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Making a Case for Reading Joy
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    Affirming Individuality and Identity Through Picture Books and Storytelling

    By Astrid Emily Francis
     | Jan 31, 2019

    affirming-individuality-and-identity“One of our most important responsibilities in school is to protect and advocate for our students’ individuality and identity; it’s their greatest gift.” —Hamish Brewer

    Personal experiences are powerful. My journey as a first-generation immigrant and a former English learner is now central to what I do. My personal experiences, coupled with my responsibilities as an educator, have helped me to embrace the role of an advocate and to create and establish a sense of culture that values students’ greatest gifts: identity and individuality.

    When ILA launched its Children’s Rights to Read campaign last fall, I immediately saw connections to my teaching philosophy and the role I can play in advocating for those rights.

    Children’s Rights to Read—10 fundamental rights ILA asserts every child deserves—is a campaign in which ILA aims to activate educators around the world to ensure every child, everywhere, receives access to the education, opportunities, and resources needed to read.

    As a high school teacher of English as a second language (ESL), my job is to analyze my students’ needs and to develop their linguistic and communicative competence in English in all language domains.

    However, my goal as an educator is to create meaningful learning experiences that serve as pathways for connection. I can create those experiences through the framework of Children’s Rights to Read.

    Enacting the rights

    Right No. 4, borrowing language from scholar Rudine Sims Bishop, is the right of students to read texts that mirror their experiences and languages, provide windows into the lives of others, and open doors into our diverse world.

    I do this by providing texts that validate and celebrate my students’ unique backgrounds. We make time to share our own personal stories and experiences to bring awareness to our cultural diversities. We create projects that take us beyond learning the rules of the English language. We don’t just extract information to learn from it; we transact with the text by taking what we read and finding ways to apply it to our lives or to change the world around us.

    I find it imperative to establish a classroom culture where my students feel a sense of belonging and acceptance—where they celebrate both their similarities and differences.

    Having a clear understanding of my students’ rights to read—specifically the “right to read text that mirrors their experiences and language” and “the right to read as a springboard for other forms of communication”—I use picture books and storytelling as tools to facilitate language acquisition and comprehension.

    Picture book connections

    When it comes to selecting picture books for my lessons, I intentionally select books that

    • Provide rich text and illustrations to build literacy competencies
    • Facilitate language acquisition
    • Validate my students’ experiences and perspectives

    Some examples of books I’ve used are:

    • I’m New Here and Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge)
    • My Shoes and I by René Colato Laínez (Boyds Mills)
    • Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor (Philomel)
    • Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed (Eerdmans)
    • Brothers in Hope by Mary Williams (Lee & Low)
    • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) 

    Picture books are powerful tools for English learners, even at the high school level, to acquire and develop their English skills because the illustrations provide the support they need for meaning making. Picture books also serve as pathways to understanding our own experiences. My immigrant journey, as well as my students’ immigrant journeys, may be viewed by ourselves and others as something unworthy to share, read, or learn about.

    However, diverse picture books with characters that highlight and celebrate journeys like ours can provide the sense of validation we need to embrace our experiences. Through the connections we make with the characters who not only share our experiences but also exemplify courage and belonging, we are empowered to create—and be the heroes in—our own stories.

    Affirming existence through storytelling

    Affirming students’ individuality and identity requires action. First, we must learn about our students. We can do this by providing opportunities for them to research and share information about their personal histories. This allows us to build upon students’ knowledge, culture, language, identity, and experiences to create a more culturally responsive curriculum.

    In our class, reading diverse books that reflect students’ culture, language, and experiences empowers them to not just understand their experiences but to tell their own stories. Through this storytelling, we exercise Right No. 9: the right to read as a springboard for other forms of communication, such as writing, speaking, and visually representing.

    Using the app WriteReader, my students and I share our immigrant stories. This platform serves as a long-anticipated opportunity to showcase our experiences, our culture, and our language. Their stories cultivate a culture of value, respect, and acceptance for our identity and individuality and encourage our students to share and consume stories that matter.

    Following are some of our stories:

    So, embrace the right our students have to read and to be inspired by diverse characters and experiences. Empower your students with continuous opportunities to share their story—opportunities that reaffirm their existence, identity, and individuality.

    Astrid Emily Francis is an ESL teacher at Concord High School in Concord, NC. She serves students in 9th–12th grade with various English proficiency levels. Francis earned a BA in Spanish, and a MAT in ESL from UNC Charlotte.
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    Ten Resources for Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of World Read Aloud Day

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jan 29, 2019
    WRAD 2019

    This Friday, February 1, 2019, marks the 10th annual World Read Aloud Day (WRAD)—a global movement that highlights the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories. Founded by the nonprofit LitWorld and sponsored by Scholastic, the event is celebrated by millions of people in more than 100 countries. 

