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Literacy Now

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    Emotional Self-Regulation and Reading Success

    By Jenny Nordman
     | Aug 16, 2018
    Emotional Self-Regulation

    Although emotional control may not be at the top of the list when describing the characteristics of effective readers, the impact of emotional self-regulation should not be underestimated. In fact, research has found that students who are better able to control their behavior pick up on early literacy skills more quickly than those who enter school with weak socio-emotional skills. Conversely, negative emotions have been found to affect processing speed, working memory, concentration, self-monitoring, and attention, all of which are cognitive skills connected to reading success.

    Students who experience reading difficulty often have less frustration tolerance, increased anxiety, and lower self-esteem. Older remedial readers are particularly at risk for experiencing these negative emotions during reading, due to the discouragement and even embarrassment that can result from slow progress. This creates an unfortunate cycle, since negative emotions about reading can affect performance, just as negative performance on reading tasks can affect emotions about reading.

    With this in mind, here are some practical tips that can be used to increase emotional self-regulation and positivity during reading instruction for students of all ages: 

    • “Anchor” students in a positive reading memory. At the beginning of a guided reading or remediation session, individually anchor students in a recent positive reading memory in order to start instruction on an encouraging note. (e.g., “Michael, remember yesterday when you did such a great job remembering your vowel sounds? Let’s start from there.”)
    • Guide positive self-affirmations. At the end of a guided reading or remediation session, guide students in reflecting on a positive event or result from that day’s work. This can be done by asking each student what they saw as a success during the lesson.
    • Teach relaxation techniques. When students seem frustrated, take a “relaxation break.” The following tend to be particularly helpful: deep breathing, visualization, flowing gross motor exercises, and stretching. Then, encourage students to smile and straighten their posture before resuming instruction.
    • Provide a clear, safe way for students to express their emotions about reading. This can be accomplished through a simple rating scale or informal survey. For younger students, they can be asked to color a happy face, neutral face, or frustrated face after a session, and then discuss why they feel that way. For older students, they can rate their feelings about a session on a scale of 1–5. This will help them to express their emotions and avoid build-up, while also providing the teacher with a litmus test reflecting how students feel about a lesson or skill.

    With these activities, you can help to build emotional self-regulation skills in readers and support their overall literacy success. For additional positive reinforcement, it may be helpful to send a few of these suggestions home to parents as well.

    Jenny Nordman is an associate professor of reading and literacy at Regis University in Denver, where she coordinates the Master of Education in Reading program.  Her areas of expertise include reading assessment and intervention, cognitive skills associated with reading success, neurocognition, and evidence-based best practices.

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    The Four Principles of Middle School ELA Engagement

    By Deb Sabin
     | Aug 14, 2018

    Middle school is a time when students are deeply and constantly engaged in their own emotions, relationships, and “finstas.” Problem is, it’s also a time when engagement in academics is critical to future success in school and beyond.

    Research confirms that getting middle schoolers on the path to college and career readiness requires a truly engaging curriculum. We need to channel middle schoolers’ excitement with their new ways of seeing and being in the world into tackling challenging academic experiences. That’s why we created four actionable principles of middle school ELA engagement. When it comes to ELA, these principles won’t just help your students “get through” middle school. They’ll help you get through to your middle schoolers.

    Your students bring a unique and complex set of needs into your classroom. If you want to do more than just hold their attention for five minutes—that is, if you want to deliver the deep engagement that leads to deep learning—you’ve got to provide both content and pedagogy that speak to those needs.

    Engagement principle no. 1: Empower students to become critical thinkers

    To be fully engaged, middle school students need to know that the work they’re doing will matter, be recognized, and be relevant to their lives. They need lots of opportunities to develop, communicate, and refine their ideas in light of new observations. A truly engaging curriculum supports a range of observations and possible interpretations of the text and provides supports for students to refine these ideas as they read further. In this way, students gain a sense of control over their own learning and the opportunity to become critical, independent—even audacious—thinkers.

