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    My Journey Into TPACK for Personalized Professional Development

    By Charline Barnes Rowland
     | Aug 07, 2019

    Several years ago, I transitioned from being a teacher educator who prepares literacy professionals to a professional developer who designs, facilitates, and coordinates training for college faculty. While I worked with instructors from all disciplines in higher education, I am constantly being reminded that I myself need to continuously participate in ongoing professional learning. However, with an extremely busy work schedule, this year I decided to forgo conferences and instead embrace Standard 6 of ILA’s

    Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017—Professional Learning and Leadership—via a 14-week online graduate course.

    In a 2017 Literacy Daily post, education writer, editor, and literary host Willona Sloan writes about personalizing one’s professional development. She specifically mentions using digital tools and platforms that help literacy educators acquire skills and knowledge to tailor to their own and their school’s needs.

    Not only did this course fulfill my state teaching certification requirement, but also it exposed me to more online tools and strategies for preparing learners for present and future. The online graduate course used the D2L learning management system. The instructor hosted and recorded weekly, synchronous videoconference meetings with Zoom.

    The course was centered on the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework, which focuses on effective teaching with technology. This may involve application of specific technologies for subject matter learning. The use of digital tools and resources to support student learning was constantly highlighted throughout the course following International Society for Technology in Education standards. Throughout this course, the instructor, Professor Whitman, allowed us to provide kindergarten through adult technology tools through her SLAM (Sharing, Learning and Mentoring) table as noted below.


    However, rubrics were the main form of assessment for the assignments in this course.

    The instructor also required demonstration of content knowledge. As a specialized literacy professional, I used both ILA and the National Council of Teachers of English to showcase my literacy and language knowledge. For example, the Group Change Story assignment, “Suzy Sloth Makes a Breakthrough,” allowed me to collaborate with an elementary teacher to write a seven-slide story about a person’s change process while trying to integrate innovation. We selected Edpuzzle, an interactive video lesson site, as the innovation. The instructor provided the story template via Google Docs. As a result, I reconnected with digital storytelling tools such as LittleBirdTales for creating original art and voice recordings, Pixton for Schools for creating digital comics, and VoiceThread, an interactive audio narration that can be embedded in a site or blog.

    I experienced pedagogical knowledge trends by reviewing 16 Habits of Mind and nine elements of digital citizenship. With a growth mind-set, I created two projects that incorporated these two trends. My learning management system project, a self-paced module entitled “Diversity Practices in Online Courses,” is an example where college instructors identify and discuss issues related to inclusive teaching in higher education. The module consisted of creating a word cloud around the term diversity, completing a 3-2-1 self-reflection and an online quiz. I also created and facilitated an iMovie professional development session for K–12 teachers. Participants learn to incorporate the iMovie tool into lessons to plan, create, and assess short student videos. These pedagogical knowledge trends helped me to be a more reflective practitioner–scholar as I aligned learning objectives with educational outcomes to enhance critical and responsible ways in which instructors can work with learners in traditional and digital learning environments.

    My personalized TPACK journey concluded with relinking to innovation in education technology, to exploring digital tools and to strengthening my ability to coordinate digital professional learning experiences. Going on this path enabled me to contribute and advocate for interrelationship to content knowledge, teaching and learning practices, and professional learning communities. Through this journey, I enhanced my ability to create opportunities for teachers to collaborate, discuss, and apply what they learn in a variety of learning spaces. Why not try your own personalized professional development and see where it leads you in addressing the needs of your learners and colleagues?           
    I am grateful to Professor Melissa Whitman, Technology Integration Specialist, in the Nazareth Area (Pennsylvania) School District, for expanding my online teaching tool kit through her course.

    Charline Barnes Rowland is a teaching and learning consultant for the University Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a former university faculty member, public school classroom teacher, and reading specialist, and member of the Board of Directors of ILA (formerly International Reading Association). She received her EdD in curriculum and instruction from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), a master’s degree in reading education from George Washington University, and a bachelor’s degree in English education and psychology from Syracuse University.

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    What Do Mechanics, Detectives, and Activists Have in Common? Digital Safety!

