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Literacy Instruction: 2020 and Beyond
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Literacy Instruction: 2020 and Beyond
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    What’s in a Name

    By Justin Stygles
     | Apr 24, 2019
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    My students are not a fan of my name. Throughout the year, I find a number of variations to my last name in writing and speech. I own it. Stygles, as in /Sty/ /guls/, is not an easy name to say or read. Ask Alexa. She’ll get my name wrong too! I have one of those great names that has a single vowel. Even then, the /e/ is relatively silent and the “y” functions as an /i/.

    Nonetheless, I expect my students to learn my name in spelling and pronunciation. Maybe I seem “mean” because I won’t let kids call me Mr. S., but I believe teachers who abbreviate their names by reducing long names or complicated pronunciations to the initial consonant or initial vowel sound are denying students exposure to unique oral language. We are a country constructed with Spanish, Arabic, Pacific Islander, Polish, and Russian surnames, among hundreds of others. Learning the sounds of these unique surnames provides decoding insight into the English language and many others we can experience or learn.

    Students who are raised in culturally homogenous communities tend have limited exposure to first and last names from various origins. Growing up in a military family provided me the opportunity to learn correct pronunciation of African American and Latinx names, much of which has carried over into my career as a teacher in terms of oral readings, pronouncing names, and helping students clarify the names of characters from various cultural backgrounds.

    While teaching in rural, relatively isolated schools, I’ve realized exposure to and interaction with diverse languages, other than localized lexicons, is limited. Students in these districts have fewer opportunities to practice phonetics such as letter sounds and spelling patterns.

    For example, having known an Eoin, I understood how to pronounce the Irish name, “Owen.” I have seen students and teachers trip over this name in reading. I happened to “know” the pronunciation from my interest in horse racing. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have pronounced Eoin incorrectly. Likewise, learning -guez or -eaux, of Spanish and French origin, through experiences in foreign language acquisition, and the racetrack, supported my ability to read and say people’s names correctly, thus respectfully. Had somebody allowed me, or a student of mine, to say, “Mr. D.” instead of Dominguez, a learning experience would be lost.

    As school districts become increasingly diverse, I think we have a responsibility as teachers to learn and impart the proper pronunciation of names, even if we must ask the student—an opportunity to foster the student’s sense of belonging and show you value his or her culture and identity. Furthermore, if we intend to teach our students appropriate letter–sound correspondence, syllables, and morphemes, we can start by modeling how to correctly pronounce names, or, again, the courage to ask when uniqueness appears. In doing so, you demonstrate that you too are a lifelong learner who is not afraid to admit a mistake.

    Although my name isn’t pleasant, there are some pronunciation rules that can be transferred to other words. There as so many other names out there that create special learning circumstances. So why abbreviate a 13-letter or a four-syllable last name to a single consonant sound? Children who are learning to pronounce sounds will benefit from practice and error more than denying an experience entirely. I feel teaching students to say the full name of their classmates and teachers is a critical exercise in language development.

    Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher in Wiscasset, Maine. He's taught for 15 years in various settings. You can follow him on Twitter at @justinstygles.

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    • The Engaging Classroom
    • Teaching Tips

    Resources for Celebrating National Poetry Month

    By Bailee Formon
     | Apr 17, 2019

    honoring-students-rights-to-readApril is National Poetry Month, which provides an opportunity for teachers and educators to bring poetry into the classroom and inspire students to read and experience works of poetry on their own. Since 1996, the national holiday has celebrated the contributions of poets while recognizing poetry's vital place in our culture and everyday lives. Following are resources and activities to help students get excited about poetry.

    • ILA’s Choices Reading Lists includes works of poetry chosen for children, by children.
    • This Writer’s Digest post, “The 20 Best Poems for Kids,” outlines three categories of poems (short poems, funny poems, and rhyming poems), lists popular examples of each type, and explains why they succeed with children.
    • Scholastic offers poetry-related articles, lesson plans, and blog posts that are applicable to educators of various grade levels.
    • Goodreads lists titles of popular works of poetry geared toward children. From Shel Silverstein to Dr. Seuss and Robert Louis Stevenson, the poems on this list will engage students and help them find their favorite authors. 
    • ReadWriteThink includes poetry resources in addition to lesson plans and classroom activities—organized according to grade level—that can help to get students excited about poetry.
    • Ahead of last week’s #ILAchat, Poetry, Rap, and Hip-Hop: Connecting With Students Through Rhythm and Rhyme, the ILA team rounded up a list of resources—recommended by our guest experts—for teachers to use and learn from.
    • Reading Rockets shares video interviews with renown poets as well as a collection of classroom resources, including poetry booklists, activities, and lesson plans.
    • ILA’s Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) regularly reviews works of poetry for educators in search of inspiration.
    • Edutopia’s compilation post includes resources from the web, Edutopia's most popular poetry-themed blogs, and other quick reads.

