    When asked how ILA will use the report’s findings, Post said the organization will plan future activities, materials, and research around these insights.

    For starters, the inaugural ILA West 2018, with the theme “Literacy: A Pathway to Equity,” the ILA 2018 Conference, Standards 2017, and Literacy Research Panel’s upcoming briefs, will explore some of these critical areas, such as teacher preparation, administrators as literacy leaders, and equity in education. ILA will also use its communications platforms, including its member magazine (Literacy Today), blog (Literacy Daily), and social media accounts, to shine a light on these topics and to spark overdue conversations.

    Download the full ILA 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report here.

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Another Literacy Lawsuit: Is the Right to Read Constitutionally Guaranteed?

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Dec 15, 2017
    ThinkstockPhotos-499580999_x300Last week, a group of students, parents, and advocacy organizations (CADRE and Fathers & Families of San Joaquin) filed a class action lawsuit against California, alleging that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a basic education for every student.

    Represented by Public Counsel, an advocacy law firm, the plaintiffs are current and former students and teachers at La Salle Avenue Elementary School, Van Buren Elementary School, and the charter school Children of Promise Preparatory Academy—three of the lowest performing schools in the United States.

    The lawsuit points a finger at the state’s own recommendations to improve literacy, outlined in a 2012 report commissioned by the state superintendent and state board of education president.  According to the civil action, the state has not adopted or implemented an adequate plan based on those suggestions, and therefore failed to intervene on behalf of low-performing students.

    Public Counsel filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of students in Detroit schools last year. As Education Week noted, the proximity of these cases raises an overdue and important argument about the relationship of literacy to citizenship: “Is it possible to be a participating member of society without the ability to read and write?”

    Life, literacy, and the pursuit of happiness

    If you asked Paul Boyd-Batstone, professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education at California State University, Long Beach, he would answer with an emphatic “no.” He believes literacy is the common thread binding all curricular areas—when that thread starts to unravel, it disrupts all other learning.

    “I don’t know if you can have a quality education without quality literacy instruction,” said Boyd-Batstone. “Maybe legally you can make that distinction, but I don’t think practically, in a school setting.”

    According to Stanford University researchers’ ranking, 11 of the nation’s 26 lowest performing schools are in California. In 2016–2017, the schoolwide proficiency rates in reading at La Salle Avenue, Van Buren, and Children of Promise, respectively, were 4%, 6%, and 11%.

    “When I saw those numbers, my first question was, What are the libraries like at those schools?” said Boyd-Batstone.

    Diane Lapp, distinguished professor of education in the Department of Teacher Education at San Diego State University and chair of ILA’s Literacy Research Panel, feels that the literacy crisis undermines another unalienable right—the pursuit of happiness.

    “To be happy, one has to have a productive life. Reading is a part of that. You need to be able to interpret information and analyze sources to make informed decisions and be an active citizen,” she said. “If you can’t communicate through language, whether it’s output or input, I don’t believe you’re going to have a very happy life.”

    Prioritizing parent engagement

    The plaintiffs are asking the state to meet its constitutional obligations by ensuring that all schools deliver proven literacy screening, instruction, intervention and assessment; provide adequate support and resources for teachers; and implement stronger accountability measures.

    Boyd-Batstone said the demands put forth by the lawsuit are “well researched and address the needs of all children.” He advocates for a systematic approach that holds all parties responsible—national and state education agencies, administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and the students themselves.

    Both Lapp and Boyd-Batstone underlined the critical importance of early intervention, at home and in the classroom.

    “A few years ago, a colleague and I did a study in which we asked parents about their role in early literacy. They all said they didn’t know enough about early literacy and that they waited on the school to do it,” said Lapp. “If you wait until the child is five years old, you’re already five years behind.”

    Boyd-Batstone recalled one of the most effective examples of parent involvement he’s seen in his more than 30 years as an educator. A principal in an urban, low-income public school in California hired a literacy coach to manage a parent drop-in center, where he taught parents, literate and illiterate, how to engage in meaningful literacy activities with their children.

    “It became a community resource,” he said. “I love the idea of breaking down the walls between the community and school.”

    Our children, not “their children”

    Although Boyd-Batstone is supportive of the civil action, he said its success rests heavily on public dialogue, awareness, and concern. Literacy is everyone’s problem, as it can be connected to almost every socioeconomic issue.

    “I think there’s a tremendous need to shift the discussion away from helping those children to helping all of our children—English learners, students with special needs, underserved populations,” he said. “The better we can serve all children, the better California will be.”

    For more information on the lawsuit, visit literacycalifornia.com


    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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