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Literacy Now

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    Fall in Love With Reading: Bringing Access to Books to Rural Areas of China

    By Emily Spink-McCarthy
     | Nov 15, 2018
    Bringing Access to Books to Rural Areas of ChinaAt American Eagle Institute, we believe that reading is the foundation from which a child grows to become an educated person. It is the key skill from which other language skills develop and is one of the greatest gifts we can pass on to our children.

    One of the skills reading develops is empathy because reading allows us to see the world through another's eyes. With this knowledge comes responsibility. For almost 20 years at Eagle, an English education school in Taiwan and mainland China, we've insisted that schooling must include education of our character.

    Although our curriculum can help with academic success, it's the role models and the community members at Eagle who help shape our students and represent our founding values of respect, honesty, and discipline.

    Every child deserves a fair starting point

    In 2016, the Chinese government began promoting several initiatives to improve literacy. These initiatives aim to promote reading excellence for everyone in China. But despite the efforts of many organizations, there remains a wide reading gap between urban and rural areas in China.

    To add to the obstacles that Chinese families face when trying to promote reading excellence, academic pressure from regular schooling and other extracurricular activities make it even more difficult to increase time spent on reading for pleasure.

    One of the founding values that American Eagle Institute was built on is that "every child deserves a fair starting point," and I'm proud to say that this year we initiated the Fall in Love With Reading project to help provide access to high-quality books to rural children and to help raise awareness for families in both the countryside and the city of the importance of reading.

    Fall in Love With Reading is a charity project that revolves around the idea of improving literacy and providing better access to books for those in need. The project includes a reading seminar hosted by a linguistics expert from Massey University of New Zealand, a national bookmark making competition, a book donation drive, and the creation of a library in an underprivileged rural school with books from the donation drive.

    As part of the drive, we ran two separate challenges that allowed our students across 80 campuses to accumulate charity points on line. The challenges were an online bookmark-making activity and a book reading challenge. Both activities included reading books in exchange for charity points. For every charity point raised, Eagle agreed to donate one Chinese yuan toward completing a library in a rural school in Hubei province.

    We also invited influential organizations such as the International Literacy Association, McGraw-Hill Education, the Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore, and Smiling Library to work in collaboration with Eagle to encourage more children to take part in the project.

    Through bringing together the forces of our community, we hope to provide high-quality reading resources to rural children. At the same time, we can help students experience the gift of giving and cultivate their sense of social responsibility.

    The magical power of charity

    During the book donation drive, we experienced something bigger than simply accumulating books. We felt the power of communities pulling together to give to those in need. We saw our Eagle students thinking about those not as lucky as themselves. Some of them finished reading more than 300 books before we were even halfway through the reading challenge. Our thanks go out to all the wonderful families and caregivers who helped by setting great examples for the next generation.

    After one month of collecting books, our students across the country donated more than 1,000 titles. On June 13, 2018, Eagle staff set out to bring this donation to Yu-Yan Elementary School in a village 750 kilometers away from Shanghai. Benjamin Spink-McCarthy, one of our teachers and trainers, ran an English class for their fifth graders. The class was interactive and immersive, and local teachers were there to observe and learn about a different way to teach English. With these high-quality English and Chinese books, we were able to create a library space for the school as well.

    Literacy requires understanding and support

    Reading requires a personal decision and a personal transformation that can be difficult to establish from commands or the forces of the marketplace. Only when society at large advocates for reading will we have a future where everyone enjoys and benefits from the power of reading.

    The urgent need to improve literacy demands the attention of families and caregivers to make reading a priority in daily life and to encourage literacy from a young age. We call out to everyone to fall in love with reading and to make sure every child—from the cities to our most remote communities—has access to quality literature. 

    Emily Spink-McCarthy is president of American Eagle Institute, an English education school in Taiwan and mainland China.

    This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of 
    Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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    Teach the Sewer (Writer), Not the Sewing (Writing): My Sewing Life Meets My Teaching Life

    By Kathryn Caprino
     | Nov 14, 2018

    Teach the SewerIn my literacy assessment course, my students and I are reading Lucy Calkins’s Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions (Heinemann). We have been focused particularly on her idea of teaching the writer, not the writing. 

