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Literacy in Schools

kwyly's picture

I want to reflect on Amy's visit to our class last Tuesday. I thought she was an excellent guest speaker and brought the practice element to our class that is sometimes missing in education classes. Especially after our discussion in ed311 about how there is more theory than practice in education classes, I was really excited to hear Amy discuss her role as a literacy specialist in a classroom. As our class has progressed so far, I feel like we have discussed a lot about meanings of literacy in terms of technology and connections to Ghana. This definitely makes sense as the Ghana trip is the central part of the 360, but I feel like we hadn't addressed how literacy plays out in classroom situations such as at placements. I was really impressed by Amy and the way that she took initiative and responsibility for students' learning. Her handouts were really informative, especially the sheet explaining what a balanced literacy program was. I started to think about these elements in terms of my placement which was really productive in terms of helping me make connections between our class and my field placement/work at a kindergarten. Without actively realizing that I was following such a program, I realized that many of these elements are incorporated into what I do every morning when I teach. Although it is tricky to put a set definition of what sort of elements and activities make up a productive way to teach literacy, I do think it is helpful for some guidelines to be put in place as starting points for how to treat reading and writing. I am wondering how it works to address all of these elements in a classroom where individual students are at different levels of reading and writing. Although Amy addressed how books are at different reading levels, I wonder what effective exercises for all students are and also how to serve all students while also making sure that other students are not bored or falling too behind. I want to use what I have learned from Amy and see how it influences how lessons are planned in my placement and at school. I also am curious to see what parts of a balanced literacy program are emphasized more in the classroom. Also although many schools are lucky to have literacy specialists and others who directly address students' reading and writing needs, it is difficult to think about how schools without such guidance manage to help each student without these extra resources. Finally, I am really happy that Amy explained how she uses technology in the classroom. I am always wary about too much tech, but it seemed like Amy was using her iPad in a very efficeint and useful way (although not possible for all educators).


alesnick's picture

spinning this thread

It's great to see the impact Amy's talk is having, and to see you all applying it to different placements settings and commitments of yours.

Remember that Amy is a highly trained, experienced, and skilled master teacher.  She has gained this authority over time.  It is a blend of experiential and scholarly/professional authority, all seeded in her love of kids, learning, and language arts. 

The question how to keep great people in hectic schools, and how they keep their sanity, is a deep one.  We definitely need school (and political) leaders sensitive to this urgent issue.  I think we also need teachers to speak collectively, as organized professionals, to this issue.  

The idea of a reading level is a helpful tool, more than a reflection of "reality."  If kids are choosing books below their level, I would ask them why, talk about it, and also explore what in the context is promoting (perhaps unwittingly) that choice?  Similarly, I presume that virtually no parent is apathetic about his or her own child's development and learning.  Start from that presumption, and see what kinds of questions and interactions with parents flow from it.

ashley's picture

Amy's Talk to be Applied in Placement

I also really appreciated Amy’s visit to our class this past week. It was great to have useful information that can be applied in the classroom when working with students. I think it was very suiting as I wish to become a teacher of the little ones, and many times I feel that educating older students is more so addressed, if at all. I really appreciated this concreteness, particularly as I am about to move on in the world and towards my goal of teaching.

It was very useful to have concrete techniques being discussed, as well as resources we can look back to in the future (I intend to purchase those two books that she passed around the room). At my placement I’ve been dealing with early literacy as I work with first graders in an after-school program and their homework consists of literacy/writing/spelling and math. One of our goals in the program is to help students gain a better understanding and grasp of reading and writing as they’ve been selected as students requiring assistance in those areas. One thing I learned that I hadn’t known was that if a student struggles with more than two words within a single book, then the book is outside of their range. I knew if they struggled a lot it wouldn’t be a good match, but I didn’t realize that even struggling with two words puts that book out of your range. But if that is so, how do you push the student to broaden their vocabulary? It would seem that if they got through the book very easily it would be below their range and they wouldn’t be learning; wouldn’t you want them to struggle with at least a few words to ensure that they were furthering their knowledge and putting their skills of sounding out words to use? I think it might also be another situations in which it depends what your goal is and what you are trying to get them to learn/practice.

