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    Roads Old and New

    By Charles Moore
     | Sep 16, 2019

    roads-old-and-new_w680Driving back from Austin, TX, last July felt like flying. The road back to Houston is pretty enough: rusting barbed wire fences, rolling hills covered in bluebonnets rising and falling like waves on the ocean. I left the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2018 Conference ready to conquer the world, feeling euphoria course through my nerve endings, yearning to write about my experience, seeking more of those who share this passion for literacy.

    I knew, as I left ILA 2018, that I was rushing back to a new school, a new team, and that newness would be both a challenge and a blessing. What I later learned was that I would find myself welcomed with open arms.

    The energy of those I met in person at ILA 2018, or revered from afar, filled me with confidence and reminded me that traveling familiar roads can lead me back to people and places that provide comfort and much-needed reassurance as I face what is certainly the greatest work I’ll ever do.

    Soon, I’ll follow a new road that will lead me east, through the crawfish farms on the Louisiana border, to Lafayette, and on to the Big Easy: New Orleans and ILA 2019. This time, though, I won’t be at ILA as an attendee. By some stroke of luck, my badge will read: Presenter. Nor will I be traveling that road alone; I’ll ride in the company of two teachers who are passionate about literacy in ways that I can describe only as inspirational.

    Finding familiarity in the passion for literacy that my coworkers embody empowers me to continue down that new and unfamiliar road. Megan Thompson and Helen Becker, two incredible educators, feel the pull of that road too. That subconscious force that compels them to advocate for students and teachers in our school and across our country. As culture creators, they throw their hearts and souls into their work.

    Teaching feels a lot like traveling down a road. Sometimes I feel too robotic, like my GPS took control, and other times I feel lost in time and space with a sense of panic spreading over my consciousness like spilled ink. But when I lean on our culture, our literacy ethos, the panic and fear vanish, and suddenly those post-conference emotions emerge from the work we hurl ourselves into every morning.

    Creating a Culture of Literacy, this year’s conference theme, implores us to bring our best ideas together. Roads far and wide converge on New Orleans in October and, at this point of convergence, literacy culture will reflect on itself and radiate back across our world, empowering teachers and students to explore their place in it.

    Please join us at ILA 2019. We’ll be the trio with matching outfits and nervous—but determined—expressions on our faces.

    Charles Moore, an ILA member since 2017, teaches sophomores and juniors at Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas. He blogs monthly for threeteacherstalk.com.

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

    The trio of Charles Moore, Megan Thompson, and Helen Becker will present “Not Averse to Verse: Using Novels in Verse to Engage English Language Learners” on Saturday, Oct. 12, from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM. For more information, visit ilaconference.org/iplanner.

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    International Literacy Association Declares High-Quality Literacy Instruction a Human Right

    By ILA Staff
     | Sep 09, 2019

    CREL_680wThe International Literacy Association (ILA) released a new position statement today declaring that access to excellent literacy instruction is the right of every child, everywhere.

    The new statement, Children’s Rights to Excellent Literacy Instruction, is released in honor of International Literacy Day (ILD), which UNESCO founded in 1966 to highlight the importance of literacy in creating prosperous societies. The statement marks the next phase in ILA’s Children’s Rights to Read initiative, which launched one year ago, also on ILD.

    “We know that literacy is the foundation of all learning, and yet much work remains to ensure it is given the attention it deserves,” says Marcie Craig Post, ILA executive director. “This next phase of our Children’s Rights campaign draws the connection between literacy and equitable, high-quality instruction—we cannot have one without the other.”

    The new position statement was crafted by a global team of educators, researchers, and advocates. The statement focuses on four tenets: the right to knowledgeable and qualified literacy educators, the right to integrated support systems, the right to supportive learning environments and high-quality resources, and the right to policies that ensure equitable literacy instruction.

    In addition to the statement, ILA will release four new research briefs, with each expanding upon the critical tenets. The first, which focuses on the preparation and professional development of literacy educators, publishes later this month.

