Spotlight Speaker: Keynote Peter Johnston

2023-09-26T10:41:39-05:00September 26th, 2023|Latest News|

Mark your calendars for Monday, January 29! You won’t want to miss Unshrinking Literacy, Teaching and Learning with Peter Johnston.

The currently popular literacy narrative is that intensive, structured phonics programs backed by “The Science of Reading” are the grail long sought by educators. It’s true that children need to acquire “the codes,” but the manner and ecology of acquisition matters a great deal not only for the ease of acquisition but also for the nature of the literacy children acquire and for the trajectory of their human development. Children’s social and emotional development lies squarely in the bailiwick of the language arts and the literate talk within which they are immersed, and that development, in turn, supports literacy development. 

Check out the full session lineup here and save your seat today!

Follow My Journey: Just Keep Swimming

2023-09-19T10:35:50-05:00September 19th, 2023|Latest News|

Join us this year in a five-part series while we follow the journey of Heather Cherry as she trains to be a Teacher Leader.

By Heather Cherry

Long before Marie Clay began building her legacy in the world of literacy, another world changer by the name of Marie Curie said, “Life is not easy for any of us, but what of that? We must have perseverance and above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” These words so clearly describe my feelings about starting this journey to training as a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader. 

It won’t be easy, but what in life that’s worth having is? I will surely experience a lot of challenges along the way. I already have, but I am determined to persevere. I have to believe in myself and trust that I have this opportunity because I have something, a gift of some kind, that will serve my Reading Recovery community beyond the students in my classroom.

One of my favorite quotes about leadership is, “Be the kind of leader others want to follow,” by John Maxwell. I am blessed to have had the best teacher leader, Jan Grisham, for four years. She is undoubtedly someone we all want to follow, and I’m trying to be her shadow this year as I strive to glean all her knowledge and wisdom before she retires (after 12 years as TL!). From my first Reading Recovery training experience until now, Jan has shown me tremendous grace and patience. She continues to invest so much of herself to ensure my success as a Teacher Leader. 

Heather and Jan

My first four weeks of training have been a bit like the movie Finding Nemo, where the little fish, insecure and scared, sets out on a journey that has him facing frightening things like sharks, rip currents, and fishing nets. I, too, felt a little insecure when delivering my first professional development to trained teachers. Thankfully, they were very kind to me and not like sharks at all. Like the little fish, though, I was caught up in a rip current of sorts. However, mine was trying to observe my teacher leader as she taught the assessment training class, while I attended my assessment training class, while trying to assess my students and keep up with the other dozen or so things on my must-do list. Then, there was the issue of the net. It wasn’t a fishing net, but rather an overwhelming feeling of, “I’m not going to make it out alive, or at least through this week, with all I need to finish.” 

Thankfully, like Nemo, I just kept swimming and made it through my first month! I’m feeling hopeful and excited for what is next. Now, for the open water (in other words, lesson analysis and oral exams)! Bring on the sharks! Just kidding, I really am scared of those.   

The Reading Recovery Council of North America is thrilled to announce Heather Cherry as the 2023 Teacher Leader Award recipient. Heather represents Broken Arrow Public Schools in Oklahoma. A graduate of Northeastern State University with over 22 years of experience teaching, she will be part of the first training class at Oklahoma State University.

Roaming Around the Known While Traveling Around the World: A New Perspective on Concepts About Print

2023-09-12T12:17:33-05:00September 12th, 2023|Latest News|

“It’s all Greek to me!”  This expression usually means something is hard to read or understand.  I shared that sentiment many times on my travels over the last few months.

While traveling to Greece and the Middle East this summer, my concepts about print were challenged greatly. I felt like one of my students trying to grasp how print works and what it means.

Early in the trip, it was quite comical to see four educated adults trying to read a receipt from a restaurant. We turned the receipt many different ways to see if that would help. It did not! Our sense of directionality was shaken. We also looked for consistent symbols to decode the text and make some sense of what we were reading. We were mildly successful. Even the money conversion was tricky to figure out — we eventually just gave up and hoped what we ordered and paid for was accurate. Examples like this happened often as we tried to navigate our way in new places, with foreign languages and cultures.

