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  • Students As Agents Of Lasting Change: The Citizen Power Project

    Written on January 16, 2017

    The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically…Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Purpose of Education”, 1947

    Today is Martin Luther King Day and even now, all across the country, educators and students strive to meet the goal that Dr. King set for education.

    The Citizen Power Project -- presented by First Book, the American Federation of Teachers, the Albert Shanker Institute, and the Aspen Institute’s Pluribus Project – seeks to identify the intersection between critical thinking and character in order to uplift it.

    In November, educators planned and then proposed civic engagement projects for their students and communities. Of the hundreds that were sent in, 15 were funded as part of the challenge. Students used resources made available on the First Book Marketplace to think intensively and conduct research about an issue in their community or in the world. The next step would be using what they’d learned to take action and help right wrongs, uplift others, and make their world a better place.

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  • Changing Communities With Books: The Citizen Power Project

    Written on December 21, 2016

    In November, First Book and its partners the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute presented the Citizen Power Project; a challenge to educators nationwide to identify, plan, and implement a civic engagement project important to their students, school or community.

    Fifteen of those projects received grants to help turn their big plans into big impact.

    Since then the fifteen projects have gotten underway and the results have been phenomenal. With a wide range of projects each in different phases, we thought we would check in with educators to hear about what their project has done so far and where it is going.

    In Framingham, Massachusetts, middle school English teacher Lori DiGisi knows her students don’t always feel empowered. “They feel like the adults rule everything and that they don’t really have choices,” she explains. “The issue I’m trying to solve is for a diverse group of students to see that they can make a difference in their community.”

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  • How Books Inspire Action: The Citizen Power Project

    Written on November 21, 2016

    Our guest author today is Marissa Wasseluk, Digital Communication Manager for non-profit FirstBook.

    All too often, young people feel they don’t have the power to fix problems in their communities How can books inspire students to take action and become engaged citizens?

    Earlier this year, First Book, along with our partners the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute, presented educators nationwide with a challenge: identify an issue and a civic engagement project important to their students, school or community. We then asked for proposals on how, with the support of books and resources from First Book, their students could take action to address that issue and show their students that they have a voice and the ability to make positive changes happen.

    We called this challenge The Citizen Power Activation Project. Funded by the Aspen Institute’s Pluribus Project, 15 proposals  - five each from elementary, middle and high schools - would be chosen to receive a collection of special resources to help them implement their projects and a $500 grant for use on the First Book Marketplace.

    More than 920 proposals were received.

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  • Knowledge For Literacy

    Written on May 14, 2015

    Our guest author today is Marilyn Jager Adams, a visiting scholar in the Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Department of Brown University. Marilyn is internationally regarded for her research and applied work in cognition and education, including the seminal text Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. This post is adapted from Literacy Ladders, our anthology of articles on early childhood literacy learning.

    The very purpose and promise of schooling is to prepare students for responsible adult lives—to be civically minded and informed, to pursue higher education, and to find gainful work that allows them to grow and contribute to society. To accomplish this, students must be given ample support and practice in reading, interpreting, and writing about texts as complex as those that characterize life beyond high school. But here lies our great dilemma. Increasing the sophistication of assigned texts, all by itself, is unlikely to do much good. After all, we know that many students are unable to understand such rigorous texts, and nobody learns from texts that they cannot understand.

    What this means is that we, as educators, need figure out how to help raise our students’ language and literacy skills to levels that enable them to understand and gain from complex texts. Working with the Albert Shanker Institute, the American Federation of Teachers, and Core Knowledge Foundation, I recently helped produce an anthology of research essays — Literacy Ladders — that addresses this challenge. Below are a couple of the key takeaways.

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  • Common Core Opens The Second Front In The Reading Wars

    Written on August 15, 2012

    Our guest author today is Kathleen Porter-Magee, Bernard Lee Schwartz policy fellow and editor of the Common Core Watch blog at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Previously, Ms. Porter-Magee served as both a middle and high school teacher, as well as the curriculum and professional development director for a network of public charter schools.

    Up until now, the Common Core ELA standards were considered path-breaking mostly because of their reach. This isn't the first time a group attempted to write “common” standards, but it is the first time they’ve gained such widespread traction.

    Yet the Common Core standards are revolutionary for another, less talked about, reason: they define rigor in reading and literature classrooms more clearly and explicitly than nearly any of the state ELA standards they’ve replaced. Now, as the full impact of these expectations is starting to take hold, the decision to define rigor—and the way the CCSS define it—is fanning the flames of a debate that threatens to open up a whole new front in America’s long running “Reading Wars."

    The first and most divisive front in the reading wars was the debate over the importance of phonics to early reading instruction. Thanks to the 2000 recommendations of the National Reading Panel and the 2001 “Reading First” portion of No Child Left Behind, the phonics camp has largely won the day in this battle. Now, while there remain curricula that may marginalize the importance of phonics and phonemic awareness, there are none that ignore it completely.

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  • Literacy For Life: The Role Of Career And Technical Education In Reading Proficiency

    Written on August 13, 2012

    It is well established that a student’s reading proficiency level in elementary school is a good predictor of high school graduation success. The lower the reading level, the more likely it is that the student will not graduate on time. Against this background, it is sobering that many U.S. students reach high school without the reading and comprehension skills they need. According to NAEP data, in 2011, more than a third (33 percent) of 4th-graders were reading at a below basic level; among 8th-grade and 12th grade students, the percentage of students who were stuck at the below basic reading level had dropped, but only to about 25 percent. Many of these students drop out; many go on to earn a diploma, but enter the work world singularly unprepared to earn a living.

    What is to be done? Certainly, intensive remediation is part of the answer, but so are practice and motivation and interest. The challenge for struggling readers at the high school level is hard to overstate; by the time they enter high school, they often display a negative and despairing attitude toward school that has been hardened by years of failure. Furthermore, most high school teachers are not trained in literacy instruction, a specialized skill which is theoretically the purview of early elementary school. Indeed, for many urban teachers, motivating kids just to come to school is the major challenge.

    How do we motivate these kids, who sometimes exhibit stubborn resistance to reading or to any other kind of schoolwork?  One effective strategy is to make the purpose of reading as interesting and obvious as possible. For many youngsters, that means access to high-quality Career and Technical Education (CTE).

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