    “We know that the most critical component of equitable instruction is the teacher,” says Diane Kern, one of the statement’s principal authors. “For high-quality, excellent literacy instruction to become a reality, we need to ensure our educators are getting the preparation both they and their future students deserve.

    “Once they are in the field, that support must continue through both ongoing, high-quality professional development and collaboration among other knowledgeable, highly qualified literacy partners including administrative leaders, reading/literacy specialists, literacy coaches, and literacy coordinators,” continues Kern, who also served as cochair of ILA’s Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017 Revision Committee.

    ILA’s Children’s Rights to Read campaign has already garnered the support of thousands of individuals from more than a dozen countries. Sign the pledge in support of both the original 10 rights and the newly released Children’s Rights to Excellent Literacy Instruction.

    Download the Children’s Rights to Excellent Literacy Instruction position statement here.

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    Disrupting Your Texts: Why Simply Including Diverse Voices Is Not Enough

    By Tricia Ebarvia
     | Sep 05, 2019

    disrupting-your-texts_680In May 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released its Hate at School report. Using information gathered from teacher questionnaires and news media reports, the SPLC found an alarming uptick in the number of incidents of hate and bias occurring in U.S. schools. Teachers reported that the most common driver of these incidents was racial or ethnic bias, with anti-LGBTQ bias a close second.

    Furthermore, a majority of these incidents occurred in spaces where adults were present: 32% in classrooms and 37% in shared spaces such as hallways, bathrooms, or other parts of the building.

    Think about what that means. The majority of incidents of hate and bias occur in the presence of adults.

    As teachers, we do our best to make sure that all of our students are safe and seen in our schools. But the truth is that even the most well-intentioned teachers will miss things—harmful things— sometimes in our own classrooms. What might be the microaggressions, for example, against Indigenous students, students of color, and LGBTQ students occurring in our classrooms that teachers—who are overwhelmingly white in the United States—may not notice? What unexamined biases do we as educators bring into our classrooms that could have a potentially harmful impact on our kids?

    As literacy teachers, we have one of the most powerful resources available to fight against hate and bias: We have stories. The stories—and, more important, the counter-stories, the counternarratives—that we choose to share with students are instrumental in helping all our students be seen and heard, appreciated and understood. This is especially critical for students from communities whose stories are too often oversimplified, misrepresented, or rendered invisible in the dominant culture and mainstream media. Thus, centering and amplifying minoritized perspectives can help to foster community and the type of solidarity that counteracts and perhaps even prevents incidents of hate and bias in our schools.

    Steps to take

    I am heartened by the inclusion of more diverse voices in the curriculum, but the truth is that it’s not enough. Although schools may bring more “diverse” texts into the curriculum, these “contributions” and “ethnic additive” approaches, in the words of researcher James A. Banks, do little to actually change the system of power that marginalized those voices in the first place. After all, efforts to “diversify” the curriculum have been going on for decades, yet we know that inequities persist. Furthermore, “diverse” curricula can often mask systemic problems, including the fact that black, Latinx, and Indigenous students continue to be underrepresented in higher level academic courses while also disproportionately disciplined.

    To be clear, including more diverse voices in our curriculum is an important, necessary step. Our students deserve windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors, to borrow language from scholar Rudine Sims Bishop, that represent the richness of their own lives and the lives of others. But our efforts cannot end there. We must interrogate not just what we teach but how and why.

    Some suggestions to think about:

