advocating for literacy

we know that if you’re taking the time to read blogs about literacy then you are probably as passionate as we are about all things reading and writing. which is why we feel it’s important to advocate for literacy for all whenever we get the chance. right now is one of those times.     

while our days are spent working with school age readers and writers, we are also involved in working with adult learners who cannot read and write. this vulnerable population includes those learners who may have struggled with reading and writing in school and never mastered these skills or those who are learning to speak, read and write english as their second language. most recently, we have worked with sufa, a fifty five year old grandmother from iran who moved to the united states with her husband to be closer to her daughters and desperately wants to be able to read books to her grandchildren. we’ve worked with miguel, who wants to be able to take his citizenship test and susan, who needs to able to read the letters that come home from her children’s school.

whatever the reason is for their struggle, illiterate adults face enormous hurdles in life that range from not being able to read with their own son or daughter to not being able to fill out job applications. reading and writing are powerful tools. remember, slaves were prohibited from learning to read because to read was to possess the power of knowledge. everyone deserves to have that power. organizations such as literacy volunteers of america help provide tutoring so that the power of reading is available to all.

currently, the fiscal year 2018 house and senate bills  include level funding for adult education. however, the current administration’s  2018 budget proposal includes dramatic cuts to adult education funding and the complete elimination of many federal programs that support adult literacy, workforce development, and human services.

in fact, the department of education is facing an overall cut of $9 billion (13%), including a $95 million cut (16%) to adult education and family literacy state grants.

it’s critical that we continue to remind legislators to support funding for adult education.  with the house in recess for the month and the senate finishing up soon, august is traditionally a time when representatives and senators are back in their home states  holding town hall meetings,  working in their home offices, and meeting with their constituents. now is the perfect time to reach out by writing to your senators and representatives to let them know that literacy for all is important to you. 

please reach out to your elected officials now to advocate for funding for programs that  support adult education.

we’re sending letters to our state representatives to let them know how we feel about literacy. below is a copy of a letter that you might choose to personalize and send to your senators and representatives to let them know how you feel.

Dear Senator _________/ Rep. ______________

I am writing as a constituent and strong advocate of literacy. ADD A SENTENCE OR TWO ON WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU DO.

Adult Education programs are in crisis. Demand for classes exceeds supply in virtually every state. Federal spending on adult education has declined by 25 percent in real terms since 2002, and the number of students served has declined from 2.7 million to 1.6 million. I urge you to support the funding of Adult Education programs at a minimum of $596 million, although we need the $635 million authorized in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) if that important piece of legislation is to succeed.

Adult Education provides a path from low-income jobs and dead-end futures to family-sustaining jobs and postsecondary education. In an increasingly competitive world we must empower individuals, families, and communities with the educational opportunities they need to harness the talents of millions of Americans who cannot read well enough to thrive in the economy, perform basic math, use a computer, or solve problems creatively.

Some facts:

  • Estimates are that we can save to $1.4 billion per year in reduced costs from crime if the high school completion rate increased by just 1 percent for all men aged 20 to 60.
  • By neglecting the adults who need services, we also affect their kids. Almost 60 percent of children whose parents lack a college education live in low-income families. These children are less likely themselves to get a good education and secure family-sustaining jobs. Mothers and fathers who improve their basic skills are better equipped to help their children succeed.
  • Research shows that 100 hours or more of Adult Education attendance equates to $9,620 in extra earnings per year.

At current funding levels, programs cannot meet the needs of our nation’s changing demographics. The share of high school graduates going directly into college is declining. Adult Education programs are the on-ramp to job training and postsecondary education for many low-skilled adults. However, at today’s funding level, the system serves only 60 percent of the number served in 2001, and only five percent of the eligible students nationwide. If we are to remain globally competitive, we must invest in our adult education system.

Thank you for your support.



beginning of the year round up

oh, august. the sunday night of the summer.

our hope is that this august has brought rest  and summery things rather than frantic prepping for the school year ahead. and, if you’re in a place that school doesn’t start until after labor day, we hope that august starts to slow for you a bit and you soak up every minute of freedom left. to those of you who have started or are starting in the next two weeks: we hope the start has been smoother than anticipated.

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using textbook amy krouse rosenthal with kids

we recently had the opportunity to attend a writing retreat hosted by choice literacy. this was the second writing retreat with choice literacy we’ve been on, and they’ve both been inspirational as well as both relaxing and productive (the writing retreats are seriously the only times we can think of that we’ve felt both relaxed and productive).

this writing retreat, we were gifted a copy of textbook amy krouse rosenthal and encouraged to use it in specific ways to inspire our writing throughout the two days we were together. we knew of amy from her children’s books, and hearing of her passing this past spring, but didn’t realize she had a few books for adults, too. and, the more we learned about her through reading bits and pieces of textbook amy krouse rosenthal, the more we grew to love her.

