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    Pairing Classical Canon With Contemporary Counterparts

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Dec 05, 2018

    book-clubs-ltAlthough we’ve long known the importance of cultivating a diverse classroom library, today’s English language arts curriculum remains dominated by a list of familiar titles, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn,and Homer’s The Odyssey. Proponents of classical literature note their cultural and historical significance, praiseworthy prose, and contributions to a shared knowledge base.

    On the other hand, a growing number of educators have moved away from using these classics in favor of more modern alternatives, arguing that they offer more compelling, inclusive, and relatable narratives while imparting the same skills and themes.

    ILA’s latest brief, Expanding the Canon: How Diverse Literature Can Transform Literacy Learning, opts for a less binary option. Instead of pitting classic versus contemporary, the piece argues that teaching traditional canon in tandem with current titles is the more powerful option.

    One added benefit of this approach is the ability of educators to cultivate a classroom library that reflects the “diverse streams of culture, history, and language that compose today’s increasingly global society.”

    Here are a few sample pairings, provided via Twitter by classroom teachers and literacy professionals:

    “This fall, we are ‘pairing/laddering’ the new nonfiction by Larry Dane Brimner, Blacklisted!, with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. We actually get to read into the events that inspired the play with the pairing here.”
    —@PaulWHankins  

    “Teach texts in conversation with one another: The Great Gatsby with Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Macbeth with House of Cards, Never Let Me Go with The Marrow Thieves.”
    —@CarolJago

    “The most powerful pairings are the most unlikely ones—focused on the same questions but from different centuries and very different writers. My current favorite: Hamlet and Long Way Down. The Hate You Give and Romeo and Juliet.”
    —@obrienfolger

    “Sophocles’s Oedipus the King and Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men. Codes of honor, courage to face the truth, complexity of the human condition.”
    —@SycamoreHSEng

    “I have an idea to look at language used to describe Othello and language used in the red lining maps, easily searched through Mapping Inequality. Same problem, different day. And important American history.”
    —@blaney_anne

    “We read Greek mythology and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery with The Hunger Games—kids love making comparisons and finding thematic connections.”
    —@Mrs_Matsalia

    “Shakespeare’s King Lear and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.”
    —@Cummins2Cathy

    How often do you pair reading classics with modern, inclusive texts? Which pairings were especially strong or resonated with your students? What themes work well for these pairings? Email your answers to social@reading.org.

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

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    Weaving Art Into Literacy Instruction

    By Rachel Zindler
     | Nov 27, 2018
    art-ela-classroom

    Often overlooked, visual art has great potential to engage students in an English language arts (ELA) classroom. By integrating art into your ELA lessons, you can help students improve literacy, build world knowledge, and boost critical thinking, speaking, and listening skills.

    What’s more, weaving the study of fine art into your ELA lessons is a great way to differentiate instruction and reach a wide range of learners. Students of various abilities can access the visual language of art, providing important opportunities to gain competence in analyzing and discussing complex ideas. Striving readers and those who are learning to speak English especially benefit from this approach.

    Let’s use The Great Wave off Kanagawa as an example. It’s one in a series of famous woodblock prints titled Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, created by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai in 1832.

    If I were introducing this artwork to students in an ELA lesson, I would first ask what they notice about the image. Such close visual observation mimics early stages of close reading, drawing students in to examine and identify details and then stepping back to view the image as a whole. Then, I’d ask what more they’d like to know about it, using students’ innate curiosity as another point of engagement.

    Next, I’d ask, what’s happening in this artwork? Who are the people in the boats, and what do their poses tell us about them? What types of shapes and lines do you see? How do they draw our eye around the scene? When they encounter a new text, students must first establish an understanding of the characters, setting, and plot structure. With fine art, we’re asking them to identify the foundational components first, recognizing how the parts contribute to a harmonious whole.

    After that I would focus on artist’s technique. Just as I might prompt my class to describe an author’s use of language in a book, I might ask how specific artistic elements, such as color, texture, or composition work together to convey a message or support their interpretation of the work. Students learn to recognize artistic choices, similarly to how they identify and understand literary devices and their purpose in literature. Again,  this is about practicing a key, cross-cutting skill in a way that may reach more students or deepen engagement.

    Once we’ve analyzed the individual components, it’s then time to synthesize our knowledge. I would ask the critical question, what is the essential meaning of this work? We may not be able to put a precise finger on a single meaning, but can use what we know to make inferences. Students must support any claims with concrete evidence from the image, another important literacy skill.

    Finally, it’s important to note that we don’t read books in a vacuum, nor do we look at art that way. A painting or text can build a student’s knowledge of a host of other topics. In the case of this Japanese woodblock print, students might examine the process of printmaking, the power of natural forces, or we might place this work in context in Japanese history and culture.

    With this approach, you’ll be helping students expand their horizons and develop new skills. The National Assessment of Educational Progress 2016 arts assessment, which measures students’ knowledge and skills related to art, found that three-fourths of students couldn’t recognize obvious similarities and differences between two self-portraits by 20th-century artists. Far fewer students could create a self-portrait that sufficiently depicted their own characteristics.

    Framing class discussions of reading material and fine art is not only enjoyable for students and teachers alike, but creates an awareness about art, strengthens concrete literacy skills, and contributes toward a powerful and effective ELA curriculum. I’d love to see more teachers give it a try.

    Rachel Zindler is an art editor for the nonprofit Great Minds, publisher of Wit & Wisdom and Eureka Math. She previously worked in art museums and taught elementary and middle school students and teachers in New York City and Texas. She now lives in Austin, Texas and, when she’s not writing curriculum, is a practicing artist.

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    Thanksgiving-Themed Literacy Activities

    By Bailee Formon
     | Nov 20, 2018

    Turkey Reading BookHolidays are a great opportunity to facilitate fun projects that offer a springboard for critical reflection and meaningful discussion, and the upcoming Thanksgiving  celebration in the United States is no exception. By using this as a theme for reading and writing activities in the classroom, students will exercise important literacy skills while learning about the history, traditions, and values associated with Thanksgiving. Following are some Thanksgiving-related activities that will keep students engaged and learning during those last few hours before break.

    • Use this free Thanksgiving writing packet from Teachers Pay Teachers to engage students in coloring and labeling activities that foster vocabulary and spelling skills.
    • ReadWriteThink’s “Myth and Truth: The ‘First Thanksgiving’” lesson plan prompts students to think critically about commonly believed myths surrounding the Wampanoag, the pilgrims, and the "first Thanksgiving." 
    • This blogger’s Feed the Turkey activity gives students an opportunity to read aloud and learn new words while enjoying the process of “feeding” those words to the turkey.
    • Using a site such as Puzzlemaker, create a Thanksgiving-themed word search or  crossword puzzle with appropriate grade-level vocabulary.
    • Scholastic’s Thanksgiving-themed teacher's activity guide includes a Readers Theatre, “Letters from the New World,” and a vocabulary guide and quiz.
    • Thanksgiving Literacy Centers provides worksheets and printable activities, geared toward kindergartners and first graders, that use Thanksgiving pictures and themes to engage phonics, decoding, and creative writing skills. These fun worksheets will help keep younger students focused and enthusiastic during the lesson.
    • The National Education Alliance’s list of Thanksgiving ideas for elementary, middle and high school classrooms includes Thanksgiving memoirs for reading aloud, fill-in-the-blank worksheets, crossword puzzles, writing activities, and more.

    Bailee Formon is an intern at the International Literacy Association.  

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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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