    • Begin with the premise that public schools never intended to educate all children equally and look for the ways in which this holds true today. Likewise, the curriculum has never been neutral, but always ideological. In making decisions about what texts to include, look for the voices that are marginalized or missing and bring those voices into your text sets.
    • Consider the role that race and whiteness have played in your own socialization, particularly around your beliefs about schooling. How does your own racial socialization inform not only the types of texts you may value, but also the types of instructional choices you make?
    • Center the counternarratives. Although pairings of traditional canonical texts with voices of color offer rich possibilities for comparison, diverse texts can also stand on their own.
    • Include a diversity of voices within marginalized groups. To what extent are you perpetuating or challenging stereotypes based on your patterns of text selection?
    • Be mindful of the positionality of texts and the message this positionality sends. Are diverse voices centered in the curriculum as core and mentor texts, or are they optional? Does the entire class read The Great Gatsby while the books by authors of color are offered as summer reading, book clubs, or literature circles?
    • Know your purpose for adding or removing a text. Creating a more inclusive curriculum is not simply about replacing texts written by “dead, white males.” It is about addressing the racism, sexism, homophobia, and other problematic issues reflected in these texts—and choosing better.
    • Keep the issues facing people of color current. Racism is not a problem of the past, solved by the Civil Rights era, but a continuing problem today. Create text sets that show the complexities of these issues in both historical and contemporary contexts.
    • Resist color avoidant readings of texts. If a text includes any form of bigotry, be sure to address and unpack this with students. Otherwise, students might see silence as tacit acceptance of these attitudes.
    • Understand that not all oppression is the same. Anti-black racism manifests itself differently than sexism, and drawing a false equivalence among them can cause more harm.
    • Learn and relearn the history of Indigenous people, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. Because we often use literature to better understand people and time periods—and because our own understanding of history is often incomplete, if not inaccurate—bringing a more accurate understanding of history when we study a text is critical. Reading books like An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Beacon Press) can be critical in this work.

    Disrupt the system

    It’s no doubt that equity work can feel overwhelming, especially as many of the problems in education are systemic. But as #DisruptTexts cofounder Kim Parker recently reminded me, people make up systems. And if we are people committed to equity, then we must understand our role in these systems and how we might disrupt them. So diversify the curriculum, yes— but let’s not stop there.

    Tricia Ebarvia is a high school English teacher, a Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project codirector, Heinemann Fellow, and #DisruptTexts cofounder—but above all, she is an advocate for literacy instruction rooted in equity and liberation.

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

    Tricia Ebarvia will present a featured speaker session on Saturday, Oct. 12, 9:00 AM–10:00 AM. For more information, visit ilaconference.org.

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    The ILA 2019 Conference: Know Before You Go

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 04, 2019

    ila2019-registration
    The International Literacy Association 2019 Conference, which takes place October 10–13 in New Orleans, LA, is just around the corner. The event offers exciting opportunities to expand your professional learning networks, exchange insights and ideas, and get inspired.

    But conferences can also be intimidating and overwhelming—especially when there are hundreds of sessions from which to choose, and 1.1 million square feet of space to cover.

    To help you navigate #ILA19 with ease and ensure your conference experience is productive and rewarding, we’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks from veteran conference-goers.  

    Before you arrive:

    • Plan ahead. Use the ILA 2019 iPlanner now to get an overview of this year’s offerings and develop a game plan. You can even create personal entries, such as a coffee date with a colleague. The best part? You can sync your iPlanner schedule to the ILA 2019 app.
    • Download the conference app. The ILA 2019 app, slated to go live mid-September, puts your personalized schedule, conference floor plan, room locations, session and event descriptions, exhibitors list, and other pertinent information at your fingertips.
    • Get social.  Don’t wait until you arrive. If you don’t already, follow ILA on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube to get real-time updates and connect with other attendees using the hashtag #ILA19.
    • Join the October #ILAchat. Get all the key information you need during our #ILAchat on Thursday, October 3. Conference speakers, veteran attendees, and ILA staff members will provide a sneak peek of what to expect from ILA 2019 as well as offering their take on how to maximize your conference experience.
    • Pack wisely.  Temperature in New Orleans is usually in the high 70s/low 80s in October but can be cooler at night—and we all know how chilly conference centers tend to be. Dress in layers, and when it comes to shoes, consider opting for comfort over style. (The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is the sixth largest convention center in the United States!) Other must-have items include phone and device chargers (portable if possible), a reusable water bottle, and business cards.
    • Prepare to connect. There will be plenty of opportunities to network at the ILA 2019 Conference, including the First-Timers Event, Literacy Night at Mardi Gras World, and even during breaks between sessions. Bring your business cards to facilitate info swaps. Better yet, create a contact card for yourself in your phone and share via AirDrop or text message.

