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    How Our Teaching Can, and Must, Honor Our Students' Rights to Read

    By Jennifer Serravallo
     | Oct 17, 2018
    Honoring Students' Rights to Read

    Upon reading ILA’s Children’s Rights to Read, I got teacher goosebumps. And this is why.

    Children walk into our classrooms with all of themselves. They are the sum total of their experiences and their expectations. We cannot ask them to leave any part of themselves at the door when the bell rings, rather, we must embrace their entirety.

    So, how can we do this as reading teachers?

    We can carve out time every day for them to read (Right no. 1). And not just time, but a high volume of uninterrupted time (Right no. 7). We can curate a classroom library from which they are free to browse and select titles (Right no. 2).

    We can reveal to them what to watch for in the books they choose so they can deepen their comprehension, better understand the content, and have their own thoughts and interpretations about what they read. Comprehension helps make the reading experience enjoyable and fully realized (Right no. 5).

    As reading teachers, we know how important it is to do more than focus on the book; we have to focus on our readers. We talk to our students, we seek to understand them and their interests, passions, and reading histories. We make sure our classroom and school libraries are not only a mirror of their lives and identities, but also a window into parts of the world they have not yet ventured (Rights no. 3 and no. 4).

    Reading is social and thus we must give students the chance to recommend titles, react to their reading by talking with friends, and talk about how they’re living differently because of the things they have read (Right no. 8).

    And when students talk to us, they should know that we are helping them read any book better, not just the one book they have in their hands in the moment we confer with them (Right no. 6). Speaking of conferring, we must give students our individual time and attention as we guide them toward stronger reading habits and skills.

    And what is the point of reading anyway, unless it’s enjoyable? Reading helps us learn about our world so we can cultivate new thinking and share our ideas and opinions with others (Right no. 9). When we invest in developing our own knowledge around texts and engage as regular readers of children’s literature, we are better able to teach in a way that is generalizable book to book (Right no. 10).

    When our teaching is specific, clear, and transferrable, we can ensure that we are supporting our students’ reading lives well beyond the precious days we work with them in our classrooms. When we honor our students’ reading lives and tailor our instruction to meet them where they are, we are preserving not only their rights to read but also their right to lay claim to the world around them.

    Jennifer Serravallo is a literacy consultant, speaker, and the author of several popular titles including The New York Times bestselling The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers (Heinemann) and The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers (Heinemann). Her latest publication, Understanding Texts & Readers: Responsive Comprehension Instruction with Leveled Texts (Heinemann), connects comprehension goals to text levels and readers responses. Upcoming publications include A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences(early 2019) and Complete Comprehension, which is a revised and reimagined whole book assessment and teaching resource based on the award-winning Independent Reading Assessment (due in spring 2019). She was a senior staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and taught in Title I schools in New York City. Tweet her @jserravallo.

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    ILA Advocates for Student-Centered Model of Data Collection and Interpretation

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Oct 16, 2018
    Beyond the Numbers

    Rather than being shaped by accountability policies and requirements, student learning goals and needs should be the driving force behind what data are collected and how they are used.

    When centered on students’ unique needs, data can serve as a portrait, a highlighter, and a springboard to enhance student learning and inform instructional decision making, according to ILA’s latest brief, Beyond the Numbers: Using Data for Instructional Decision Making.

    Educators should view students as key sources of their own learning data, asserts ILA.

    “We’re moving away from the idea that data equal obligatory test scores and percentages,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “The most powerful sources of data are the unique experiences students have in the classroom.”

    Snapshot data, such as test scores, are often used incorrectly to categorize or label students by their abilities, according to ILA. Data should include a wide range of information, such as formative assessments, student engagement observations, student oral responses, and knowledge of students’ backgrounds, to provide a fuller portrait of students’ strengths and needed areas of support.

