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Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
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    Fortified Through Words: A Lesson in Owning Our Stories

    By Renée Watson
     | Aug 01, 2019
    LT371_watson_ldMy mother taught me that words are meant to be spoken.

    Once, after my siblings and I had been put to bed and the noise of the house had hushed to a loud stillness, I could hear her in her bedroom whispering something. I tiptoed to her bedroom and stood at the door, which was cracked open just enough for me to see her at her desk, lamp on, glasses on, Bible in her hand. She wasn’t talking to anyone. She was reading. I didn’t understand why she was reading scriptures out loud to an empty room. Up until then, I thought reading out loud was for story time in the classroom or at bedtime just before saying good night.

    Because my mother was the eyes behind-her-head kind of mother—a woman with supersonic hearing who knew if I was sneaking to talk on the phone to a crush or my best friend—she heard me. Without turning, she said, “Renée, do you need something?”

    I asked her why she was reading out loud. She answered, “Spoken words are powerful words.” Even now, my mother hangs inspiration on the walls in her bedroom—scriptures on loving your neighbor as yourself, quotes, song lyrics, poetry. She knows most of them by heart, she recites them in times of hardship. “Words fortify,” she says.

    I inherited my mother’s love of words. When I was a girl, I loved walking to the North Portland Library. I remember browsing the aisles for the next book in the Ramona series (HarperCollins) and picking up Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (Atheneum) for a second, third, and fourth time. I related to Ramona and Margaret, often feeling like the not-good-enough, not-smart enough younger sister and obsessing with my girlfriends over who was ready to wear a training bra and who had started her period.

    Reading these novels made me feel less alone and let me know that other girls my age had the same questions and fears, the same desires. But I was also different from these characters. I was black. I was fat. I didn’t see these identities represented in the novels my library had, so I turned to poetry.

    In middle school, I started reading the poetry of Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, and Nikki Giovanni. Nikki’s poems “Knoxville, Tennessee” and “The Reason I Like Chocolate” taught me that even the small things could be celebrated, that the ordinary could be worthy of a poem. Maya and Lucille wrote about their bodies in a way I had never seen. I cherished “Phenomenal Woman” and “Homage to My Hips.” A new confidence was birthed in me. In their poems, I saw the everydayness of black women right alongside our resilience and strength.

    Their poems inspired me not only to keep reading but also to tell my own stories. As a young black girl, I knew there were assumptions and stereotypes about me. Adults were often speaking for me or about me. Statistics of what would happen to girls like me, who grew up in neighborhoods like mine, felt like a prophecy I had to prove wrong. I wanted control of my own narrative. My journal became a storehouse of words.

    Reading poetry taught me how to write. Not just the rules of writing, but how to put emotion on the page. How to use the pages as a container for all my questions and fears. I wrote poems about my parents divorcing, about my grandmother and how sad I was that she died before I got to say goodbye. I wrote odes to my dark skin and my thick hair. I wrote about the rose bush that grew in our front yard. How barren it would be in one season but then bloom fire red, teaching me about patience. I wrote about the sweet taste of marionberry pie, the sourness of huckleberries. Somewhere in those pages between poems about first loves and heartbreaks were poems about Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian man murdered by skinheads in my community.

    I wrote and wrote and wrote. But I never read these poems out loud.

    “You’re going to fail the final,” my English teacher told me one day when I refused to read my poems to the class. The oral presentation was a significant portion of the grade. I was terrified. I didn’t mind writing poetry. I didn’t even mind people reading my poems. But I had never considered reciting my words. Sure, I had read aloud in class before and I loved reading picture books to my younger cousins. I had even performed in plays and recited Easter speeches in front of the congregation at my church.

    But this was different. This was reading my own words, my own story. My desire to get a good grade outweighed my fear, so I stood up, walked to the front of the class, and opened my mouth. It was just a whisper. That’s all I could muster. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone and I held the paper too close to my face. My teacher stopped me. “You chose these words for a reason. Say them with some meaning,” he said. “You never know, someone else might need to hear what you’ve got to say.”

    I tried again. I managed to hold the paper down so I could at least make eye contact with the audience. By the end of the presentation, my voice was owning the words. I was louder, stronger.

    I don’t know if my teacher intentionally planned to teach me a lesson about the power of my voice. I don’t know if he knew of someone in the class who could really benefit from hearing my words. It could be that it really was about the grade. Maybe it was about teaching public speaking skills.

    But nothing is ever just one thing.

    I learned so much about storytelling that day. Speaking my story made me feel powerful and the poem took on meaning in a different way once it leapt off the page. Hopefully, my classmates got something out of it. But even if they didn’t, I did. I was fortified.

