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    “Rooting” On Adolescents

    By Rebecca Hendrix and Robert Griffin
     | Nov 22, 2017

    Rooting on AdolescentsEquipping adolescents to improve their vocabulary proficiency through greater morphological knowledge is not solely an exercise in isolated skills or memorization. Rather, it is a cohesive piece of the greater literacy puzzle that improves learners’ overall reading and writing abilities by strengthening both their vocabularies and their critical thinking skills.

    Often young readers are exposed to roots, prefixes, and suffixes as part of early literacy development. However, in many instances—particularly for students in middle and high school—this area of study is shelved until it’s time for skill-and-drill test preparation, that is, standardized testing.

    Although it may be important for adolescents to refresh their knowledge of affixes prior to these types of assessments, “one-and-done” cram sessions or other isolated examples are not effective for true morphological acquisition or vocabulary application.

    Gaps within students’ vocabulary bases result in vocabulary equity gaps that only continue to widen without explicit, targeted attention. To avoid these gaps, adolescents need classroom opportunities to apply morphological study to authentic literacy tasks.

    Practical advice for literacy educators

    Literacy educators can provide both middle and high school students with opportunities for improved interactions with morphemes by ensuring that morphological awareness is an integrated part of classroom literacy culture. The key word here is integrated; morphological awareness is found to be most advantageous when it is included as part of balanced literacy curricula and initiatives.

    By integrating morphology study within literacy curricula and in conjunction with other proven best practices in literacy, word study becomes a part of students’ literacy “tool kits,” as they individually strive to become more adept readers, writers, and thinkers. To equip adolescents with the skills they need to improve their morphological awareness, educators need to assess vocabulary from a morphological standpoint and authenticate students’ morphological knowledge using relevant literacy tasks.

    Begin with a differentiated focus

    Within the parameters of morphological study, operating with a differentiated focus is critical to the development of morphological awareness by English learners (ELs). Greek- and Latin-based languages share more cognates (words with similar etymology and pronunciation across languages) with English speakers. Therefore, ELs from Greek- and Latin-based languages have stronger baseline knowledge of morphemes than their native English–speaking peers.

    Language teachers should be directly involved in morphology instruction using appropriate formative assessments that measure students’ prior morphological knowledge and their ability to interpret words from a morphological standpoint. Quick, informal, and ungraded tickets in the door or out the door can be used to briefly assess students’ understanding of morphemes. Students can be grouped on the basis of their strengths and weaknesses for more targeted instruction.

    Implement strategic instruction

    Scaffolding specific morphological word-attack strategies empowers students to learn how to analyze words with the assistance of an instructor or peer, eventually moving toward independent application. Approaching morphology study from a differentiated standpoint allows educators to cater instruction and coaching to the needs of individual students.

    For example, students who have a basic understanding of morphemes to investigate basic word families with common roots, such as hydro- or spec would be a good starting point. For advanced students, manipulating familiar roots with various affixes allows students to revisit prior knowledge and build new connections and meaning. All students can keep a running personal glossary in their notes or journals of new vocabulary and new morphemes to which they may refer when reading and writing.

    Provide authentic applications

    Morphological knowledge, like other literacy skills, should be reaffirmed through authentic reading and writing tasks. Scaffolding text difficulty on the basis of the Lexile levels of texts and on learners’ reading levels directly influences the type of vocabulary with which students interact, and provides opportunities for them to apply morphological knowledge for the ultimate purpose of reading comprehension.

    Integrating widespread texts across content areas can be synthesized through text-based writing, through which students apply newly acquired and morphologically rich vocabulary and bolster the critical thinking skills necessary for college and career readiness. For example, if a student encounters a science or social studies text—which are increasingly more common as literacy expands throughout curricula—he or she will need to use morphologically complex words from that text in his or her written reader’s response. If the student paraphrases a morphologically complex word, teachers can aptly assess whether the student understood morphemes and comprehended the text.

    Moving forward

    Improving morphological awareness among adolescents is best achieved using long-term integration alongside other literacy best practices. Educators who include targeted morphological study in the adolescent literacy classroom provide students with the opportunity to develop vocabulary acquisition skills that will prepare them for college, for careers, and for literacy interactions throughout their whole lives—this, indeed, is something to “root” on.

    Rebecca Hendrix Rebecca Hendrix is a third-year candidate in the University of West Georgia School Improvement Doctoral Program as well as a sixth-grade English language arts and reading teacher at a rural northwest Georgia middle school, where she has taught for nine years.

    Robert GriffinRobert Griffin, an ILA member since 2016, is an instructional leader who inspires culturally and linguistically diverse students to achieve and perform to their highest potential. He is also a part-time faculty member in the Department of Literacy and Special Education at the University of West Georgia.