    Below are some strategies for supporting and encouraging a culture of original thinking in your classroom:

    • Be clear that the text, not the teacher, has all the answers. Ask questions such as, How did you get to that response? What might change if you considered a different point of view? Could you rephrase your response in a different way? Students develop their responses by following one simple rule: If you can justify it in the text, you can hold on to your interpretation
    • Teach students to develop theories they refine with time, versus focusing on right or wrong answers. Students struggle when they think learning is only about getting it right. For example, when students consider the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” it’s helpful to detach them from the goal of establishing one correct character analysis and instead help them to explore and problem-solve. For example, ask questions such as, “Why doesn’t this make sense?”
    • Channel Socrates. A Socratic seminar—which emphasizes inquiry and discussion over definitive responses—brings home the importance and power of open-ended questions. During the seminar, you act as facilitator of conversation rather than deliverer of knowledge, posing questions, guiding the discussion, and prompting students to contribute.

    Engagement principle no. 2: Provide opportunities and supports for all students to work “up”

    When it comes to physical, emotional, social, and academic development, middle schoolers are all over the place. The phrase to remember is “low floors and high ceilings”—in other words, it’s all about providing multiple entry points and the right scaffolding opportunities so that every student can engage deeply with a rigorous curriculum.

    The following differentiation strategies help to drive learning:

    • Incorporate multimedia strategically. Often a video dramatization or audio recording can help students find their way into a complex text.
    • Scaffold with sentence frames and modified prompts. These tools reduce linguistic barriers, enabling students to produce more complex writing and speech.
    • Aptitude, brackish, circumference! Daily vocab practice will make a huge difference, with each student completing assignments specifically engineered to challenge them at their level of proficiency.

    Engagement principle no. 3: Support feedback systems that develop strengths

    Well-delivered feedback can be useful for anyone. It’s particularly potent for middle schoolers, who may be aware of learning differences among students, vulnerable to criticism, and frequently unwilling to ask for help when they’re floundering. For them, true engagement moments are born from a teacher’s ability to provide feedback in a way that helps them see opportunity rather than failure.

    The following feedback strategies help to drive learning:

    • Shoulder responsibility. Over-the-shoulder conferences during class give you the chance to offer unobtrusive, bite-size, encouraging, customized, and immediately actionable feedback.
    • Build a classroom culture of feedback. Fact of school/life: it’s scary to share your work. But when you encourage your students to provide supportive, targeted responses and specific, skill-related comments—not to mention eye contact and smiles—you bring out the best in everyone.
    • Focus rewrites on key skills. The written feedback you provide should be manageable and should target one or two specific places where a student needs help—say, with citing evidence to support a claim or combining sentences to better illustrate an idea.

    Engagement principle no. 4: Engage multiple modalities, with particular attention to collaboration

    All students need to “read” text in all sorts of ways—through hearing, speaking, writing, seeing, performing, and more. By providing multiple ways for students to interact with text, you are allowing them to process the language through distinct pathways.

    The following multimodal strategies help to drive learning:

    • Invite drama. Dramatic readings contribute to speaking and listening skills by giving students models of excellent oral performances and helping them learn to listen for subtle differences in delivery among different performers.
    • Create great debate. A debate that students are motivated to engage vividly demonstrates the importance of evidence—including the way the one piece of evidence may be used to support two opposing arguments. Students also get to exercise their listening and public speaking skills.
    • Encourage performance. Performance decisions are an exercise in text analysis, challenging students to make distinct choices about the meaning and purpose of every word.

    A curriculum that embodies these principles of engagement will bring out the best in your middle school students and make your classroom a challenging, lively place to learn.  

    Deb Sabin is the chief academic officer at Amplify, a next-generation curriculum and assessment company. She has taught in a variety of classrooms from alternative high schools, to elite prep schools, to international dual language schools.

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    Part 5: Creating a Gender-Inclusive Curriculum

    By Dana Stachowiak
     | Aug 09, 2018
    Inclusive Curriculum

    This is the final installment of a five-part series on cultivating gender-inclusive classrooms. It was written as a complement to “The Power to Include: A Starting Place for Creating Gender-Inclusive Literacy Classrooms,” an article that appears in the July/August issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.  

