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    Disruption in the Classroom

    By Rusul Alrubail
     | Aug 24, 2017

    Rusul AlrubailGoogle defines disruption as a “disturbance or problems that interrupt an event, activity, or process.” However, we need to look at disruption as a concept to use and implement in education not as a problem, but as a strategy to formulate solutions to current problems.

    Like many other trends in education, we also need to avoid viewing the term disruption as a mere buzzword and instead embrace it in a way that moves us toward creating tangible, positive solutions.

    Disruption as a concept seems heavily lofty and often unapproachable. There are many reasons that stop educators from disrupting the status quo in education, which is why we need to look at disruption from an individual’s perspective rather than from a grandeur one.

    What can you do today in the classroom to disrupt the status quo?

    Creating positive change

    In a recent article by Melinda D. Anderson of The Atlantic titled “How Teachers Learn to Discuss Racism,” she covers how recent urban education programs are preparing to have “imperative contemporary conversations with students.”

    What are these conversations like? The article focuses on racism in urban education and what teachers can do in their classroom to address and confront their own biases. Melissa Katz, an urban education student at The College of New Jersey in Ewing quoted in the article, is constantly “unlearning and relearning what it means to be a white teacher in an urban school district.”

    Katz encourages white educators to “think critically about race, justice, and our own privilege, and most importantly—how these play out in the classroom as teachers.” Her advocacy, writing, and her ability to reflect on her own biases and privilege is disrupting the status quo and impacting students, teachers, and their communities.

    For many educators, disruption is a necessary act to move things forward. Jose Vilson, a New York math teacher and EduColor founder, states on his blog that “people need to get more real about the conditions within schools and disrupt for the sake of progress, not for the sake of disruption.”

    In other words, disruption shouldn’t be seen as a trend or a buzzword, but it should be done because it’s what is necessary to create positive change in the classroom.

    Revitalizing teaching and learning

    Jessica Liftshitz, a fifth-grade teacher from the suburbs of Chicago, is slowly shifting and disrupting the status quo with subtle actions that make an immense difference in the lives of her students. She works directly with her students to “better understand where our biases and stereotypes come from in regards to different races, genders, and family structures.”

    Liftshitz is doing this work through analyzing the diversity of their classroom books. In her blog, Crawling Out of the Classroom, she writes about the importance of exposing children to diverse books, stating, “I truly believe that books, of all kind, play a large role in shaping how our students see the world. So often, children have little choice in what kinds of books surround them.”

    And it is with this mind-set that Liftshitz is disrupting the classroom status quo and is truly advocating for change in her world. Believing that students need to have a choice in the books that surround them and, more important, that students need to see themselves, their families, and their culture represented in the diversity of choices of books they read, is truly a shift and a disruption in education, teaching, and learning that we need to see.

    Eric Sheninger, a senior fellow at Rigor Relevance, in an article titled “Education Is Ripe for Disruption,” argues that “disruptive innovation compels educators to go against the flow, challenge the status quo, take on the resistance, and shift our thinking in a more growth-oriented way.” An important aspect of disruption in education is to disrupt traditional ways of thinking and old processes that no longer meet the needs of all students. This does not mean that everything that’s traditional is outdated and can no longer be used. However, it’s vital for educators to look outside of education for new learning processes and paradigms that are relevant and will help to revitalize teaching and learning in the classroom.

    Developing your own framework

    Mustefa Jo’shen is partner and principal at Ci. Strategy+Design, which offers professional development for organizations and workshops for learners to help them understand and adopt an entrepreneurial and design thinker’s mind-set. Students learn about a framework developed through Ci. called “Applied Design Thinking.” Jo’shen explains that “Applied Design Thinking creates a framework for learners to own their own critical approach to create ideas that have impact.”

    New learning processes in education such as Applied Design Thinking work to disrupt education in a way that advances learners’ ability to take control of their own learning. Jo’shen believes that “empowering students to create their own frameworks helps them consciously identify and put to paper the way they think and work.” This gives students a chance to visualize and iterate their thinking processes.

    The education system requires a change for us to enable students to learn to work and work to learn. Disruption is happening right now in the real world and it's happening in our industries, our businesses, our communities, and our governments. It’s time for us to empower students by disrupting education so that they can make a greater impact on the issues that are changing their lives.

    We must also remember that an important aspect of disruption in education is resistance. Educators, parents, administrators, and students must work together to resist the status quo. As disruption doesn’t happen easily, resistance also requires us to work together to identify the problems that are directly impacting our students and to find solutions “by any means necessary.”

    Rusul Alrubail, an ILA member since 2016, is a writer on education, teaching, and learning. Her work focuses on teacher development and training, English learners, and pedagogical practices in and out of the classroom.

    This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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    Writing Workshop vs. Writers' Workshop

    by Brian Kissel
     | Aug 22, 2017

    Workshop: A physical place where a craftsperson creates something.

    Writer: A person who informs, entertains, persuades, remembers, reminds, and expresses using a combination of words.

    The Writer's WorkshopWhat’s the difference between a writing workshop and a writers' workshop? Educators tend to use the two terms interchangeably, but I believe there’s a difference. In a writing workshop the focus is on the writing. Teachers hone in on what’s present on the page, what’s missing, and how the writing needs to change to meet a set of standards. In a writers' workshop, the focus is on the writer. Teachers focus on the person crafting the text—helping writers choose topics, purposes, and audiences for their writing and offering suggestions to guide the writer's decision-making process. A writing workshop provides a physical space for writers to work, while a writers' workshop provides both a physical and psychological space for writers to grow. I believe we teachers need to work towards building a writers' workshop within our classrooms.  