    I believe there are many ways to speak. We all have a choice to use or not use our voices. To engage or to keep to ourselves. When I teach writing workshops with young people, we talk about our artistic voices. We talk about how what we create is a way of speaking up for what we believe. We talk about our everyday voices, how we can be kind with our words, how we can use our words to bring comfort to someone. I push my students to read widely, to take in stories they relate to and don’t relate to. I encourage my students to write their world. As it is, as it can be. I invite students to speak their truths.

    Together, we explore the relationship between reading, writing, and speaking. Together we hold space for each other—we fortify each other, and ourselves.

    Renée Watson is a New York Times best-selling, Newbery Honor,
    and Corett a Scott King Award–winning author. Her most recent books include

    Watch Us Rise, coauthored with Ellen Hagan, and Some Places More Than Others
    (Bloomsbury), due in September.
    This article originally appeared in the open access July/August issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    Renée Watson will take the stage during the ILA General Session on Friday, Oct. 11.
    For more information, visit ilaconference.org.
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    Chelsea Clinton: In Her Own Words

    By Lara Deloza
     | Jul 25, 2019
    LT371_clinton_ldThe United States may have met Chelsea Clinton when she was a seventh grader in 1992, but now she’s a New York Times best-selling author, a literacy advocate and, as of the summer of 2019, a mother of two with a third child on the way. She spends her time empowering young readers—and older readers, too—and she doesn’t think twice about taking on bullies both on and off social media.

    Her books speak to the issues she feels most passionately about—female empowerment, kindness, equality, global health, the environment, and endangered species. She hopes her newest book, Don’t Let Them Disappear (Penguin), will show kids the difference they can make in the world no matter how young they are. She has been traveling the country talking to kids about how they can be changemakers and turn their passions into action.

    All those reasons (and more) are why we’re so thrilled to have Chelsea Clinton speak at the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2019 Conference. Her inspirational work not only speaks to creating a culture of literacy, but also helps drive the change needed to get there on a global level. But don’t just take our word for it—take hers.

    On her connection to NOLA

    “Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans, where we launched a new partnership between Children’s Hospital New Orleans and the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative to engage pediatricians, physicians, and medical staff to help raise awareness among parents, grandparents, and caregivers about the importance of early learning and brain development.

    “Through this work, every baby born at Touro and West Jefferson Family Birth Place, LCMC Health partners, now leaves with a children’s board book, a onesie with bright graphics, and a booklet reminding parents of how important their role is in their baby’s brain development when they talk, read, and sing with them from birth.”

    On a child’s first teachers

    “Reading and talking to kids shouldn’t be a luxury. We need to support all parents so they have time to invest in their kids and access to books to read together.”

    On starting off strong

    “Research shows that almost 60% of children come to kindergarten unprepared, lagging behind in early language and literacy skills. They are then more likely to fall further behind in school every year after that, less likely to go to college, and less likely to get the job of their dreams or earn an income that their work ultimately deserves.

    “I’m so passionate about this work because I fundamentally believe that every child deserves the best start in life. Not being prepared for kindergarten is a lifelong tax that no child should bear, and it certainly isn’t a kid’s fault or their parent’s fault.”

    On the importance of access

    “The first five years are critical to a child’s brain development, which is why Too Small to Fail works to support parents and caregivers with tools to talk, read, and sing with their babies from birth.

    “To do that, we work with local communities including librarians, pediatricians, faith leaders, and national partners like Univision, Scholastic, and Spotify to surround families with language everywhere they spend time—at home, on playgrounds, in laundromats, grocery stores, and even bus stops. We try to go wherever families spend time [and provide] resources and tools to support parents and other caregivers to be kids’ first teachers.”

    On her newest book

    “The biggest inspiration for Don’t Let Them Disappear came from all the kids I’ve spoken with—in my own life, in research for previous books, on book tours—who passionately shared their love and concern for animals, especially endangered species. All animals play a crucial part in the health of our planet, and it’s devastating to think that even one species, like African elephants or rhinos, could be extinct in our or our children’s lifetimes.

    “I decided to write this book about just a few of more than 16,000 endangered plant and animal species that are deserving of our attention, respect, and protection, and to hopefully inspire and equip young people to do something to save the animals they care about that are also so vital to our planet.

    “It’s the book I wish I had as a kid, and I’m so excited to be able to share it with young readers today.”