    Examining discrepancies and patterns across multiple forms of data can illuminate equity concerns and allow for a more truthful picture of student learning. When analysis leads to uncertainty about next steps or solutions, data act as a springboard, prompting further inquiry and investigation.

    The brief concludes with five actionable steps for using data to support instructional improvements.

    Access the full brief here.

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

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    ILA's New Brief Unpacks the 2017 NAEP Reading Results

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Aug 24, 2018

    August LLBIn a new brief, the International Literacy Association (ILA) unpacks the 2017 reading scores released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) earlier this year.

    Commonly referred to as “the nation’s report card,” NAEP results provide a reliably accurate barometer of national academic achievement over time. Results from the 2017 reading assessment show that fourth and eighth graders in the United States have made little to no gains since 2015, continuing the trend of flat achievement in this area. The brief reviews the various suggestions for addressing this problem put forward at the release of the 2017 NAEP results and discusses systemic approaches to improving reading comprehension.

    The brief emphasizes the significance of district and school leadership, funding, community engagement and formative assessment in improving student outcomes in reading. Topping the to-do list are teacher buy-in and a focus on internal communication and organizational structures.

    “Too many schools are buckling under the weight of top-down, underfunded, and poorly communicated initiatives that don’t translate into day-to-day changes,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “We need to see stronger infrastructures for implementation that support collaboration within and across schools and districts.”

    Other recommendations include developing a “staircase curriculum” that builds year to year and cultivating a shared vision of the “excellent reader.”

    Access the full brief here.

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    Reading Education Internationally

    By William H. Teale
     | Aug 23, 2018
    Reading Education InternationallyThe following was written by William H. Teale, a past president of the International Literacy Association, to provide an international perspective on reading education for the Japan Reading Association (JRA). It will be included in a commemorative book later this year produced by JRA to mark their 60th anniversary.


    It is reprinted here with JRA’s permission. Teale passed away unexpectedly in February 2018 shortly after completing it. It is the last piece he authored.

    2018 marks my 49th year as a reading teacher. I have experienced many developments in reading education in my home country of the United States during that time, and I have observed many other developments as a result of my opportunities to participate in conferences and work with ministries of education and literacy scholars in 25 other countries around the world, including every continent except for Antarctica. This range of experiences I have been fortunate to have was no doubt influenced by my involvement not only in reading education but also in the fields of library and information science, children’s and young adult literature, and adult education. It was also the result of my involvement as an academic and teacher in the field as well as an officer of the International Literacy Association (board member, vice president, president, past president) over a period of six years and an editor and editorial board member of numerous literacy journals in the field.

    I list this range of experiences so that you might better contextualize my remarks that follow, remarks intended to provide one international perspective on reading instruction. In doing so, I have not attempted to cover the past 60 years of reading education history which the Japan Reading Association is commemorating, but I do provide some historical context for what I see as major issues confronting us as reading educators who help build our societies by supporting our students in reading and writing so that they might participate as fully as possible as citizens of their countries and of the world.

    Thinking both in contemporary terms and historically, I believe it is fruitful to consider that some issues related to reading education are similar across international contexts while others are quite different. In addition, some issues that are important today have been on the minds of reading educators for decades, while other have emerged over the years as a result of social, technological, or political developments.

    Reading engagement (motivation to read)

    I begin with the topic of reading engagement because it serves as the foundation of reading instruction—at all levels of schooling and in every country in the world. If we are to have any hope at all of succeeding in literacy education, we must get this piece right. It has been well documented for many years that students who spend more time reading achieve better in reading (Anderson, et al., 1988). Why is it that some students read more? Because they are engaged by reading; they get satisfaction from it and find the time that they spend reading to be rewarding.

    Many people may think of this issue of engagement as “soft science” or touchy-feely. But you may be familiar with PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, the quantitatively rigorous international assessment that measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science achievement in 64 countries in the world (OECD, 2016). What PISA found about reading engagement is that students who enjoyed reading the most performed significantly better in achievement than students who enjoyed reading the least. This is strong evidence that backs up what all good teachers have seen time and time again in their classrooms: If we pay attention to instilling in students the love of reading, the task of teaching students how to read is made so much easier.

