Category Archives: Diversity

Why Is the Read-Aloud a Life-Changing Form of Civic Learning?

The following post was written by Pam Allyn and is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.”

—Mem Fox

The academic reasons to read aloud are profound: building comprehension skills by modeling a deepening engagement with text, building fluency as the child listens to the smoothness of a mentor reader, building vocabulary and grammar skills as the child marinates in literary language. But the benefits of the read-aloud extend far beyond improvements in reading ability. They also have a powerful impact on the child’s social and emotional development and the ineffable benefits to the child’s human spirit.

What does the read-aloud do to benefit the child’s spirit? The read-aloud:

1. Builds empathy and understanding

Reading aloud gives children a lens through which to understand the experiences of others. The characters who become dear to us collectively in the warm embrace of the read-aloud are characters who, through the voice of the reader, become alive to our children. They are in the room with us. We can witness the other side of a story or the internal struggle of a beloved character. Authors such as Mo Willems, Charlotte Zolotow, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Kwame Alexander all create a tenderly reverberating world of empathy and compassion, of knowledge building, of how we are all human in this great big complex world we live in.

2. Scaffolds cultural engagement

A story in literary or informational form is honoring the experiences and lives of a whole world of people living in a variety of cultural and linguistic contexts. The read-aloud is powerful when it can be a way to bridge divides and also to illuminate differences that are compelling and wonderful to the listener. Let us select books to read aloud that represent a wide range of characters and cultures, languages and dialects. Host a virtual read-aloud to share across cultures. Don’t worry if everyone doesn’t understand every word. Hearing stories read aloud from different cultures and languages gives a child the powerful sense of all the diversity in the world. Great writers give us exquisite examples of how the world is full of colors and sizes and sounds that all add up to our humanity, and great writers also write specifically from their own cultural perspectives and language to share the details that make us profoundly and beautifully different. Beyond all else is the fact that reading aloud is a powerful complement to the oral tradition around story sharing.

The sound of the human voice passing along stories has a deep tradition across many cultures, and the presence of the read-aloud in our classroom is a way to honor that.

3. Cultivates the power of deep listening

Reading aloud builds listening skills in an unparalleled way. These skills extend far beyond the world of reading. Research of children’s reading habits conducted by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research found that reading aloud to kids every day will put them a year ahead of kids who are not read aloud to daily, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances. Listening deeply means we are not only encouraging answers in response to preordained questions, but also that we are encouraging listening to the sound of an author who conveys his or her particular style, that we are listening to the unique dialogue characters speak, that we are listening to tone and rhythm and the sheer delight of literary sound.

4. Creates excitement for the beauty of vocabulary and grammar

Reading a Walt Whitman poem to a group of fourth graders is a powerful immersion in complex grammar and vocabulary. They don’t have to understand every word or even most lines to soak up the sophistication of his text. The cadence and intention of his ideas carry them along as a boat carrying its passengers, riding the high seas boldly and bravely.

As I Walk These Broad, Majestic Days

As I walk these broad, majestic days of peace,

(For the war, the struggle of blood finish’d, wherein, O terrific Ideal!

Against vast odds, having gloriously won,

Now thou stridest on–yet perhaps in time toward denser wars,

Perhaps to engage in time in still more dreadful contests, dangers,

Longer campaigns and crises, labors beyond all others;)

–As I walk solitary, unattended,

Around me I hear that eclat of the world–politics, produce,

The announcements of recognized things–science,

The approved growth of cities, and the spread of inventions.

There are certainly complex words and phrases in this poem, but the overall theme and the soaring rhythm and even a small amount of background knowledge will give our students the thrill of a lifetime. Your voice conveying that excitement and fearlessness is what helps them to tackle difficult grammar and vocabulary in their own independent reading lives.

5. Fuels happiness

Happiness really matters. Ask any parent what they most want for their child and happiness is one of the top two answers (good health is the other). Yet when we talk about school and about teaching, we talk about outcomes to the exclusion of happiness. We talk about test scores and formative results of portfolios and improvements, all of which most certainly matter, but at the end of the day, for me as a mother and as an educator, the smile matters most. I think we truly underestimate the importance of happiness in school. I have sometimes said that the only assessment we actually need would be to ask children: “Were you happy in school today?” Their response would tell us everything we need to know, from the quality of the teaching to the quality of the physical environment to the interaction of peers.

The read-aloud fuels pure happiness. When done in a comfortable setting with a wonderful book, the entire community is lifted up, and the children are energized, excited, included, and joyous. All the conditions for great learning are met.