when the book was gifted to us, we were told that it’s a book you can pick up and read bits and pieces of, and that’s been true for us. we were also told that part of the reason we were using the book now was because brenda, choice literacy’s founder and the host of our writing retreat, felt that in light of what’s happened since were together last (namely, the election and the effects of it on all of us, still), it was important to focus on our writing in a sort of back to basics, more personal sort of way.

today we heard news of the president’s ban of transgendered people from the military, and watched glennon doyle melton’s family meeting video of her response to the president’s announcement, in which she said that we always have three options when we encounter something like this that we don’t agree with. the first two options are fight or flight. the third option, the option we know is the better one, the one we want for our kids and also ourselves, is “putting something else out into the world, offering another invitation.” and so, while we started this post a few weeks ago, today’s events reminded us of it and what amy krouse rosenthal seemed to stand for. and so we’ve returned to finish it.

like glennon, amy worked to create beautiful things. while we’re still reading and learning about amy, we’re confident that one of the driving forces behind her desire to put more beautiful out in the world is that it’s a world filled with so much hatred, a world always in need of more beautiful.

on the writing retreat, and as we’ve continued to work through textbook amy krouse rosenthal since returning home, each open of the book has has inspired us somehow – caused us to look more into something mentioned in the book or encouraged us to think about and try something new in our writing or made us think how we might use her book in our classroom.

we’ve started a list in our notebooks of the ways we want to be sure to use her book in the upcoming school year, and thought we’d share our growing list with you here. we promise they’ll lead to more beauty in the world.

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why workshop?

we aren’t just teachers of reading and writing workshop. we’re believers in reading and writing workshop. we also believe anyone who has the chance to visit a classroom using the workshop model would be believers, too.

the reality, though – and we know this from experience – is that doing workshop well is hard. it takes time and a lot of learning to feel confident. it’s easier and maybe, therefore, tempting at times to assign everyone the same book or hand out a worksheet to practice a writing skill. like all (almost all?) hard things, though, workshop is worth it.

it’s worth the years (for real) it will take to feel confident you’ll find teaching points when you confer with readers who are all reading different books. it’s worth the constant reflection and adjusting of your teaching and responses to students so that you move from feeling like the independent work time part of workshop is chaotic to feeling like it’s productive for students. it’s worth the loss of control you experience when you hand the decisions over to your students so that they become empowered.

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speed booking to celebrate reading

you can picture speed dating in your head: two rows of people facing one another, talking in pairs. when a timer goes off, one row of people move down one person and begin talking to their new partner. and so it goes, until they’ve talked to everyone or time is up.

speed booking works the same way, except the conversation is focused on books rather than one another.

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celebrating reading with character posters

this post will focus on creating character posters to share during a reading celebration. we have used this celebration method at the end of a unit of study that focuses on character, which is often a unit during which students plan and read at least one book with a partner.

when planning for a celebration using character posters, we think about the focus of our unit and what our expectations should be so that students can show their work toward these focuses. because we devote a day of reading workshop to creating the posters, we want to make sure that they are valuable, and so we have them double as a way to celebrate and share each reader’s work during the unit and a summative assessment for us of their work during the unit.

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gallery walks to celebrate reading work

this week we focus on gallery walks as a way to celebrate reading work. as the name implies, this type of celebration is structured like a museum gallery walk and is an idea that we’ve borrowed from mary ehrenworth, a staff developer at tcrwp.

during a gallery walk, students open their reader’s notebook to a page that they are particularly proud of and leave the notebook out at their seat. we sometimes place large post-its in at each table for gallery walkers to leave feedback. once all the notebooks are out, students travel around the room looking at the work that other students have done. we ask that students travel quietly and provide written feedback on each notebook that they read.  when the walk is over, students return to their seats and look over the feedback that they’ve gotten from their peers. we will also provide positive feedback (compliments) to students during this time as well, and travel around the room with students.

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when met with struggle, focus on strategies

we’re sure that many of you are like us and have hung on carol dweck’s research on the benefits of a growth mindset for your students  – benefits for them as people, as learners, but also benefits for your classroom community – and looked for ways to help foster this kind of growth mindset in your kids.

in a recent article we read, dweck addressed some of the misunderstandings of her research around mindsets. one area that stood out to us was the dangers of praising the effort when a student is struggling or failing. dweck said, “teachers were just praising effort that was not effective, saying “wow, you tried really hard!” but students know that if they didn’t make progress and you’re praising them, it’s a consolation prize. they also know you think they can’t do any better. so this kind of growth-mindset idea was misappropriated to try to make kids feel good when they were not achieving.”

it’s well-intended, and feels good, to offer a student who’s struggling, and even failing, some praise, often in the name of boosting her confidence. dweck got us thinking, though, that we certainly don’t want to be encouraging our students to continue doing things that won’t lead them to growth or success. our goal is to have students accept challenge and failure as a chance to grow and do better, to see challenge and failure as a chance to change and improve.

what, specifically, can we do to support students who are struggling? what feedback or prompting is beneficial for us to give?

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