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.

Educators Play an Important Role in Teaching Tolerance

On November 16, 1995, UNESCO’s 50th anniversary, Member States adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. Among other things, the Declaration affirms that tolerance is neither indulgence nor indifference. Instead, it is respect and appreciation for the rich tapestry of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression, and our ways of being human. Tolerance recognizes the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. People are naturally diverse. Only tolerance can ensure the survival of diverse communities in every region of the world.

Along with outright injustice and violence, discrimination, prejudices, and bigotry are common forms of intolerance. Education for tolerance should aim at countering influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and should help young people develop capacities for independent judgment, ethical reasoning, and critical thinking.

The diversity of our world’s many cultures, ethnicities, religions, and languages is not a pretext for conflict, but instead is a treasure that enriches everyone. Every day, let’s build new bridges of tolerance, trust, and understanding.

Fighting Intolerance Requires Education
Laws are necessary but not sufficient for countering intolerance in individual attitudes. Intolerance is often rooted in ignorance and fear: fear of the unknown, of the other, other cultures, nations, and religions. Intolerance also is closely linked to an exaggerated sense of self-worth and pride, whether personal, political, national, or religious. These notions are taught and learned at an early age. Therefore, greater emphasis needs to be placed on education. Greater efforts need to be made to teach children about tolerance, neutrality, human rights, and other ways of life. Encourage children at home and in school to be open-minded and curious. Education is a life-long experience and does not begin or end in school. Endeavors to build tolerance through education will not succeed unless they reach all age groups, and take place everywhere: at home, in school, in the workplace, in law-enforcement and legal training, and not least in entertainment and on the information highways.

Tolerance Education in Schools
A number of school officials recognize the need to teach tolerance and promote appropriate curricula. What students learn in the classroom needs to be reinforced in other aspects of their lives, which requires parent involvement. Students may confront their parents about their bias toward people unlike themselves. We still need to discover effective strategies for teaching students how to peacefully confront their peers, family, and friends. Learning should also focus on the values, attitudes, and behaviors which enable individuals to learn to live together in a world characterized by diversity and pluralism. Today, educators have reaffirmed John Dewey’s ideas with a sense of urgency for the interventions required for schools to address social injustices and to promote values of democracy and tolerance (read Hollingshead, B., Crump, C., Eddy, R., & Rowe, D. (2009). Rachel’s challenge: A moral compass for character education. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 45(3), 111-115.).

Do we need to organize tolerance workshops to educate parents as well? If yes, what specific topics should be addressed?

Components of the Tolerance Education
Teaching tolerance to young children is important for continuing further educational programs and reinforcing the message over time. To that end, educators have developed age-appropriate materials. For instance, a curriculum might include the exploration of meaningful texts, classroom exercises from newsletters, and newspaper sections directed toward younger audiences. Additional methods might include short theatrical productions and role-playing exercises. Instilling critical thinking skills, creating role-playing, and cooperative learning have proven effective teaching tools. Teachers need to be clear about how and why we make the choices we do, about whose stories matter and why, and about the values we use to make those judgments. What classroom activities do you plan to teach students about tolerance?

Summary
Educating students about other cultures, ethnicities, religions, and genders helps them understand people different from themselves. Students’ ability to recognize and understand diversity leads to greater tolerance. It will also will help them to attain a high level of performance in schools, the workplace, and eventually their career. If you have any great experience or success story from your classroom, please share it with KDP.

Educators play an important role in teaching tolerance. High-quality educators demonstrate neutrality and objectivity, and remain unbiased. They teach their students to truly embrace every human being’s individuality”

Srecko Mavrek is a teacher at KAPPA International High School and adjunct lecturer at CUNY’s Hostos Community College in New York City. He is a Kappa Delta Pi NGO representative to the United Nations.