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Literacy Now

Teaching Tips
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
    • The Engaging Classroom
    • Teaching Tips

    A Fresh Take on Book Clubs Promotes Early Literacy Development

    By Maria Dismondy
     | Jun 13, 2019

    fresh-take-book-clubsDid you know when parents and caregivers are involved in their children’s reading habits, the children are more likely to be frequent readers later in life? When I found this out, a light bulb went off and the Family Book Study was born. I like to think of it as a movement that bridges literacy and family togetherness. Thinking back to my own childhood, I remember reading picture books with my grandma and chapter books with my sister. Through these experiences, I saw firsthand how books can enhance family time.

    To get this educational family reading event off the ground, I first reached out to my daughter’s school and got the staff on board. It took shape as an evening of togetherness that meets twice a year at the school.

    The books for each grade level are chosen and shared with the school families. We don’t limit this to parents and children, either. We have a diverse culture of families and do not want to exclude anyone.

    As the coordinator of this event, I search online lists of books that received positive reviews by families and educators on Goodreads, Amazon and Common Sense Media. I provide three to four titles to the school administrator who then asks the school staff to vote on which book will be assigned to each grade-level group. Having the teachers involved makes a difference as many of them offer to facilitate a discussion group the night of the event.

    Participants are then encouraged to read to, with, or alongside their children for the Family Book Study. We ensure families know how to get their hands on the chosen titles, many of which are free.

    On the evening of the event, the media center at my daughter’s school is buzzing with families excitedly discussing their books. As an author and literacy advocate, it doesn’t get much better than this.

    We start the evening with a book-themed icebreaker and then we’re off and running. To help the evening run smoothly, I provide discussion questions for each title and choose one adult facilitator for each group to help lead the discussions. Occasionally, I’ll even prep an activity for the younger children. For example, after reading the book, The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and Katz Cowley (Scholastic), students and family members worked together to create silly donkey puppets using markers and paper lunch bags. They were encouraged to recite the repetitive phrase from the book using their homemade puppet. Next, they were asked to come up with their own rhymes to be recited by their donkey puppet.

    The benefits of Family Book Study go beyond literacy development. It has helped strengthen family bonds and allowed parents to be intentional about reading quality literature with their children at home. One particular comment stands out after hosting several of these book nights. A grandmother told me how much she looks forward to this special night with her grandson. They read the book independently, then go out to dinner to discuss the book before the school event. We have had several of our English language learner families attend the event, which has provided them with a platform to make connections and build community.

    Ready to start your own Family Book Study? Download your how-to guide here

    Happy reading!

    Maria Dismondy is a former educator with over a decade of classroom experience. She graduated from Michigan State University with a BS and MA in education and child development. For the past 10 years, Maria has been writing children’s picture books, speaking at schools across the United States, and raising her own three little readers. She is passionate about literacy, character education, and promoting positive family engagement. Find out more at mariadismondy.com or CardinalRulePress.com

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    • The Engaging Classroom

    Quiet Conversations: A Unique Approach to Practicing Speaking and Listening Skills

    By Lauren Bakian Aaker
     | May 23, 2019

    marking-textStudents busily move around the table, markers in hand, jotting, drawing connecting arrows, sketching symbols. The only sound to be heard is the scuff of the chairs on the floor and the swoosh of markers moving along the paper. You wouldn’t know it, but students are deep in discussion, moving beyond surface-level observations to more sophisticated ideas that analyze a theme, character, or topic. This is a quiet conversation.

    When we think about speaking and listening standards, many of us count on accountable talks or literacy circles, those often used after the completion of a read-aloud or shared text, where students sit in a circle and talk with guidance from a teacher or, if they are experienced, without that guidance. In these conversations, it is usually our strongest verbal students who drive the direction of the thinking, often leaving out or leaving behind students who require more time to process and share.

    Not only have I been frustrated that my conversations may only involve a handful of students, but I have also found it challenging to teach developing speakers how to listen—really listen—to what others are saying and to build off that rather than throw another idea into the mix. To address this challenge, which many other teachers experience, I introduced a way of sharing ideas without ever opening your mouth and instead opening your marker cap.

    Quiet conversations can be used with a range of texts, from excerpts from primary sources to book blurbs to introduce and build excitement for book clubs. Following is a series of steps to spark quiet conversations. 

    • Prior to your first quiet conversation, ensure students are familiar with annotation symbols and purposes such as underlining, circling, and more.
    • Print out the text to be shared and attach it to a larger chart paper or poster board.
    • Separate the class into groups of 3–4 students for effective conversations.
    • Encourage students to stand around the text from all directions to add their notes and symbols. While not necessary, using different colored writing tools (markers, pens, colored pencils) can help students and teachers alike track different students’ thinking.
    • After students have spent 5–15 minutes “discussing” on paper, invite them to read the other quiet conversations that took place to see where ideas were similar or different from their own. If there’s remaining space, they can even continue the conversation.