    This piece originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Literacy Today, ILA's member magazine. 

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    Celebrate Thanksgiving with These Literacy Activities

    By Samantha Stinchcomb
     | Nov 21, 2017

    Turkey ReadingAs U.S. schools prepare to go on Thanksgiving break this week, it can be difficult to keep students engaged and learning amidst the excitement. The days leading up to break present a perfect opportunity to think about values such as gratitude, charity, friendship, and community. Below are a few ways to celebrate the holiday while improving literacy skills!

    • Have students make an “I Am Thankful for…” book, where they write and illustrate what they are most thankful for. This encourages students to demonstrate gratitude while also strengthening their reading and writing skills. 
    • Create your own Feed the Turkey game to help tone reading skills. Using an interactive game keeps students interested and constantly learning throughout.
    • Construct felt depictions of traditional Thanksgiving characters, such as turkeys and vegetables. These can be used to retell fun Thanksgiving stories or to invent your own!
    • See how many different words your child can build by rearranging the letters in Thanksgiving-themed words, such as “thankful,” “turkey,” and “pilgrim.”
    • Play the Gobble Gobble Game. This is a fun, competitive way to practice the alphabet.
    • Help students create Thanksgiving dinner menus. This will give them a chance to show off their writing skills to dinner guests!
    • Challenge students to The New York TimesThanksgiving-themed crossword puzzle.
    • Learn about the language and culture of the Wampanoag tribe.

    For more ideas, check out our previous Thanksgiving-themed blog posts.

    Samantha Stinchcomb is an intern at the International Literacy Association.           

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    Helping Teaching Teams Find Commonality

    By Jeanne Smith
     | Nov 09, 2017

    reading-disabilitiesWe find struggling readers everywhere. We see them in all class sizes, subjects, and grade levels. They work with classroom teachers, literacy coaches, and one-on-one interventionists. They attend colleges, trade schools, and adult education classes. Despite their different backgrounds, many struggling readers have the same identifiable skills deficits. Classroom teachers, special educators, and other interventionists may work with the same students, depending on the setting.

    Struggling readers and writers will gain the most from their learning program if all literacy professionals on their team work together. Communication, reinforcement, and affirmation are important behaviors that can make small steps more meaningful to everyone invested in students’ success. What follows is a list of some important items to be aware of, regardless of where a student is placed in his or her educational setting.

    Guidelines for effective interventions

    • Language is complex. Reading and spelling disorders can take a long time to overcome and must be addressed through strong teaching, practice, and reinforcement. It is most advantageous to teach decoding and encoding skills concurrently.
    • When different programs, books, or software are used in different settings by different teachers, with no connection made to each other’s instruction, students will have trouble processing the material.
    • Too much emphasis on sight reading, without practice in syllable types, blending sounds, and multisensory learning for multisyllabic words, may lead students to rely on memory rather than develop the skills needed to progress.
    • Memorizing spelling rather than learning to spell by sound and syllable type can also be counterproductive—students may commit too much to memory and be left without the foundational skills to advance. When introducing spelling rule exceptions, struggling readers need a slow, systematic introduction.

    Reminders for teaching reading and decoding, spelling, and encoding

    • Letters have both names and sounds; during the early stages of literacy, students need a solid foundation on sounds.
    • If students have difficulty decoding or sounding out at the earliest level, they may need more practice in blending sounds or identifying syllable types.
    • If students have trouble sounding out words to spell, they may need more instruction in segmenting sounds and working with syllable types.

    Considerations for comprehension

    Strategies such as visualization and metacognitive awareness are very helpful and commonly used in classrooms. However, it is important that comprehension skills be taught not only through strengthening/accommodating students’ listening skills and having them demonstrate comprehension mastery through other modalities but also by incorporating comprehension skills, with decodable text based on their progression. Doing so will help get students with reading disabilities back on the page and build their relationship with print. 

    jeanne smith headshot2Jeanne H. Smith is a literacy specialist at Community High School of Vermont and a correctional educator with St. Albans Probation and Parole.


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    Family Friday

    By Staci Kaplan
     | Nov 08, 2017
    Family FridayI teach in a school system that’s home to a wide socioeconomic disparity. The median household income is $145,083, and approximately 20% of the township’s more than 22,000 residents work in finance and real estate. However, those numbers hide the 6.5% of the population who lives below the poverty line—a significant minority of working-class immigrants for whom English is not their first language.

    This disparity is evident at our school’s annual Halloween assembly, where parents are invited to attend grade-level skit performances, followed by a classroom party. One year, I saw five parents working hard in my classroom to create a festive party, yet outside the classroom door lingered four more immigrant parents who were reluctant to enter. I wanted all my families to feel welcomed and connected, but I didn’t know how.

