Teaching Literacy From The CORE

Ms. Beckee walked into her very first classroom eager to teach her students to love reading and writing.

She strongly believed literacy is transformational for student success.

Ms. Beckee knew she had a big job ahead of her, though. The school where she worked had had low test scores in reading for the past several years, most of her students were labeled as “at-risk,” and she would have a limited classroom library. What Ms. Beckee wasn’t expecting, however, was the difficulty she would face in reaching students who came from backgrounds unlike her own. She began to ask herself, “How do I reclaim and sustain transformational literacy practices so that my students are successful, lifelong lovers of reading and writing?”

Situations like the one Ms. Beckee faced are quite common.

With the increasingly diverse makeup of students, pressures of standardized testing, and lack of funding, teachers often feel overwhelmed with the task of transforming their students into strong readers and writers.

Although this task does take time, mystery doesn’t have to surround it, and fear doesn’t have to drive it. Being a strong literacy teacher requires a lot of skill and a lot of heart (Freire, 2000). But it’s easy to lose heart when testing, pressure, and fear take over.

What I offer here is an invitation to examine your core and ground your knowledge and skills of teaching literacy in your heart.

The Framework

What I refer to as the CORE of your pedagogy are the four concepts to consider when reclaiming and sustaining transformational literacy practices. They are as follows:

C – Cultivate sociological mindfulness.

O – Operate from a critical social justice mindset.

R – Reframe learning as equity and excellence.

E – Exercise self-care.

These concepts are not linear, but looping in nature. This means that you don’t need to perfect one before you can move on to the next. Think of each concept as interrelated, both independent of and dependent on one another.

Cultivate sociological mindfulness.

Being sociologically mindful calls for awareness of the present, how the present has been affected by the past, and how the decisions you make now could affect the future (Schwalbe, 2017). This means paying attention and posing critical questions: What do you know; what do you think you know; and what don’t you know about your students? Ask yourself:

  • What are the experiences this student brings into the classroom every day?
  • How does my understanding of these experiences affect how I teach?
  • Why do the experiences of others matter?

Operate from a critical social justice mindset.

A critical social justice mindset for literacy “is an evolving process where teachers and students always consider cultural relevancy, employ critical literacy, and work for social justice as they relate to the word and the world” (Stachowiak, 2016). Ask yourself:

  • Whose voice is included in this read-aloud? In this decision making? In this literacy lesson?
  • Do the books I have in my classroom library reflect the diversity of the world, without harmful stereotypes and biases?
  • How can the lessons I teach continue to affect my students when they leave my classroom?

Reframe learning as equity and excellence.

Equity is about giving people what they need to be successful. When we reframe our literacy practices with this in mind, we shift to a true focus on individual student excellence. Excellence is about creating transformational spaces for learners to recognize humanity, engage in critical dialogue with their peers, and reflect. Ask yourself:

  • What does this student need to be successful? Who could I ask for support?
  • Does every student have access to information that would benefit them the most?
  • Are the resources I give my students equitable?

Exercise self-care.

As teachers, it is in our nature to take care of others and, in doing so, it’s easy for us to forget about taking care of ourselves. But self-care is an incredibly important and necessary part of being a great teacher. Make sure to put a self-care activity on your calendar weekly—and commit to it. Some examples of self-care include:

  • going to your favorite kickboxing class at the gym (kick that stress out!);
  • engaging in a sitting, walking, or eating meditation; and
  • practicing self-compassion: Forgive yourself, take sick leave when you’re sick, set boundaries.

Putting CORE Into Action

Teaching literacy from the CORE begins with making a commitment to critically reflect on the abovementioned questions. This self and classroom inventory will pave the way to transformational and sustainable literacy practices!

Dr. StachowiakDr. Stachowiak is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and a literacy consultant with The Educator Collaborative. Her interests are in literacy curriculum, equity literacy, and gender issues in education.

Recommended Websites

Recommended Readings

  • Culturally Affirming Literacy Practices for Urban Elementary Students, edited by Lakia M. Scott & Barbara Purdum-Cassidy
  • Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word, by Linda Christensen

References

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Schwalbe, M. (2017). The sociologically examined life: Pieces of the conversation (5th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Stachowiak, D. M. (2016). A framework for critical social justice literacy in urban elementary schools. In L. M. Scott & B. Purdum-Cassidy (Eds.), Culturally affirming literacy practices for urban elementary students (pp. 13–26). Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield.

