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    Changing Their Trajectory: A Small Caribbean Territory’s Big Lessons on Early Intervention

    By Brad Wilson
     | Jul 04, 2017

    Cayman IslandsCatching young readers before they stumble is one of the most important actions literacy educators can take. As world-renowned educational expert Avis Glaze often says, “The children cannot wait!”

    When it comes to learning to read, they certainly can’t.

    Solid foundational reading skills are key to future success and prosperity, yet too many teachers around the world feel helpless as they watch small reading gaps among their students widen into long-term reading challenges. This is an unfortunate reality given what contemporary research says about the vital importance of early literacy interventions via frameworks such as Response to Intervention (RTI).

    The good news is, no matter the position you hold in your current system, there are six professional attributes you can adopt that will allow you to begin the change process and move your school toward an effective implementation of a reading intervention framework.

    With these attributes, the gears of change will begin to turn. As educators, we cannot wait for senior administrators to set the vision, nor can we sit by as readers struggle to gain access to the supports they require.

    After two years of applying a new intervention program here in the Cayman Islands, the verdict is in: RTI frameworks and reading interventions are essential aspects of any high-performing school.

    1. Vision

    In 2012, the need for early reading intervention in the Cayman Islands was obvious, as too many capable students were missing small, basic early literacy skills. At the time, I was working with a few schools as a literacy coach for the Ministry of Education, which wasn’t a particularly influential role. I watched as the majority of teachers worked diligently to meet the varying needs of students in their classrooms, but it wasn’t enough to close the gaps. The system had diagnostic reading assessments and even some intervention resources, but they weren’t being used effectively, if at all.

    We needed a vision if we were to see future success.

    2. Research

    Around the same time, educational psychologist Monty Larrew was advocating for the introduction of an RTI framework as a research-informed method of addressing the kinds of inefficiencies I’d been noticing. Through well-researched presentations and dialogue, Larrew began to advocate for an RTI approach, and after a few conversations, we decided to work together to implement an RTI pilot project that would use the research-based assessments and interventions we already had in place.

    No new money, staff, or assessments; we were just looking to work smarter with what we already had.

    3. Planning

    A research-based vision was in place, and we knew we needed to get buy-in from teachers and administrators. We developed a sellable plan that required minimal new workloads with the opportunity for maximum results. We required the gathering of Developmental Reading Assessment data, the use of resources that were already in the system (namely Jolly Phonics and Leveled Literacy Intervention), regular progress monitoring using the formative assessment methods internal to the programs, a commitment to six- to eight-week data review meetings, and a minor restructuring of one assistant teacher’s timetable to allow the interventions to take place regularly.

    We pitched the research-based plan and received permission to run a pilot in two kindergarten classrooms in two of our smallest schools. It was a major step forward.

    4. Patience

    There were challenges during the early days of the program, such as obtaining and maintaining participants’ fidelity to the intervention and its schedule and facilitating training around basic early literacy skills, but for the first time we had a dataset that showed increases in student achievement. We knew we needed to be resilient in the face of frustration and patient enough to let our plan take root.

    5. Community

    With positive results in hand, improving the breadth and depth of the interventions was vital, and we knew that expanding the framework across the system required a community effort. We needed administrators, literacy coaches, and special education teachers to take on key roles that would allow the expansion of programming and the implementation of a formal screening assessment like DIBELS. From two small schools, we grew the RTI framework to include all Cayman Islands Government schools across two-year grade spans and eventually involved dozens of staff members.

    Developing a community beyond the system was also essential to RTI’s success. Private partners, including Rotary and local nonprofit Literacy Is For Everyone, donated thousands of dollars to purchase reading interventions based on the identified needs arising from system data. In addition to monetary support, our private partners also provided encouragement and accountability.

    6. Resilience

    What started as two professionals with an idea has grown into the successful implementation of five researched-informed reading interventions across two-year groups, teams working together to identify problems of practice, the inclusion of our special education experts in testing and support, and best of all, an upward trajectory in student achievement.