    Integrating gender nonconforming people into the curriculum can happen across disciplines, but a solid start is to teach with picture books that feature LGBTQ protagonists. For example, the book I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings (Dial) offers opportunities to engage in dialogue around challenging the gender binary, and Jazz, a transgender child, is a strong role model for students.

    It’s also important to integrate the histories, narratives, and contributions of transgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming scientists and mathematicians (such as Joan Roughgarden, Angela Clayton, or Julia Serano), artists (such as ballerina Jin Xing or composer Wendy Carlos), or authors (such as Jazz Jennings or Janet Mock). Equally important is engaging in frequent dialogues about who is left out or misrepresented in literature and picture books. For example, asking students who’s not included, why they think this happens, and who they can include and how not only builds critical thinking skills and empathy, but also sends positive messages about equity and inclusion.

    Another part of creating gender-inclusive and equitable literacy curricula means shifting the ways we provide and subscribe to gender education. Scholar Kathleen Rands urges that “educators must take into consideration the existence and needs of transgender, [genderqueer, and gender nonconforming] people, and teach gender in a more complex way” through a “gender complex education.” Teaching the binary of “boy” and “girl” offers an easy interpretation of gender, but it excludes, oppresses, and marginalizes those with different identities. A gender-complex education, on the other hand, although initially more challenging to conceptualize, creates more inclusive, valuing, encouraging situations for the long term.

    A gender-complex education recognizes multiple forms of gender identities and challenges traditional thinking around gender. It calls educators to four actions:

    Acknowledge gender as fluid.

    • Identify gender category oppression, where male is privileged over female.
    • Recognize transgender category oppression, where the same woman oppressed by men and male privilege is privileged over a transgender woman because she conforms to gender category norms.
    • Challenge gender and transgender category oppression.

    Educators must also demonstrate these in the classroom. Teach your students to enact these and interrogate the places where the social construction of gender is influenced by and influences our understanding of gender.

    When we start thinking and having conversations with our students about gender in this way, we can start to think about what an integrated complex gender curriculum can look like. The table below shows the different ways of thinking about gender identity. Where do you fall in this chart? What are some moves you can make to think about gender in a more inclusive way?

    Gender Education Chart

    Dana Stachowiak is an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she coordinates the Curriculum Studies for Equity in Education master’s program. Dana is also a literacy consultant with The Educator Collaborative and worked as a curriculum specialist and teacher for a decade in North Carolina. Dana’s primary areas of specialization and research include social justice education, equity literacy, literacy curriculum development, cultural foundations of education, qualitative research methods, and gender studies. Pronouns: She, her, hers. Twitter handle: @DrStachowiak.

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    Part 4: Supporting Gender Nonconforming Students

    By Dana Stachowiak
     | Aug 02, 2018

    This is the fourth installment of a five-part series on cultivating gender-inclusive classrooms. It was written as a complement to “The Power to Include: A Starting Place for Creating Gender-Inclusive Literacy Classrooms,” an article that appears in the July/August issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.  

    Literacy educators have a responsibility to place gender nonconforming students at the center of conversations about gender equity and gender-inclusive classrooms. Although this centering will look different at different grade levels and will vary with context, decentering cisgender privilege is the work of cisgender educators, and that involves stepping aside and giving gender nonconforming students the lead. Because centering gender nonconforming students is not the norm, the support of literacy educators is especially important when stepping aside. To support your gender nonconforming students, you may want to ask:
    • What name would you like to go by? What pronouns do you want to use?
    • Would you like to let your classmates know? If so, to what extent?
    • What are some things that make you feel unsafe in/out of the school/classroom? How can I help make this a safer place for you?
    • Is there anything you would like me to know?

    You may want to explicitly ask the student which bathroom they prefer to use. Although school policies may be out of your hands, you can make accommodations that feel safe to the student while you advocate for their bathroom rights.