From the Military to Teaching: Challenges of the Entry Year

Steve Gordon

Today’s bloggers are Stephen P. Gordon and Janis Newby Parham. Their article, “Transitioning From the Military to Teaching: Two Veterans’ Journeys Through the Entry Year,” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

Many members of our military services leave the military well before retirement age and seek a second career.

Jan Parham

One option many of these military veterans choose is teaching.

If we reflect on this trend, it makes sense. Most former members of the military joined because of their desire to serve a cause beyond themselves. Many veterans were instructors and enjoyed the experience. Like others who enter teaching, military veterans who choose this path are committed to helping young people grow and develop.

Former military members have a lot to offer the teaching profession. They are used to finding solutions to challenging problems, have worked closely with different cultural groups, and are dedicated to completing whatever mission they are given. Overall, we have fewer men and people of color in teaching, but high percentages of veterans who enter teaching belong to those groups. These former military members often teach in high-poverty schools and in high-demand disciplines such as science, math, and special education. Research on military veterans who have entered teaching indicates that they are effective teachers, work well with colleagues, and do a good job of keeping parents informed of their students’ progress.

Reality Shock

Despite the capabilities that military veterans bring to teaching, they also face special challenges. They are used to following specific policies and procedures in the military and having those policies and procedures explained to them in detail. In contrast, district and school policies and procedures do not provide the level of direction that those in the military do, and schools often have “hidden norms.”

Former members of the military were used to following the orders of superiors; if they were officers, they were used to those they led following their orders. Military veterans new to teaching quickly realize that military-style discipline does not work with students, and therefore student discipline can be a serious problem for military veterans beginning their teaching career.

Many military veterans who choose teaching as a second career generally attend alternative certification programs that focus on pedagogical knowledge in general, and so they may have difficulty teaching specific content because of insufficient content knowledge. This problem is especially difficult if the former military member is assigned to teach courses he or she is not certified to teach.

The military requires close collaboration among peers to complete a mission, and military veterans often are surprised by the independence of their teaching colleagues and the level of “privatism” in teaching. This can lead to feelings of isolation the veteran never experienced in the military. The lack of the detailed policies and procedures they were used to in the military, hidden norms, problems with classroom management and teaching, and feelings of isolation can leave military veterans who have become teachers in a state of “reality shock” that makes them question their decision to enter the profession.

Support and Growth

Our study in this issue of The Educational Forum tracks two military veterans, Bonnie and Chad, through their first year of teaching. The teachers in our study dealt with all of the problems described here during their entry year. The new teachers’ greatest source of support in dealing with their transition into teaching were the mentors who had been assigned to them for the entire entry year and other teachers who had been identified as helpful colleagues.

Although their first year of teaching was challenging, through assistance from other teachers and their own experimentation, reflection, and perseverance, Bonnie and Chad experienced considerable growth by the end of their entry year. Among the many things they learned that first year was that developing relationships with their students was critical to student learning and that it is better to motivate students than to try to control them.

By the end of their first year of teaching, Bonnie and Chad had improved their teaching considerably, discovered how much they loved children, enjoyed teaching—and, most importantly, had decided to remain in teaching.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through May 31, 2019.

“Success!” as a First Year Teacher

blog5Emily Kelsey is a 2015 graduate of the University of Houston-Clear Lake and is in her first year of teaching at North Pointe Elementary in Houston, TX. She teaches fourth grade and is currently working to obtain her Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction at University of Houston-Clear Lake. Emily is proudly in her second year of membership in Kappa Delta Pi and is excited to be featured; she invites you to tell your story, too!

There are few situations that meet the qualifications of success in the eyes of a first year teacher.

Constant failures meet me around every corner no matter how much effort I put into each day. Personally, as a first year teacher, I have found that nothing is exceptional enough to be placed in the self-praising memory bank except for that occasional student who decides to display a moment of weakness and justify my decision to become a teacher.

There is one particular student that flashes to mind when everything comes crashing down and I am hypothetically grasping for any sign that teaching was the right decision.