    The importance of quality literature

    This discussion of reading engagement brings us face to face with the issue of what students are assigned to read for school and what they read on their own. To promote reading engagement, we should be helping our students interact with quality literature—from preschool through high school. That means employing quality literature in the lessons we teach, making sure our school and classroom libraries are stocked with quality literature, recommending quality literature for students’ out-of-school reading, making homework assignments that involve quality literature, and providing parents with recommendations of quality literature that they can obtain for their children.

    Think of this as a dietary issue. Children and teenagers grow up healthy when they have a balanced diet of a variety of nutritious foods that supply needed vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Thoughtful minds are fed with a balanced diet of quality literature which includes stories, informational books, and other genres like concept books and poetry; print, digital, and audio books; books about people like them and situations that are familiar as well as books about people from other countries around the world who face a range of life circumstances different from their own; books with spectacular writing; and books with outstanding illustrations or photographs. In one essay I wrote, I went so far as to argue that without a literacy curriculum that includes high-quality literature, it is essentially impossible for students to become fully literate (see the May/June 2017 issue of the International Literacy Association’s publication Literacy Today).

    And though the books themselves may differ from country to country or perhaps even from region to region or city to city within a country, the need to have quality literature as an integral part of the literacy curriculum and instruction is universal. Quality literature should play an indispensable role in teaching children to read, no matter who the students are, how old they are, or where they come from.

    Effective methods for teaching reading

    We have now discussed two issues crucial to reading education that I have argued apply equally across societies and school systems. But, this issue—effective methods for teaching reading—is something that needs to be considered context by context. In the United States, for example, there has been much discussion over the past two decades about research-based, or evidence-based, methods for reading instruction. National panels have been convened by the U.S. Congress to have scholars review the research literature and determine empirically the most effective methods for teaching beginning reading (National Reading Panel, 2000), early literacy (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008), and English language learners (August & Shanahan, 2006). Each of these efforts resulted in conclusions about how to teach reading. But even these rigorous efforts to answer the question of what works instructionally for teaching reading have been questioned by other scholars who point out the failure of such conclusions to take into consideration findings from rigorous qualitative literacy research or contextual factors that have been shown to impact reading instruction and therefore student reading achievement (e.g., see the 2010, vol. 39, no. 4 issue of Educational Researcher).

    Now, consider the fact that this much dissension has occurred with respect to reading instruction in one language—English—and in one country. Small wonder, then, that when one looks at different languages, different writing systems, and different societal contexts, there can never hope to be consensus on what the most effective method is for teaching reading.

    Much of the research that I conduct focuses on how young children—ages 3 to 6—learn to read and write and can effectively be taught to read and write in an alphabetic language, English. With respect to reading, the most difficult (and therefore the most researched) phase of that process is beginning reading, the time when children learn to “crack the alphabetic code” and understand how the sounds of language relate to the letters and letter combinations of the English alphabet. I’ve even written a chapter for teachers on the complexities of these relationships (see chapter 2 of McKay & Teale, 2015). But I distinctly remember the first time I spoke with a group of Japanese teachers and parents about that work. They were surprised that this was an issue of concern in the United States. To them, that early phase of learning to read was easy. In their experience, even 4-year-olds and most 5-year-olds could figure out how to “decode” the words in simple picture books. But, of course, they were coming from the perspective of a culture with a very different orthography. Hiragana makes it much easier for young children to “crack the code” because it is based on the syllable, not on the much more—for young children—abstract phoneme, as many alphabetic orthographies are. The harder part of learning to read in Japanese comes with Kanji, which occurs much later developmentally for students in Japan than for students in the U.S.

