November 2014
Membership #:           
Expiration Date:  
Local Councils:                         
In This Issue
Family Engagement
Reading Difficulities
Wired Wednesday
Illinois Reading Programs
Website Links
Dates to Remember

2015 IRC Conference
October 1-3, 2015
Peoria, Illinois

 Program Proposals Due
March 1, 2015

Registration and Housing Opens
  April 15, 2015

Future Dates of the Annual IRC Conference
Sept. 29-Oct 1, 2016
October 5-7, 2017
Peoria, Illinois

Welcome to iCommunicate, IRC's monthly e-newsletter!  Here you will learn, share, and enjoy information on timely topics and cutting edge projects. We'd love to hear your thoughts.  Please contact us with your comments, suggestions, and ideas at   
Encouraging Family Engagement with Literacy:  Give Dr. Seuss and PIECE a Chance
By Roxanne Farwick Owens, Chair & Associate Professor, Elementary Reading, College of Education, DePaul University

Parents and caregivers often ask teachers how they can support their child's literacy development at home. The vast majority of adults truly want to help the children in their care have positive learning experiences. When presenting for Family Literacy events at schools, I always start by explaining that reading and writing are built upon listening and speaking, so the first step is to engage children in dialogue starting at birth. I emphasize the importance of interactions and verbal exchanges in fostering the child's listening and speaking development. I also point out that the key to fostering the child's development is in the exchange of language (which is why planting the child in front of an iPad or the tv doesn't have the same impact).


We then discuss how reading and writing develop along a similar continuum as the speaking and listening abilities developed (individual sounds, combinations of sounds, words ...). Recognizing the similarities is often a revelation. When children are learning to speak, we tend to get very excited and happily extend and supplement their language. (Baby points at bottle and says "Ba." We respond, "Oh, you want your bottle? Here is your bottle sweetie!") On the other hand, when children are learning to read and write, sometimes we fall into a pattern of focusing on the errors. ("Look at that word again-are you sure it says 'monkey'?") So, how do we consciously continue to show our exuberance for literacy development across the ages and stages?


I recommend thinking of the acronym PIECE. The home literacy experience must remain:

  • Pleasant
  • Interesting
  • Engaging, and
  • Challenging Enough

What does the child enjoy? What is she interested in? What type of text will engage her (keeping in mind what she enjoys and what interests her)? What will challenge, but not frustrate her? One author who tends to meet these criteria is none other than that master of entertaining use of language--Dr. Seuss.


Dr. Seuss has written over 40 books--including many beloved classics--so there is assuredly at least a few that will appeal to most children (even older children). His playful rhymes and nonsense words tend to hook children into the story. Here are a few ideas related to Dr. Seuss's writings to share with your school families. 


1. Add a line or two or three or four or more:  Make a list of words that rhyme with "said." Next select an actual Seuss character or create your own Seuss-type character. Now write the next couple lines of this poem:

When the alarm went off this morning,

A (Seuss-type character) was on my head.

I asked, "What are you doing there?"

It looked at me and said ....


2. The Dinner Party:  Dr. Seuss once said "If I was invited to a dinner party with my characters, I wouldn't show up." Brainstorm answers to these questions:

Which of Dr. Seuss's characters would you most enjoy having dinner with?


What would you serve?

Where would you eat?

What would you do after dinner?

What would you talk about?

After answering the questions, try to create a poem about the dinner party.

(Variation--which character would you LEAST enjoy having dinner with?)


3. The Dating Profile:  Create a dating profile for a Seuss character. Three word description, Likes, Dislikes, desirable characteristics of a potential date/mate, hobbies, greatest achievement, most annoying habit, voted most likely to ... in high school, description of first date, other things to describe.


4. The Reality TV Show Judge:  What if Dr. Seuss was a judge on America's Got Talent or Dancing with the Stars? Write a critique he would give to one of the performances.


5. The TV Script Writer:  What if Dr. Seuss was a scriptwriter on your favorite TV show? Write a dialogue between two of the real characters from the show. To add in another challenge, pull a Dr. Seuss character into the conversation. (Google Search: If Dr. Seuss Wrote for Star Trek by Dave Fuller for an example.)


Engaging in literacy practices such as the ones included here is sure to meet the qualifications of keeping the PIECE in the literacy experience.


Preventing Reading Difficulties
By Kathy Barclay, Professional Development Manager, and Laura Stewart, Vice President, Professional Development, at the Rowland Reading Foundation

Children who do not read proficiently in third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school on time (Hernandez, 2012, p. 6).  Compelling research shows that students who do not learn to read by the end of second grade will likely struggle with reading throughout their lives (Vaughn & Linan-Thompson, 2003).


Intervention or Prevention?

Is playing catch-up in third grade and beyond the answer?  Is it even possible?  A longitudinal study by McNamara and colleagues (2011) concluded, "As children progressed from kindergarten to Grade each progressing data collection point struggling readers fell further behind their grade-level reading peers" (p. 421).  Each year, the gap between strong and struggling readers increases significantly, yet interventions for struggling readers after third grade are seldom as effective as those in the early grades (Hernandez, 2012).


