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Literacy Now

The Engaging Classroom
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
    • The Engaging Classroom
    • Teaching Tips

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

    By Aimee Morewood and Elizabeth Huff
     | Jul 24, 2019
    digital-safety-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    • Tales Out of School
    • The Engaging Classroom
    • Teaching Tips

    Pay It Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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    • The Engaging Classroom
    • Teaching Tips

    A Fresh Take on Book Clubs Promotes Early Literacy Development

    By Maria Dismondy
     | Jun 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy reading!

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

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    • In Other Words
    • The Engaging Classroom

    Incarceration of Shame for Young Readers

    By Justin Stygles
     | May 30, 2019
    armingteachers1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    • Teaching Tips
    • The Engaging Classroom

    Quiet Conversations: A Unique Approach to Practicing Speaking and Listening Skills

    By Lauren Bakian Aaker
     | May 23, 2019

    marking-textStudents busily move around the table, markers in hand, jotting, drawing connecting arrows, sketching symbols. The only sound to be heard is the scuff of the chairs on the floor and the swoosh of markers moving along the paper. You wouldn’t know it, but students are deep in discussion, moving beyond surface-level observations to more sophisticated ideas that analyze a theme, character, or topic. This is a quiet conversation.

    When we think about speaking and listening standards, many of us count on accountable talks or literacy circles, those often used after the completion of a read-aloud or shared text, where students sit in a circle and talk with guidance from a teacher or, if they are experienced, without that guidance. In these conversations, it is usually our strongest verbal students who drive the direction of the thinking, often leaving out or leaving behind students who require more time to process and share.

    Not only have I been frustrated that my conversations may only involve a handful of students, but I have also found it challenging to teach developing speakers how to listen—really listen—to what others are saying and to build off that rather than throw another idea into the mix. To address this challenge, which many other teachers experience, I introduced a way of sharing ideas without ever opening your mouth and instead opening your marker cap.

    Quiet conversations can be used with a range of texts, from excerpts from primary sources to book blurbs to introduce and build excitement for book clubs. Following is a series of steps to spark quiet conversations. 

    • Prior to your first quiet conversation, ensure students are familiar with annotation symbols and purposes such as underlining, circling, and more.
    • Print out the text to be shared and attach it to a larger chart paper or poster board.
    • Separate the class into groups of 3–4 students for effective conversations.
    • Encourage students to stand around the text from all directions to add their notes and symbols. While not necessary, using different colored writing tools (markers, pens, colored pencils) can help students and teachers alike track different students’ thinking.
    • After students have spent 5–15 minutes “discussing” on paper, invite them to read the other quiet conversations that took place to see where ideas were similar or different from their own. If there’s remaining space, they can even continue the conversation.

    The first time this protocol is used, students will be both excited and unsure. As you provide more opportunities to communicate in this way, students will ask for more clarification and explanation from one another, will challenge and connect ideas, and will begin to more frequently build, rather than move on from, ideas that are already started. In this way, we can teach students to be better listeners as well as advocates of their own thoughts and voices.

    Lauren Bakian Aaker is an elementary school teacher in Kansas City, MO, who believes in student choice and student voice in the classroom. Lauren began her career in New York City where she earned a degree in literacy from Teachers College, Columbia University and taught graduate-level literacy courses to preservice teachers. To learn more, follow Lauren on Instagram at No Frills Classroom.   

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