P.S. Visit my organization litworld.org to find out how you can join us for World Read-Aloud Day!

Fostering Dialogue in the Classroom: Lessons Learned While Teaching Cultural Literacy

This post is written by member Ruth Li.

In teaching, I aim to cultivate in students an understanding of literacy as a form of civic participation. Yet in my daily interactions with students, creating a balance between engagement and control has been a constant challenge.

To invite a space for generative, yet genuine intellectual inquiry, it is important to balance guidance and freedom in equilibrium: to offer a foundation for ideas, yet open up multiple possible pathways and positions for students to pursue. In navigating these tensions, I have constructed journal topics based on essential questions that are sufficiently broad to allow a variety of entry points as well as backgrounds and experiences; for example, while teaching Cultural Literacy by E. D. Hirsch: “In what ways do our cultures affect who we are?”

In a similar sense, while experimenting with various formats for discussion prompts and procedures, I have found that planning and posing each question for the class to discuss in turn can be stifling in its structure. On the other hand, providing a few potential issues for exploration can be liberating in enabling learners to delve into unexpected topics and ponder unique perspectives. As a discussion flows organically, the most rewarding moments have arisen when students posed original questions to each other in a dynamic dialogue, blurring the lines between the roles of teacher and student. In opening up opinions and weaving new webs of ideas and insights rather than following a predetermined path, learners are able to attain agency and contribute constructively to the conversation.

Students are, after all, social creatures, agentive and interactive beings, whose combined consciousness coalesces into constellations of complexity. In contrast with a framework of passive reception, in the Freirean sense, learners transform their own experience as much as they are transformed by it. In a process of actively constructing knowledge through collaboration in the Piagetian sense, students navigate the negotiations between the self and the other as pluralities proliferate, ideas intersect, and contentions collide. Dialogue, therefore, liberates the pedagogical praxis.

To engage and empower our own and others’ voices, to welcome a diversity of perspectives within the context of civil discourse, to encourage civic participation in the Ciceronian ideal of democracy for which Hirsch has argued, to resist conclusiveness while opening up to the complexities of experience: these are the aims toward which we as citizens must continue to live and strive in the classroom and in the world.

Ruth Li has taught high school English for the past three years in charter schools in Utah and Florida. She will join the Ph.D. program in English and Education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in the fall.

Broadening Perspectives with Multicultural & Multivoiced Stories for Adolescents

This post is written by members Kelly Byrne Bull and Jacqueline Bach, guest editors of the September issue of English Journal. 

In this issue, we explore how multicultural and multivoiced young adult literature engages classroom communities in meaningful discourse and broadens adolescents’ perspectives. Our cover artwork, Iris-Between-Worlds by Colleen Helie, embodies the poignancy of adolescence and the fluidity of conversations that encourage growth. Contributors to our themed issue bring to light stories that connect students with the personal and the global. As a result of our Call for Manuscripts, we noted that three categories emerged: bias and empathy; power and equity; and gender and sexuality.

Alluding to Rudine Sims Bishop’s concept of mirrors and windows, several contributors carefully illustrate how empathy can break down biases. We appreciate Grice, Rebellino, and Stamper’s celebration of challenging the narrative status quo. In their article, they showcase lived experiences that have historically been overlooked but are explored through recent award-winning verse novels and graphic narratives. Building on this idea of diverse representation, Gilmore’s “Saying What We Don’t Mean” argues that teachers are responsible for offering students a variety of characters and situations so that students can grow and learn to recognize implicit bias. Similarly, Van Vaerenewyck’s “Aesthetic Readings of Diverse Literary Narratives for Social Justice” asserts that cultivating empathetic global citizens relies on all of us becoming better readers of diverse stories.

We noted how this call prompted contributors to explore issues of power and equity that are developed in YA texts. Malo-Juvera’s “A Postcolonial Primer with Multicultural YA Literature” illustrates how he introduces postcolonialism so that students can hone their abilities to interrogate normalized oppression and begin to read the world critically. Ginsberg, Glenn, and Moye also examine issues of power and equity in their article, “Opportunities for Advocacy.” The YA texts they feature center on identity denial and afford rich discussions about which identities are privileged or denied, affirmed or suppressed. Such exploration of power and equity is also central to Lillge and Dominguez’s thoughtful article, “Launching Lessons.” In it, they address incorporating divergent points of view in the English classroom and offer readers ideas for projects addressing social inequity and injustice.