    A solution crystallized when I heard professor David Schwarzer of Montclair State University speak on culture, language, and curricular choices at the ILA 2015 Conference & Exhibits, in St. Louis, MO. I left with a plan to make all families feel welcomed.

    Introducing Family Friday

    Each year, as students step into a new grade and classroom, teachers should ask, “What stories do our students carry? How can we evoke them?”

    In my third-grade classroom, these questions led to the creation of Family Friday.

    It can feel overwhelming for teachers to add anything new to the schedule. In my classroom, however, a feasible solution was to reserve just 15 minutes each week to open our doors to honor our students’ families, creating the opportunity for personal storytelling and conversation. Through our new Family Friday tradition, students explore cultural experiences perhaps vastly different from their own.

    Family Friday comes from the belief that all students should be given the opportunity to share their own experiences and listen to those of others. The goal in our classroom is to involve families and help students learn about other cultures, traditions, and global experiences. There is no specific format; family members can partner with their children, bring a translator, or ask the teacher to arrange for a translator. They can share photographs, slides, or video of a special place or festival; present cultural symbols and artifacts; read a bilingual book; or tell a story.

    Encouraging participation 

    I teamed up with our school’s bilingual parent liaison to reach out to and encourage our families to participate in Family Friday. Our liaison was extremely successful by following these simple steps:

    • Make personal contact with each family
    • Provide each family with suggestions on what to bring
    • Work alongside each family, as needed, to translate any aspect of the presentation
    • Offer encouragement and emotional support
    • Translate all letters sent home

    Every family she contacted visited our classroom. The best part was watching my students’ faces light up when their parents and siblings were the teachers and storytellers.

    Having meaningful conversations

    Students were delighted to see their classmate’s father translate their names into Mandarin and hear an explanation of their names’ meanings. They heard the story of a student’s family’s struggle to escape from war-torn Honduras, watched a video of a classmate splashing in his favorite watering hole when visiting his grandparents in Mexico, and laughed at the concept of Armenian egg jousting.

    During each Family Friday gathering, we broke into small groups to allow students to ask questions and share ideas. Some jotted ideas into their notebooks while others asked thoughtful questions about the immigrant experience, such as “What was it like to come to a new and strange country? How did you adapt?” 

    Building a community

    Through Family Friday, we are building a culture of kindness, empathy, and respect. As students share their treasured stories to a respectful audience, they feel valued.

    At the end of year, we gathered highlights from each family’s presentation. As a class project, students in the classroom or at home created three slides to represent their family’s contribution. We combined them into a single slideshow with a student-composed soundtrack made with GarageBand.

    We held a celebration where we invited all our families to celebrate “Who We Are.” I looked around my room to see people from Armenia, Bangladesh, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Romania, and the United States. Each student’s story represented a patch on a quilt, stitched together by our classroom community.

    staci kaplan headshotStaci Kaplan, an ILA member since 2014, is a literacy coach for Summit Public Schools in New Jersey.


    This piece originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Literacy Today, ILA's member magazine.

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    Resources to Support Family Literacy

    By Samantha Stinchcomb
     | Nov 02, 2017

    Family LiteratureResearch presented by the National Center for Education Statistics has proven that family engagement is one of the most important factors of literacy development, and that children enter kindergarten at a higher reading level when they have a positive learning environment at home. When literary success is highly encouraged and supported by the family, children are more likely to want to read, enjoy reading, and excel in all areas of academics. Below are a few ways to foster family literacy in and out of the classroom.

    Resources for educators

    • Invite students’ parents and family members into the classroom to read their favorite childhood book aloud.
    • Provide a collection of books for students to take home to read with their families.
    • Introduce students and their families to websites such as ReadWriteThink and Reading Rockets and encourage them to engage in these learning games and activities together at home.
    • Assign interactive literacy homework such as group vocabulary exercises or discussion prompts.
    • Create “reading kits” for students to take home. The kits can contain worksheets, vocabulary words, and comprehension questions for families to go over together.

    Resources for parents

    • Write a short story with your child using the day’s events or their imagination.
    • Call Dial-A-Story (416.395.5400) to listen to a story with your child anytime! The service is available in 16 different languages.
    • Involve distant family members in the enjoyment of reading by sharing a book together through video chat apps such as Skype.
    • Make puppets of your child’s favorite literary characters. Use these puppets to act out a scene from the book or to reimagine a scene in a different way.
    • Help your child write to a pen pal. Whether it’s a distant friend or family member, consistently writing to a pen pal fosters important writing and storytelling skills.

    For more ideas, check out the National Center for Families Learning’s 30 Days of Families Learning Together.

    Samantha Stinchcomb is an intern at the International Literacy Association.           

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