    On empowering the next generation

    “I’ve been privileged to meet a lot of young people who are doing incredible things in areas they’re passionate about, and I’ve been able to see the impact they have when they are empowered by the adults around them. We’ve also seen this throughout history. For example, in [the United States] during the 1970s, young people played a
    critical role in saving the bald eagle.

    “Stories have an amazing ability to spark the imaginations and dreams of readers of any age. I hope through sharing stories of women who persisted throughout history, or what we can do to save endangered species, that young people are inspired to make the positive difference they want to see in our world. Then I think it’s important that, as adults, we listen and help inform and empower them to take action.”

    On the impact of motherhood

    “My kids are my biggest inspiration. Thinking about the type of world I want them to grow up in drives everything I do—through my writing, teaching, and work with the Clinton Foundation— and I want to ensure that I’ve done everything possible in my small way to make the world a healthier, safer, and more equitable place for them and their generation.”

    On tackling Twitter trolls

    “I think everyone has an obligation to stand up [against] what we see as wrong and unacceptable—in person and online. I think that is particularly true for anyone who has a platform, whether in our schools, our workplaces, or publicly.

    “I also recognize that social media is a tool—one that can be used in the best sense to help inspire positive action—and I use it as an opportunity to shine a light on the issues, people, and causes that are close to me and I feel are deserving of our attention.

    “It is also important to take breaks from social media and our phones. We use both sparingly on the weekends and try to never use either around our kids.”

    On the power of readalouds

    “Reading in our family is hugely important, and Marc and I read to our kids every night and often in the mornings, too—and a lot on the weekends. We love seeing their excitement and listening to (and trying to answer) all their questions about what we’re reading together. I know that reading and talking are good for their brain development, [but] it is also an experience we treasure.”

    On her new podcast

    “Why Am I Telling You This? will feature conversations with a few of the people we find so inspiring—some already well known and others who you may not have heard of—to hear about their experiences, their work, and explore some of the big issues that are facing our world today.

    “We have the honor of working with remarkable individuals who are doing incredible things—helping LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S., reducing the stigma around menstruation for women in the slums of Mumbai, combatting the opioid epidemic by expanding access to the lifesaving reversal drug Naloxone, just to name a few.”

    On speaking at ILA 2019

    “I’m honored to be included in this year’s program and excited to share Don’t Let Them Disappear with the educators in the audience. My hope is that it can spark and suppot conversations in classrooms and elsewhere about these endangered animals and others, and what kids can do to help!”

    Lara Deloza is the director of brand content and communications at ILA. 

    This article originally appeared in the open access July/August issue of
    Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    Hear more from Chelsea Clinton when she speaks during General Session on Friday,
    Oct. 11. For more information, visit ilaconference.org.
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    ILA Launches National Recognition Initiative

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 19, 2019
    The International Literacy Association (ILA) announced today the launch of the ILA National Recognition for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals, an initiative that recognizes outstanding licensure, certificate, and endorsement programs that prepare reading/literacy specialists in the United States—the only one of its kind. 

    ILA National Recognition evaluates education preparation providers (EPPs) who seek the organization’s stamp of approval and award the designation on the basis of adherence to ILA’s Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017 (Standards 2017). Standards 2017 addresses the demands of 21st-century literacy instruction through rigorous field work, digital learning, and equity-building practices. 

    Programs scored highly during the ILA National Recognition process may be referred to the second phase of the process, putting them on the path to earning ILA National Recognition with Distinction—the highest honor ILA awards literacy professional preparatory programs.

    Two EPPs, The University of Texas San Antonio and West Virginia University, helped pilot the program and have been awarded ILA National Recognition with Distinction. 

    "This initiative underscores ILA’s commitment to preparing high-caliber literacy professionals,” said ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “Programs that have earned National Recognition or National Recognition with Distinction are equipping the next generation of literacy professionals with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to meet the challenges of today's classrooms.”

    Currently, ILA National Recognition and ILA National Recognition with Distinction focus on programs that prepare reading/literacy specialists. Expansion to other literacy professional roles is planned, with a target release of summer 2020.  

    For more information, visit literacyworldwide.org/ilanationalrecognition
    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.
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    ILA Discontinues Membership in CAEP

    By Lara Deloza
     | Jul 18, 2019
    ila-logoEffective August 1, the International Literacy Association (ILA) will discontinue its membership in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), an accreditation body of education preparation providers (EPPs) that offer licensure, certificate, and endorsement programs in the United States and/or internationally.

    The relationship between the organizations spans nearly 40 years and two name changes. ILA first became a constituent member of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in 1980, as the International Reading Association (IRA); NCATE merged with the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) to become CAEP in 2013.

