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    10 Ways to Promote Independent Reading

    By Samantha Stinchcomb
     | Nov 30, 2017

    Independent Reading The idea of reading for pleasure is often lost among the various assigned readings and increased emphasis on test preparation. However, strong readers are those who can read and analyze a diverse range of texts. It is important for a student to be able to indulge in independent, self-selected reading both in and out of the classroom. Below is a list of ways to encourage students to read for pleasure as well as tips on facilitating an independent reading culture in your classroom.

    1. Host a book club. Book clubs are a great way to cultivate a community of readers that fosters connectivity through shared reading and discussion. Let the club members choose the books collectively—this encourages students to step outside their comfort zone and explore new genres.
    2. Collaborate with your local library. Invite staff from the local library to your school to introduce students to the many books, programs, resources, and services available to them. Help them obtain a library card and demonstrate all the ways they can use the nearest public library to their advantage.
    3. Host a young author read-aloud. Invite students to read an original story aloud to their peers, educators, and parents. This gives students a platform to showcase their work while helping to build confidence. 
    4. Reenact favorite books. Ask students to create a movie version of their favorite book. This is an opportunity for them to display how they envisioned the characters and events. Allow room for interpretation—let students decide a new ending or a twist in the plot they would’ve liked to see.
    5. Mystery check-outs. Wrap books in wrapping paper and encourage students to blindly choose a “mystery book.” This is a fun way to help students venture out of their comfort zone with a new author, genre, or series.
    6. Make time for independent reading. Set aside around 15–20 minutes per day for independent reading of self-selected books. Encourage discussion afterward to measure students' progress.
    7. Lead by example. Join students’ independent reading time! Make sure they see that you put everything else aside to focus on reading. Share your thoughts on the book you’re reading, and model any close reading or comprehension strategies you employ.
    8. Host a reading-related event. Host a book fair to promote reading as a passion, not an assignment. Invite parents to visit, encouraging at-home reading as well.
    9. Assign a reading log. Ask students to keep track of what and how much they’ve read. Encourage them to write down any questions or comments that may arise, so they can revisit them upon completion.
    10. Get parents involved. Remind parents that the time spent fostering literacy outside of the classroom is just as important as time spent inside the classroom. Check out these tips on ways you can support family literacy. 

    There is no one right way to successfully inspire independent reading, but establishing a strong classroom culture of reading is an important first step. Visit TeachThought's "25 Ways Schools Can Promote Literacy And Independent Reading" for more ideas.

    Samantha Stinchcomb is an intern at the International Literacy Association.           

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    The Unplanned Lesson Plan

    By Julie Scullen
     | Nov 28, 2017

    unplanned-lesson-planFive high school students just spent six weeks teaching me how to be a better teacher.

    It started in the usual way. I thought I was teaching them

    As a reading intervention specialist, I spend much of my time in a cubicle, in a space that used to be a classroom but is now repurposed as our district office. In my cubicle, I fill out forms, answer emails, plan professional development, write SMART goals, and perform “other duties as assigned.”

    I find, however, that every now and then, I need to surface to work with students and teachers. If I don’t, I forget why I’m in the cubicle: to make certain every one of our students sees success. 

    In an effort to try out some reading strategies I’d recently read about in education journals, I asked a fellow teacher if I could borrow a small group of students a couple times a week during her reading intervention class. I asked for her reluctant readers, the ones who consistently neglected to remember their book and take the longest to get on task. Masterful avoiders. Strangely, she was incredibly willing. She provided me with five names and asked how soon I could start. 

    I thought that if I brought in truly authentic and interesting reads, they’d devour them, instantly discover the joy of reading, and go on to share that joy with all their friends. No problem. I forgot that these boys didn’t read the journals I did, so they didn’t know how great these ideas were.

    The first day I just attempted to get to know them. I was not the first person to attempt to “make them like reading.” I was met with eye rolls and snickers when I asked what they liked to read. One young man even retreated into his hoodie like a turtle into his shell and yanked the strings tight so that only his nose was visible. Another informed me, “Just so you know, I have an attitude problem.”

     

    Lesson one: what I find meaningful is not necessarily what they find meaningful

    The second day I brought in Terrible Things by Eve Bunting, an allegory of the Holocaust, depicted by animals. I started in confidently, asking them what they would do if they witnessed someone treating others poorly. Would they step in? “It depends. Do I know them?” It was an interesting conversation, but not as life-changing as I had envisioned. After we finished, one of the students asked why I made them read a story about fish, birds, and bunnies. Clearly, he had missed the point of the book.

