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    The Case for the Multilingual Classroom: Foreign Language Learning vs. Multilingual Learning

    By ILA Staff
     | May 03, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-103582643_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.

    In many schools, language instruction is limited to “foreign language”–specific classes that emphasize vocabulary and grammar. There is little opportunity to use the language outside of these classes or to experience the culture around the subject language. By contrast, dual language and tri-language programs are more likely to immerse students in multiple languages throughout the school day, incorporating foreign language instruction into core subjects such as history, science, and mathematics. The result: Greater fluency and literacy in those languages as well as higher academic scores in other subjects. 

    To secure these gains, school leaders need to adapt material to the different language needs of students and their parents and make efforts to celebrate their cultures. Hector Montenegro, regional practice leader with Margarita Calderón & Associates, a consultancy on English language acquisition and dual language instruction, noted that the most effective programs are led by people who “value the language, make it the norm to speak multiple languages, and have structures in which the students become proficient and master the language.”

    Montenegro cited the case of an international, dual language school in El Paso, TX, as evidence of the broad-based impact that multilingual learning can have. “At Alicia Chacon Elementary, where English and Spanish are the dominant languages used, each student is in one of four schools—Russian, German, Chinese, and Japanese. The students begin the third language in the second grade. By the time they reach the fifth grade, they travel to the country of the third language they’re learning. These students are going to high schools that are also dual language. They’re graduating with full scholarships to Ivy League colleges and universities. These kids are fluent in three languages.”

    As Marcie Craig Post, executive director for ILA, explained, “Where multiple language takes hold, the school has embraced this. It doesn’t happen in a classroom with the French teacher or the Mandarin teacher. It becomes part of the embedded culture.”

     
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    A Look Inside the Frameworks: Student Support

    By April Hall
     | Apr 26, 2016

    ILA developed Frameworks for Literacy Education Reform in response to today’s complex and evolving education landscape. With an increase in English learners, high-stakes testing, and digital technologies driving new modes of teaching and learning, challenges for the classroom teacher are mounting. The new white paper’s frameworks serve as a high-level rubric that school administrators and policymakers can use to create or assess reform proposals. In this blog series, we’ll take a closer look at each of the frameworks.

    9417_Literacy_Education_Reform coverWhen all is said and done, education is about student success. Building the best schools, preparing teachers for a 21st-century classroom, and investing in education reform will mean nothing if we aren’t focused on the students who cross the threshold every day.

    Adding to the educational system’s shortcomings, about 20% of children live in poverty in the United States. This rampant poverty—and near-poverty—puts students at a further educational disadvantage when it comes to both technology access and early language and literacy acquisition. For many, the achievement gap starts even before a child gets to the first day of school.

    “This was not a difficult section for our subgroup to write,” said Doris Walker-Dalhouse, a lead writer on the student support framework of the Frameworks for Literacy Education Reform and professor of literacy at Marquette University in Wisconsin. “We wanted to focus on the aspects of students' lives outside of the classroom that impact their engagement in learning within school settings and influence their long-term growth and development as citizens in a democratic society.”

    For example, many families don’t have computers, tablets, and mobile devices in the home, nor do they have access to the Internet in the neighborhoods and communities. This technology gap further compromises students’ exposure to new literacy education experiences and hinders their preparation to thrive as adults in an increasingly digital society.

    At school, students also need to grow every year to perform at or above grade-level literacy standards. Effective teachers can help this growth happen. When students are not performing at grade level, curriculum and instruction must be adjusted, whether through extended day, week, or year programs, or by using additional measures that include students’ social and emotional growth as a guide to the best practice in individual instruction.

    “I believe that while it is a challenging framework,” said Walker-Dalhouse, “teachers and schools that focus on educational equity for their students will seek opportunities to change their practices and advocate for resources and programs that will improve educational outcomes and social-economic conditions for the children, communities, and families that they serve.”

    The complete white paper, Frameworks for Literacy Education Reform, can be found here.

    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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    A Look Inside the Frameworks: Families and Communities

    By April Hall
     | Apr 19, 2016

    ILA developed Frameworks for Literacy Education Reform in response to today’s complex and evolving education landscape. With an increase in English learners, high-stakes testing, and digital technologies driving new modes of teaching and learning, challenges for the classroom teacher are mounting. The new white paper’s frameworks serve as a high-level rubric that school administrators and policymakers can use to create or assess reform proposals. In this blog series, we’ll take a closer look at each of the frameworks.

    9417_Literacy_Education_Reform coverEach child enters school with a different early childhood experience, which has an impact on his or her literacy readiness and the factors that classroom educators need to take into consideration when evaluating students. To accommodate the diversity educators face in the classroom, the mixture of families and communities has to be taken into consideration to increase better literacy outcomes.

