March 2016
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Expiration Date:  
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In This Issue
Website Links
Dates to Remember

Wired Wednesday Webinar
April 13, 2016

2016 IRC Conference
Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 2016
Peoria, Illinois

Future Dates of the Annual IRC Conference
October 5-7, 2017
October 4-6, 2018
October 3-5, 2019
October 1-3, 2020
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   
Student Engagement:  The Key to Student Achievement
By Roberta Sejnost, ILA State Coordinator

Ryan and Deci (2000) suggest that high levels of active engagement during lessons are associated with higher levels of achievement and student motivation because engaged readers gain knowledge and experience as they read by continually activating and extending their understanding. And, according to Meyers & Jones (1993) active learning involves providing opportunities for students to meaningfully talk and listen, write, read, and reflect on the content, ideas, issues and concerns of an academic subject. Furthermore, H. Alan Robinson, a respected reading researcher from Hofstra University suggests that there are essentially three stages of student engagement: (a) before the eyes meet the page; (b) while the eyes are on the page; and (c) after the eyes have left the page. In this and the next two iCommunicate editions, I will focus on each of these three stages and offer strategies to implement them.
Student Engagement Strategies BEFORE the Eyes Meet the Page

According to both Williams & Dunn (2008), the first step in enticing students to learn is to activate their prior knowledge. Next Fisher and Frey (2008) stress that teachers must be sure students are paying attention to what is to be learned, and finally, Vacca and Vacca (2008) note that students must also ask themselves: What do I need to know and what do I already know?                      

While there are a myriad of strategies that are best used BEFORE the students' eyes meet the page, I will focus on three that I have found to be most effective and meet the requirements set out by the researchers noted above.

Brain Writing

While Brainstorming is a well known and often used strategy, it does not always engage all students. However the Brain Writing strategy (Rodrigues, 1993) ensures that all students are engaged as it activates and fosters prior knowledge, clues students in to what they will be learning, and helps them focus on what they know and what they need to learn. The following steps clarify how to implement the Brain Writing strategy:
  1. Determine a topic and have students individually write down what is known about the topic.
  2. Next, in groups, students discuss similarities, critique ideas, generate new ideas, draw conclusions; write additions, comments, corrections.
  3. Then, each group shares its knowledge and discusses what is known or needs to be learned.
  4. Finally students read silently or listen to discussions to verify or refute knowledge gained. 
Carousel Brainstorming

Carousel Brainstorming (Silver, Strong, & Perini (2001) is another strategy that engages all students simultaneously and is especially effective in getting students up and moving around the classroom. The steps to implement this strategy are:
  1. Choose a topic and develop at least 5 related questions and write each at the top of a piece of chart paper.
  2. Number the topics and post the chart paper around the room.
  3. Assign students a number and have them move to the paper labeled with their assigned number.
  4. Give the groups about 1-3 minutes to write everything they know or have learned about the topic.
  5. When time is up, each group rotates to the next number, reads what was written and makes corrections or additions, adding any new information.
  6. The process repeats until all the groups have rotated through all the topics.
  7. A whole class discussion follows the process.
Give One; Get One

Give One; Get One ( Schoenbach, R. et. al., 1999) is yet another strategy to keep students engaged and actively learning. Similar to the strategies noted above, this one also activates and fosters prior knowledge, focuses on what students will be learning, and helps them determine what they know and what they need to learn. Give One; Get One can be implemented using the following steps:
  1. Students fold a piece of paper lengthwise to form 2 columns and write "Give One" at the top of the left-hand column and "Get One" at the top of the right-hand column.
  2. Next they write things they already know about the topic in the "Give One" column.  
  3. Students then find a partner, and each "gives one" of their ideas and "gets one" from their partner, writing the responses in the "Get One" column .
  4. Students rotate around the room until they have filled their chart or time is called.
  5. Once everyone has completed the charts, the whole class discusses the information. 
Be sure to watch for the next issue of iCommunicate e-newsletter to learn strategies students can utilize while their eyes are ON the page.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2008). Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, p.24.
Meyer, C., & Jones, T. B. (1993). Promoting active learning: Strategies for the college classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rodrigues , R. J. English Journal (Feb, 1983), 72, 58-60.
Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.
Schoenbach, R. et. al. (1999). Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in the Middle and High School Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Press
Silver , H.F., R. W. Strong, R.W. & and M. J. Perini, M. J. (2001) Tools for Promoting Active, In-Depth Learning. NJ: Thoughtful Education Press.
Vacca, R. & Vacca, J. (2008). Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum. New York: New York Pearson
Williams , R., & Dunn , S. ( 2008 ). Brain-compatible learning for the block. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin .
Webinars:  Culturally Responsive Instruction
By the Illinois Reading Council
The Illinois Reading Council and the Wisconsin State Reading Association are pleased to offer the FREE Webinar series for IRC and WSRA members again.  This year's topic is Culturally Responsive Instruction