    In ILA’s recent literacy leadership brief describing the power of read-alouds, the brief’s author, Molly Ness, asserts that “reading aloud is undoubtedly one of the most important instructional activities to help children develop the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to become better readers.” In addition to important academic benefits such as improved vocabulary, listening comprehension, story schema, background knowledge, word recognition skills, and cognitive development, read-alouds “promote a love of literature, foster social interactions, and ignite a passion for lifelong reading habits.”

    For many educators across the world, the event is an opportunity to engage students in discussion about the importance of global literacy and the dangers of illiteracy, build cross-cultural connections, and have fun.

    If you have yet to make plans for the day, don’t worry—the following resources offer inspiration and ideas for educators looking to harness the power of read-aloud.

    • ILA’s recent brief, The Power and Promise of Read-Alouds and Independent Reading, outlines recommendations for optimizing the benefits of read-alouds and independent reading.
    • TeachHUB’s list includes read-aloud book recommendations, parent–child resources, Skype activities, and more.
    • Scholastic's World Read Aloud Day kit offers great ideas for planning an interactive read-aloud event centered on family and parent engagement.
    • Larry Ferlazzo’s blog post “The Best Resources for World Read-Aloud Day” is a compilation of evergreen read-aloud tips, tools, and strategies.
    • In this powerful video, author Kate DiCamillo “offers her humble opinion on the universal and age-defying magic of listening to a shared story.”
    • Skype with an author using Kate Messner’s working list of fellow authors who have volunteered to spend part of the day Skyping with classrooms around the world to share the joy of reading aloud.
    • The video discussion platform Flipgrid has designed five global read-aloud projects that allow students to “see the power of connection, experience other languages and cultures, and see the world through a different lens.”
    • ILA’s January Twitter chat, “The Right to Read Aloud: Teachers’ Voices Around Best Practices,” explored ways in which educators can intentionally choose read-alouds as a way of broadening students’ perspectives and cultural experiences. The conversation is archived here.
    • Connect with other educators across the world and exchange WRAD ideas using this Google Doc created by Shannon Miller, Andy Plemmons, and Matthew Winner.
    • ReadWriteThink.org published several WRAD-themed lesson plans, PD resources, and activities and projects for students of all ages.

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

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    Reflection on ILA’s "Expanding the Canon" Brief

    By Jamie Hipp
     | Jan 24, 2019

    readers-theatre-canonIn my former career as an elementary theater specialist, the perpetual hunt for royalty-free, developmentally appropriate, well-written scripts for rehearsal and performance was exhausting. I decided early on to allow my students to dramatize chapters from children’s literature into plays. This process offered my students rich playwriting opportunities for an authentic purpose. It also allowed me to cover a multitude of theater standards and vocabulary including playwriting, elements of fiction, character subtext and development, emotions, and more.

    Newbery Medal texts are ubiquitous in many school libraries, therefore I started my search with a comprehensive winner list. I had simple criteria: I had read the book before and the text would make for an interesting scene for rehearsal and/or performance. My prioritization of Newbery winners I had read previously could also be regarded as part of the “canon of sentiment”—fondness for texts from your own youth and propagation of these texts.

    Upon rereading the first group of Newbery Medal winners I secured from the library, I was hesitant to assign three books for dramatization. These were books that I adored from my own childhood! Those same books now seemed culturally disrespectful and promoted both negative stereotyping and gender roles when considering my readership (and audience) of 21st-century students.

    Several articles and biographical sketches of author Scott O’Dell document his vague and inaccurate depiction of Nicoleño culture by using the indigenous customs and traditions of other tribes in the 1961 Newbery winner, Island of the Blue Dolphins. If I assigned The Slave Dancer (Aladdin), the 1974 winner by Paula Fox, I felt I would not be culturally responsive to my many students of color. The book is narrated by the white, 13-year-old fife player, Jessie, leaving out the voices of the enslaved Africans who were brutalized on the ship. Finally, if I assigned the 1981 winner, Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved (HarperCollins), was I promoting gender conformity? As a staunch supporter of student choice, I simply did not know how to answer when a student picked up Slave Dancer from my desk and asked to borrow it.

    Stereotypes were a frequent discussion topic in my class. The theater term "stock character" refers to an archetype easily understood onstage. To model stock character creation for my students, I would often hunch over, pantomime using a cane, hold my back, and wrinkle my forehead to portray an elderly person. In the discussions that followed, I would always emphasize that I do not (nor do many people) know any elderly individuals who legitimately look or move similarly, however, the depiction "reads" as elderly onstage. Still, a conversation about culture, gender, and nationality did not come as easily to me.