    The first time this protocol is used, students will be both excited and unsure. As you provide more opportunities to communicate in this way, students will ask for more clarification and explanation from one another, will challenge and connect ideas, and will begin to more frequently build, rather than move on from, ideas that are already started. In this way, we can teach students to be better listeners as well as advocates of their own thoughts and voices.

    Lauren Bakian Aaker is an elementary school teacher in Kansas City, MO, who believes in student choice and student voice in the classroom. Lauren began her career in New York City where she earned a degree in literacy from Teachers College, Columbia University and taught graduate-level literacy courses to preservice teachers. To learn more, follow Lauren on Instagram at No Frills Classroom.   

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    Promoting Access to Books Year-Round Through Summer Reading Initiatives

    By Margaret Mary Policastro, Diane Mazeski, and Debra Fisher
     | Apr 30, 2019

    summer-reading-initiativesTo ensure the well-being of every child, access to books over the summer is critical. We believe that creating lifelong readers starts with ensuring there is opportunity to promote the love and joy of reading year-round. During the summer months, when most children are out of school, access to books becomes even more important. Many children do not have access to books at home, which means they don’t read over those three months.

    To keep the joy and love of reading moving forward, schools need to take a vital role in planning and executing summer reading initiatives.

    We have spent the past eight years with grant-funded projects working to create balanced literacy schools, with a focus on creating year-round access to books. We developed summer reading initiatives with partner schools. These initiatives, which are unique within each school setting, were also drawn from our over three decades of working in our Summer Reading Clinic at the university.

    We have learned both in our work within partner schools and our university Summer Reading Clinic that families want their children exposed to print-rich activities over the summer months. Often, families do not know how to help their children and do not have access to the resources needed to do so. However, with some guidance, these obstacles can be overcome, and students can continue to thrive and grow in their love and joy of literacy over these crucial summer months.

    Following are some of the initiatives we employed at our partner schools.

    A read-aloud picnic

    Summer is the perfect time to enjoy outdoor spaces for reading. One teacher came up with the idea to hold a read-aloud picnic. Families were invited to bring a picnic snack and blanket to a cozy space on the school grounds. They sat and discussed the read-aloud topic and then enjoyed the interactive read-aloud. Adults were just as engaged as the children, asking questions and participating.

    Summer book clubs

    Children love to talk about books they have read. Book clubs, held at the school or a public library, are a wonderful venue to keep these conversations going over the summer. Schools can determine what book club selections will work for which grades. One school held a book club lunch, where students discussed their selection over their packed lunches. We have had good luck recommending the latest award-winning books from both the John Newbery Medal and Honor Book winners and Jane Addams Children's Book Award lists.

    Partner with the public library

    Partnering with the public library can have many benefits. Some public libraries have “pop-up libraries” that travel throughout the community to bring books to children and adults. These innovative libraries serve many goals, including bringing books and librarians to people who may not otherwise go to a library, showcasing the library’s many resources and activities, and allowing readers to connect. Librarians should ensure they provide a wide variety of subjects and genres that reflects the reading interests of all students. This has been most successful initiative in our summer clinic; the local public library comes every other week, rain or shine. The children are thrilled to have this opportunity to spend time selecting books, talking, and sharing their reading with others.

    Reading incentive programs

    One school partnered up with a local yogurt shop for an incentive program. Children who read a specified number of books, documented in their summer reading log, were given a voucher to get a free yogurt. This worked especially well with the younger children. Searching for community partners and what they can offer will depend on the community. In our summer clinic, children get a “free” book for every five they read. Getting to select a book to keep is a big incentive, and children often take their time making their selection, being very deliberate in their decision-making process.

    School’s open for books

    One of our initiatives was to open the school a few days over summer for students to come and select reading materials. Carts filled with inviting books were rolled out into the hall outside the principal’s office. Days and hours were flexible and generous. The principal, school secretary, and participating teachers stood by to greet the students and offer book suggestions. Family members who accompanied younger students were delighted by the availability of books.

    Margaret Mary Policastro is a professor of language and literacy at Roosevelt University (RU) where she directs both the language and literacy program and is the Summer Reading Clinic director. The summer reading initiatives evolved out of the work in the RU Summer Reading Clinic. She currently is directing the RU IL-EMPOWER partnership with the Illinois State Board of Education working to improve underperforming schools.

    Diane Mazeski retired after a rewarding career as a teacher and reading specialist in Mt. Prospect and Winnetka, Illinois. She is currently the associate director of the Summer Reading Clinic. Diane served as the literacy coach at Our Lady of the Wayside School and helped to implement the summer reading initiatives.

    Debra Fisher is a first-grade teacher at Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights, Illinois. While partnering with RU, she served on the literacy team helping to transform her school into a balanced literacy school. Debra was also instrumental in creating and supporting the school’s summer reading initiatives.

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    • The Engaging Classroom
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    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
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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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