    This concept really struck a chord with my students, many of whom want to teach at the elementary level. Many of them were familiar with the process whereby teachers correct student papers and students go back and copy the corrections in their final drafts. We talk about how though these final drafts may be “perfect papers,” the writer is not growing in these instances.

    It is important to me as a teacher educator to help my students understand that their students’ writing pieces may not be perfect. They may be working on only a few elements at a time. And their pieces will reflect that they are improving as writers. And this is hard work when our students often come to us from environments that privilege The Writing Assessment, which needs to be perfect.

    And, as happens many times when I am teaching, I began to apply our work to my life beyond the classroom. And this led me to thinking about my sewing.

    Learning to sew for me has been a multiyear process (as is often the case with our student writers). For my birthday three years ago, my husband bought me a sewing machine that has probably more capabilities than I will ever know what to do with. Then, my mom gave me a few lessons on how to make coasters.

    I made some good coasters. And some even had beautiful double stitching. And some had straight corners. But more of them were not any of these. And that’s OK.

    So when my mom came up about a few months ago to visit, she gave me another lesson. She did all of the first lessons again about how to thread the machine, how to get the needle into position, and how to work the foot pedal. And she showed me some stitching and some backstitching. And then I practiced.

    And once again, some of my lines were straight, and some were not. Some of the corners were perfect. Some were not. And that’s OK.

    When my mom came up most recently, I wanted to learn how to do curves for some burp cloths I want to make for my friends who are expecting. And once again, my mom modeled for me how to do curves. And then she let me practice. And I did all right. Beginner’s luck, perhaps.

    I have not made a perfect coaster or a perfect burp cloth yet. My mom’s lessons are not about creating a finished piece. But they are able helping me learn to sew—no matter how many lessons I may need.

    Maybe not for a particular piece. But in the future.

    So, with all of that, here are some tips for teaching your writers, not the writing, in your classroom.

    • Encourage students to share hobbies they are developing that have nothing to do with writing. Having students share how they are progressing in other hobbies (e.g., sharing a new video game level they reached or a new recipe they want to try) will help them think more about the process than the end goal.
    • Showcase works in progress around the classroom or out in the hall. We have to convey to ourselves and our students that writing takes time and that we are all—even those of us who teach writing—constantly working on our writing. Showcasing more examples of our works in progress and those of our students can help convey this belief.
    • Create process videos. One of my favorite projects in my children’s literature class is having students create process videos as they create one image in the style and media of an illustrator of their choosing. On the due date, students bring in the final, completed illustration and a video that highlights their process—from blank canvas to final product. It is very cool to see the work and effort they go through to create wonderful illustrations.

    I look forward to hearing the ways in which you are teaching the sewers (I mean, writers) in your classroom.

    Kathryn Caprino is an assistant professor of pre-K–12 new literacies at Elizabethtown College and a book blogger for teachers and parents at katiereviewsbooks.wordpress.com.

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    NWEA Study Shows Weak Relationship Between High Poverty and Low Rates of Growth

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 08, 2018

    NWEA StudyWhen research consulting director Andy Hegedus toured the hallways of an urban school in Delaware, he saw all the characteristics of a high-performing school—dedicated teachers and responsive, motivated, and engaged students.

    “I thought the principal was on her game, the teachers were working hard, the energy was high, and the kids were happy—all the things you want to see in a school,” he says.

    But the numbers told a different story. Hegedus was surprised to learn that this school was named a “priority school,” a designation for the lowest 5% of Title I schools in the state, based on achievement on the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS), with a demonstrated lack of progress over the past two to three years.

    “I was like, this doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “There was a disconnect between my experience with the school and how the school got rated.”

    A study recently published by NWEA, a not-for-profit assessment solutions provider, suggests that these students are doing better than the data convey.

