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Beginning with this January issue, the iCommunicate will be arriving in your inbox during the first week of each month.
Free Professional Learning Resources for Illinois Educators
By Gail Huizinga, IRC Educational Initiatives and Professional Development Co-Chair
The Educational Initiatives and Professional Development Committee would like to share a new online professional learning resource: Ed Leaders Network. Ed Leaders Network provides online, on-demand access to hundreds of hours of professional development. Each course is vetted to ensure both quality of production and content. Most courses are less than 30 minutes, letting educators get the professional development they need whenever they need it. PD hours are issued for each course completed and the official ISBE evidence of completion form is sent via email. The most exciting part is ELN is
free for all Illinois public school employees
thanks to a partnership between the Illinois Principals Association and the Illinois State Board of Education.
Beyond access to the more than 350 existing trainings on ELN, district and building leaders have the ability to create their own online professional development content. All one has to do is create a Power Point presentation, upload it to ELN's authoring tool, and hit record. Once a presentation is completed and uploaded, it can then be assigned to staff and track completion. Access to ELN is granted on a district-wide basis. If you're unsure if your district has access or are ready to get started, contact
By Barbara Ashton, IRC Family Literacy Chair
When we hear the word Literacy, we generally think of an individual's ability to read, write, and speak English or a native language. It also entails being able to function within the community or society. When we hear Family Literacy, we often think of parents and children learning together. However, literacy, and particularly Family Literacy, involves more than reading and writing.
As the demographics of America and specifically here in Illinois change, the literacy needs and assistance for families is a major concern.
Extensive research gives evidence that family involvement in their child's education is an important factor in student success. Recognizing the needs and importance of family involvement, a Family Literacy webpage has been developed on the Illinois Reading Council website. This page will serve as a resource for local councils and all IRC members. Each month will feature a Calendar of Activities and Ideas. This can be made available at council events. It can also be shared with families to help them enjoy reading and writing as well as sharing time together as a family. Other features will include resources for educators that will highlight a specific author, a current article, books focusing on current topics/situations and links relevant to family literacy. Additionally, the Family Literacy Committee offers the
Family Literacy Award
Read and Feed Project Grant
that councils or a council member can apply for. The application forms are due by March 1st and available at
The Family Literacy Committee wants to increase your awareness of family literacy issues, but also to serve as a bridge between literacy organizations and programs available to help increase family literacy within Illinois.
By Tinaya York
I have listened to teachers and leaders talk about all that has to get done to keep a school running, all that is asked of them, and wishes that they could spend more time focused on instruction. The balance of doing school (operations, compliance, etc.) and creating effective learning environments meets at the crossroads every day and by December, everyone is just about ready to call it quits. But there was one comment made by a teacher that has not left me. While discussing lesson plans I asked a question about the design and the teacher said, "I don't ask, I just do." Six words--six very powerful words.
- I: A proper noun, of importance, a professional
- Don't: A verb, a contraction for two words do not, an action that is not enacted
- Ask: A verb, something said to gather information
- I: A proper noun, of importance, a professional
- Just: An adverb, simply, no more than
- Do: A verb, carry out, but maybe more precisely, an intransitive verb-behave
In essence, a professional who is hired to develop the minds of children is saying that he does not inquire about the work he has to do to prepare for teaching, he just behaves according to what he is told to do.
I keep wondering how a profession can strip away it's own heart--Inquiry. Making people who must design learning experiences where students inquire and think critically (as EVERY school mission statement reads) struggle between what they believe is right and saving their job.
The more I think about these six words, the more I am reminded of theories, research, and ideas that were stripped of their complexity and given to teachers as a one pager, further reduced to a checklist, and finally added to a list of non-negotiables (Yep, a made up word used often in education. Non-negotiables are things that MUST be in classrooms or put in lesson plans). Here are a few:
- Word walls: FROM using repetition as a way to build vocabulary TO random words on a wall so when x person walked around and asked, "Where's your word wall?" teachers and administrators could point and proudly say, "There it is!"
- I Can Statements: FROM designing curriculum and deciding what benchmarks would be most critical to assess TO take every standard and put it in kid-friendly language
- Cooperative Learning: FROM constructivist theories and active learning that keeps students cognitively engaged TO four desks together to give the illusion that group work is happening
- Close Reading: FROM a rich study of literature to examine tone, style, etc. TO a MUST SEE every day with at least 10 annotations per reading and answering text dependent questions
- Gradual Release of Responsibility: FROM a model to teach comprehension strategies to support independent use of the strategies (with the true goal being transfer of the strategies and creating self-regulated readers) TO I do, we do, you do.
This process of taking the complex work of thinking, teaching, leading, and reflecting to a level of compliance is starting to really bother me. I've been trying to figure out how we might shift our daily practices to make more time for thoughtful conversations about what learning environments can look like and attend to the needs of adult learners, while still "getting things done." We can hold folks accountable while giving them the space to make mistakes, learn, and move forward. But, I guess we can only start with ourselves.
Below are some questions to help us reflect on our own practices to see where we might begin to make space for more thoughtful conversations with ourselves and with colleagues, and those who are our supervisors:
- Am I okay with questions (do I get defensive, do I see it as an opportunity to clarify my own thinking?)?