    Members of ILA's CAEP Committee acted as advisors on the partnership and, along with other ILA literacy professionals, served as program reviewers to strengthen reading/literacy specialist education programs across the United States. EPPs were evaluated based on their alignment with ILA’s Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017 and, prior to that, IRA’s Standards 2010. 

    ILA remains committed to strengthening pre-K–12 student learning and will continue to recognize exemplary literacy professional preparation programs through its own independent initiative. 

    For questions, please contact ilanationalrecognition@reading.org.

    Lara Deloza
    is the Director of Brand Content and Communications at the International Literacy Association. 
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    Sharing Successes in the Keystone State: Inspiring Literacy Initiatives Across Pennsylvania

    By Aileen Hower
     | Jul 11, 2019

    The Keystone State Literacy Association (KSLA), the Pennsylvania affiliate of
    the International Literacy Association (ILA), is celebrating 50 years of literacy
    leadership across our state this year. At our fall statewide leadership meeting, we
    took the time to share about the wide variety of chapter projects and initiatives
    currently being implemented. There was a great deal of positive energy around
    widespread sharing of ideas.

    After a gallery walk, chapters were able to elaborate on some of the most
    innovative ideas. Chapter leaders enjoyed hearing about similar and new ideas
    for how to serve our members and communities. It was an awe-inspiring time of
    collaboration and connection.

    A few commonalities emerged from the ideas shared. Most ideas fell into the
    following categories: professional learning, advocacy, and engaging with families
    and communities.

    Professional learning

    • Throughout the state, KSLA chapters hold "Teachers as Readers" events to
      talk about and promote the reading of current children's, middle grade, and
      young adult books. Many councils invite the coordinators of the Keystone to
      Reading Book Awards to present on the current books that students can read
      and vote for. The Keystone to Reading Book Awards is a yearly recognition
      of a current picture, poetry, or chapter book, awarded annually at our state
      conference. The awards are chosen entirely by Pennsylvania students.
    • Across the state, especially in chapters such as Central Western, online and
      in-person professional book clubs are being held with members, other local
      teachers, and teachers from other parts of the state.
    • At times, such as with the Brandywine Valley Forge and Delaware Valley
      chapters, miniconferences are held to engage with teachers in specific areas
      and at times outside of our annual conference. This year, topics include
      "Building Community With Social Justice Poetry," "How to Talk About Race
      in Your Classroom," and "Raising Social Awareness Through Conversations
      and Mentor Texts."

    • A few chapters, such as Franklin County, share literacy information and
      establish partnerships with local doctors' offices, as well as provide books to
      children during wellness checks.
    • Franklin County was also recognized by Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of education for their work in collaborating with the local intermediate unit to service students who attend a migrant education summer program in their area.
    • We continue to host department of education representatives at our annual conference as well as invite a “standing” member, who focuses her work on language arts, to attend our biannual leadership/statewide meetings.
    • Various chapter leaders attend department of education meetings to share the latest research about literacy with various divisions and statewide initiatives.
    Engaging with families and communities

    • Our Lancaster-Lebanon chapter gives their Celebrate Literacy Award to local literacy initiatives such as "Police, Read to Me."
    • Susquehanna Valley holds “Read to Me Please” summer reading programs for preschool students at a local playground.
    • Many of our chapters participate in laundromat library projects. Books are collected throughout the year at chapter events and baskets are placed in local laundromats so children have something to read while their family is there. In some chapters, books are also donated to women’s shelters or in places where children wait while their parents attend a court hearing.
    • A number of chapters, such as Schuylkill, have established Story Walks through local parks.
    • Across the state, chapters are partnering with other community organizations such as Kiwanis, Salvation Army, the United Way, and local libraries.
    The ideas shared at our meeting were as diverse and unique as each of our local chapters. Most recently, chapters have been holding casual get-togethers for networking and have even been offering painting, massage, and relaxing coloring events to boost teacher morale.

    Those chapters that serve regions that are large in square footage work to host regional or online events. Chapters that represent more diverse populations or urban centers stay committed to serving those communities, ensuring children receive books and families and caregivers learn helpful ideas for promoting literacy in the home. Especially in a time when teachers find attending large conferences difficult, but still desire to keep their literacy teaching skills sharp, all chapters serve their members by hosting authors and professional development speakers, and studying the latest in literacy research.

    We are so proud of all of our members and thankful for our local leaders for their tireless love of and commitment to promoting literacy throughout a lifetime.

    Aileen Hower, an ILA member since 2008, is president of the Keystone State Literacy Association.

    This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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