    Using NWEA’s MAP Growth data from 1,500 randomly selected schools, Hegedus investigated the relationships between student achievement and growth measures and school-level poverty variables, such as free and reduced-priced lunch status. By dynamically adjusting to each student’s responses, MAP Growth creates an individualized assessment experience that precisely measures what each student knows and tracks their growth over time.

    This achievement data are used to predict proficiency and determine college readiness. A student’s growth is also determined between testing events and can be fairly compared to national norms, regardless of starting achievement levels or instructional time. Educators can monitor improvement throughout the school year and across multiple years.

    The study shows that while there is a strong relationship between schools with high rates of poverty and low student achievement, there is a weak relationship between schools with high rates of poverty and low student academic growth. These findings suggest that the use of achievement measures to evaluate school performance fails to recognize schools that are making remarkable progress and biases the evaluation system against schools serving vulnerable populations.

    “What the studies show is that there are high poverty schools where kids learn a lot, and low poverty schools where they don’t, and vice versa” says Hegedus. “If we just reflect on achievement, and how ‘on track’ kids are, it only paints part of the picture.”

    Unlike the No Child Left Behind Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows states to include student growth as an indicator of school quality or success. When asked how these findings may impact state accountability plans, Hegedus says he hopes they will assign more weight to growth without losing sight of long-term achievement goals.

    Hegedus also hopes these results will help validate the hard work of teachers and administrators that isn’t always mirrored by achievement measures alone.  

    “Having a measure that more closely reflects the role of a school or the role of a teacher will help us do a better job of not only identifying schools performing well, but also helping people in that school see their work reflected one way or the other,” he says.

    Hegedus noted the importance of publicly reporting of “well-designed metrics of growth and achievement” that accurately describe how much students know when they arrive at school and how much it changes once they are there. He says this transparency, especially around low achievement, often triggers community attention and action.  

    “Knowing that students are not achieving as well as desired can create urgency, galvanize a community around a school, and force conversations about improvement,” he writes.

    The full study is available at nwea.org

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

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    Creating Opportunities for Family Literacy, Part 2: Suggested Skill Areas to Target for Children Ages 0–6

    By Jeanne Smith
     | Nov 07, 2018
    Creating Family Literacy Opportunities

    This is the second installment of a two-part series about creating opportunities in adult education to address family literacy. It addresses skills areas to target where parents and children can work together to achieve progress.

    Read Part 1 here.

    Vocabulary/language

    Beginning school with a strong vocabulary is a necessary component for school success. Research shows that engaging children in conversation and building their oral language capacity supports the learning of new words. Both adult students and their children can enjoy simple books with rich language and pictures to enhance comprehension. 

    For example, after reading about colors entitled, Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh (Harcourt), one adult student and his daughter looked in and around the house while referring to the book and located different objects with the same colors. Another favorite title in this category is Quiet, Loud by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick), which demonstrates the meanings of opposites, has delightful illustrations, and is fun to read.

    Facilitating parents’ confidence with extended activities after reading a book in order to build vocabulary is a priority. Books and other tools that teach the basics such as numbers, shapes, animals, and the alphabet should also be included.

    Response to literature

    Parents can encourage their young children’s reactions and ideas about situations while reading and talking about books. This helps set the stage for response to literature or constructing meaning from what they read.

    Speechsound development and the speech-to-print connection

    It is a magical moment when children make the connection between the sound /m/ and reading the actual letter “m.” Parents can learn the sequence of speech–sound development, watch for developmental milestones, and begin to teach which letters represent what sounds. Parents can teach their young children how to write their letters and numbers.

    Phonological awareness including rhyming

    Good phonological awareness skills are foundational for literacy achievement, and parents can learn to foster phonological awareness in their children using nursery rhymes and songs. All young children enjoy reciting nursery rhymes and singing while clapping or tapping out the beats in single and multisyllable word combinations. Phonological awareness includes awareness of three things: single sounds or phonemes, rhyme, and syllable/beat awareness. Rhyme and beat awareness is precisely where students turn their attention when they read and recite nursery rhymes.