    In a subsequent conversation with my colleagues who taught English language arts, I learned I was not alone. Their student demographics also included indigenous youth, students of color, and gender nonconforming students. They shared similar hesitations regarding certain books. ILA’s recent brief, Expanding the Canon How Diverse Literature Can Transform Literacy Learning, tackles this issue of expanding the canon of literature from only the classics and award winners to a wide array of works including various perspectives and peoples.

    In my own reflection on this brief, it seems crucial to continue to encourage student self-selection of texts, even if their choices make us (teachers/educational stakeholders) hesitant. Student choice sets the stage for literacy learning. Pairing texts like Slave Dancer with fellow Newbery winner Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam) puts the African American voice center stage. All literacy educators can play their part in expanding the canon through inspiring student choice of both classics and contemporary literature which embrace diversity in its many forms. Now, on with the show!

    Jamie Hipp is an adjunct professor in LSU’s School of Education and serves as a fellow for the Louisiana A+ Schools network. Connect with her on Twitter @artsarehipp.

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    How and Why to Include Word Solving in Intermediate Grades

    By Nancy McCoy
     | Jan 16, 2019

    pulling-instructional-modelI bought a new car this year. It has many bells and whistles that I am still learning how to use. Before handing me the keys, the car salesman spent time showing me how to use some very basic features, such as my lights, windshield wipers, and turn signals. It was time well spent because it began raining as I drove out of the dealership. Once I had driven my car for a few days, I was ready to begin learning some of the other features, such as its GPS system.

    Most readers in intermediate grades have learned some of the basic concepts they need to become a proficient reader. As they read, they practice applying what they know. Just as I needed more help with more sophisticated gadgets that my car provided, struggling intermediate students often need further instruction on how to read longer, multi-syllabic words.

    One of the stickiest problems for fluency is the inability to pronounce words quickly and thereby keep understanding the message at the forefront of the reading task. Most beginning readers are able to negotiate the automaticity of word solving in the first years of reading. As texts increase in difficulty, students are confronted with words that are long, have multiple syllables, or that may not be within the child’s vocabulary and, therefore, the context doesn’t help with the pronunciation. Teachers must be aware that this is the phonics issue of all intermediate readers and not only struggling readers.

    Every reader, even adults, will be confronted with long and unknown words. Try reading a medical journal sometime and you will understand. Featuring words and how to solve them should be a daily mini-lesson for whole-class instruction. The following two strategies will help all students with pronunciation of longer words and may be incorporated quickly and easily into the daily practice of reading instruction.

    Look, listen, say it

    Choose a word from any subject within the current area of study. Display the word so it’s visible to all students.

    • Look: Ensure all the students are looking at the word. This is important.
    • Listen: The teacher pronounces the word while children are looking. Moving a pointer or hand across the word left to right may be helpful.
    • Say it: The students then say the word while they are looking at the word.

    This procedure can be modified in many ways.

    • The word can be pronounced in syllables and then pronounced as a whole word.
    • The syllables in the word can be “tapped.”  (Look, Listen, Say it, Tap it.)
    • The word can be written in syllables and then as a whole word.
    • The word can be written by the students, as in the spelling strategy “Look, Cover, Check.” 
    • The word can be analyzed by looking at its root word, prefixes, and suffixes.
    • The word can further be defined and the meaning talked about.

    This simple procedure, when done frequently, will help students learn to pronounce longer words.

    Building word families

    Another instructional strategy that should be practiced frequently is building word families. This is especially important for intermediate readers and is a link to word meaning when Greek and Latin roots are featured. These word families need to grow organically from what students will be reading. For example, the root equi- appears in many subject areas.

    Roots will help build vocabulary across the curriculum. An example using the root spect- would be: spectacles, spectrum, spectator, perspective, inspect. When beginning a list of word families, the root word should be written in a column, so students can see the root and how it appears in each word. Prefixes will spill out on the left and suffixes will spill out on the right. By writing the roots in a column, students can focus on the parts of the word. This will lead students to notice known parts within words and transfer that skill to analyzing new words.

    When students and the teacher create these word families together, they become a powerful tool that can be posted on chart paper in the classroom. Students are drawn to things to which they have contributed and can continue to find new words to add.

    Don’t neglect teaching the word analysis that all readers need on their way to fluency and understanding. Make featuring long words and how to pronounce them a daily habit. It takes a minute or two out of a day to write a word and practice reading it. You will be giving your students a lifelong skill.

    My car?  I have learned how to use many of its features. Not all are automatic for me …yet.

    Nancy McCoy has been a fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade classroom teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, literacy professional developer, and curriculum coordinator. She has worked with struggling readers of all ages from whom she always learns more about how to teach reading.

