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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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    Three Keys to Overcoming the Class-Based Literacy Divide

    By Tracy Weeden
     | Dec 07, 2017

    Teacher CoachingIt is widely recognized that we are living in a "knowledge economy." The term, popularized by Peter Drucker in his prescient 1969 book, The Age of Discontinuity (HarperCollins), is used to describe an economy in which growth is dependent on the quantity, quality, and accessibility of information, rather than on the means of production.

    How do we prepare our children for a future where information is everything and the jobs they will apply for may not yet exist?  Their success will rely on their ability to access—and to make sense of—an overabundance of information.

    We can call this "the language of power”—the ability to translate seemingly unrelated data into an executable plan. This idea is directly tied to closing the opportunity gap for our youth.

    To reach this goal requires a much more concerted effort to overcome the class-based literacy divide, which remains stubbornly in place. School districts must make it a priority that every student can read at or above grade level because when students are fully literate—regardless of zip code, mobility, or poverty—everything changes.

    When the critical mass of students within a school district can read at or above grade level, it need not be a miraculous event. Success does, however, depend on three key ingredients:  commitment, coaching, and family engagement.

    • Commitment: There is no silver bullet for creating systems that support literacy; it just requires hard work and dedication from everyone involved—from the central office to the principal, teachers, students, and parents/guardians. When the science of reading is embedded in a school through increasing leader and teacher knowledge, schools become literacy incubators. Children blossom within these conditions, and we level the playing field, bringing all children together in intellectual experience and a future of achievement.
    • Coaching: No one gets good at anything without coaching. School leaders and teachers can participate in excellent professional development courses and leave full of enthusiasm, but research has shown that adaptation of the best practices taught in these courses is negligible. However, when effective professional development is followed by ongoing classroom coaching, adaptation skyrockets to 95%.
    • Family engagement: Home is where literacy takes root. To sustain positive change in schools requires engaging the family as part of each child's "learning team." Dispelling the notion that some parents don't care, and educating future teachers and leaders on the best ways to engage parents, is a piece of the puzzle we rarely examine in educational circles. With an invested principal, strong and committed teaching staff, and an aligned curriculum in place, schools can amplify their efforts by connecting family outreach to student learning in explicit, practical, and engaging experiences.

    In my many years as a teacher, district leader, and educational consultant, and as the child of parents who came from extreme poverty and broke the cycle through literacy, I have seen firsthand that when taught a love of reading and learning at an early age, children internalize the language of power. In doing so, they take the first important step toward full participation in today's economy. 

    tracy-weeden-headshotTracy Weeden, is president and CEO of Neuhaus Education Center, a Houston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting reading success through teacher training and coaching, information and resources for parents, and direct literacy services for adults. Neuhaus works with school districts nationwide to improve their literacy programs. For more information, visit www.neuhaus.org

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    ILA Cosponsors Briefing on Literacy Leadership

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Dec 05, 2017

    briefing10Although all educators acknowledge the critical importance of literacy for student success, schools have a long way to go in implementing sustained, high-quality literacy programs. According to Education Dive, one common barrier is that principals do not have the content area expertise to become literacy leaders. Another is that they do not have leadership skills to guide a schoolwide literacy improvement effort.

    Teachers are only as strong as the school’s leadership—without adequate scaffolding and support, even the most competent and ambitious educators will find it difficult—if not impossible—to bring about meaningful change.

    The House spending proposal for education for the next budget year would cut $2.4 billion in funding for the Supporting Effective Instruction grant program, also known as Title II—which provides federal funds to recruit, retain, and train high-quality teachers, principals, and school leaders. 

    Last Wednesday, the International Literacy Association (ILA) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) 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.

    Empowering teachers to become real leaders

    briefing7Dan Mangan, ILA’s director of public affairs, welcomed guests and introduced Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), who set the stage with remarks touting the importance of teacher leadership. He attributed high teacher turnover rates to a lack of administrative support, professional learning opportunities, and decision-making input.

    “We have to find better ways for teachers to become real leaders,” said Coons. “How many of our students struggle in school where they don’t have the teaching resources they deserve and where teachers struggle to find leadership and growth opportunities for themselves?”