    School policies need to be inclusive, for example, identifying how to accommodate native cultures (including mother tongues) and taking the neighborhood and socioeconomic status into consideration.

    “Specifically, family instability, trauma, violence, and community unrest (e.g. St. Louis, Baltimore, other cities that have experienced unrest) are some of the impactful factors for students,” said Sue Sharma, the lead writer on the families and community framework of the Frameworks for Literacy Education Reform and a visiting assistant professor at Oakland University. “The needs of families that affect literacy achievement need to be acknowledged by those in a position of power to have a positive influence.”

    Beyond the home, businesses and corporations can play a critical role in supporting schools.

    “For example, literacy demands continually change because of society and technology,” said Sharma. “We feel that business can contribute in meaningful ways. There are many examples of successful partnerships that create a sense of community critical to advancing literacy initiatives in schools,” she added. Sharma cautioned that students are not widgets in factories so their challenges are not all remedied with a packaged solution. However, a healthy balance and respect can lead to positive outcomes.

    Some ways businesses can contribute include being a community center, a place that encourages literacy development for students and their families, and increasing investment via charitable and non-profits to work with public agencies for literacy advancement.

    Finally, having the buy-in of local government officials can bring the monetary power schools need to counteract community challenges or disparities.

    Investments include making successful, literacy-rich programs accessible to all families, regardless of socioeconomic status; providing tax incentives to local organizations and businesses who invest in literacy achievement in urban areas; and flat-out funding literacy education programs.

    The trinity of schools, businesses, and local government that supports families for the sake of student literacy will be integral to education reform and can be not only a safety net for families who feel left out of the system, but also a bridge that leads them through the process of literacy acquisition.

    The complete white paper, Frameworks for Literacy Education Reform, can be found here.

    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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    Literacy Leaders Key to Moving the Needle in Global Education

    By April Hall
     | Apr 15, 2016

    IMG_1589Cross-sector education leaders from around the world came together on Thursday in New York City for the International Literacy Association’s second annual Leaders for Literacy Day hosted at the Institute of International Education.  The discussion, featuring government, foundations, nonprofit and private sector stakeholders, furthered the conversation on how to advance literacy leadership around the world. At the event and through an online dialogue, advocates shared their successes, failures and actionable goals for how to create a more literate world.

    “Can we make literacy more relevant by relating to learners’ lives and contexts?” asked Lily Valtchanova, Liaison Officer for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “Learners all live in different situations… We should adapt and tailor our efforts.”

    She also noted key areas, including the international empowerment of women, the end of hunger and reliable health and hygiene that must be addressed in order to improve literacy rates worldwide.

    Diane Barone, president of the Board of Directors for the International Literacy Association (ILA), spoke about the importance of research in the progress of literacy.

    “We equip literacy champions who are leading classrooms and schools by using research to provide effective instruction,” Barone said. She encouraged everyone to join ILA efforts to develop leaders in our schools and communities.

    “Teachers are committed. Teachers value students,” Barone said. “And literacy is a fundamental right of every person.”

    Marcie Craig Post, executive director of ILA, said the definition of leadership can be wide, bringing everyone to the table, which is vital to finally making a push against a stubborn literacy statistic.

    Fourteen percent of adults in the United States cannot read and that number hasn’t moved for a decade, she said. “By this point in time, we would think we would have a better solution.”

    Rebecca McDonald—one of two Spotlight speakers Thursday—is trying new ways to tackle the challenges of bringing literacy opportunities to the developing world. Along with her husband, McDonald founded Library for All, a non-profit that brings digital libraries to developing economies around the world.

    They started in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. “I thought, how are these kids ever supposed to get an education of any kind when the teachers average a sixth grade education themselves and they have access to zero books? I thought it was because of the earthquake,” McDonald said. “But that’s what Haiti looked like before the earthquake.”

    After tons of research and creating a cloud system of digital books, Library for All was born. Haiti had its first access to books, not just that, but those with characters that looked like them, written in their own language.

    “Often the books (sent to Haiti and other developing countries) are completely irrelevant and without context,” McDonald said. “Kids in Haiti don’t want to read about kids playing in snow.” She said when a class of students first saw a culturally appropriate books, they all squealed with delight.

    McDonald continues to grow Library for All around the world. She said she partners with other organizations, publishers, and now even corporations to expand to countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Mongolia.

    In his Spotlight address, Steven Duggan, Director of Worldwide Education Strategy for Microsoft, echoed McDonald’s statements about the difficulty so many people have finding books in their native tongues and how technology companies can partner with non-profit groups to spread literacy.

    “Ninety-five percent of languages on the planet are spoken by 100,000 people or less.” Further, Duggan asked, “How useful is it to have a printed book at home, where no one can read?”