    For example, after developing consistency of methods across the school system, incorporating 90 minutes of literacy teaching a day for Year 1 students and regular screening along with small-group and one-on-one intervention as necessary, 86% of Year 1 students in our public school system met the expected literacy level for their age group last school year, which was the first full year of our program. At one school, Edna Moyle Primary School, students achieved 100% proficiency.

    The road is still being traveled and we still have challenges, but because of our team’s resilience, we have overcome major obstacles and are eager to tackle what’s to come.

    The Cayman Islands is small, but it has big lessons to share. The six attributes discussed have been essential to the successful development of our RTI framework. No matter your role in education, the adoption of these attributes can start the change process within your system.

    As Dr. Glaze says, “The children cannot wait!”

    Brad Wilson is currently the literacy specialist with the Ministry of Education in the Cayman Islands. He also worked as a literacy coach in the Cayman Islands and started his educational career as a teacher in Canada.

    This article first appeared in the March/April issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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    High-Leverage Literacy Practices: Redefining Literacy Instruction in Diverse Contexts

    By Kindel Nash, Etta Hollins, and Leah Panther
     | Jun 21, 2017
    High-Leverage Literacy Practices

    The term “best practices” has become ubiquitous in educational policy due to legislation and reports related to the National Reading Panel, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The original intention of best practices was to involve teachers in making experience- and evidence-based decisions. These legislative acts mandated teaching practices that demonstrated positive academic gains using scientific research studies. 

    However, the studies informing best practices often minimize the strengths of urban communities. The concept of high-leverage literacy practices (HLLPs)—which we studied in the context of high-performing, urban schools—attempts to fill gaps in the current literature on best practices.

    HLLPs build upon and extend what the learner already knows, and are characterized by a purposefully sequenced, interconnected, and iterative progression of experiences that support cumulative and increasingly complex understandings of language and literacy protocols and usage.  

    High-leverage literacy practices are always concerned with questions such as: What does the practice mean in terms of supporting a child’s learning? How is the practice connected to learning theory? To date, HLLPs have been identified in math, science, foreign language, and secondary language arts but, until our study, no HLLPs had been unearthed in early childhood literacy contexts.   

    Kim, a high -performing, urban first-grade teacher from our study, enacted instructional decisions to create her classroom library that exemplify the three principles of HLLPs: purposefully sequenced, interconnected, and iterative progressions of experiences.

    First, the student-created label system was purposefully sequenced. Kim carefully planned the learning experience, paired students, and provided challenging text sets with varying levels of complexity.

    Second, the labeling activity was interconnected. Kim drew from multiple literacy skills to create an authentic learning experience. Students employed background knowledge, text features, and context clues to identify a common theme linking each text, and also designed, drew, and wrote the labels.

    Finally, the student-created labels were part of an iterative progression of experiences. Kim offered multiple opportunities to authentically apply new knowledge, such as continual revising of the labels as new text sets were introduced.

    This example highlights how HLLPs can be measured, sequenced, altered, and adjusted for other academic and personal outcomes. Teachers can observe and identify the points where students struggle within the activity. Additionally, the HLLP builds from one skill to another and can be repeated at various levels and progressions.

    Kim’s use of authentic, student-created labels in the classroom library facilitated student ownership of their classroom and academic and socioemotional growth.  

    Kindel NashKindel Nash is an assistant professor of urban teacher education and the coordinator for the language and literacy master’s program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She earned her doctoral degree from the University of South Carolina. Her current research explores high-leverage early literacy instruction and its intersections with culturally sustaining pedagogies and critical race theory. Her work can be found in Teachers College Record, Equity & Excellence in Education, Language Arts, and The Urban Review.