    This is but one example illustrating the fact that, for reading educators, the issue of effective methods for teaching reading will always be inextricably tied to the national and local contexts in which the teaching is taking place. There is not, nor will there ever be, one right way of, or a most effective way of, or one best program for teaching reading and writing. Effective literacy instruction depends upon the wisdom of teachers applying what research indicates is effective and what their local classroom context dictates is needed to reach the children they see in front of them every day.

    Family involvement/community involvement

    The research is clear, consistent, and convincing: When schools succeed in working cooperatively with families, children experience academic and social benefits (Hill, et al., 2004: Jeynes, 2010). And these benefits include enhanced language and literacy for children. The strongest school–family partnerships work both ways. On the one hand, schools communicate with parents about their children’s literacy activities in school and about their progress in literacy. It is also important for the school to engage parents in discussions of how parents can support their children’s literacy learning at home. In the other direction, parents are welcomed into the school for the funds of knowledge and insights that they can bring. This may be special skills a parent has or knowledge about the community that would contribute to studies the children are engaged in or volunteer help in the school or classroom.

    But it is also clear that in different societies there are vastly different relations between parents and the schools their children attend. In the United States, most elementary schools are not very successful at working collaboratively with the parents of the children who attend their school or with the larger community in which the school is located. And, the higher up the grade levels one goes, the less parental involvement one finds. Compare this to the types of relations between the school and parents in Japan. This is an important conversation for the school to have: What are the most productive ways that we can engage our families and community? And such a conversation is most successful when both the teachers and the school leaders take part together.

    Digital literacies

    Computers have been used for instruction in schools for several decades now, but it is only within the past 10 years that digital technologies have profoundly affected reading and reading instruction. What has made the difference is the proliferation of multimedia texts—texts that contain not only print or print and illustration, but also sound and moving images. And our students not only “consume” these texts; they also produce them because of the widespread availability of multimedia authoring tools. I believe it is fair to say that these developments in digital technologies have literally redefined literacy itself and what it means to be literate (NCTE, 2013), significantly changing the way students read, write, and access information.
    Furthermore, I also believe that—ultimately—digital technologies will change human thinking. This change will happen in the way that the invention of writing changed human thinking. Before humans had writing, memory was a much more central—and needed—cognitive process. But with writing we had a system that enabled us to store ideas in a permanent way that accurately represented the message of the writer. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the changes in human thinking engendered by the invention of this tool—writing—took place over generations. And so it will be with digital literacy tools; we are only now at the very beginnings of their impact on literacy and on human thinking.

    A useful distinction can be drawn between digital skills and digital literacies (see http://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2016/02/03/knowing-the-difference-between-digital-skills-and-digital-literacies-and-teaching-both). Digital skills focus on how to use technological tools, whereas digital literacies are about the why, when, who, and for whom of such tools. What our students most need today is competencies related to digital literacies: to be able to critically assess digital texts (e.g., does that website contain credible information or is it biased and not factual?) and to compose digital texts that take into consideration the words, images, and sounds that will most effectively communicate with the audience they are addressing.

    The impact of digital literacies on school reading instruction first took hold with older students and has gradually affected younger and younger grade levels. Now even preschool and kindergarten children are involved regularly in digital literacies because the biggest game changer of all for younger children—the tablet and its touchscreen technology—has enabled them to participate in ways that keyboard access never did. There is much being debated about “screen time” for young children (Council on Communications and Media, 2016), but the reality is that children today are growing up in their home and school environments interacting with digital technologies on a regular basis.

    What this means is that teachers must now respond to the need to ensure that attention to digital literacies is embedded in all levels of literacy education and all curriculum subjects from preschool through high school. And, with respect to this topic, we need to think deeply about the different kinds of reading and writing that students do. When students need to read something deeply, many prefer to read print rather then something on screen. But, digital devices seem to be preferred for “quick” reading—news stories, social networking, looking up a piece of information. But, some texts are only available digitally. And more “buts” can be added as we think through the realities and educational implications of students’ literacy activities, considering also their reading and writing preferences. In the end, though, digital literacies is one of the most important instructional issues related to literacy, as well as being regarded by teachers as a “hot” topic (see results from the International Literacy Association’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report).