    For most teachers, said Coons, the only pathway to advancement is by becoming an administrator. He believes that teachers need opportunities to become leaders without having to leave the classroom.

    Coons also cited the Teachers Are Leaders Act, a bipartisan bill he introduced with Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Jack Reed (D-RI). If passed, the act would leverage the expertise of teacher preparation programs to design and implement new teacher leader roles.

    “We’re making sure we invest in the teachers who instruct, train, and are critical role models to our children,” said Coons. “Research shows that when we empower teachers to lead, our schools and our students are stronger.”

    Behind every effective teacher is an effective principal

    briefing8Kelly Pollitt, chief advocacy officer of the National School Boards Association, opened the panel presentation in her role as moderator.  She introduced the three key speakers—a district superintendent, a middle school principal, and a principal educator—who would collectively impart the “magic ingredients” of successful literacy leadership.

    Pollitt prefaced with an urgent reminder that now, more than ever, school leadership can affect student achievement. She said it’s critically important that literacy continues to be a national priority.

    “We know that the first and most important school-based factor that influences student learning is the teacher,” she said. “Behind every effective teacher is an effective principal.”

    Literacy = the vaccine for poverty

    briefing3Pollitt first introduced ILA Board member Stephen Peters, the CEO of The Peters Group and founder of the Gentlemen’s and Ladies Club programs, which provide mentorship opportunities for at-risk and honor students throughout the United States

    When Peters was a child, his father always told him that “literacy is the vaccine for poverty.” Peters continues to embrace this phrase today in his role as superintendent of Laurens County 55 School District.

    Peters shared some secrets to his success in cultivating a schoolwide culture of literacy, such as increasing classroom reading time, mandating take-home reading, and implementing regular professional development.

    Family and community engagement is another key feature of his approach—on the first day of school each year, faculty from Laurens County 55 School District go door-to-door into local neighborhoods, introducing themselves to parents and students.

    For teachers to teach at their best and for students to learn at the highest level, principals need to define and promote high expectations, according to Peters. He believes superintendents play a critical role in cultivating leadership skills among all teachers and faculty.

    Breaking the cycle

    briefing4Doris Lee, founder and principal of Village Academy, an New York City middle school in Far Rockaway that’s part of a major program called the Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI), has also focused her efforts on professional learning. Teachers at Village Academy collaborate in their respective subject areas and grade teams to develop instructional plans, to engage in professional learning communities, and to address the diverse social and emotional needs of students.

    “As our student population changes, the learning has to continue,” said Lee. “We need ongoing support to ensure that we can meet the needs of every single child.”

    Lee said this model has been proven to improve student learning outcomes; from 2016 to 2017, Village Academy saw a 19% increase in performance on state standardized English language arts test scores and, more important, a sustained baseline over a measure period when the New York City average declined significantly.

    Moreover, Lee has succeeded in closing achievement gaps—an accomplishment that would have been impossible without strong teacher education, she said.

    “Poverty is cyclical, and literacy can break the cycle,” said Lee. “But educators need training to be effective.”

    Preparing principals to close achievement gaps

    briefing5ILA’s William Teale, professor in the Literacy, Language & Culture Program and University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), presented on Stanford University’s recently published study, which demonstrates the outperformance of Chicago Public Schools against the national average.

    Another local study shows that percentages of freshman on-track, annual achievement gains, attendance and graduation rates were significantly higher in schools whose principals were graduates of UIC’s principal preparation program, which include a course on literacy leadership.

    Teale pointed to this research as evidence that greater success is achieved when teachers are backed by strong leaders.

    “You are never going to learn to be a good principal by sitting in a classroom and reading,” said Teale. “You need to get out there and do things in schools.”

    The key to schoolwide success

    briefing6JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP, closed with a call to action, reiterating the critical importance of restoring Title II funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

    She said that the key to schoolwide success is common ownership over a shared vision and set of goals. She believes that every educator has a stake in—and a responsibility to—support literacy education, as every learning opportunity relies on literacy skills.

    “Literacy is the great gateway to the critical and creative thinking that has always been the hallmark of our nation’s progress.”

    Alina O'Donnell
    is the editor of
    Literacy Daily.

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