    In the past two decades, as laws have ushered in more standardized assessments, our writing classrooms have started to reflect a trend towards sameness. A simple stroll down many school hallways reveals this. Student writing, posted side-by-side, often follows the same five paragraph structure—stories that all begin with dialogue leads, or persuasive pieces that have the same exact transitional words threaded throughout the text. One piece sounds exactly like the next—each one as voiceless as the one before. It seems to me that we have started to embrace compliance rather than honoring the uniqueness of the stories our children might tell.

    I think we’d be wise to consider our reading lives as we determine what’s important when helping writers develop their writing lives. As a reader, I seek texts that are thought-provoking, emotional, meaningful, interesting, unpredictable, moving, honest, funny, and powerful. Over the past two months I’ve read high fantasy (A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin), humor (Best State Ever by Dave Barry), memoir (Just Kids by Patti Smith), historical nonfiction (Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann), and YA fiction (The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas). Each book informed me, made me laugh, provoked thought, appealed to my emotions. And each author kept me turning pages. If we value these qualities above all others as readers, shouldn’t we work to hone these qualities within our young writers?

    As writing teachers, how often do we begin lessons asking:

    • What kind of (story, informational text, persuasive essay, poem, digital text) do you want to explore?
    • What tone (humorous, sad, thought-provoking, ethereal) do you want to convey?
    • How do you want your audience to react?
    • What do you need to know how to do as a writer to achieve those results?

    In a writers' workshop we work to foster the habits young writers need to form so writing is a routine. And through this daily routine, we work to help writers obtain the cumulative knowledge they need to continuously develop and hone their craft. The focus is entirely on the writer. We help writers develop the skills that will sustain them across multiple pieces of writing.

    Here are some of my tips for creating a more writer-focused writers' workshop:

    • Know your students: Spend the first several weeks of school engaging in conversations with students about their lives outside the classroom. Use these conversations to match them to writing topics throughout the year.
    • Delay genre studies: Resist going into genre studies too early in the school year. Give students the first 6–8 weeks to explore genres on their own. As you learn about your students’ lives, you’ll also learn about their preferred genres.
    • Confer: Confer with students for a week before planning an entire genre study. Our mini-lessons should be responsive to what our students create as writers. We don’t know what to teach until we’ve had a chance to study our writers
    • Offer an author’s chair: Give children opportunities to share their writing with the class and ask them to direct feedback from their peers.
    • Leave time for reflection: Ask students to reflect daily on their learning. Reserve some time (2–3 minutes) at the end of your workshop and ask students to name something they learned. Their replies give you a snippet of authentic assessment that you can use when planning lessons.

    I’ve taught writing in some capacity for over 20 years now—from teaching our youngest writers in pre-K to working with adult writers at the college level. When I first started teaching writing, I followed a guide handed to me by the district—I was teaching writing, but I wasn’t teaching writers. Now, I know better. I follow the writer. And my instruction is much more meaningful because I allow them to lead the way.

    Brian Kissel

    Dr. Brian Kissel is an associate professor of literacy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A former elementary school teacher and literacy coach, Brian teaches courses, conducts research, and provides professional development in writing instruction. He has a new book, published by Stenhouse, titled When Writers Drive the Workshop: Honoring Young Voices and Bold Choices. You can follow Dr. Kissel on Twitter.

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    Embrace, Expect, Engage, Encourage: The E4 Approach

    By Peg Grafwallner
     | Aug 02, 2017

    E4 ApproachIn my work as instructional coach/reading specialist, I always make a special point to seek out the student teachers in our building and offer literacy strategies, researched articles and books of best practice.

    Recently, a classroom teacher asked me to observe her student teacher. I asked if there was something specific on which the teacher wanted me to focus. Most student teachers (and sometimes seasoned classroom teachers) have a firm grasp of their content, but have a difficult time building classroom community. She looked at me with a wry smile and said, “She wants to be everyone’s friend. She’s afraid to create procedures because she thinks the kids won’t like her.”

    Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. Our rational brain tells us we need routines and procedures to keep our students motivated and safe. However, our irrational brain doesn’t want to disappoint or cause conflict, so we might allow the silliness. It can be a difficult compromise—especially for a student teacher who might be only five or six years older than her senior students. Most student teachers haven’t yet crafted “the look” or haven’t yet acquired “the voice.” It takes time to cultivate a persona, and when one is still learning the science, the art can take a back seat.

    I met with the student teacher prior to the observation. I demonstrated the resource I would use to gather data. The resource entitled, The E4 Approach, encourages the observer to propose ideas, suggestions and notes of support in a non-evaluative way.

    The E4 Approach focuses on four major components: Embrace, Expect, Engage and Encourage. The guiding questions are meant as a way for the observer to notice, ask or wonder about a specific component.

    The framework encourages flexibility. The individual who is being observed is welcome to use the questions listed, or encouraged to create questions depending upon the emphasis or purpose of the lesson.  Of course, the observer doesn’t need to respond to all of the Guiding Questions and can omit the ones that are irrelevant for the particular observation; or the observer can create other questions more relevant to the particular lesson.

    The student teacher appreciated my introduction of The E4 Approach and was eager to read what I would write. She felt the questions were valuable and commented that she would “love” my suggestions for engagement since “I feel I’m running out of ideas.”  

    In closing, I created The E4 Approach as a means to support and assist each other in becoming the very best teachers. Perhaps this document could be used as a way to observe our peers, offering suggestions when teaching a new lesson or giving ideas on increasing student engagement? However you decide to use it, think of it as an opportunity for emphasis, examination and ultimately, excitement for professional growth.

    Download The E4 Approach template here

    Peg GrafPeg Grafwallner is an instructional coach with Milwaukee Public Schools. Learn more about Peg on her website.


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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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