    Beyond learning the alphabet, teaching letter-sound association is essential. Parents who are working to improve their own basic skills will give their children a great advantage by helping the children learn the distinction between letter names and letter sounds. This may circumvent a stumbling block teachers in elementary schools often observe in children who are struggling to read when children do not know the difference.

    Phonemic Awareness

    After adult students and their children learn the letter sounds, they can move to blending sounds to read/decode words. One way to reach this goal is to use books that come with sound cards such as Bob’s Books: Rhyming Words  (Scholastic) to teach matching beginning sounds with ending sounds (d-an, p-an, m-an). In the plots of the stories, the books include both the same words learned with the sounds cards as well as common sight vocabulary.

    As a result, both the blending of sounds to decode and the building of a sight vocabulary is combined, and the parent and the child can practice together reading a simple story. Creating opportunities where parents and children can learn and practice together is a key element in developing effective and exciting opportunities for family literacy.

    Moving ahead

    As progress occurs, practice reading longer children’s books such as The Sunset Pond by Laura Appleton Smith (Flyleaf Publishing) is the next step. Incorporating select titles such as this one, where previously learned syllable types, multi-syllable words, and sight words are used to create longer stories is highly supportive of adults who might be still be learning to read or read better themselves.

    The goal is to offer parents reading practice with well selected books during instructional time to help them feel confident reading the same books out loud, at home, while their children follow along. As a result. children will enjoy reading longer books and stories with their parents, and the creation a solid foundation for further education will be fostered.

    Jeanne H. Smith is a literacy specialist at the Community High School of Vermont (CHSVT) and a member of the Special Services Support team. CHSVT serves students 18 years of age and older.

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    Celebrating National Family Literacy Day

    By Bailee Formon
     | Nov 01, 2018
    National Family Literacy Day 2018

    Parents and caregivers play a critical role in children’s literacy development and lifelong achievement. First held in 1994, National Family Literacy Day highlights the importance of family literacy by encouraging parents and caregivers to engage in their child’s learning. Following are some links to websites and organizations that provide resources, information, and ideas for promoting literacy as a family-wide activity.

    • Startwithabook.org allows parents and caregivers to easily find books that fit their child’s topics of interest and reading level. The website also provides ideas for hands-on activities that foster literacy development.
    • Reading Rockets’ Family Guide contains tips and information for families regarding the steps they can take to become more involved at school and at home. The site also includes videos and fun activities to enhance learning.
    • The ILA E-ssentials article titled “Supporting Parents as Valuable Partners in their Children’s Literacy Learning” explores current evidence related to ways educators can create effective partnerships with families diverse in race, culture, education, and income.
    • A Literacy Daily post by Sherri Wilson, a founding board member of the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement and senior director of Consultative Services at Scholastic,titled “Building the Capacity to Engage All Families” offers advice for planning meaningful family engagement events.
    • The National Center on Improving Literacy provides articles and guides specifically for families that help facilitate literacy activities at home. This site is especially helpful for families of children with learning disabilities.
    • One of the resources highlighted by the National Center on Improving Literacy is The Literacy Pages for Families, which focuses on skills such as reading, writing, and listening by creating games and activities that parents and caregivers can participate in with their children to make the learning experience more enjoyable. Each activity contains an explanation of the purpose of the game as well as a list of additional readings.
    • Curated by children themselves, ILA’s Children’s Choices Reading List contains book recommendations for children of varying grade levels.  
    • Literacy Works provides families with a wide range of information, from book suggestions and lists of fun, engaging learning activities to newsletters and research briefs.
    • ReadWriteThink offers tips, printouts, and information for families as well as podcasts, games, and tools for children of all ages. The categories are organized by grade level, making it easy to access specific games and learning activities.
    • Byron V. Garrett, chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance and director of educational leadership and policy for Microsoft, spoke about transforming education through meaningful family engagement at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits.
    • The American Academy of Pediatrics’  Books Build Connections Toolkit provides useful resources, strategies, and tools to support strong family reading habits.
    Bailee Formon is an intern at the International Literacy Association.
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