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    Creative Assessments for Independent Reading

    By Heather Miller
     | Jan 15, 2019

    literacy-centers-all-childrenMost schools encourage independent reading, and for good reason; the more time a child spends reading daily, the stronger a reader she or he is likely to become. Over time, a daily reading habit is associated with financial, academic, and professional achievement as well as active participation in civic life. I believe that one of the best investments a school can make is in well-stocked classroom libraries that boast a wide range of genres, authors, styles, and reading levels.  

    Although many schools do a great job of making time for independent reading and insisting that children keep an independent reading log, often schools struggle to find time to assess independent reading.

    Book reports, while an important genre to master, can be time-consuming for children to complete. With all the other projects in the ELA curriculum competing for time, it can be difficult to insist that students complete a book report on a regular basis. 

    Fortunately, there are alternative assessments to independent reading that both emphasize the creative arts and can be completed at home. Students enjoy completing these creative assessments so much that it provides a new incentive to finish reading their independent reading book.

    Creative assessments of Independent Reading 101

    Consider requiring students to complete a creative assessment of a book they have read independently. Offering the four options below gives students the power to choose their preferred mode of demonstrating their understanding. They’ll enjoy the creativity and self-expression of the task, and you’ll learn more about each student’s personality, artistic skills, and engagement levels. 

    Write (and perform) a scene in a play

    Share with students a scene from a movie version of a book that they know and love. The scene should be no more than three to five minutes long. Then, invite students to write a scene based on their favorite moment of the novel. They must write the scene out in play script format, complete with a cast list, stage directions, setting, and dialogue for each character. They can either hand in their written scene as their assessment or opt to act out the scene with classmates or direct classmates in acting out the scene. Few students opt out of performing their dramatic masterpiece in front of the class!

    Through this activity, students flex their creative skills as dramatic writers, actors, and directors. They also demonstrate their grasp of the central conflict of the novel through their dramatization of a pivotal moment in the narrative.

    Write (and perform) a theme song based on the novel

    Students take the melody of a song and rewrite the lyrics to express the plot and theme of a novel of their choice. Emphasize that the chorus of the song should express the novel’s theme or key message. Add rigor by insisting that the song give the listener a sense of the story’s plot and the main character’s journey. 

    Students can hand in the lyrics as their assessment or opt to perform it solo or with friends. Students who want musical backing can find a karaoke version of the song and use that as a backing track. 

    During their performance, students exercise their talent for composition and share their singing talent while expressing a strong understanding of the text. Students match the mood of a novel with the mood of a song’s melody. This assessment often takes the perspective of the main character and therefore requires students to empathize with his or her story. 

    Design an alternative book jacket that shows you understand the plot and theme

    Show a book cover of a familiar book and ask students to explain how the book designer reflected the story and theme through its design. Then, challenge students to redesign the book cover of their independent reading choice. Students reflect on the theme and plot of the novel and use that understanding to design a new cover for the book, including the back cover copy. Add rigor by insisting that the front cover and details on the spine and back cover visually communicate the motifs, symbolism, and characters of the book. Students will present their book cover design to the class and articulate how it reflects the book’s plot and theme.

    Students can hone in on the symbolism, setting, and visual aspects of the author’s craft, using all the different spaces in a cover (front cover, spine, and back cover) to express their understanding of the book’s plot, characters, and theme.

    Be a guest on a talk show

    The teacher plays the host of a talk show and invites special guests on the show to discuss the book they’ve just read. Students prepare for their guest appearance by reading through a list of 20 rigorous questions that test their deep understanding of the novel beforehand. Students must prepare thoughtful answers to all 20 of these questions. Any of the 20 questions can be asked during their guest appearance on the talk show. Students appear on the talk show and respond maturely and fully to the questions the teacher asks about the novel. While this option does not involve a concrete deliverable, it is no soft option. It is essentially a verbal exam—and a student who cannot answer a question posed of him or her does poorly on the assessment.

    This exercise builds confidence, improves public speaking skills, challenges students to think intellectually about the book they have read, and reinforces knowledge of literary devices and concepts. Students who are strong speakers and thinkers but struggle to express themselves through writing have an opportunity to shine in this assessment. 

    Having a monthly creative assessment “party,” at which students share their dramatic scenes, theme songs, book cover designs, and appear on a talk show, is a lively, highly enjoyable way to ensure that children are benefiting from their independent reading. It’s also a great way for students to learn about books in your classroom library that they may wish to read.  

    Heather Miller, the director of LPM Education in New York, is the creator of the Bringing Classics to Life program, which will be featured at the 2019 Texas Association for Literacy Education Conference and the Massachusetts Reading Association 50th Annual Conference in March and April, respectively. She is also the author of Prime Time Parenting (2018), a guide to raising children in the digital age.

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