    Bailee Formon is an intern at the International Literacy Association.  

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    • The Engaging Classroom
    • In Other Words

    Choosing Care When Choosing Books

    By Diana Wandix-White
     | Mar 28, 2019

    the-greatest-giftA caring and inclusive classroom environment can have a significant impact on student outcomes, and one way teachers can demonstrate caring is through the books they choose for student learning. By carefully selecting the literature used in our classrooms, we aid our own growth and development as culturally responsive teachers while cultivating our students’ literacy development, capacity for compassion, and acceptance of themselves and others.

    Teachers practice culturally sustaining pedagogy when they choose literature that acknowledges and respects the gamut of students’ backgrounds and experiences. This practice shows students they are cared for and valued and creates a classroom culture of care that encourages students to respect and understand diversity.

    Culturally sustaining pedagogies and diversity in literature

    Django Paris, professor of multicultural education at the University of Washington, theorized that culturally sustaining pedagogy “seeks to perpetuate and foster—to sustain—linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling.” To practice culturally sustaining pedagogy, teachers must recognize that they have a leading role in initiating and encouraging discussion and dialogue about the meanings students draw from the texts they read.

    Lauren Leigh Kelly, professor of urban education at Rutgers University, comments that by acknowledging the cultural identities of students, “educators can simultaneously engage students in critical literary and social dialogues while also sending a clear message that students’ lives and communities are present and relevant to classroom learning and culture.” By providing students with literacy-rich environments that promote critical thinking, we can help them to better understand the wider world and their own role as a global citizen.

    Diversity in literature promotes student voice

    Perhaps more than any other academic activity, reading has the potential to facilitate identity development and give voice to marginalized students. As Paris states, there can be no “democratic project of schooling” if students don’t feel confident and secure enough to contribute to the democratic process.

    Scholars agree that providing diverse texts in literacy development helps students connect to or challenge the various representations of “truth” presented to them through their assigned readings. The voice students gain from finding themselves in literature creates an opportunity for classrooms to come alive with multiple perspectives and divergent thinking.

    Diversity in literature provides access to other worlds

    As part of the goal of culturally sustaining pedagogy is to foster respect and appreciation for linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism, recognizing that literature—especially children’s literature—is a powerful medium for entering other worlds is important. Exposing students at a young age to other worlds through children’s books creates multiple safe opportunities to recognize and explore human variations. Conceivably, this early access to diverse realities could positively influence a child’s present and future humanity toward others. These mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors, a phrase coined by children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop, help students to better understand themselves and the world around them.

    Some studies suggest that books may even provide children who are otherwise socially isolated by mind-set, geographic location, or life circumstances, with a vehicle to meet people unlike themselves and gain a broader acceptance and appreciation of individual likenesses and differences. To extend cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling, teachers must ensure all students have an opportunity to hear the stories that tell their own narrative and those of others. 

    Diversity in literature fosters social justice

    When individuals have access to other people, other cultures, other lifestyles, and other worlds, they tend to recognize systemic inequities and their own personal biases and predispositions that threaten peaceful coexistence. By analyzing beliefs and values of characters in a book, teachers and students can realize and then challenge long-held biases that negatively affect human interaction.

    Ultimately, teachers pave the road toward authentic, caring relationships when they choose books that demonstrate interest and respect for the variety of cultural, social, spiritual, and socioeconomic variances represented by their students. Teachers assign value to books simply by choosing to place them on the class bookshelf or include them on the course syllabus, and the message teachers promote through the literature they choose should convey respect and acknowledgment of diverse cultures.

    Diana Wandix-White, an ILA member since 2016, is a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant at Texas A&M University, College Station. After teaching English/language arts for over 20 years, she decided to pursue her PhD, researching urban education and the culture of care in K–12 public schools. Additionally, her teaching experience, along with her master’s degree in reading education, continues to draw her to issues of literacy. Combining her research interests leads her to the study of issues at the intersection of literacy, cultural diversity, and the importance of care as demonstrated through teachers’ selections of culturally relevant texts.  

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    A Marie Kondo Approach to Literacy Instruction

    By Stephanie Affinito
     | Mar 20, 2019

    kids-readingIf you love organization or Netflix, you’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo. This tidying-up expert has transformed households across the world by asking one simple question: Does it spark joy? Rather than view living spaces with disdain and focusing on what to remove or change, Marie focuses on what we love and need to live the life we envision for ourselves. As I completed the process in my own house, I thought, what if we were to do the following:

    • Design classrooms based on the literate learning we hope to achieve?
    • Privilege materials that ensure meaning making and spark joyful learning?
    • Cull excess papers and worksheets devoid of intentional instruction?
    • Weed classroom libraries to ensure relevant, current, and diverse texts for the readers in front of us?
    • Decorate classrooms with student work rather than commercial products?