Our contributors also challenge readers to include global and multivoiced expressions of gender and sexuality (if they are not already doing so) with contemporary texts. Hayne, Clemmons, and Olvey’s “Using Moon at Nine to Broaden Multicultural Perspectives” analyzes their experiences reading this love story between two young women in post-Shah Iran with their university students, while in “‘I Don’t Really Know What a Fair Portrayal Is and What a Stereotype Is’” Boyd and Bereiter remind readers of the importance of listening and learning from their students and trying new pedagogical approaches based on those relationships. Finally, Kedley and Spiering look at how voices and form convey multiple experiences of gender and sexuality in ELA classrooms.

Articles such as these are conversation-starters. We invite you to continue these conversations with your colleagues and students. Send us your ideas so that we may continue to broaden and deepen the conversation: Kelly Byrne Bull (kbull@ndm.edu), Jacqueline Bach (jbach@lsu.edu).

Works Cited

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 1(3), ix–xi.

 Kelly Byrne Bull is an associate professor at Notre Dame of Maryland University, chair of NCTE’s Commission on the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature, and Maryland state representative for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.

 

Jacqueline Bach is the Elena and Albert LeBlanc Professor of English Education at Louisiana State University, a former editor of The ALAN Review (2009–2014), and a former high school English teacher. http://www.alan-ya.org/publications/the-alan-review/

Fewer Texts for Deeper Understanding

by Lorna Collier

In their new book, Beyond “Teaching to the Test”: Rethinking Accountability and Assessment for English Language Learners, literacy specialists Betsy Gilliland and
Shannon Pella explore ways teachers can provide a more equitable education for
English language learners.

Using fewer—but high-quality—texts can work better than using many texts, say Pella
and Gilliland. The benefits are varied:

Rather than having to struggle to keep up with the basic idea of many texts, ELLs only need to master the content of a few texts or even a single text before working on understanding the language structure and other textual elements.

“If you have one really good text, first they figure out what it means, but then they can access and start thinking about how it is constructed,” says Gilliland.

“Kids become experts on specific texts. They can tell you not just what it was about,
but how it was made and why it was made that way.”

Grammar can be taught in terms of its functionality within the text being studied,
says Gilliland, as opposed to saying, ” ‘here’s a rule, memorize it and then we
hope it transfers into your writing.’ ”

“Teachers might be surprised how much farther you can go with a single text in
teaching a variety of different things,” says Pella, who taught secondary school
English for 15 years. “That was one of my biggest ‘a-has’ as a high school and
middle school teacher.”

The pace of teaching slows when students go back again and again to just a handful of
texts, “taking time to really unpack and analyze them,” Pella says.

She believes this makes the learning experience “much more thoughtful, with more
depth,” than what occurs when teachers use rigid pacing guides.

And when ELLs develop awareness of text features, they can access the same grade-
level material their mainstream peers are using, Pella and Gilliland point out—which
provides equity.

Learn more about this new book.

Lorna Collier is a writer and editor based in northern Illinois.

Read more in the article “Flipping Accountability on Its Head” in the September 2017 Council Chronicle.

Read a sample chapter or order the book.

Agents of Accountability

by Lorna Collier

Literacy specialists Betsy Gilliland and Shannon Pella offer a variety of insights on how teachers can provide a more equitable education for English language learners in Beyond “Teaching to the Test”: Rethinking Accountability and Assessment for English Language Learners, their new book from NCTE.

The progress ELLs make can go unrecognized in the face of low standardized test scores, so Pella and Gilliland recommend bringing these achievements to the attention of administrators and others within the school system, as well as to parents and community members.

“What I’m hoping is that teachers see themselves as the agents of accountability,” says Pella.

“When we take accountability into our own hands, we’re collecting and analyzing a variety of types of classroom assessment data in order to track and understand how well our English learners are growing.”

These data can help teachers explain to parents and the school community how well English learners are progressing, she says, which is “a totally different narrative than what the school may be able to show in one isolated test score.”

Some of the ways teachers can spread news about ELL student progress to parents and the community include:

  • Keeping parents updated through websites and monthly newsletters, translated if needed;

  • Calling parents, using an interpreter if needed (but not the child, in case there are matters you want to discuss confidentially);

  • Inviting the families to bilingual family nights, where parents, siblings and other relatives can see what the students are doing and participate in activities that show off the child’s abilities, such as creating a bilingual book in English and the student’s home language; and

  • Encouraging the school to host online or in-person events open to the community to share student work and achievements.

Read more in the article “Flipping Accountability on Its Head” in the September 2017 Council Chronicle. 

Read a sample chapter or order the book. 

Lorna Collier is a writer and editor based in northern Illinois.