    Once you arrive on-site:

    • Visit Registration. Pick up your materials, including your name badge and badge holders, tickets, and a prestuffed tote bag with printed program book (if you’re taking a shuttle bus, it will drop you off near Registration). Registration is open 12:00 PM–6:00 PM on Wednesday, 7:00 AM–6:00 PM on Thursday, 7:00 AM–5:00 PM on Friday and Saturday, and 7:00 AM–11:00 AM on Sunday.
    • Check out the Welcome to ILA 2019 Event. Join us in the Exhibit Hall on Thursday, October 10, from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM to mix and mingle while exploring new products and learning the latest innovations and cutting-edge resources. Registration is filling up for this exclusive event, so reserve your spot soon.
    • Swing by the ILA Resource Lounge. The lounge is a space to network, connect with colleagues, and recharge while learning about all things ILA (including membership, journals, and ILA 2020 Conference).
    • Find the "Ask Me" guides. Look for these friendly folks wearing big ILA buttons that say "ASK ME"—they’ll be prepared to answer all your conference-related questions.
    • Grab a shuttle schedule. ILA will provide complimentary shuttle service between most official ILA 2019 Conference hotels and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center starting on Thursday, October 10 at 6:30 AM. Schedules will be available on-site and in the lobbies of hotels on the official scheduled route. Our official hotel list identifies which locations are on the shuttle route.
    • Explore the local literary scene. New Orleans is a vibrant city, known for its jazz music, Cajun food, architecture, and, yes—its rich literary scene.
    • Browse the Exhibit Hall. Kick off conference and get in the Mardi Gras spirit at our new Exhibit Hall preview and networking event on Thursday from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM. With more than 100 exhibitors present, attendees can learn the latest innovations, catch a book signing by a favorite author, make valuable new connections, and more. Following the event, the hall will be open 9:30 AM–5:00 PM on Friday and 8:00 AM–3:00 PM on Saturday.

    See you in New Orleans!

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

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    ILA 2019: Behind the Scenes

    By Kelly Bothum
     | Aug 30, 2019
    ila2019-behind-the-scenesWhen attendees arrive in New Orleans, LA, for the International Literacy Association
    (ILA) 2019 Conference, they won’t have to worry about navigating the convention center, accessing Wi-Fi, looking for water refill stations, or even finding the nearest bathrooms.

    All of that—and much more—will have already been done by the ILA staff handling the behind-the-scenes logistics of a dynamic conference that draws 5,000 educators from around the globe each year. From constructing the conference Exhibit Hall and deciding on room placements for speakers, to helping with dietary needs and mapping out shuttle routes for attendees, ILA staffers work hard to make the conference the benchmark of educational professional development.

    Their attention to detail allows attendees to focus on what matters—listening to internationally renowned speakers, networking with fellow educators, and getting inspired by other literacy leaders.

    “This conference is meant to be a one-stop shop for anyone in the literacy realm,” says Becky Fetterolf, professional learning manager for ILA. “If you are a classroom teacher, an administrator, a reading specialist, or librarian, we want to make sure you can take something back to your school.”

    By the time attendees head into the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans this fall—October 10–13, to be exact—ILA staff will already not only have been on-site for several days, ensuring finishing touches are perfect, but also be deeply entrenched in the planning for the 2020 conference and beyond.

    “It’s like creating a strategic plan every year,” says Valerie Sumner, ILA’s director of meetings and events. “We look at the conference through the eyes of those who are attending. We focus on what you see when you arrive at the airport, when you get to the hotel, when you look at the app to see the speakers. All those little pieces are strategically discussed and planned so that it all comes together. It seems like it naturally happened, and that’s the goal.”

    Bringing the vision to life

    The ILA conference lasts four days, bookended by Institute Day and Children’s Literature Day, but the prep work starts long before the first speaker takes the podium.