All in all, it seems very multi-layered as well as very specific to each learner. I would like to take this forth and apply it to the first graders I work with at my field placement. I have two boys that I have been working weekly with since last semester, so I’ve come to know their strengths and weaknesses (though we are not informed at which level they are exactly at in reading, etc.). I plan on having more of an input on which reading books they each select, trying to match them with those that both interest them and are at their reading ability. I am interested in seeing how their interactions change (or don’t change) with reading when they encounter books that they can easily get through. In a way it seems that it might be more encouraging for them by finding more success in their reading without struggles. 

alesnick's picture

the question of push

I'm so glad you are finding specific ways to use what we learned from Amy, as well as taking encouragement from her talk.  My sense is that many kids will come to reading each text with their own sense of inner drive, and also will feel inspired/pushed by the text to "get into" it.  With something as demanding as learning to read, earned successes, small ones, along the way are useful.   

ckenward's picture

Amy's Visit

I was also going to write on Amy's visit this week, and figure that here is as good a place to do it as any as I'd also like to comment on the above posts. 

First, I'd like to say that I felt like I gained a lot from Amy's visit this week.  Her perspective as a reading specialist who is also using technology in that role really helped me gain some perspective on some things I've been struggling with.  I mentor in a charter school in Philly and one of the things we really try to work on with the kids is reading.  It is often difficult though because in one afternoon we'll be working with kids of different ages at different reading levels who need different kinds of support from the mentors.  Often when I'm working on reading with a child I'll wonder if I'm helping them the "right" way - how long should I let them struggle with sounding out a word?  Is there a better way to help them sound out a word?  What about learning the meaning of the word?  It is also difficult to know the right reading level for all the kids.  Although I think both I and the mentors have gotten to know the kids better over time and so have a better idea of where they should be reading, it can be difficult to feel the need to readjust mentoring styles for each of the 3-5 kids we might be working with that day.  I feel that Amy's handouts and presentation were really helpful in coming up with strategies to address some of these issues.  It definitely gave me some ideas on how we can better train our mentors in reading and writing comprehension.  

I also wanted to address the tech that was brought up in a previous comment.  While I felt a bit uncomfortable with some of the privacy issues which might come up using tech the way Amy is, I definitely thought that the way she was using the IPad was really cool.  I can definitely see how being able to take notes and video they way she is could be really beneficial to finding the best strategies for helping the kids.  It also amazed me that she is able to meet with parents so often to discuss their child's progress.  Similar to the questions above about keeping great teachers in hectic school environments, are there strategies which could be used to keep parents more involved with their child's progress?  Are parents apathetic, or are they just too busy and what could be done in each of those situations to make sure they're getting more than just a "report card conference" twice a year?

abeardall's picture

I volunteer with the same

I volunteer with the same program that Caroline coordinates. This past year, instead of having indivdual mentees, we work with a group of students so we may work with a different child each time. This makes it extremely difficult to gage a student's true reading level because if you let them choose the book, they will almost always choose something easier or something they have read so many times that they have memorized it. I think Amy's job is essential because you really need to work with students closely to give them the individual attention they need and to make sure they are reading books at an appropriate level for themselves.

bsampson24's picture

Lit in Urban Schools

I too appreciated Amy’s visit because her visuals and videos made the theoretical framework we have discussed around literacy more tangible and applicable in the classroom. I can discuss the idea of literacy from an academic lens; I am in no way shape or form confident in my ability to teach a child how to read without thinking I am damaging them in the process. Her videos on the usage of the word walls as well as morning greeting to promote literacy were reminiscent of my own experiences as an early reader, making the idea of teaching literacy less scary. While Amy’s presentation did not absolve all of my concerns (regarding my ability to teach a student to read well), watching her videos affirmed that there are methods and practices out there that are useful and do indeed help.


On another note, I wanted to touch of a comment she made about leaving the district after five years of teaching because she is the third person (including my field placement teacher) I’ve heard make a similar comment. In class someone mentioned how TFA or teaching in urban schools are stepping-stones to advance in a career or move to a better resourced, high preforming school.  There is a growing concern of losing our best teachers to other districts, charter schools and private schools. I raise the question how to keep great teachers in hectic school environment. Also, a question I am now asking myself is how to continue to be an effective change agent without compromising your own sanity, morals values and self-worth?  It seems like the root of the problem stems from the district. Perhaps I should be look into Ed admin more closely to be more effective in this way.