    Conclusion

    I believe that the preceding five issues—reading engagement, quality literature, effective methods for teaching reading, family and community engagement, and digital literacies—are currently of universal importance to literacy educators and literacy scholars the world over. But they are also local issues in that the literacy educators of Japan need to address them in conjunction with their own contexts, which will inevitably be different from those in Poland, Argentina, Finland, or the United States. Moreover, the contexts within Japan—Urasa, Osaka, Takayama, Sapporo, Tokyo, and so forth—need to be taken into account in thinking about these topics of literacy education. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to literacy education that will serve our students well. High-quality literacy education that helps students be contributing citizens is today, as it has been for the past 60 years and many more, teaching the children we have in our classrooms, rather than any literacy curriculum.

    References

    Anderson, R.C., Wilson, P.T., & Fielding, L.G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23,285–303.
    August, D., & Shanahan, T. (2006). Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    Council on Communications and Media. (2016). Media and young minds. Pediatrics, 138(5), 1–6.
    Hill, N., et al. (2004). Parent academic involvement as related to school behavior, achievement, and aspirations: Demographic variations across adolescence. Child Development, 75(5), 1491–1509.
    Jeynes, W. (2010). Parental involvement and academic success. New York: Routledge. 
    McKay, R. & Teale, W. H. (2015). Not this but that: No more teaching a letter a week. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing Company.
    National Council of Teachers of English. (2013). The NCTE definition of 21st century literacies. Available from http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/21stcentdefinition.
    National Early Literacy Panel (2008). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
    National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the national reading panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: NICHD & NIH.
    OECD. (2016). PISA 2015 results (Vol. 1: Excellence and equity in education. Paris: OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10/1787/9789264266490-en 

    William H. Teale, a past president of the International Literacy Association, was a professor of education, a university scholar, and the director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Literacy (CFL). His contributions to the field were immeasurable. Read two of ILA’s tributes to Teale here and here.

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    ILA's Latest Brief Defines Contexts of Learning in a Digital Age

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 31, 2018
    July LLB

    Instead of relying on the latest device or app, administrators should leverage the expertise of teachers to sustain classrooms that reflect the contexts of learning encountered in the real world, according to ILA's latest brief, Improving Digital Practices for Literacy, Learning, and Justice: More Than Just Tools.

    In our increasingly technology-driven and globalized world, literacy instruction should prepare students to “produce, communicate, interpret and socialize with peers, adults and the broader world.” These skills require a mastery of written and spoken language as well as a familiarity with literary devices and rhetorical structures and must translate across digital and analog worlds.

    “Intentionally building time for these online and offline literacy practices allows students to see themselves as agents of change across settings,” says the brief.

    The brief discusses the importance of designing digital instruction that mirrors the kinds of work environments students will eventually encounter in their personal and professional worlds. This means a shift away from rote instructional practices, rooted in individual tools, and toward digital resources that inspire students to “make, play, design, hack and innovate.”  

    The brief also explores technology’s potential role in perpetuating power structures and widening achievement gaps. When students do not have access to digital tools and resources, they are denied valuable forms of production and amplification that help spotlight areas of necessary advocacy.

    “When school administrators take away students’ phones or tell them to put them away during class time, they are teaching implicit lessons about the kind of work environments these students are expected to enter. In this light, digital literacies are a matter of social justice.”

    Instead of trying to disrupt inequality with “expensive devices,” the brief suggests that administrators invest in teacher knowledge of the contexts of literacy learning. This approach empowers students to participate in authentic learning activities that prepare them for real-world demands.

    The brief closes with a list of limitations to what digital resources can do (i.e., act as a cure-all for legacies of inequity) and a set of next steps.

    Access the full brief here.

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

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