    By Aimee Morewood and Elizabeth Huff
     | Jul 24, 2019

    Last fall, Liz, a preservice teacher, approached me about possibly working together to complete some of the required contract hours at her professional development school (PDS). Contract hours consisted of developing a unique plan of learning opportunities that also benefited the PDS where she spent three consecutive years.

    Of course, when she came and asked me to be a part of this project I was more than happy to oblige—now we just needed to figure out the project! 

    After a few conversations we started to consider how ILA’s
    Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017, specifically Standards 2 and 5—Curriculum and Instruction and Learners and the Literacy Environment, respectively—would impact our work. This focus stemmed from past conversations between us about effective elementary literacy practices. For Liz to better understand the standards, she first reviewed the standards for pre-K and primary-level classroom teachers. Then, she explored this work at her PDS to learn how practicing teachers were enacting these standards.

    Liz spoke with individual teachers and grade-level teams to gain a better sense of what these two standards looked like in the classrooms of a rural elementary school. While she found a variety of examples for the two standards, Standard 5 kept rising to the top of the conversations. More specifically, Liz found herself talking about and looking for evidence of Component 3: “Candidates incorporate safe, appropriate, and effective ways to use digital technologies in literacy and language learning experiences.”

    As Liz spoke with teachers about the digital technologies and the literacy learning practices they used in their schools, teachers began to discuss the need for incorporating basic technology skills into their daily instruction. For example, the media specialist discussed how she noticed that students were unaware of simple computer skills, such as restarting a computer to update the applications. She discussed with Liz how she now has students practice turning their computers off at the end of each class so that they get into the habit of doing this with the technology they use independently. There are many technological maintenance methods that we do on a normal basis and may spend little time thinking about, therefore, we may forget to explicitly direct students on how to complete these tasks. In fact, we might be missing out on teaching some of the most basic technology information because we make assumptions that students know what to do and why.

    As Liz thought more about basic digital skills, she considered what else might be assumed by teachers about students’ understanding of safe digital literacy practices. She recognized that students need opportunities to engage with digital tools to better understand how these tools function. After speaking with practicing teachers and thinking through these assumptions, Liz articulated three ways to include safe digital practices in elementary classrooms and schools.

    • Computer mechanics: This activity allows early-grade students to sleuth through basic tools and functions of a computer. Students are given the opportunity to learn about the tools of a computer and how to properly maintain technology through a scavenger hunt approach. For example, they can be asked to copy, cut, and paste part of a document as part of the technology scavenger hunt.
    • Cyber detectives: As we all know, we must move students beyond the “Sign here for safety” contract/ideas of cyber safety and toward a deeper understanding of safe digital practices. Students in the upper elementary grades can participate in Cybersmart Detectives, a teacher-led interactive class activity that reinforces messages about personal safety and protective measures for dealing with strangers online.
    • Real-world activists: Teachers can use real-world scenarios that involve different types of technology and social media to discuss online safety. Student debates can be structured to position students to take on and defend different perspectives within these real situations so that they can then better understand the variables at play and how to avoid undesirable situations online. Students can then organize a schoolwide event to advocate for safe digital practices across the school community.

    As you can see, our intention is to provide ways to teach students about safe digital practices from early elementary school through high school. These suggestions align well with Standard 5, Component 3. Of course, these skills and activities should be implemented using a developmentally appropriate lens to ensure relevance and understanding. This will support student learning and will help to keep our students safe as they engage with different technology and platforms both in and out of school.

    Aimee Morewood is an associate professor at West Virginia University. She is the outreach coordinator for the fully online Master of Arts Literacy Education/Reading Specialist Certification program. 

    Liz Huff is a recent graduate of West Virginia University's Five-Year Teacher Education program. She is currently a third-grade teacher in Virginia. 

