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    Empowering Educators With a Model for How to Moderate Difficult Conversations in the Classroom

    By April Hall
     | Jul 11, 2016

    Cornelius MinorThere are conversations in the classroom that are hard to have. They can be about history; they can be about what is happening in a neighborhood today; they can be about what’s happening around the world.

    The ball often lands at an educator’s feet. How can the conversations start? How can they be worthwhile? How can a conversation change anything?

    Cornelius Minor facilitated an on-the-fly addition to the 2016 ILA Conference and Exhibits program in Boston Sunday simply titled “Impromptu Conversation Led by Cornelius Minor.” The session was meant to engage ILA colleagues about how to talk about recent tragedies around the world—events that have had conference attendees talking, that have had the media enraptured, that have left most people flummoxed about what to do next.

    Minor, a staff developer for Teachers College at Columbia University and a strong advocate for equity in the classroom, did not spend an hour rehashing new stories from the last month, nor did he rail against injustices. Instead, he took the time to show how to model a conversation about a difficult topic using a method that could be used on a variety of subjects or tailored for a variety of classrooms.

    His philosophy is that to talk about emotionally charged or difficult topics effectively, you need to start simple. He showed a silent cartoon clip about the impact a situation had on one individual. Despite great room for interpretation of the clip, he allowed for little discussion, which served as a way of collecting thoughts and readying oneself more before communicating.

    Questions were posed including, Why did you come? How do you feel? How do you hope to feel? Starting in partnerships, the standing-room only group dialoged. Eventually, discussion groups of two, four,  eight, then whole-room discussed more challenging questions about the role literacy educators play in getting students to talk about tough topics.

    There was talk about dominant and minority communities, parental reaction to difficult conversations, and reaction to assumed opinions.

    Attendees included classroom teachers, school administrators, researchers, and parents in the form of exhibitors and other support staff. In conversations that sometimes became emotional, Minor asked several questions, including How do you engage parents who don’t want teachers to raise difficult topics in the classroom? Then questions moved on to others people asking What can I do? How can I effect change? What is next?

    Between questions, Minor encouraged people to take time to think before speaking. In between answers, when emotions began to run high, he paused the conversation for 15 seconds to “reset” the room and did the same each time four people had shared. He said whether it is group of adults or students, it’s important to take  time and keep balance in the room, and pausing or moving the conversation is one way to guide students through thoughtful discussion.

    When the discussion continued, one man said it’s important to realize these issues and tragedies are not about the abstract, they are about life.

    “I need us to realize the topic we’re talking about is not academic,” he said.

    Another added, “The structure in school is not reflective of the reality our children are living in.” He said children come into schools worried about what is happening in their neighborhood and across the country as much, and sometimes more than, adults. That ignoring their concerns and their needs to share their feelings is to deny their voices.

    “This is not a one-size-fits-all answer,” said a district superintendent. “We’ve quieted the voices of our children. We’ve quieted the voices of our teachers. We need to let teachers do their work.”

    At the end of the hour, Minor suggested work continue through the creation of a letter teachers could submit to administrators about how important it is to talk to students about controversial topics including race, sexuality, and gender. He also suggested working on a “courage toolkit” that would give educators ideas on how to approach difficult conversations with fellow teachers and administration, and even how to build trust with parents.

    In the end, many stayed behind to continue the conversation; Minor said he would be in the room as long as anyone wanted to stay. And while there were no concrete answers when the crowd broke up, there was the beginning of a community.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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    Revised Standards for Literacy Professionals Draft Presented at ILA 2016

    By April Hall
     | Jul 10, 2016

    More than 100 educators were in attendance at a special session at the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits in Boston, MA, on Saturday to get the first look at a draft of the ILA Standards for Literacy Professionals 2017.

    When all is said and done, the standards, which focus on the roles of reading/literacy specialists, literacy coaches, and literacy coordinators/supervisors, won’t be completed and approved until 2018, illustrating the long path to revision that includes meetings, drafts, public comment, and final approval.

    Standards for Reading Professionals establishes criteria for reading professional preparation programs. The Standards describe what candidates for the reading profession should know and be able to do in professional settings. They are the result of a deliberative process that drew from professional expertise and research in the reading field.

    Last year, a select committee made up largely of teacher educators, started on the 2017 revision of the Standards for Literacy Professionals, last revised in 2010. These standards, once reviewed and accepted by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), will become part of CAEP’s program evaluations.
    Within the Foundational Knowledge standard, Helen Perkins from the University of Memphis and the lead writer on Standard 1, said one change was the definition of literacy as reading, writing, and communication, making it consistent with ILA’s definition, rather than the former reading-centric definition.

    “All literacy professionals need to know where they came from and where they are going,” Perkins said.

    When speaking about the second standard, lead writer Beverly DeVries from South Nazarene University in Oklahoma said a common theme of the revisions is the consideration of social, cultural, and linguistic diversity. The standards address not only the diversity of learners, but the diversity of strategies necessary to teach those learners.