You can only get so far by pointing, gesturing, and smiling. I tried to rely on my knowledge of learning language and the reading and writing process. Like your students who rely on you, I relied on English-speaking locals or tour guides to assist on my journey.

During my travels, I was constantly searching to find something that I recognized in print and to make sense of, such as street signs, menus, receipts, brochures, or billboards. I also tried to pull in my oral language knowledge to decipher what was being said to me.

Our tour guides often provided scaffolds such as pointing and skimming their finger along the print. They also showed us how to match the symbols with the English alphabet. Pictures were often used to help explain information. In addition, our tour guides helped us orally learn and practice basic words or expressions, such as hello, good morning, please, thank you, welcome, peace, and goodbye or until next time.  All the needed supports were helpful, but not enough to aid in understanding how print works in new languages that were not our own or unfamiliar.  We were by no means independent; we continued to be very dependent on our tour guides.

Dr. Clay reminds us, “Early literacy learning involves discovering knowledge of the written code, seeing the symbols (letters) and patterns of symbols, and looking at print according to the directional rules of our written language. This is not a naturally occurring set of learning. The conventions of the code are arbitrary.” Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals, page 48. I could hear Dr. Clay’s words as I tried to decipher text in a foreign language.

What I thought I knew about how print worked was challenged. I didn’t know where to start or which way to go or where to go after that. I questioned my one-to-one matching as I was trying to decipher symbols. I wasn’t sure whether to start at the top of the page or the bottom of the page.

I tried to decipher the print, but my foundational skills were compromised. I quickly found out that my knowledge of the English alphabet did not apply to Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, or Turkish symbols. After observing others in my travels, I noticed the people were reading and writing, right to left. I was confused and amazed all at the same time.

My automatic response on how to approach print was now disoriented. Although I made attempts to read foreign languages, I was frequently unsuccessful. I also felt inadequate and insecure about my lack of knowledge or understanding.

As a proficient adult reader and writer, it is often a stretch to really understand what students are going through when they are learning to read and write, especially those who struggle. On page 39 of An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement, Dr. Clay shares, “Because some children fall easily into appropriate ways of looking at print, parents and teachers can underestimate how extraordinarily complex it is to understand some of the rules of written code. It is very easy for a child to pick up strange ways of exploring print that we teachers may not notice but which can become established habits.”

I came close to that feeling or experience while traveling through Greece and the Middle East. I have even greater empathy for how hard it can be to grasp and use concepts about print in reading and writing. Like our students, I needed modeling, guidance, patience, and practice.

“Learning about direction, locating something that you know and working with spatial layout of print on a page are foundational habits for literacy processing. They are formed in the background as children work on literacy tasks. Both reading and writing use the same set of rules so children get two kinds of opportunities to practice this early learning.” Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals, page 49.

Start the school year with a fresh set of eyes. Keenly observe your students while roaming around the known and throughout the lessons series with a more focused lens around concepts about print.

As Dr. Clay advises, “Try to capture as many aspects of the child’s reading and writing behaviours as you can.  Make yourself specify just how he responds. Put it into words.” Although these questions are most appropriate for roaming around the known, consider using them throughout the lesson series.

What does he do well?

How does he help himself?

What more have you noticed about the letters, words, and other features of print that he knows?

Did he surprise you?

“Concepts that children have yet to learn can usually be developed while children are exploring a variety of texts, and the teacher can focus on particular needs that have been identified. The problematic thing is that if teachers are not expecting and watching for gradual change towards control over all these concepts, then some children will be practicing a variety of misconceptions and confusions.  When these go unnoticed they can become habituated and hard to change.”  An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement, page 42

The arbitrary rules of the English language will feel foreign to students learning to take on literacy. Do not underestimate the importance of teaching and modeling concepts about print in both reading and writing. As an educator, I will carry the challenges I faced during my travels while trying to navigate language and literacy. I have a newfound appreciation for how concepts about print can be tricky to learn and apply to reading and writing. Moving forward, my teaching will reflect these new understandings.[1]

[1] Note: It is important to note that once students gain control over early concepts about print, it is time to move them out of patterned text. We want to arrange for opportunities for students to look at print and not use memory or pictures to predict text

Kathleen A. Brown has worked for 37 years as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, staff developer, and Reading Recovery teacher.  She has served as the Reading Recovery teacher leader in a large urban district in California for the last 22 years. Kathleen has provided early literacy training and coaching for the district and has presented at local, state, and national conferences.