    It is important that you keep the communication between you, the student, their guardian(s), and school leadership confidential. Other students and parents may have questions, and you must respect the gender nonconforming student’s wishes on what to share and what to keep private. You may suggest an informational meeting for students and parents, during which the unyielding mission is to learn about gender inclusivity and equity, not to argue about gender nonconforming students’ rights.

    Dana Stachowiak is an assistant professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she coordinates the Curriculum Studies for Equity in Education Master’s program. Dana is also a literacy consultant with The Educator Collaborative. She holds a doctorate in educational studies with a concentration in cultural studies from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University, and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Western Michigan University. Follow her on Twitter @DrStachowiak.
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    Responsive Teaching in Action

    By Justin Stygles
     | Aug 01, 2018

    responsive-teaching-2Recently, I had the opportunity to present a lesson to my readers on “voice.” My intent was to better understand students’ beliefs about self-expression and reading. When I asked students questions such as “Who owns voice in reading?", I expected them to detail how they responded to questions after reading, maybe worksheets, or wrote a summary after reading. From there, I could launch into a lesson that would liberate their comprehension. 

    To spice up the situation, I asked two new teachers to observe my lesson and acquire ideas that would invite their students into writing about reading. Not surprisingly, the lesson did not go as anticipated. 

    When I opened the discussion, my fifth graders provided responses about voice that didn’t match my expectations. As much as I wanted to hear students say, albeit generically, “I own voice in reading because I can express my opinion,” they instead replied:

    • “Voice is what you sound like when you are reading out loud to people.”
    • “Voice is how you sound when you sound like the person in the story using his accents.”
    • “Voice is what I hear inside my head when I am reading to myself.”
    I then introduced the idea of voice to my class, focusing on comprehension, specifically the instructional concept of writing about reading. I wanted to empower students to harness their perceptions and perspectives through writing. In the coming days, we would be discussing, sampling, and then constructing various responses to reading, including index card book reviews, our class newsletter, “Wiscasset’s Middle-Grade Reading Flyer,” and archetypal comparisons across genres.

    Back to the lesson. Since my readers were not familiar with this concept of voice, I had to make an instant shift in my instruction. I looked to the two teachers who observed my lesson. Both seemed at a loss of what to do, since the lesson had not gone according to plan. 

    Meghan Schofield, a new third-grade teacher, recounted, “Being a new teacher, I haven’t taught ‘voice’ with respect to reading. Although I’ve mentioned during writing conferences, ‘You have such strong voice in your writing,’ I hadn’t considered the voice as a personal perspective of text. This lesson made me reflect on what I’ve said to my own students.

    I knew Justin’s lesson wasn’t going according to plan. From my seat, I started panicking because I didn’t know the outcome. I thought to myself, ‘What would I do in this moment?’ I probably would’ve made my best attempt to get myself back to where the original teaching point, because I felt committed to the planned outcome, resulting in non-authentic learning.”

    I proposed to students that “voice” has two roles in reading. I acknowledged students’ recognition of the oral competent of reading followed by the comprehension component, which includes participation in book groups, opinions, and perspectives, which I described as “articulation.” Finally, I suggested to readers, perhaps most importantly, that writing about reading is developing their voices, giving them a chance to preserve their legacies.  

    Meghan noted, “I was impressed with how quickly and seamlessly responsive teaching can happen. I’m not yet comfortable with my lessons not going as expected, although it happens frequently. I find myself trying to get my students back to my original teaching point rather than being comfortable with responsiveness or adapting to their needs and knowledge on the spot.”

    During our post-conference, Meghan and I discussed how responsive teaching is not always about data. Rather, responsive teaching is about making instructional moves that attend to students’ knowledge while simultaneously rerouting students to meet the overall lesson goal. 

    During this lesson, I made sure to celebrate students’ knowledge before offering another definition of voice. In doing so, I didn’t discount what they knew, or bring my lesson to an abrupt end, rather I invited an opportunity to learn something new. When new teachers can see this instant adaptation, they realize that it’s ok to fall off the script or plan, which can define good teaching. 

    “I learned, rather than panicking about a change in a lesson, I should acknowledge celebrations of what students do know and their attempts to connect with a lesson," she said.

    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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