    Ginny Goatley from the University of Albany in New York, the lead writer on the third standard, addressing assessment and evaluation, said it’s important now to think broadly about literacy, particularly in early education when oral language is beginning to emerge. She also said the standard focuses on “the strong trend toward collaboration between teachers” and “how to talk about assessments.”

    In the current standards, standard 4 focused primarily on “diversity,” said lead writer Doris Walker-Dalhouse of Marquette University in Wisconsin. The proposed revision also considers “equity,” which speaks not only about the make-up of classrooms and the materials used, but also the use of “instruction that is relevant and sensitive to individual literacy needs and embraces their diversity as an asset.”

    Standard 5 in the 2010 revision was known as “Literate Environment.” In the current proposal it is called “Literacy Learners & the Learning Environment.”

    Allison Swan Dagen, from West Virginia University, was the lead writer on  revised Standard 5. “Mainly, it is foregrounded in the notion that we need to meet the needs of the digital learner and a firm foundation of language and literacy development.”

    Jacey Ippolito, the lead writer on the final of the drafted revisions, Standard 6/“Professional Learning & Leadership”, said he believes this standard supports all of the others.

    For example, “literacy professionals require a wide variety of ongoing learning experiences—to acquire, refine, and develop the mindsets that enable them to share literacy-focused instructional skills and practices.”

    Finally, once drafted, a new Standard 7 will address clinical and field experiences for literacy professionals. To add this standard to the revisions, the committee had to apply for a waiver from CAEP, Kern said, which allowed it under the condition that professionals could complete their work in their own schools and that the standard would not apply to classroom teachers.

    Kern said changes were being made to the draft as recently as two days prior to the presentation and revisions will continue until they are submitted to CAEP in July 2017.

    In attendance at the Conference presentation of the standards draft were college professors, district administrators, and teachers. After each lead writer summarized the changes to each of the standards, the audience broke into smaller groups to discuss what they thought of the revisions at first blush. Questions and comments were collected on index cards and submitted to the committee.

    Kern said the cards would be reviewed and she expected they would inform additions to the Standard Revision FAQ.

    The draft standards can be found on the ILA website, along with an opportunity to provide feedback. The survey will be online until July 31.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

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    Partial Draft of the 2017 Standards for Literacy Professionals to Be Unveiled at ILA 2016

    By April Hall
     | Jun 16, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-84460968_x300Last year a select committee made up largely of teacher educators appointed with the approval of the ILA Board began an extensive effort to produce the 2017 revision of the Standards for Literacy Professionals, last revised in 2010. These standards, once reviewed and accepted by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), will become part of CAEP’s program evaluations thereafter.

    The committee’s first draft of the standards pertaining to specialized literacy professionals, including reading/literacy specialists, literacy coaches, and literacy coordinators, will be unveiled at a session on Saturday, July 9 at 1:30 p.m. during the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits in Boston.

    Aside from being the first to hear about the key changes, attendees will have an opportunity to provide feedback and give input to help shape the final version of these standards. This session is ideal for administrators, reading teachers, literacy specialists, researchers, and teacher educators.

    “The results of the working committee include a major shift for reading specialists,” said Rita Bean, cochair of the committee and professor at University of Pittsburgh. Among other changes, the Standards will now align to ILA’s research brief The Multiple Roles of School-Based Specialized Literacy Professionals.

    “We needed to understand key shifts,” said Diane Kern, also cochair of the Standards committee and associate professor at the University of Rhode Island. “Folks are not just reading specialists, they’re literacy specialists.”

    “We’re preparing not only literacy specialists, but an expert literacy teacher who can take on a role of leadership,” Kern said. The Standards are used to inform teacher preparation accreditations around the world. “ILA is the association others are looking to for guidance and leadership as they write their own standards.”

    The draft standards will be published on ILA’s website following the conference session for educators to review. A public comment period will open in April 2017.

    TheILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits will be July 9–11 in Boston, MA, with more than 6,000 attendees eager to cultivate new teaching practices. With over 300 sessions, including several new additions to the schedule, and the popular Preconference Institutes on July 8, the weekend is sure to be a memorable one. Learn more about what’s coming up at this summer’s conference at ilaconference.org.

    April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

     
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    The Case for the Multilingual Classroom: A Growing Demand for Multilingual Citizens

    By ILA Staff
     | May 17, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-200270493-001_x300The ability to speak multiple languages is a coveted skill in today’s economy. The goal is to create a learning environment that promotes language acquisition while making the curriculum accessible to everyone. For policymakers and educators worldwide, the question is how to foster that environment in an era of tight budgets, diverse priorities, and political sensitivities.

    Schools that truly embrace multilingualism report higher levels of community engagement and academic achievement across the board. If implemented poorly, though, such programs can further marginalize groups that aren’t proficient in the dominant language.