    Etta HollinsEtta Hollins is the Ewing Marion Kauffman Endowed Chair for Urban Teacher Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She was previously professor and chair of Teacher Education at the University of Southern California. She served on the prestigious Teacher Education Panel for the American Educational Research Association and has been an invited speaker for the American Educational Research Association, the Association of Teacher Educators, National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, the Council of Great City Schools, and the International Literacy Association. Hollins is regularly called upon as a consultant on the preparation of teachers for diverse and underserved students by colleges and schools of education, state departments of education, and school districts.

    Leah PantherLeah Panther is a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her research interests include high-leverage literacy practices, urban religious schools, and adolescent literacy. Her current research project involves high-leverage literacy practices in urban religious middle schools.

    Kindel Nash, Etta Hollins, and Leah Panther will present a session titled “High-Leverage Literacy Practices: Researching and Defining Literacy Instruction in Urban School Contexts” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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    Reflecting on Racial Identity and Building Antiracism Mind-Sets

    By Autumn M. Dodge
     | Jun 08, 2017
    Reflecting on Racial Identity

    More than 80% of U.S. teachers are white, as are 80%–90% of students enrolled in U.S. preservice teacher programs.

    Meanwhile, students of color compose more than 45% of the U.S. pre-K–12 population; by 2023, students of color will represent more than 50% of the U.S. student population. There is a significant divide between the demographics of the students in our classrooms and their teachers.

    For decades, multicultural education and culturally relevant pedagogy have been fostering approaches to educational equity. Culturally relevant pedagogy, for example, aims to create inclusive instructional techniques and materials that align with students’ funds of knowledge—to make adaptations to a curriculum that is inherently not as relevant to students of color and those whose cultures are different from the white mainstream.

    Culturally relevant pedagogy is a way to bridge the gap between the dominant, white mainstream culture of schooling and the diverse students who aren’t members of that culture. In doing the important work of culturally relevant teaching, teachers don’t often consider the systemic workings of our dominant white society that continue to make schools a place where instruction, materials, and curricula have to be adapted in order to meet the needs of diverse learners. Critical Whiteness Studies suggests that meaningful change for equity in our schools can come about only when we dig into the entrenched issues of race, racism, and white dominance that undergird schooling in the United States.

    Carrying the Critical Whiteness Studies mantle is no easy task. It requires white teachers to reflect on their own racial identities in a society that systematically privileges their race. It requires examination of how schools are included among institutions in the United States that maintain and replicate a hierarchy of power that benefits whites.

    These are not easy or comfortable topics to discuss. Building understanding about these issues should be part of ongoing professional development and learning for both preservice and inservice teachers. According to ILA’s Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017 (currently in draft stage and expected to be available in January 2018) professional development on issues of race, racism, and educational equity can help teachers challenge “their own cultures, belief systems, and potential biases” and engage in “reflective practice” with other teachers.

    One approach to Critical Whiteness work is forming antiracism professional book study groups. These book groups can be facilitated in a variety of contexts and formats and can use a range of texts, including nonfiction, fiction, and multimedia resources. Book groups offer a space for in-depth and ongoing learning, reflection, and discussion that creates possibilities for meaningful change. 

    Autumn DodgeAutumn M. Dodge is an assistant professor of literacy in the Department of Education Specialties at St. John’s University in Queens, NY. Her teaching and research interests include Critical Whiteness work through studying white teacher identity and antiracism pedagogy, leveraging literacy for LGBTQ+ advocacy, disciplinary literacy, and literacy and pop culture in education.

    Autumn M. Dodge will present a session titled “Antiracism Education Through Teacher Book Study Groups” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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    Reversing Readicide

    By Karin Kroener-Valdivia
     | May 18, 2017

    Reversing Readicide“This will be the first book I ever read,” shouted one of my seniors. I had left him little choice; he could either read or not graduate. A week earlier, a 10th grader made the same comment. When asked how she made it through so many years of school without reading a book, she explained, “English teachers ask for quote analysis, and it’s really easy to do that without reading the book.”