- How often do I ask why?
- Do I create a space where people feel safe to share their opinion?
- What are some things that I can say no to, things that do not make sense for my own practice or for the school, and be willing to accept the consequences?
- How might I ask questions of fellow colleagues to grow in my profession?
There will always be tension between compliance and thoughtfulness of teaching, leading and learning. But maybe if we change the six words to "I question, I reflect [then], I do" we can bring forth agency along with accountability to do our best by the families we serve and make teaching and learning the intellectual work that it is.
Getting Parents Involved in Your Literacy-
Based Classroom: Meeting with Parent Volunteers to Welcome and Train
By Priscilla Dwyer, IRC Vice President
In this month's article, I want to take you to a parent volunteer training meeting from preparation through the end of the meeting, so you can visualize what a successful training meeting might look like. Here we go:
As I prepare to meet the parents who have volunteered to work in my classroom the first thing I do is gather materials that I want them to work with. I have kept a sample journal from last year, so I am pulling that out for the parents who will work with students on writing. I have several literacy games I want the students to play, so I make sure the rules are inside the game (if they are lost, I type up a set of directions) and I pull those games out for the meeting. Additionally, I pull out a set of guided readers, and a couple of the textbooks that parents might be using during I read, You read work. Finally, I turn on the computers and pull up some of the programs that parents might be using with students who are working on projects or web-based learning. I also make up a schedule, based on my schedule, with time slots during which I would like parents to come volunteer. I have asked the parents, in advance, to bring their schedule with them. As a special touch, I have laminated name tags for parents to wear when they volunteer. Now I am ready for our meeting.
As the meeting begins I welcome and thank parents for attending the meeting and for their willingness to volunteer. I introduce myself and I go over my philosophy of learning and the basic rules of our classroom. Next, I ask the parents to share their philosophy and feelings about education, recognizing that they are valued too. I ask them, if they feel comfortable, to share their experiences working with their own child(ren) and what they would feel most comfortable doing as a volunteer in our classroom.
In the next part of the meeting I go through the activities available to parents and again we discuss what they feel most comfortable doing. We discuss the different ability levels that they may encounter. We play the games, we look through the writing journal and I give them guidelines that they will use when working with writing. The meeting takes around an hour to an hour and a half.
At the end of the meeting, I ask parents to take a look at their schedules and at mine to find a time that works for them. Some parents will come in once a week, some will come in every other week and some will come once a month. I leave that up to them, but ask that they commit to the schedule they choose. I again thank them for giving their time today and for volunteering to make our classroom a special place. I exchange contact information with them and tell them I look forward to their first visit.
I hope that this step into the first meeting with parent volunteers will give you some insight as you get started on welcoming parent volunteers into your literacy-based classroom. In next month's article I will discuss how to "Release and Let Go" when it comes to having regular volunteers in your classroom.
IRC's Statewide Special Interest Councils: Who is the Illinois Language and Literacy Council (ILLC)
By Leslie Forsman, ILLC President
Who is the Illinois Language and Literacy Council (ILLC)? ILLC is a statewide council within the Illinois Reading Council. Our main focus is on language development and literacy activities. We are a council that you know, without realizing that you know us. Our most famous activity is the annual statewide Illinois Young Authors' Conference, which has been held for the last 42 years. We have provided an opportunity for thousands of students in grades Kindergarten through 8
th to share their writings and meet with published authors. We have been helped by hundreds of volunteers and authors. In recent years, we have been especially pleased to have several of our Illinois Reads authors participate.
We have also worked with the Illinois Writing Project to sponsor an institute day in the greater Chicago area.
You can join ILLC by simply checking the box on your IRC membership or renewal form. If you choose to become more involved than just being a member, we are currently looking for ways to help raise funds to continue the Illinois Yong Authors' Conference after 2017. In recent years, we have experienced several changes in our funding sources which has caused us to spend our reserves to continue the program. We are nearly out of those reserves and the 2017 conference--our 43rd--might be our last conference. If this happens, we'll be looking for another way to support and honor our state's young authors. Currently, ILLC is accepting donations through gofundme.com.
If you are interested in volunteering to help at the 43rd annual Illinois Young Authors' Conference, May 20, 2017, please contact Christina Podraza at email@example.com or look for our information on the IRC website at www.illinoisreadingcouncil.org/yac.html.
By the IRC Educational Media Committee
Take a moment to review some of the Literacy Links provided by the IRC Educational Media Committee to help Illinois educators in today's classrooms. These links and past links will be available on the IRC Website under "Literacy Links" on the homepage.
This online resource is a multi-user online whiteboard designed to give you the ability to quickly visualize and share your ideas as images. Anything you paint will show up for all other users in the room in real time shared with a common web address. There is even a chat option for easy communication between users.
Web 2.0 Resources
This digital resource offers free access to a web tool that creates trading cards that can then be downloaded to print or shared digitally. Asking students to create trading cards is a great way to increase engagement and allow students to demonstrate understanding of nearly any topic. Lesson ideas are included for a variety of grade levels.
This amazing resource is like YouTube for schools. It has videos organized in channels that include authors reading books aloud, music videos for educational use and many more. You can also create an account and upload videos for sharing with students, parents and the community.