    To stimulate fresh thinking on this critical topic, the International Literacy Association (ILA) recently convened a roundtable with a distinguished group of advocacy and policy experts in Washington, DC. In a wide-ranging conversation led by award-winning journalist Diane Brady, experts shared their thinking on the best practices and priorities for achieving true multilingual learning. In a three-part blog series, we’ll explore the key takeaways from the conversation.

    Parents have long recognized the importance of English as the language of global business, but as the world becomes more interconnected and emerging economies gain strength, it is clear that multilingualism is prerequisite for success. In the U.S. and beyond, dual-language programs are oversubscribed, noted Beatriz Arias, vice president and chief development officer for the Center for Applied Linguistics. “Parents are recognizing the importance of their children being bilingual or multilingual—the economic benefits of that for their kids.”

    Multilingualism “is going to be the differentiator,” said Mariana Haynes, senior fellow, Alliance for Excellent Education, adding that students understand the value of having those skills on their resume.

    Deputy Secretary Mohamed Abdel-Kader, the International Foreign Language Education Office of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Post-Secondary Education, suggested engaging the business community to stress the importance of language learning. “I think that’s incredibly important, because as the business community articulates the need for at least a basic understanding of language and some of the cultural nuances, parents are thinking about their kids, when they graduate college, those kids need to have a job.”

    Multilingualism “is not a partisan issue,” Abdel-Kader said. This is the right thing to do for our kids. It is the right thing to do for our businesses. It is the right thing to do for our communities. The kids need these skills to be able to communicate.”

    At the simplest level, Arias said, “We need leadership at all different levels in order to encourage growth and understanding of the importance of multilingualism—we need to value multilingualism, and have clear ways to do that.”

    “We need to dispel the myths surrounding bilingualism primarily that learning two or even three languages as a child brings confusion and lowers academic achievement,” Marty Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages added. “We have research that proves the opposite.”

    Within the education community, we need to equip educators with the resources and tools they need to embrace and encourage multilingualism, noted Hector Montenegro, associate, Margarita Calderón & Associates. “Educators need additional resources and information about how best to work collaborative so that we can have a more accepting and welcoming environment—school and classroom—where teachers can teach effectively.”

    Haynes noted that fragmented leader and teacher development should be addressed in order to create structures for language learning. “Leaders play a huge role in setting the tone. If teachers work in isolation, it is impossible to make this happen. You have a lot of district policies that are very much at odds with the kinds of things that you want to have happening within schools.”

    We also need to take a step outside of the schools themselves and consider how governments can support and foster a culture of multilingualism, Abbott suggested, and continue “to build champions in Congress,” to push forward research on the importance of languages. “Hopefully we can have an impact working together.”

    Leslie Engle Young, Director of Impact for Pencils of Promise, added policy considerations should take into account the best practices and proven strategies that already exist around multilingual learning. “It’s getting the case studies, bringing the evidence forward, and showing evidence from abroad. We should be cross-learning with evidence from across the board.”

     
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    The Case for the Multilingual Classroom: Starting Early

    By ILA Staff
     | May 10, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-100614430_x300The ability to speak multiple languages is a coveted skill in today’s economy. The goal is to create a learning environment that promotes language acquisition while making the curriculum accessible to everyone. For policymakers and educators worldwide, the question is how to foster that environment in an era of tight budgets, diverse priorities, and political sensitivities.

    Schools that truly embrace multilingualism report higher levels of community engagement and academic achievement across the board. If implemented poorly, though, such programs can further marginalize groups that aren’t proficient in the dominant language.

    To stimulate fresh thinking on this critical topic, the International Literacy Association (ILA) recently convened a roundtable with a distinguished group of advocacy and policy experts in Washington, DC. In a wide-ranging conversation led by award-winning journalist Diane Brady, experts shared their thinking on the best practices and priorities for achieving true multilingual learning. In a three-part blog series, we’ll explore the key takeaways from the conversation.

    Research shows that children can handle learning of two, and even three, languages from the time they start school. Yet foreign language requirements tend to become mandatory only in high school—and the requirements are not consistent across school districts. There is also a notion afoot that students need to be proficient in one language before introducing a second and a third.

    We know children are more open to learning languages at younger ages, so why wait until they're teens to reinforce the value of language? “We know that there is a window of availability to quickly and ably grasp language to a greater degree of fluency, and that it begins to close down as children get older,” said Marcie Craig Post, ILA’s executive director. “Capturing and leveraging that is going to be critically important.”

    Marty Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, noted, “As adults, it is hard for us to imagine young children picking up languages so quickly. We underestimate the ability of students to pick up languages, and really become proficient, I mean very proficient, in writing as well as speaking.” 

    Engaging students’ parents is critical, said Leslie Engle Young, Director of Impact for Pencils of Promise. “If we don’t tap into that resource, we don’t tap into what children are capable of learning when they’re very young, even before school, and what the parents are capable of supporting in the home.”

     
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