    I’ve heard many similar confessions throughout my 18 years of teaching. Many of my students are reading five to six years behind grade level. I have seniors about to graduate high school who do not meet the literacy demands needed to fully function in society.

    Kelly Gallagher (2009) defines readicide as “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.” He attributes this genocide to two main factors: high-stakes testing (which often leads teachers to value test-taking skills over reading proficiency) and limited authentic reading experiences.

    Gallagher’s theory echoes observations and experiences from my own teaching career. I’ve seen English classrooms with no books, or only tattered copies of classic titles. The urban high schools where I teach in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are becoming book deserts.

    Even when books are available, some administrators and educators do not allow students to read during class out of fear of losing valuable learning time. I believe that when students are allotted time for free voluntary reading, they become better readers, score higher on achievement tests, and expand their content knowledge.

    Teachers can use free reading time to supplement textbook learning. For example, when studying the Holocaust, students might choose to read Elie Wiesel’s Night: a teen’s account of his survival from the Nazi death camps. Another example is Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan’s Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, which offers creative explanations for geometry concepts.

    I understand that building a strong classroom library can be difficult with budget restrictions. Teachers can try borrowing a class set of novels from the public library, browsing secondhand bookstores, or applying for grants from education nonprofits. I have received $1,000 in book grants from donorschoose.org every year for the past five years.

    Ray Bradbury captured the importance of voluntary reading when he said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

    Concerned educators—it’s time to take action. Let’s reverse readicide.

    Karin Kroener-Valdivia is an 18-year English teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District in California. She is also National Board Certified and a UCLA Writing Project Fellow.

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    #VisualLiteracies Through Instagram in the Primary Classroom

    By Stephanie Branson
     | Apr 28, 2017
    Boy and Girl at LaptopWhen I started teaching first grade, I used an old 35mm camera to capture daily experiences, document learning, and create materials for students. Eventually I learned to hand the camera over to my students to let them capture and share their learning experiences. But beyond some surface level conversations, I never spent much time focusing on the image as a text to be read and understood. As a novice teacher, I didn’t appreciate the importance of developing foundational visual literacy skills and dispositions.

    National initiatives for education promote competence in understanding, evaluating, and using diverse media formats for teaching and learning. These initiatives recognize shifting literacies and the need to embrace digital and media practices in the classroom. As digital spaces continue to change, and as more young students participate in these spaces, visual literacy skills are becoming increasingly critical.

    Visual literacy is the ability to recognize, understand, and interpret static and moving images and produce visual messages. Primary students are inundated throughout the day with visual messages, but how much time do we spend explicitly teaching them how to think about, analyze, and question the visuals they see? Visual literacy involves not only making factual observations, but also critically analyzing content, appreciating composition techniques, understanding the author’s intention, distinguishing points of view, identifying fake or misleading content, and recognizing the ability of visuals to influence and persuade.

    Primary teachers can start developing visual literacy through the analysis of photographs and book illustrations. Online resources, such as the National Archives’ archives.gov, or the Annenberg Learner’s learner.org provide practical and systematic ideas for analyzing images and videos. Additional resources include CEO of Southwest Educational Consultants Frank Serafini’s resource analysis guides, The New York Times online column What’s Going on in This Picture and the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies’ “Every Picture Has a Story” lesson plan.

    The next step is for students to create and analyze their own visuals. When I was teaching, I quickly discovered that photography was more powerful when I put the camera into the hands of my young students. I noticed them talking differently about the shots they composed and the strategies they were using to choose pictures for projects. As the years went on, I found new tools and ways of engaging my students with visual literacies. Instagram became a particularly useful platform to have students compose their own digital photo or video for discussion. Asking my students to become both the creators and critical consumers of visuals led to deeper discussions, insights, and connections to what they were exposed to online.