    Lesson two: cool toys and strategies don’t make reluctant readers want to read

    Frustrated, I tried something different. Rather than use the authentic and interesting books, I brought in informational texts and tried to infuse useful reading strategies. Who wouldn’t enjoy a strong informational text when they had cool, colored sticky notes to track their thinking? They were bound to engage, right? Wrong. We read, they dutifully put their sticky notes in the appropriate places, they were compliant. But they didn’t engage or have any type of animated conversation. No one asked for more. I was still headed in the wrong direction.

    Lesson three: they will engage, if you ask the right questions

    Then something horrifying and wonderful happened. I brought in an article about issues facing youth, but it wasn’t long enough to fill the block of time we had that day. I had to figure out what to do with five disengaged students for 15 minutes until lunch. Panicking on the inside, I stalled. “So, what do you think? Was the author right?” Blank stares. “What do WE think? Do WE think he’s right? I don’t get it.” I carried on. “Yes, tell me what YOU think.” After a few tense moments, one of them spoke. From across the table, someone agreed. Then someone disagreed. I let them talk. And talk.

    And then, miracle of miracles, one of them pointed to the article and said something that made my heart skip a beat. “Yea, right here he says that, but I don’t think that’s what he MEANT.” More talking.

    The next week, I came prepared with more short texts and very little planned.  I let them lead me.

    Lesson four: if you build trust, they will come

    I realized what I needed to ask “What do YOU want to read about next? I’ll bring that next time.” And we started a list. 

    I had one rule: no politics. Otherwise, we could read and talk about whatever they wanted. They wanted to know more about materialism. Time management. World hunger efforts. Stereotypes.  

    In this small group, I could probe deeply. Why are you so sure? How do you know that? What makes you so certain? Now, with trust that comes from consistency and without the pressure of a grade, they could call each other out. “Bro. Seriously, what does this have to do with race? You are so wrong, man.”

    Unfortunately, things got busy, and I had things that needed to be accomplished back in my cubicle. I had to stop meeting with the students.

    On my last day, we read an article together and had our final conversation. The group went to lunch, except one. He was still reading, and he held up his hand so I didn’t interrupt.

    Then, he said the most amazing thing: “Am I allowed to have this article? I want to take it home and finish it.”

    And I was able to say, “Yep, it’s yours. And I can show you how to find more on your own just like it.”

    They taught me well.

    Julie ScullenJulie Scullen, an ILA member since 2005, is a teaching and learning specialist for secondary reading in Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.

    This piece originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Literacy Today, ILA's member magazine. 

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    “Rooting” On Adolescents

    By Rebecca Hendrix and Robert Griffin
     | Nov 22, 2017

    Rooting on AdolescentsEquipping adolescents to improve their vocabulary proficiency through greater morphological knowledge is not solely an exercise in isolated skills or memorization. Rather, it is a cohesive piece of the greater literacy puzzle that improves learners’ overall reading and writing abilities by strengthening both their vocabularies and their critical thinking skills.

    Often young readers are exposed to roots, prefixes, and suffixes as part of early literacy development. However, in many instances—particularly for students in middle and high school—this area of study is shelved until it’s time for skill-and-drill test preparation, that is, standardized testing.

    Although it may be important for adolescents to refresh their knowledge of affixes prior to these types of assessments, “one-and-done” cram sessions or other isolated examples are not effective for true morphological acquisition or vocabulary application.

    Gaps within students’ vocabulary bases result in vocabulary equity gaps that only continue to widen without explicit, targeted attention. To avoid these gaps, adolescents need classroom opportunities to apply morphological study to authentic literacy tasks.

    Practical advice for literacy educators

    Literacy educators can provide both middle and high school students with opportunities for improved interactions with morphemes by ensuring that morphological awareness is an integrated part of classroom literacy culture. The key word here is integrated; morphological awareness is found to be most advantageous when it is included as part of balanced literacy curricula and initiatives.

    By integrating morphology study within literacy curricula and in conjunction with other proven best practices in literacy, word study becomes a part of students’ literacy “tool kits,” as they individually strive to become more adept readers, writers, and thinkers. To equip adolescents with the skills they need to improve their morphological awareness, educators need to assess vocabulary from a morphological standpoint and authenticate students’ morphological knowledge using relevant literacy tasks.

    Begin with a differentiated focus

    Within the parameters of morphological study, operating with a differentiated focus is critical to the development of morphological awareness by English learners (ELs). Greek- and Latin-based languages share more cognates (words with similar etymology and pronunciation across languages) with English speakers. Therefore, ELs from Greek- and Latin-based languages have stronger baseline knowledge of morphemes than their native English–speaking peers.