    The following guidelines, inspired by the KonMari Method, will help you create a joyful, productive space:

    • Visualize. Imagine your classroom exactly as you would like it (layout, color scheme, books, writing materials, community spaces, classroom library, etc.). Dream within your physical space but outside the box with possibilities. What kind of literacy practices do you want students to engage in, and what kind of space do you need to support those practices?
    • Tidy your classroom by category, rather than location. Possible categories are textbooks and workbooks, stored books, files, wall hangings and decorations, manipulatives and materials, writing supplies, arts and crafts, worksheets, classroom library books, and sentimental items. Gather items in the middle of the room to comprehend their volume and ensure they reflect the importance we want them to have.
    • Gauge each item’s value. Touch each item and ask if it sparks joyful learning: Does it foster authentic reading, writing, learning, and meaning-making opportunities? Does it have a meaningful purpose for instruction? Value your teaching expertise over all else, and remove items that do not serve your teaching goals. Share them with colleagues or donate to those who need them.
    • Organize for engagement. Once you’ve decided what to keep, store materials in ways that invite students to engage with them. Use clear bins that are easily accessible and neatly labeled. Create homes for each of your items and ensure students can easily understand and access your organizational system. After all, this is their classroom too.

    Finally, celebrate learning! Be grateful for the opportunity to grow readers and writers. By using KonMari’s approach in our classrooms, we can cultivate authentic literacy practices and bring joy to teaching and learning.

    Stephanie Affinito, an ILA member since 1999, is a literacy teacher educator in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning at the University at Albany in New York. She has researched literacy coaching as part of her doctoral studies and focuses much of her current work on how technology and digital tools can impact teacher learning and collaboration. You can find her on Twitter at @AffinitoLit.

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    Rethinking Assessment in Word Study: Five Ready-to-Go Ideas

    By Pam Koutrakos
     | Mar 14, 2019

    We sat around a horseshoe-shaped table, shifting our weight in too-small chairs, surrounded by coffee cups and afternoon-pick-me-up snacks. Leafing through piles of papers, a colleague remarked, “Urgh. I think my class is as tired of spelling tests as I am.” We all paused. Someone laughed. We then took action, contemplating ways to shake things up. Been there? Felt that? Following are a few ideas to jump-start assessment in word study.

    Next level sorting challenge

    This routine asks students to sort words according to the pattern learned and apply this knowledge to spell new words. Sorting, categorizing, and applying exercises bring high-level critical thinking to this efficient check-in routine. In the same amount of time it takes to administer a traditional spelling test, we can assess so much more than rote memorization.

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    Show off

    This check-in routine offers different options for flexibility. The simplest and quickest method is to have students turn and talk, sharing recent word learning. Have more time? Ask students to compose a written reflection or create an infographic to showcase learning. Apps such as Screencastify, Flip Grid, Powtoon, Canva, and Scratch offer digital platforms for students to show off their word knowledge.

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    Interactive writing

    During interactive writing, the class cocomposes a piece of writing. Students offer ideas and the teacher writes these ideas on a shared document. Each time the class gets to a targeted word, students are invited to ponder the spelling. A volunteer writes the word on the document. By having the teacher do most of the writing, the process is a quick and efficient use of classroom time. When students participate in focused aspects of the writing, the why behind this work is clear and understood. As a bonus, interactive writing can be done during any subject.

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    Use it or lose it 

    One leading goal of word study is for students to apply knowledge while reading—decoding with automaticity while maintaining fluency and comprehension. We can assess application by listening as students read self-selected texts (with target words and parts) and observing accuracy and fluency. If students stumble, we can note the self-monitoring strategies used. We may even ask about the meaning and connotation of words with taught parts. This can be done during a small group lesson or a 1:1 conversation.

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    Find and fix

    Another word study goal is to consistently transfer knowledge to writing. Start by recalling recently taught word study patterns or word parts. Then, challenge students to reread recent work, find evidence of application, and correct spelling as needed. If a student does not find any examples of words with taught patterns or parts, encourage them to find authentic opportunities to integrate (conventionally spelled) pattern words. There are infinite worthwhile times and places to find, fix, and celebrate!

    Each of these ideas intend to be flexible enough to fit a variety of time frames and classroom settings. Furthermore, each enables teachers to glean information about students’ understanding of words and readiness to apply gained expertise. A great first step toward making word study assessment more meaningful? Try one new idea. Experimentation helps us see what works—and provides opportunities to see what students find most engaging.

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    koutrakos-7Pam Koutrakos is an experienced and enthusiastic educator known for her positive outlook and energy. As an educational consultant with Gravity Goldberg, LLC, she is deeply committed to motivating and supporting students and teachers on their learning journeys. Pam authored Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6 (Corwin, 2018) and The Word Study That Sticks Companion (Corwin, 2019). Both include assessment ideas, lessons, tools, and tips to start up and step up word study in K–6 classrooms. Connect with Pam on Twitter at @PamKou.

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