LaToya (whose real name has been removed for confidentiality purposes) became a part of my life one month after school had already begun. Cliques had been established and judgmental eyes screamed at her on the first day. This overwhelmed young lady knew immediately that this school was different than anything she had encountered yet. She was being placed into an environment that held students accountable for their actions and demanded—everyday—displays of good character. Not only was she asked to make new friends and start at a new school, she was also adapting to a life of moving around from one school to another for the past four years. Stability was foreign to her, so keeping up a tough image was all she knew.

blog2At first, she attempted to blend in and hide behind her shield of beaded braids, but her defiant attitude began to shine through after only a week. My students and I were worried for her and wanted to help her love school. Her learning gaps were masked with her determination to not complete work. She would stare at me for what seemed like hours before forcing me to address another student in the room. There was no reason for her to work hard.

My goal was to find that reason.

blog4My classroom community had forced her to conform to our behavior expectations, and I soon noticed that she had mastered the skill of becoming invisible. It was much easier to do as she pleased without causing a scene. She would rush through assignments to complete them without a worry in her bones to quickly start playing a game on her tablet. Grades were not her reason.

blog3I continued to dive into her not-so-familiar world and discovered a variety of troubling things. She was sharing a room with four other kids in her new apartment situation and had a new male figure in her life. My determination was hitting a boiling point; I still had not found a single reason for her to put forth some effort into any assignment.

I decided to sign her up for a high school pal to visit every Wednesday to play volleyball with her, and we arranged regular meetings with the counselor. I was eager to find something that she gravitated towards. Some progress was being made, so I figured relationships might be her reason.

By January, I felt that she was evolving into a sweet young lady, but her lack of motivation persisted. Then she asked me a peculiar question after school one day, “Mrs. Kelsey, can I stay after school for a little bit and help the Tidy Crew wipe down all of the desks?” I paused for a moment out of shock, but quickly granted her permission. She wanted to clean for me, she wanted to be part of something, and she wanted to be involved in our classroom community. Somewhere along the way, I had gained LaToya’s trust and respect.

She wanted a relationship with someone who cared about her success.

blog7Now we have each other and seem to get along. She no longer has a bad attitude with me and will give full effort for the first few minutes of each assignment. Progress is progress, and as a personal critic, I am determined to continue that progress.

Being a teacher represents more than teaching lessons and taking grades, it is about lifting students up and helping them realize that they are important to you. 

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New Teachers, Don’t Accept the Default: Suggestions to Ensure Success in Your First Year

araoz-lee2Our blog today comes to you from Lee Araoz, who maintains “The Golden Age of Education: Highly Effective Tools and Strategies”, who recently posted this blog. (He’s approved us to share it with you!) It was originally shared as part of a speech he gave for the KDP Initiation Ceremony at Molloy College on March 14, 2016. Enjoy!

I’ve compiled a list of statements offering new teachers advice as they enter their first year of teaching. It is my intention that these suggestions will dispel many of the myths preservice teachers encounter as they complete their training programs.

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Don’t accept the DEFAULT. Seek out an option that will be BETTER for students:

  • Make it your mission to fight the “we’ve always done it this way” thinking.
  • Be a disruptor and shake things up. Create an epic classroom!
  • Start slowly with little tweaks like replacing rows of desks with clusters of four in all classrooms—especially those in middle school and high school.
  • Create the change you wish to see in your school.

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Be so GOOD they can’t ignore you:

  • Do MORE than the default — arrive early and stay late.
  • Work during your lunch hour — hold review sessions, play RISK with students, treat them to lunch occasionally and allow them to work on projects.
  • Volunteer for everything — start a drama club, be a student government advisor, go to PTA meetings, and/or join the site-based management team.
  • Read Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, for more inspiration.

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Establish a strong PERSONAL CONNECTION with your students:

  • Share family stories with your class — include your spouse, your children, and your pets. Describe how things were in school when you were a kid.
  • Share your writing folder — read stories you wrote when you were their age. Show them your horrible handwriting.
  • Get to know your students — provide ample opportunities for them to share verbally and in writing. Start a class blog. Go to your students’ soccer games, dance recitals, and drama shows. They will never forget this!