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    Pay It Back

    By Pamela J. Farris
     | Jun 18, 2019
    LT366_reflections_ldReading and writing are critical, and making opportunities for children to read and write has been a calling throughout my life. I came from an impoverished community. Through reading and writing, I was able to gain scholarships and loans to attend college. Since then, I’ve always made it a point to pay it back. From donating to the Little Free Library at Lot 12 of a trailer park in rural Illinois to working with inner-city students on writing skills, I’ve seen the advances children make once provided opportunities to engage in literacy. Along the way, I’ve seen various methods of making literacy happen for students.

    “Pay it forward” is a popular slogan. I believe providing opportunities for our future leaders is also critical. After retiring from Northern Illinois University as a distinguished teaching professor of literacy education, a fund was set up in my honor that provides $500 scholarships to student teachers to purchase children’s literature to build a teaching library for instructional purposes.

    “Pay it back so kids can move forward” is my personal motto. Each year, I donate a $500 Pamela J. Farris Rural Classroom Library to a teacher who is a member of the Illinois Reading Council and who teaches in a community of 8,000 or fewer. Some years, I’ve donated five such libraries as the need is great. Often there are no public libraries in the community. Funding for rural schools is minimal as there is little or no industry and often high levels of poverty.

    This summer, my husband, Richard Fluck, a retired school superintendent, and I decided it was time to take it further. We donated $15,000 worth of new books, featuring noted authors and illustrators across a variety of genres, to Central and Fillmore elementary schools in Indiana, which is where I began my teaching career. The books are in bins that move each quarter from classroom to classroom to enhance each teacher’s personal library. Research demonstrates that students read more when they have ready access to books

    The kids and their teachers were excited when, on a hot August day, I drove up in a pickup truck filled with new children’s and young adult books. The students beamed as they carried books into their school. They chattered about the authors they already knew and titles they selected to read. That made it all worthwhile.

    These are difficult times for schools. I believe we have an obligation as teachers to “pay it back so kids can move forward.” Whether it is sponsoring a child to get a new book each month, donating for preservice education scholarships, helping the schools we’ve taught in develop classroom libraries, volunteering in a school library that just lost its librarian because of budget cuts, or helping with other literacy projects, our donations make an important difference in the lives of teachers and students.

    Pamela J. Farris, an ILA member since 1975, is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus with the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education at Northern Illinois University. She is a former team leader for the ILA Teachers’ Choices and Children’s Choices reading list projects.

    This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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    A Fresh Take on Book Clubs Promotes Early Literacy Development

    By Maria Dismondy
     | Jun 13, 2019

    fresh-take-book-clubsDid you know when parents and caregivers are involved in their children’s reading habits, the children are more likely to be frequent readers later in life? When I found this out, a light bulb went off and the Family Book Study was born. I like to think of it as a movement that bridges literacy and family togetherness. Thinking back to my own childhood, I remember reading picture books with my grandma and chapter books with my sister. Through these experiences, I saw firsthand how books can enhance family time.

    To get this educational family reading event off the ground, I first reached out to my daughter’s school and got the staff on board. It took shape as an evening of togetherness that meets twice a year at the school.

    The books for each grade level are chosen and shared with the school families. We don’t limit this to parents and children, either. We have a diverse culture of families and do not want to exclude anyone.

    As the coordinator of this event, I search online lists of books that received positive reviews by families and educators on Goodreads, Amazon and Common Sense Media. I provide three to four titles to the school administrator who then asks the school staff to vote on which book will be assigned to each grade-level group. Having the teachers involved makes a difference as many of them offer to facilitate a discussion group the night of the event.

    Participants are then encouraged to read to, with, or alongside their children for the Family Book Study. We ensure families know how to get their hands on the chosen titles, many of which are free.

    On the evening of the event, the media center at my daughter’s school is buzzing with families excitedly discussing their books. As an author and literacy advocate, it doesn’t get much better than this.

    We start the evening with a book-themed icebreaker and then we’re off and running. To help the evening run smoothly, I provide discussion questions for each title and choose one adult facilitator for each group to help lead the discussions. Occasionally, I’ll even prep an activity for the younger children. For example, after reading the book, The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and Katz Cowley (Scholastic), students and family members worked together to create silly donkey puppets using markers and paper lunch bags. They were encouraged to recite the repetitive phrase from the book using their homemade puppet. Next, they were asked to come up with their own rhymes to be recited by their donkey puppet.