    Below are a few ideas for incorporating different aspects of visual literacies across the curriculum using a tool such as Instagram. I chose ideas for a primary-grade classroom (K-6), but all ideas and questions can be adapted and modified to meet the needs of a secondary audience. Furthermore, in order to maintain confidentiality and protect students online, I would recommend a classroom Instagram account that is monitored and maintained by a teacher.

    Vocabulary instruction: Give students a word of the week and have them search the school for visual representations of that word. They can post the image to a classroom Instagram page with an appropriate hashtag and brief caption, or create a GIF or Instagram boomerang video. Inspire other classrooms to upload their visuals as well and investigate the multiple representations and meanings of words. This is a great way to encourage and develop different perspectives, explore visual relevancy, and study social media behaviors. Questions might address angles, lighting, composition, setting, movement, filters, and focus.

    Visual and embodied storytelling: Using the collage feature, have students tell a story in four frames or recreate the plot of a story visually (bodies, illustrations, still animation). Ask readers to interpret and retell the story in the comments. Remove a picture or rearrange the images. How does the story change? As an alternative, ask students to create and post a tableau (living picture) as a single image. Dramatic tableau offers students a way to physically embody learning and explore content. Capturing the still image and posting online invites others to interpret the scene in the comments section. Questions might include: How do the interpretations differ from what you intended? How did your facial expressions and body positions tell the story or convey the message? In visual storytelling, students consider body movements, expression, background, camera angles, lighting, movement, objects, actors, and setting.

    Book hooks & advertisements: Ask students to film or depict a scene from a book that will hook readers and leave them wanting more. As a culminating product, ask students to create an advertisement for a classroom event or concept. Challenge them to create a brief video clip in less than 60 seconds that conveys meaning about a favorite book or upcoming event. This task requires knowledge of audience, text comprehension, composition techniques, the art of persuasion, and the use of symbolism. Questions might include: Who is your intended audience? What persuasive techniques did you use? How did you frame the shot or choose the scene? If it was a book, why did you choose that part as the hook? For audience members, how did the hook move you? What captured your attention?

    Capture science inquiry: Use photo blogging as a way to collect data for long-term investigations or capture science experiments. For example, students might track the growth of a plant over time, or changes in the sky at different points of the day. Questions could include: What’s the importance of lighting and camera angles? How does changing the position of the camera or point of the view impact data collection? How should we caption the images to accurately represent the investigation? Through Instagram, students will have a record of their experiments and a way to document growth, change, and unusual occurrences over time.

    Create personal primary artifacts in social studies: Digital photography serves as a way to document a particular period of time. Students can create their own primary documents and track events that occur in the classroom and school across the year through images and captions. “Every Picture has a Story” is a great starting point for discussing primary artifacts and how they preserve moments in time. As students create their own primary artifacts, they are learning about historical context, evidence-based reasoning, and storytelling. Questions might include: Whose story is being told? How does body language and facial expressions impact the story? How might someone interpret your artifact ten years from now? How might your peers in the next classroom/school interpret your story? Students in older grades might discuss cultural differences in interpretations.

    Create your own Fake News: In her blog post “Media Literacy is Critical,” Susan Luft describes the importance of developing critical literacy skills and ideas for integrating visual messages. Extending on her ideas, ask students to create two copies of an image they created, but with two different headlines (one true and one fake). Have the readers investigate the context and ask their peers questions like: How did you determine authenticity? What is misleading? What was the purpose of the fake news? Or, ask students to capture the image from two different angles. How does the angle change the context of the photo or tell a different story? What is our ethical responsibility? How do interpretations differ? 

    These digital tools and social media apps create opportunities to involve students in visual literacy and social media practices that are ubiquitous in our digitally mediated world. As teachers, our job is to search for ways to bring students interests and tools into the classroom. Instagram and similar Web 2.0 tools are just another way to incorporate visual literacy into the curriculum.

    Stephanie Branson HeadshotStephanie Branson is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida, pursuing literacy studies and elementary education with a special focus on digital literacies and teacher development. Connect with her on Twitter to find upcoming literacy Instagram 

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