    ILA teams begin mapping out the logistical pieces of the conference puzzle more than a year in advance. ILA carefully considers a range of criteria when selecting a city and securing agreements for a convention center to host the conference (often solidified anywhere from three to five years in advance). A typical convention center will have 30 to 40 rooms of varying sizes that can handle the 300 sessions that take place over the four-day span.

    High on the list of conference must-haves is a city with good access to an airport and flight options. It also needs about 2,500 hotel rooms for the estimated 5,000 attendees and exhibitors. Walkability is tricky. The city needs to be accessible on foot, but hotels and conference sessions should be in relative proximity or be on a shuttle route to keep attendees from growing tired.

    Once a city is selected, Sumner says, the meetings and events team is dispatched to the host city to prepare for the marketing, professional development, and other critical needs of the conference. Even while latestage conference planning is going on in New Orleans, several teams from ILA will already have been visiting Columbus, OH, the site of the ILA 2020 Conference.

    Michele Jester, program implementation manager for ILA, was part of the team from ILA that visited local education and library officials earlier this year to learn more about Columbus’s educational and literacy environment. The team also helped to identify opportunities for interaction, partnership, and sponsorship.

    “It’s about getting people in the city excited about us coming,” Jester says.

    Crafting the theme

    The theme of this year’s conference is “Creating a Culture of Literacy.” Fetterolf says programming began more than a year ago with brainstorming about potential keynote speakers and presenters who embody the theme. The process includes soliciting abstracts a year in advance from people who hope to present. Approximately 800 proposals are received, but only about one third are accepted due to a combination of space availability and the desire to craft a manageable conference experience that offers something for everyone without being overwhelming.

    Over the course of four days, the conference will include hundreds of sessions, featuring speakers with different topics and formats and in front of audiences of varying sizes. The General Session is the largest, and that’s where the biggest names—and audiences—can be found. This year, the lineup features Chelsea Clinton, Pedro Noguera, Renée Watson, and Hamish Brewer. Previous years have seen Octavia Spencer, Laurie Halse Anderson, Kwame Alexander, and LeVar Burton.

    In addition to one-hour speaking sessions, there are smaller, two-hour, roundtable-style workshops where attendees can experience a more hands-on approach. Poster sessions round out the offerings, allowing people to individually present their own research in literacy in an informal, conversation-friendly format.

    Given the number of presenters needed, the ILA team has more than their share of work just selecting speakers. It’s a tricky process that sounds a bit like a fantasy football draft, only featuring literacy superstars instead of athletes.

    To help simplify the process, each year, Lara Deloza, ILA senior communications manager, and the team create their own classification system using sticky notes, index cards, and spreadsheets, color-coding potential speakers on the basis of a number of factors including topic, availability, and diversity of background, thought, profession, and location.

    “It’s really a numbers game,” Deloza says. “It’s a math equation.” Availability during the conference matters, but it’s just one factor to consider. A mix of voices—authors, researchers, and scholars—is also sought. Diversity is a major driver, Deloza adds, but the goal is to recognize diversity in ways beyond race, age, gender, and ethnicity to include experience and educational background, among other considerations.

    A final criterion for consideration, for presenters other than General Session and featured speakers, is peer review. At least three people are asked to score each prospective speaker on a scale of 1 to 10. The higher the overall peer score, the better that person’s chances of being asked to present. “If you get a 30, you’re going to get on the program,” Fetterolf says.

    Unlike some conferences, most speakers aren’t compensated by ILA for their participation. The majority of General Session speakers, for example, come courtesy of a publishing company—such as Clinton for this year.

    Room to grow—or a no-show

    Fetterolf says one of the most frequent questions attendees and speakers ask regards the size of the room that is assigned to a speaker. Room assignments can vary from small spaces for under 100 people to larger areas that can accommodate 600 people for featured speaker sessions. It takes a bit of prediction—and sometimes luck—to determine the best size room for a speaker, Sumner says. Considerations include professional interest in the topic and the speaker’s own past crowd draw.

    There have been times where a speaker’s popularity has meant a fully packed room with people standing outside the door and additional people allowed in only when someone else leaves, per the restrictions of the local fire marshal. Conversely, there also have been times when a speaker was expected to be a big draw but attendance was lower than expected.