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Be FIRM, FAIR, FLEXIBLE, and FUN:

  • Establish clear and simple standards of behavior and stick to them. Students need to feel loved, and they all want limits (although they may not realize it).
  • Flexibility is a key factor to success in your first year. Every student is not at the same instructional level and has different social and emotional needs. For example, I had a student in my first class who was a genius. He absorbed knowledge like a sponge, but his desk was a mess inside and out. Rather than scold him repeatedly about his disorganization, I allowed him to “take over” the empty desk next to him so that he would have more room to put his things.
  • I’ll never forget the FUN I had in 5th grade. My teacher, Mrs. Weiner, made each learning task a joyful experience. We played game shows like Password to review material, created our own videos and filmstrips (cutting-edge technology in the 1970s), wrote extensively and read voraciously. We participated in a Gong Show talent contest, dressed up as our favorite book character and played kickball in her class. Content was being created on a daily basis and it made for an unforgettable experience. I credit Mrs. Weiner as a primary influence on my desire to become a teacher. And, I’ve made sure to incorporate fun activities like these into my lessons every year regardless of grade level. My students come back to tell me how they will always remember the Ancient History News programs they created and filmed live in front of the class.

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Make a daily effort to be a “GUIDE ON THE SIDE” rather than a “Sage on the Stage”:

  • Move from a teacher-centered to a LEARNER-DRIVEN classroom.
  • Plan group work activities into ever lesson — play Breakout EDU!
  • Allow students to explore and innovate — do passion-based Genius Hour projects.
  • Incorporate student choice into learning labs — think-tac-toe.

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DIFFERENTIATE:

  • Assess prior knowledge as soon as the lesson begins with Socrative, Nearpod, Padlet, Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, or plain old pencil and paper.
  • Then, group students accordingly for that lesson (Flexible Skills Grouping).
  • Offer multiple project options for students to create evidence of learning. Be sure to include choices that reflect various learning styles. Refrain from assigning “cookie-cutter” projects where every student creates the same exact thing.

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Get students MOVING in the classroom:

  • Take your class on “learning walks” inside AND outside the school building.
  • Switch up the seats and your classroom configuration often.
  • Use GoNoodle, a fun, interactive way to get kids moving.
  • Don’t spend more than 30 minutes at a time engaging in seat work.

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Don’t overwhelm students with too much homework:

  • Homework takes the joy out of learning for many kids.
  • “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students,” shares Harris Cooper of Duke University.
  • Family across America battle over homework nightly. Parents nag, cajole, and often end up doing assignments for their children.

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Establish a POSITIVE and PROFESSIONAL digital presence for yourself and your class:

  • Understand that your digital tattoo is permanent and you have total control over the content you put out there. So keep it positive!
  • Provide multiple pathways for students and parents to remotely access learning materials outside the classroom.
  • Model and demonstrate that “Learning Doesn’t Stop at 3 O’Clock”.

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Don’t try to keep up with EVERYTHING in education technology:

  • You can’t; nobody can.
  • Curate your resources for quick and easy access using tools like: Padlet, Pearltrees, Pinterest, Smore, or Symbaloo.
  • Ask your students what’s new in technology and social media.
  • Test-drive a new tech tool this year.

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Foster a GROWTH MINDSET in your students:

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    For example: Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, and Michael Jordan all overcame many obstacles before becoming famous.

    Teach students that failure is an important part of learning.

  • Promote the power of positive self-talk. Change your words; change your mindset.
  • Give examples of famous people who failed multiple times before achieving success.

 

 

Don’t EVER stop learning:

  • Embark on self-directed, passion-based professional development.
  • Curate and share content with colleagues.
  • Listen to podcasts, view webinars, and READ whatever you can get your hands on.
  • Become an expert in your field at your own blistering speed. “The standard pace is for chumps.” – Kimo Williams

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GET connected:

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SHARE your work:

  • Brag about your lessons, your students, and your school on social media.
  • Use apps like Remind to send home positive messages and pictures of students in action.
  • Create a class blog, a digital newsletter, or a YouTube channel to spread the word.
  • Don’t hold back because you worry that it’s not good enough or original enough. “To be original, you don’t have to be FIRST, you just have to be DIFFERENT and BETTER,” – Adam Grant.
  • As a teacher in the new millennium, you are your own personal brand. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to promote yourself.
  • Read Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work, for more inspiration.

Save EVERYTHING:

  • Keep a teaching journal and/or blog about your successes and failures in the classroom.
  • Take pictures, make “best of” slideshows, and share your work!
  • Keep a digital portfolio of your work.
  • Continually update your résumé.

I’d like to emphasize that teaching is a difficult job, but it is the MOST REWARDING profession there is. I had a friend who owned his own business and he asked, “Isn’t it boring teaching the same grade/subject each and every year?” and my immediate response was, “No, it NEVER gets boring because each year, you are challenged with a new and vastly different group of students.”

EMBRACE CHANGE and you will rarely be disappointed!