Spotlight Speaker: Keynote Dr. Shuaib Meacham

2023-09-05T11:17:50-05:00September 5th, 2023|Latest News|

It all starts on Saturday, January 27, 2024, with Dr. Shuaib Meacham! Kick off a fantastic LitCon with Dr. Meacham’s opening keynote address, Literacy, Joy, and Resilience: Hip Hop Literacy, Youth Excellence and the Power of Hip Hop for Educators.

Be prepared for an inspiring keynote that will transform how you view literacy education. Experience the boundless potential of hip-hop culture to ignite a passion for learning in students, fostering resilience and empowerment. Prepare to be inspired by dynamic examples, incredible stories, and innovative teaching strategies that will leave you energized and ready to empower the youth of today for a brilliant tomorrow!

Check out the full session lineup here and save your seat today!

Phonics is a Piece of the Puzzle, Not the Only Answer

2023-08-29T14:24:39-05:00August 29th, 2023|Latest News|

By Cathy Monda

After years of lopsided media stories overemphasizing phonics, I was happy to see EdWeek’s article, A Focus on Phonics or Comprehension? What Reading Research Should Look Like in Practice. As a teacher for 32 years and a Reading Recovery teacher for seven, anyone who knows me knows how much I LOVE my job and how passionate I am about teaching kids to read. I believe in what I do, and the data that comes out every year reflects the continued success of Reading Recovery. After reading this article, I felt compelled to share my experiences from working with struggling readers in lessons every day.

“…Phonics, which has made its way to the center of the “science of reading” movement, is neither the whole problem nor the whole solution. That’s because phonics only focuses on sounding out words. It does not support readers to understand or analyze those words.”

A Focus on Phonics or Comprehension? What Reading Research Should Look Like in Practice

There is no “one size fits all” solution for struggling readers. As any reading instructor knows, the past two years have brought the term Science of Reading to the forefront of literacy education. The basic definition of this term is that it is a body of growing research that deconstructs how children learn to read and the instructional practices that can get them there. It goes on to say that reading requires a complex combination of skills taught explicitly and systematically. YES!! Say it louder for the people in the back.

Explicit and Systematic teaching is what I do in every Reading Recovery lesson. Nowhere in that definition does it say we must focus mainly on phonics instruction. For instance, it references Scarborough’s Rope as an example of how all the components, including word recognition and comprehension skills, are woven together to create a skilled reader. The idea that the pendulum must swing to the side of literacy where a phonics monopoly is taking a front-row, center seat in our primary and intermediate classrooms (to improve national reading comprehension scores) is very misguided. 

Phonics is essential — I know this, support this, and teach this every day. Research shows that oral language proficiency in the primary grades is a significant predictor of how well students will comprehend what they read now and in the future. Decoding is essential — I know this, support this, and teach this every day. Comprehension depends on robust and fluent decoding and other critical phonics skills — I know this, support this, and teach this every day. 

The danger of phonics becoming the sole focus of literacy instruction by taking up large portions of our whole group reading block is that we neglect to save time for other components of teaching literacy that all readers will need to be successful, skilled readers who can independently seek meaning and solve problems while reading complex text. Yes, phonics is a critical cog on the literacy skill wheel, as are oral language, syntax, and semantics. Kids who can’t read yet live in a world of oral language (producing and understanding it), show us these skills don’t develop in isolation. 

For example, take the line from a Harry Potter book, “It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” How would a child find meaning in this with phonics alone? Likewise, I can decode a page of Spanish with a decent accuracy rate and a pretty good accent. However, understanding what I have read requires more than heavy phonics instruction alone. When we prioritize phonics over comprehension, struggling readers get lost in the shuffle.

Catherine Monda is from Sarasota, Florida. She has been a teacher for over 32 years and a Reading Recovery teacher for seven.