What Immediate Action Steps Can Be Taken?

  • Know the research.
  • Find a solid core program with strong efficacy results and teach it with fidelity.
  • Use a reliable assessment to determine how students are progressing.
  • Look at the data and make instructional decisions early on to help catch children before they fall behind.

The real, long-term solution is not intervention.  The answer lies in prevention, effectively teaching the fundamentals of reading and writing in the primary grades.  The evidence is clear: with research-based instruction, the percentage of first-graders below the 30th percentile can be reduced to 4-6% (Mathes, et al., 2005; Vellutino, 2007; Torgesen, 2002). It is critical to choose the best instructional materials and methods to get it right the first time.



  • Hernandez, D. J. (2012). Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Mathes, P.G., Denton, C. A., Fletcher, J. M., Anthony, J. L., Francis, D. J. & Schatschneider, C. (2005). The Effects of Theoretically Different Instruction and Student Characteristics on the Skills of Struggling Readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 40, 148-182.
  • McNamara, J. K., Scissons, M. & Gutnecht, N. (2011). A Longitudinal Study of Kindergarten Children at Risk for Reading Disabilities:  The Poor Really are Getting Poorer.  Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44, 421-430.
  • Torgesen, J. K. (2002). The Prevention of Reading Difficulties. Journal of School Psychology, 40, 7-26.
  • Vaughn, S. & Linan-Thompson, S. (2003). Group Size and Time Allotted to Intervention:  Effects for Students with Reading Difficulties. In B.R. Foorman (Ed.), Preventing and Remediating Reading Difficulties: Bringing Science to Scale (pp. 299-324). Timonium, MD: York Press.
  • Vellutino, F. R., Tunmer, W. E., Jaccard, J. J., & Chen, R. (2007). Components of Reading Ability: Multivariate Evidence for a Convergent Skills Model of Reading Development. Scientific Studies of Reading, 11 (1), 3-32.
Kathy Barclay's full bio is available online. For additional information, please contact her at


Laura Stewart's full bio is available online. For additional information, please contact her at


Wired Wednesday Webinars
By the Illinois Reading Council


To register for the upcoming Wired Wednesday Webinars, visit Space is limited so register early.    


WEDNESDAY, December 3, 2014   

7:00 p.m.  

Fostering Academic Conversations with Jeff Zwiers   

Suggested ReadingConversing to Fortify Literacy, Language, and Learning by Jeff Zwiers, Susan O'Hara, and Robert Pritchard, Conversing to Fortify Literacy, Language, and Learning, Voices from the Middle, Volume 22 Number 1, September 2014. Copyright 2014 by the National Council of Teachers of English.  Used with permission.

This webinar will focus on improving our practices for developing oral language and interaction skills for and by the teaching of rich content.  Jeff will present activities and videos that show how to fortify students' oral output, improve their listening, and foster student-to-student interactions that focus on complex content understandings. Support resources will include tools and links to online resources.

Jeff Zwiers is a senior researcher at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. He supports the Understanding Language Initiative and co-directs the Academic Language Development Network, a research and professional development project focused on the education of academic English learners.  He has taught teacher education courses at Stanford and consulted for national and international teacher development projects that promote literacy, lesson development, and formative assessment practices. He has published articles and books on literacy, cognition, discourse, and academic language. His most recent book is Common Core Standards in Diverse Classrooms: Essential Practices for Developing Academic Language and Disciplinary Literacy. His current research focuses on classroom practices that foster academic interactions and improving professional development.


Reading Program For Illinois Students          
By Bonnie Matheis, Coordinator for the Illinois Center for the Book at the Illinois State Library 

"Read Together, Grow Together" is the mission of Family Reading Night, a family based reading program offered by the Secretary of State's office. Realizing that reading can transform the lives of all students, regardless of their circumstances, Secretary of State Jesse White supports several reading initiatives through the programs of the Illinois Center for the Book at the Illinois State Library.  To learn more about these programs, click on the links below or contact Bonnie Matheis at 217-558-2065.



Is a national reading and writing competition that encourages students in grades 4 - 12 to read a book and write a letter to the author reflecting on how the book changed their life or view of the world.  The program supports Common Core and national language arts and reading standards.  State winners go on to national judging.  State semi-finalists and finalists receive certificates.  Links to teaching materials, past winners' letters, entry form and guidelines are available on the website.  Deadline to enter is December 15, 2014 for Level III and January 15, 2015 for levels I and II.



Is a statewide reading program for high school students that highlights contemporary and classic literature and promotes reading for pleasure. Considerations can be made for special needs students by contacting the program coordinator.  The annual reading list, participation lists and reporting forms are available on the website.  The deadline for submitting participation forms is November 15, 2015.



Is an annual statewide event held the third Thursday in November to encourage families to spend quality time to "Read Together, Grow Together."  Free posters and bookmarks are available to any library, school or youth organization that participates.  Materials are still available.  Orders will be filled on a first-come, first served basis until the supply is depleted.  The order form is available on the website.  The next Family Reading Night is November 19, 2015."