    The benefits of Family Book Study go beyond literacy development. It has helped strengthen family bonds and allowed parents to be intentional about reading quality literature with their children at home. One particular comment stands out after hosting several of these book nights. A grandmother told me how much she looks forward to this special night with her grandson. They read the book independently, then go out to dinner to discuss the book before the school event. We have had several of our English language learner families attend the event, which has provided them with a platform to make connections and build community.

    Ready to start your own Family Book Study? Download your how-to guide here

    Happy reading!

    Maria Dismondy is a former educator with over a decade of classroom experience. She graduated from Michigan State University with a BS and MA in education and child development. For the past 10 years, Maria has been writing children’s picture books, speaking at schools across the United States, and raising her own three little readers. She is passionate about literacy, character education, and promoting positive family engagement. Find out more at or

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    Incarceration of Shame for Young Readers

    By Justin Stygles
     | May 30, 2019

    Have you ever felt anger because you had to take responsibility for something you couldn’t control?

    Time to read independently is not always a guarantee for a maturing reader. Yet the reader can be subject to the consequences of being denied such an opportunity.

    A student might develop shame after repeatedly admitting he didn’t read at home—but perhaps not admitting he didn’t read due to challenges or circumstances he couldn’t control. The student’s sense of self, his feelings about himself as a reader, his life circumstances, and the teacher’s reaction to the transgression are all factors that determine the extent of shame he feels.

    Let’s consider possible responses to the reader who continually errs in his responsibilities.

    • Is our response to the student one of forgiveness? Or do we punish (detention, loss of recess, etc.)?
    • Do we leave room for the student to explain his circumstances or feelings? Or is our expectation final?
    • Do we believe the student is capable of changing his ways? Or is the student “like the rest of his family?”
    • What supports can we offer? Or do we leave the student to work through these challenges alone?
    • Do our responses leave open the possibility for future success? Or do we leave the reader feeling responsible for an existence he hardly has any control over?

    Consider the different responses I have given students in the past:

    “Ok. What happened last night? Can you try again tonight?”

    "You didn’t read again? How is this going to look on your report card?”

    The latter creates shame. My reply stifled the student and left him no recourse. If you’re like me, this was an automatic response intended to impose healthy shame by “righting” the reader. Instead, I inflicted negative shame. The terseness of “You didn’t read again?” implies personal failure on the reader’s behalf. I held little value for the reader’s circumstances outside of the classroom, alienating his being. Further, I transferred my shame about my failure to inspire reading by holding him accountable to my pedagogy.

    Before any reader is “corrected,” we need to consider the following:

    • Does the student have a safe place to read? 
    • Is the student ridiculed at home for reading?
    • Is the student unable to read and comprehend the book without help?
    • Are the student’s parents illiterate, nonnative English speakers, or struggling readers who cannot offer any support?
    • What else might be going on?

    There seems to be growing rhetoric suggesting that students need to be given time to read in school because they aren’t likely reading at home. In the rural communities where I’ve taught, I know this to be quite true. However, I have also realized that many students do not read at home because they genuinely do not know how. The expectation from parents and teachers is to simply read at home. With such a broad expectation, there is no doubt a broad range of interactions that can constitute reading, not all of which involve meaningful, personal interaction between the reader and the written word.

    Our endeavor to teach students reading should never be about punishment or consequences. Blame creates shame, which later induces reluctance and even resistance. Learning to read, I have found, is a gift, and also a responsibility, from teacher to students. As a parent once told me, “I send my son to you because you can teach him things I cannot.” In many cases, the “cannot” includes not only fluency and decoding but also the circumstances that permit successful reading. Perhaps a student cannot read successfully outside of school. Should that be the case, I have the distinction or honor of creating time before, during, or after school to make reading possible. In turn, I help students become shame-resistant readers.

    Justin Stygles, an ILA member since 2008, is a fifth-grade teacher in Wiscasset, ME. He's taught for 15 years in various settings. You can follow him on Twitter @justinstygles.

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