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.

Closing the Year With ‘Class’

Closing the school year is rewarding and challenging, but you can increase the potential of a rewarding close to school with purposeful planning of year-end activities. Good planning, as well as the flexibility to seize teachable moments, sets the stage for meaningful closure and celebration.

Plan deliberately.

Prioritize and schedule your tasks and remaining lessons for students. Allow time for year-end necessities such as cleaning out files, washing down tables and chairs, and sorting materials. Recruit students to help. Keep a tablet handy during the final weeks to jot down your wish list of To Do’s. Expect end-of-the-year excitement and rising outdoor temperatures to elicit restlessness among your students. Capitalize on their extra energy by continuing relevant learning and creating new challenges. Let students teach part of a lesson, perform applied research in a content area, or design assessments for a study unit. Maintain order by reminding students of routines and their personal responsibility to the learning environment. Keeping them accountable academically and behaviorally is crucial for maximum enjoyment of the school year’s end.

Teach flexibly.

Inherently, the end of the school year brings extra tasks. To enjoy the process of teaching and learning until the last day, proactively maintain professional balance through cooperation with students and colleagues, organization, prioritized goals, and flexibility. In addition, remind yourself to view each student as an individual—a special person who benefits from eye contact and a smile, belief in his or her abilities, and seeing your enjoyment in learning.

Reward the class.

Celebrate accomplishments as students learn. Students may create a document, laminated poster, or bound booklet that showcases their work and identifies future goals. Draw a timeline of growth in knowledge and skills. Play a special game. Throw a party! Bring in balloons and popcorn. Have each student write his or her name as an acrostic, and ask the other students to write encouraging words or phrases for each letter describing the student or his or her contributions to the class. Commend your students for their yearlong efforts and achievements.

Reflect to renew.

During the last few weeks of school, reflect on your teaching and set goals for the future. Describe your practice, analyze it, and launch new objectives. Capture your reflective process to show evidence of improved teaching competencies—via entries in a spiral notebook, scribbles by lesson plans, or adjustments to a behavior log. Structure your self-assessment with an evaluation tool or a teaching-standards document. When evaluating, don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments!

Set specific goals.

Choose one or more professional-development goals to accomplish during the break. You might take a class, research an aspect of teaching, plan a new unit, or upgrade current documents. Select personal goals as well! Making time to walk in the park, read a book for pleasure, or finish a home project also is important. Enjoyable “life moments” renew your energy and restore your focus personally and professionally.

Try these ideas to keep your classroom a place for achievement and success until the final bell. When that bell rings, you’ll be the teacher who ended the year with “class”!

Self-Assessment

In a simple three-column table, document the following: Teaching Competency, Evidence in Practice, Future Goals. When completed, add this professional artifact to your portfolio.

 

 

Author: Sharon A. Kortman