    Language teachers should be directly involved in morphology instruction using appropriate formative assessments that measure students’ prior morphological knowledge and their ability to interpret words from a morphological standpoint. Quick, informal, and ungraded tickets in the door or out the door can be used to briefly assess students’ understanding of morphemes. Students can be grouped on the basis of their strengths and weaknesses for more targeted instruction.

    Implement strategic instruction

    Scaffolding specific morphological word-attack strategies empowers students to learn how to analyze words with the assistance of an instructor or peer, eventually moving toward independent application. Approaching morphology study from a differentiated standpoint allows educators to cater instruction and coaching to the needs of individual students.

    For example, students who have a basic understanding of morphemes to investigate basic word families with common roots, such as hydro- or spec would be a good starting point. For advanced students, manipulating familiar roots with various affixes allows students to revisit prior knowledge and build new connections and meaning. All students can keep a running personal glossary in their notes or journals of new vocabulary and new morphemes to which they may refer when reading and writing.

    Provide authentic applications

    Morphological knowledge, like other literacy skills, should be reaffirmed through authentic reading and writing tasks. Scaffolding text difficulty on the basis of the Lexile levels of texts and on learners’ reading levels directly influences the type of vocabulary with which students interact, and provides opportunities for them to apply morphological knowledge for the ultimate purpose of reading comprehension.

    Integrating widespread texts across content areas can be synthesized through text-based writing, through which students apply newly acquired and morphologically rich vocabulary and bolster the critical thinking skills necessary for college and career readiness. For example, if a student encounters a science or social studies text—which are increasingly more common as literacy expands throughout curricula—he or she will need to use morphologically complex words from that text in his or her written reader’s response. If the student paraphrases a morphologically complex word, teachers can aptly assess whether the student understood morphemes and comprehended the text.

    Moving forward

    Improving morphological awareness among adolescents is best achieved using long-term integration alongside other literacy best practices. Educators who include targeted morphological study in the adolescent literacy classroom provide students with the opportunity to develop vocabulary acquisition skills that will prepare them for college, for careers, and for literacy interactions throughout their whole lives—this, indeed, is something to “root” on.

    Rebecca Hendrix Rebecca Hendrix is a third-year candidate in the University of West Georgia School Improvement Doctoral Program as well as a sixth-grade English language arts and reading teacher at a rural northwest Georgia middle school, where she has taught for nine years.

    Robert GriffinRobert Griffin, an ILA member since 2016, is an instructional leader who inspires culturally and linguistically diverse students to achieve and perform to their highest potential. He is also a part-time faculty member in the Department of Literacy and Special Education at the University of West Georgia.

    This piece originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Literacy Today, ILA's member magazine. 

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    Celebrate Thanksgiving with These Literacy Activities

    By Samantha Stinchcomb
     | Nov 21, 2017

    Turkey ReadingAs U.S. schools prepare to go on Thanksgiving break this week, it can be difficult to keep students engaged and learning amidst the excitement. The days leading up to break present a perfect opportunity to think about values such as gratitude, charity, friendship, and community. Below are a few ways to celebrate the holiday while improving literacy skills!

    • Have students make an “I Am Thankful for…” book, where they write and illustrate what they are most thankful for. This encourages students to demonstrate gratitude while also strengthening their reading and writing skills. 
    • Create your own Feed the Turkey game to help tone reading skills. Using an interactive game keeps students interested and constantly learning throughout.
    • Construct felt depictions of traditional Thanksgiving characters, such as turkeys and vegetables. These can be used to retell fun Thanksgiving stories or to invent your own!
    • See how many different words your child can build by rearranging the letters in Thanksgiving-themed words, such as “thankful,” “turkey,” and “pilgrim.”
    • Play the Gobble Gobble Game. This is a fun, competitive way to practice the alphabet.
    • Help students create Thanksgiving dinner menus. This will give them a chance to show off their writing skills to dinner guests!
    • Challenge students to The New York TimesThanksgiving-themed crossword puzzle.
    • Learn about the language and culture of the Wampanoag tribe.

    For more ideas, check out our previous Thanksgiving-themed blog posts.

    Samantha Stinchcomb is an intern at the International Literacy Association.           

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    Reaching for Excellence

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 16, 2017

    Reaching for Excellence2015–2016 was the most challenging year of Julie Stover’s career.

    Pennsylvania had just rolled out the overhauled PA Core Standards and a new, more rigorous Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) that contained critical thinking and open-ended questions as well as more nonfiction reading. PSSA scores weigh heavily on School Performance Profile—the “report card” used to evaluate students, teachers, and students. Low test scores set up schools for possible state intervention.