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13, 2016      
7:00 p.m.  
Identity Safe Classrooms:  Places to Belong and Learn
with Becki Cohn-Vargas and Dorothy Steele

  • DescriptionResearch shows that students in identity-safe classrooms were stronger academically and felt more identity safe. We will share how reading, writing, speaking, and listening can incorporate strategies drawn from the four Cs of identity safety: Child-centered classrooms, Cultivating Diversity as a Resource, Classroom Relationships, and Caring Classroom Environments.
  • Bio:  Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D serves as Director of Not In Our School (NIOS).  She spent over 35 years as a teacher, principal, curriculum director, and superintendent in public education in California. Currently, as the NIOS Director, she has developed a standards-based bullying and intolerance prevention curriculum, and has worked to create accepting and inclusive climates in over 150 schools and colleges across the US. She has been hosted at the White House twice where she briefed President Obama's education staff and has fostered partnerships with the PTA, NEA, Facing History, and the United Sikhs. She received a BA in Psychology from Sonoma State University, an MA in Education from California State University, East Bay, and an Ed.D in Educational Leadership from Fielding Graduate University.  Dorothy M. Steele, Ed.D. is the former Executive Director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University.  She is an early childhood educator who has worked with teachers and children for 45 years in many settings including directing early childhood programs and providing professional development to teachers in public schools.  She is interested in teaching practices that are effective for diverse classrooms, alternative assessment processes that inform teaching and learning, and strategies that build inclusive communities of learners in schools. Dorothy M. Steele received her AB degree from Hiram College, Hiram, OH; the MA in Early Childhood Education from The Ohio State University; and an Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education from The University of Michigan. In their book, Identity Safe Classrooms:  Places to Belong and Learn (2013) Dorothy Steele and Becki Cohn-Vargas describe research done to find an antidote to the effects of stereotype threat on students' academic and social development in school and offer practical evidence-based strategies that lead to improved student sense of identity safety and higher levels of achievement.
  • Creating Identity Safe Classroom Environments article written by Becki Cohn-Vargas and Dorothy Steele.
Register today for the upcoming webinar!

Writing to Read:  Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading
By Roberta Sejnost, ILA State Coordinator
In 2010, the Carnegie Corporation of New York published Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading , a meta-analysis report spear-headed by Steve Graham and Michael Hebert from Vanderbilt University, that summarized high-quality research conducted to investigate (a) the effectiveness of writing about the text, (b) the effectiveness of the teaching of writing, and (c) the effectiveness of having students write more. The meta-analysis was performed to answer three basic questions about the impacts of writing on reading. 
  1. Does writing about material read enhance students' comprehension of the text?
  2. Does teaching writing strengthen students' reading skills?
  3. Does increasing how much students write improve how well they read?
In essence, the Writing to Read Report addresses three core writing recommendations that will enhance students' reading. The three recommendations are:
  1. Have students write about the texts they read.
  2. Teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text.
  3. Increase how much students write.
This issue of iCommunicate will focus on the first recommendation, while future issues of iCommunicate will consider recommendations two and three.

Recommendation #1:  Have students write about the texts they read

In considering this recommendation, Graham and Hebert discovered that students' comprehension of science, social studies and language arts was improved when they write about what they read and specifically when they: 
  1. Respond to a text in writing when writing personal reactions and analyzing and interpreting the text.
  2. Write summaries.
  3. Write notes about a text.
  4. Answer questions about a text in writing or create and answer written questions about a text.
Respond to a text in writing when writing personal reactions and analyzing and interpreting the text

In the Writing to Read Report, Graham and Hebert discovered that responding to a text in writing was better than (a) reading it, (b) reading and re-reading it, (c) reading and studying it, (d) reading and discussing it and (e) receiving reading instruction! When students respond in writing, the Report notes they "enhance their comprehension because it provides them with a tool for visibly and permanently recording, connecting, analyzing, personalizing, and manipulating key ideas in text."

When searching for ideas for writing a response to text, consider the following suggestions posed by Jill Brown and Kathi Rhodus (2015), ISBE's ELA Content Area Specialists. They suggest asking students to write a personal response to narrative material read or to write about a personal experience related to it. And when asking students to analyze and interpret text, they suggest students focus on writing an analysis of the characters in a novel they read, write a paper showing how to apply material that was read, compose a letter to another student explaining how to play a game described in a text, or analyze a text in writing to develop a particular point of view.