    “We do collect data of room attendance. We do data crunching,” Jester says. “We guess as best as we can.”

    Ready for long days—and anything else

    During the four-day conference stretch, it’s not unusual for staff to literally be on their feet for 14 or more hours each day. Thanks to the popularity of fitness trackers among ILA staff, we know that works out to about 25,000 steps a day each day of the conference, on average. (The unofficial daily record is 31,000 steps for one weary-footed staffer.)

    Veteran conference staff know there is little downtime during these days, but they like the opportunity to interact with attendees. ILA staff are not hard to find. All staff attend conference events in their signature Meyer lemon yellow conference shirts and gold name badges.

    “You’re hands-on the whole weekend,” Jester says. “We’re the first ones to get there and the last ones to leave.”

    Like any good team, they can hustle on the fly. When bad weather caused a power loss at the ILA 2017 Conference in Orlando, FL, the staff continued registering attendees by hand. They quickly reconfigured meeting spaces in San Antonio, TX, in 2013 when conference organizers discovered they were missing two previously scheduled rooms. Security and safety plans previously put in place meant there was a protocol when a pregnant woman became overheated and fainted during one of the sessions.

    “You just have to be ready for anything,” Jester says.

    Many of the last-minute challenges come from helping attendees locate missing cell phones, purses, or personal items. As much as the staff tries to anticipate attendee needs, there can be a few surprises, like realizing that conference-goers are walking in a different direction in the convention center than organizers expected.

    “As you are there walking around, you see it’s not what we thought,” says Amy Taylor, meetings and events coordinator, of the conference center layout and signage. “Then you need to go ahead and make that adjustment on-site.”

    The preponderance of women in education often means a quick reconfiguring of bathrooms to accommodate the disparity. This year, that also includes greater accessibility to gender neutral bathrooms.

    A personalized experience

    Over the years, the ILA conference has changed to better represent the needs of its attendees. Jester says gone is the one-size-fits-all approach, replaced by a more personalized experience that’s built upon the goal of connecting and enriching the experience of those attending the conference.

    Sumner says a good example is the conference program, which used to be a cumbersome, 400-page book that weighed attendees down. About four years ago, ILA switched to a mobile app that provides a continuous update of the day’s events. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and it has helped cut down on printing expenses.

    The program is still available in a smaller printed form—only about half the number of pages—but most users opt for the app, Sumner says. Even the most well-planned events usually have a hiccup or two, and the ILA conference is no exception. Fetterolf says attendees sometimes get frustrated by the room sizes, issues with lighting, or unexpected programmatic changes.

    But it’s their passion for education that overshadows any issues that may arise during the conference. ILA staff witness firsthand how attendees feel so strongly about the work they do. That perspective helps when trying to smooth over any logistical problems.

    “They’re really invested,” says Wes Ford, ILA digital communications associate. “It makes sense they get so passionate about it.”

    For example, at last year’s Equity in Education program during the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, TX, Ford says one attendee wept in appreciation for the panel on LGBTQ equity in the educational space.

    “He said, ‘Thank you for making me feel seen,’” Ford says, adding that the educator often saw work being done to ensure students felt seen, but he never felt seen as a teacher. That man’s reaction, Ford says, validated the work done by the team during the conference.

    “It matters to us. We don’t want them to feel like we are ignoring them. We are as passionate about their education as they are.”

    Witness it for yourself

    At the time of publication, there are just 13 weeks until ILA 2019. That’s about 90 days until showtime. And yet, the behind-the-scenes work doesn’t end when the conference begins. You wouldn’t know it—and that’s by design. Part of the job is making sure you get not only a seamless conference experience but also a sense of how valued you are for the work you do every day.

    “This is the one time of year when we get face-to-face time with our members,” Deloza says. “It reminds us of why we do what we do and why it matters. It’s all for them.”

    Kelly Bothum is a former newspaper reporter who now works as a communications specialist for the University of Delaware.

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