    “Being teachers, we already pressure ourselves. We hope to have every child reach his or her potential. But we felt a new and different push to raise ‘rigor’ and move full speed ahead. We saw more test practice, data walls, and higher teacher accountability,” says Stover, a reading specialist at East York Elementary.

    When the scores came back, the teachers at East York Elementary breathed a sigh of relief. They hadn’t just done well, they had performed in the top 5% of Title I schools in the state.

    Their celebration was short lived.

    “Some of us gave a weak cheer. Then we began to wonder. We were successful, but at what cost?” says Stover. “How could we justify the cost of the accomplishment when students were excited to stop learning? The children couldn’t wait to get away from books. We wanted them running toward them.”

    Data talk

    On the basis of its test results, East York Elementary was identified as a High Progress School, recognizing its progress in closing achievement gaps in PSSA scores among all students and historically underperforming students. Under this designation, schools are eligible and encouraged to apply for Innovation Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which must be used to implement new learning structures and processes that support individual needs.

    Stover was responsible for managing the application process, which required her to substantiate PSSA data and to provide a detailed plan of how East York Elementary would use the grant money, if successfully awarded.

    As she scoured the school’s PSSA data, she noticed that the fifth grade had shown the most improvement from the previous year. Aside from their age, the only common denominator among these students was their shared participation in the Notice and Note close-reading strategies. Authored by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, Notice and Note provides students with six “signposts” that signal readers to pause and reflect at “aha moments,” and other significant moments in the text. The tool kit also includes anchor questions to help facilitate discussion.

    Wendy Ross, a fifth-grade teacher, says she introduced the strategy to give students a stronger sense of ownership over their reading routine.

    “I think I was frustrated; my students didn’t seem to be enjoying reading. I felt like they didn’t have any power, not just in choice but in how they approached the text,” says Ross. “This strategy passed that power back to them—now, they’re in charge of finding meaning in their reading.”

    After observing Ross’s success, Stover and writing teacher Amy Mason helped her deliver the Notice and Note strategies to the rest of the fifth-grade class. They too noticed improvements—not only in the students’ comprehension, but also in their attitude towards reading.

    “It went beyond the quantifiable data. Kids were talking, the depth of their conversations was greater, and their writing was starting to tell more—there was detail and evidence,” says Stover.

    Stover proposed that, if awarded an innovation grant, East York Elementary would use the funds to implement Notice and Note strategies throughout the school. Everyone was on board.

    “We saw this small pocket of success in one classroom. We wanted to spread that success through the rest of the school,” says Denise Fuhrman, principal at East York Elementary.

    Boosting staff morale

    Of the 90 Innovation Grant applications, only 20 were funded. East York Elementary received one of the highest overall ratings and a grant.

    Stover’s first step was to restore staff morale. After a year of rigorous exam preparation, she feared burnout for students and teachers alike.

    Part of the problem, she knew, was the school’s outdated library. The staff sifted through Goodreads recommendations and ILA Choices selections to refresh their selection with a diverse range of titles that were highly engaging but also would enhance the Notice and Note reading routine.

    “It brought the joy of reading back into teaching and revitalized the staff,” says Fuhrman.

    Stover established weekly literacy team meetings where staff held book studies and discussions using the Notice and Note tool kit and designed posters, anchor charts, and bookmarks displaying signpost questions.

    The grant even provided for a training session hosted by authors Beers and Probst. Afterward, the teachers delivered mock lessons for the authors to troubleshoot.

    “This gave them the confidence and the physical support to say ‘We can actually do this,’” says Stover.

    A newfound love of reading

    Though the district has yet to receive its PSSA scores, Stover is confident that they will mirror the performance she sees in the classroom. She says the students have become more incisive thinkers, articulate speakers, and effective writers.

    “It teaches them to respectfully discuss things with one another. They may not agree with each other, but now, they can go back and look at the evidence and prove their point with facts,” says Stover.

    Mason noticed that students are more willing to share their ideas.

    “They have a voice and they feel confident in sharing what they found,” says Mason.

    Above all, the teachers were thrilled to see students’ newfound excitement towards reading. In an end-of-the-year survey, more than 80% of students said they gained a joy of reading.

    “When Common Core first came about, we all felt overwhelmed. We felt like we were plodding along. We’re no longer plodding along—we’re dancing through books,” says Ross.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of ILA’s blog, Literacy Daily.

    This piece originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Literacy Today, ILA's member magazine.

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