Write Summaries

Writing summaries, according to the Report, is better than (a) reading the text, (b) reading and rereading the text, and (c) reading and studying the text because "summarization instruction improves both writing quality and reading comprehension." To write an effective summary, Kierwa (1989) stresses that readers must recognize:
  1. Which ideas are indispensable to the original text.
  2. Which ones can be dropped altogether or combined.
  3. The need for paraphrasing the text using their own words.
Brown and Rhodus (2015) also note the importance of teaching students strategies for summarizing both short and long texts.

Write Notes About A Text

When considering writing notes about a text, the Report states that "
note taking improves both writing quality and reading comprehension," because writing notes about text proved to be better than (a) reading the text, (b) reading and rereading the text, (c) reading and studying the text, (d) reading and underlining important information and (e) receiving explicit instruction in reading practices. Kierwa (1987) found that taking notes involves "sifting through a text to determine what is most relevant and transforming (changing text into one's own thoughts or ideas) and reducing the substance of these ideas into written phrases or key words." In essence, then, good note takers "organize the abstracted material in some way, connecting one idea to another, while blending new information with their own knowledge, resulting in new understandings of text." Note-taking can include text structured note-taking (Denner, 1997), concept mapping (Chang, Chen, and Sung, 2002) and, of course, any form of annotation.

Answer questions about a text in writing or create and answer written questions about a text

The final element to implement Recommendation #1 is asking students to either (a) answer questions about a text in writing or (b) create and answer written questions about a text. Of course, as Brown and Rhodus (2015) explain, when answering or creating any question regarding text, the questions should focus on specific New Illinois Learning Standards for ELA. For example, if the focus of a standard is vocabulary, then the questions should relate to vocabulary; if point of view is the focus, then point of view should be targeted, etc. In addition, they stress that students must think deeply about the texts they are reading and write high level questions. Furthermore, Peverly & Wood, (2001) suggest students should write responses to questions inserted into the text or presented at the end of a segment of text. And Cohen (1983) notes that when creating written questions about text, students must first be taught the difference between a good question and a bad question before generating and answering their own questions about text. And, if they cannot answer a question, they should generate a new one that can be answered.

While this gives an overview of the first recommendation from the Carnegie Corporation report Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, consider accessing the entire report at and be sure to watch for future issues of iCommunicate to learn more about recommendations #2 and #3.

Brown, J. & Rhodus, K (2015). Writing to Read. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from
Chang, K. E., Chen, I., and Sung, Y. T. (2002). The effect of concept mapping to enhance text comprehension and summarization. Journal of Experimental Education, 71, 5-23.
Cohen, R. (1983). Self-generated questions as an aid to reading comprehension. Reading Teacher, 36, 770-775.
Denner, P. R. (1987). Comparison of the effects of episodic organizers and traditional note taking on story recall. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED270731.
Graham, S. & Hebert, M. (2010). Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading. Retrieved from 
Kiewra, K. (1989). A review of note-taking: The encoding-storage paradigm and beyond.  Educational Psychology Review, 1, 147-174. 
Peverly, S. T., and Wood, R. (2001). The effects of adjunct questions and feedback on improving the reading comprehension skills of learning-disabled adolescents. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 26, 25-43.

Technology and Literacy:  A Perfect Match
By Sheila Ruh and Sherry Sejnost
Technology and literacy is a perfect match; would you agree? It may not always seem like it but seamless integration can actually be easier than expected. Today's classroom includes many different types of tools, including a variety of technology tools. Regardless of what type of device, here are technology tools that will make teaching and learning easier and raise the level of engagement for your students. The Literacy Links on the Illinois Reading Council's website include many tools that are easy to use and provide many new ways to address the critical thinking skills required by the New Illinois Learning Standards. There are six categories of resources that include free tools to use. These categories include assessment, reading passages, interactive resources, web 2.0 tools, videos and comprehensive resources. There are many great tools here to check out and I would encourage you to do so. Whether your students need to build vocabulary or practice writing stories, there are tools there to make learning rigorous and fun at the same time!
Literacy Links
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.
Interactive Resource
Mindmeister is a collaborative mind mapping program that works on any device.  It provides opportunities for realtime collaboration, and it is easy to use. It even has the capability for turning mind maps into presentations within seconds.

This assessment tool allows educators to build questions that are true/false, multiple choice, multiple response, and fill in the blank. The teacher can see the scores, averages and actual responses to questions. It is even possible to export the data. No registration is required and it is easy to use.
Web 2.0
Story Top is a digital story tool that allows students to click and drag clipart to create and share stories. It is very easy to use and provides a great way for students to practice writing, adding dialogue and using visual literacy.