    Duggan’s team at Microsoft realized no one had yet cracked the code of how to bring kids appropriate books that could be effectively used in their homes, so they would have to innovate a solution.

    And in the process of innovation, the team would have to be willing to fail.

    Their first trial gave nearly 300 teachers the technology to author any book in minority languages and upload it so it could be read aloud through a handheld device. Not a single teacher used the program.

    “There was not a single learner who learned from what we’d done,” Duggan said. So the Microsoft team tweaked the program after learning the teachers didn’t have access to Internet-connected computers. They made the technology functional offline, a change that made all the difference. Now they are able to put the software on handheld PCs that cost about $99 and reach learners in developing countries where minority languages are prevalent.

    “That [risk of failure] is hard for public organizations, for non-profits, and NGOs,” he said. “They don’t want to move forward without a guarantee of success. Because they’re using public money, money people donated. Maybe money donated by children.”

    Duggan said this is where these organizations can use industry, particularly the tech industry. “Don’t ask for money. It’s the least valuable thing a technology company can give you,” he said. “What they can give you is their expertise.”

    The morning continued with a panel moderated by Liz Willen, editor-in-chief of The Hechinger Report. The discussion featured a diverse group of literacy advocates from the philanthropic, non-profit, public and private sectors and ranged in topics from how to empower educators and principals to be literacy leaders to making technology most useful and accessible, to getting culturally-relevant and age-appropriate books in the hands of children in developing countries.

    Leslie Engle Young, Director of Impact for Pencils of Promise, agreed technology is a useful tool in the fight against illiteracy, but said she doesn’t believe it is the answer to advancing literacy for all.

    “Technology is not the answer,” Engle Young said, noting there are countries where technology is simply unavailable, whether through hardware or infrastructure. “It is a tool, but the teachers are the answer.”

    Jody Spiro, Director of Education Leadership at The Wallace Foundation, took the sentiment a step further, stressing the need for leadership.

    “Of course the key is the teacher and the number one factor for achieving this audacious goal is the teacher in the classroom,” Spiro said. “But the number two factor is the principal and the other school leaders. And, increasingly, teacher leaders—those who may not ever want the official title of principal.”

    She said the sign of a great principal is the art of collaboration in the school and bringing all leaders to the table to create strategies for literacy education success.

    Craig Post said educators may need to take another look at what leadership looks like in the classroom, school, and administration.

    “Maybe when we see good leadership, we don’t stop long enough to see what components make that happen,” she said. “It’s the conditions, technology, teacher quality—we tend to segment these things, like we do teachers, administrators, policy makers, and parents.

    “A lot of our teachers are parents, too. In leadership I believe it’s the same. Most of our school leaders come up from some other part of the school, most often the classroom.”

    Engle Young agreed and said when you work with under-educated or under-trained teachers, it’s about guiding them to empowerment with curriculum, knowledge, and strategies.

    Christie Vilsack, Senior Advisor for International Education at USAID, added that once we go into these developing countries, it’s important to train local organizations and non-profits to be the education leaders.

    “We deliver service, but we want them to graduate from us,” she said. “Eventually, we’re going to leave and they’re going to be the leaders. You have to work to empower people.” She used Korea as an example. The first country USAID helped, it is now a donor country to others around the world.

    The panelists all named localized efforts as victories they’ve seen in the effort to bring literacy opportunities to as many people as possible. Local families and schools coming together to share leadership, books, meals, and oral history have furthered literacy and education buy-in in communities.

    Raising awareness among those not connected to the literacy community is a critical strategy to raise awareness of today’s literacy leadership gaps and develop advocates for the cause.

    “We have a way to begin the conversation and talk over dinner and not in a technical way,” Vilsack said. “If (people) understand what we’re talking about, they’ll reach out. Talk to your local leaders about how important it is for children to learn to read so they can read to learn.”

    Craig Post summed up the urgency of solving the problem of illiteracy simply.

    “Time,” Craig Post said. “We need more time for professional development, more time to develop leaders, to develop technologies. And we have no time.

    “We need to move now. Every second that ticks by for us we need to think, ‘how do we improve literacy rates, how do we move that needle?’”

    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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    Literacy Leaders in the Blogosphere

    By ILA Staff
     | Apr 14, 2016

    lesage051415_x300Leaders for Literacy Day 2016 brought more voices to the conversation about how to end the illiteracy epidemic around the world. This year’s program, Literacy Leadership: A Critical Driver to Advancing Literacy for All, took a closer look at how leaders need to steer conversation and action in the international literacy movement.

    Bringing together a coalition of forward-thinking advocates in New York City, the ILA convening at the Institute of International Education crossed over onto the Internet where both event participants and other stakeholders wrote about what literacy leadership means to them.

    Those leaders in the #AgeOfLiteracy include:

     
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