Students as Literacy Advocates: Implementation of the "Teens for Literacy" Program in Urban and Rural Settings
Presentation at National Youth-at-Risk Conference
Adolescent literacy involves complicated relationships between emotionally and socially-driven youth and their visual, verbal-rich environments, suggesting our need to rethink our work as educators in some fundamental ways. This session will introduce participants to the "Teens for Literacy" program model that provides a forum for student leaders to empower their peers and their communities regarding the importance of literacy. University faculty collaborate with school administrators, teachers, students, counselors, and parents—as well as university students and individuals in the community (local authors, book publishers, members of the public library, community organizations, and university staff)— who make significant contributions to the program’s success.
The project underscores the importance of what these students are accomplishing together—they establish themselves as readers, writers, and school leaders who have a desire to share the significance of their work with others. These adolescent readers, engaged in a vibrant relational enterprise, remind us that reading and writing are social endeavors (Ivy, 2014).
Brief Program Description
The presentation will discuss implementation of the "Teens for Literacy" program in two different settings- a Title I, urban school in downtown Savannah and a rural school with high poverty rates outside of Savannah (composed of a student leadership team who are primarily English Language Learners). The model provides a forum for students to empower their peers and their community regarding the importance of literacy. Middle school students have displayed growth as leaders, creative thinkers, and public speakers as they generate meaningful literacy initiatives. "Teen for Literacy" leaders interact with university students as the year evolves and visit a university to participate in college courses. A university faculty member who facilitates the program in an urban school and a middle school teacher who facilitates the program in a rural school will guide audience members to consider how they can adapt elements of the model to fit their needs.
The presentation will guide participants to achieve the following learning objectives: describe key components of the "Teens for Literacy" program; review and create a timeline for implementing elements of the program throughout the school year; discuss sample "Teens for Literacy" student-generated literacy initiatives and recommendations for implementing the program/ developing authentic community collaborations; and discuss media coverage and post-project student quotes/ writing samples/ video clips/ school assessment data highlighting successes of the program.
The presentation will include the following elements- •a multimedia presentation highlighting the following elements: program history, steps for implementing the program at an individual school, photographs highlighting teacher candidate and student interactions in "Teens for Literacy" initiatives, and sample Literacy "Enrichment Minute" prompts- with audience participation •links to sample projects (student blogs showcasing book reviews to launch summer reading, a book of creative student writing, and a student generated newspaper project which appears on the school's website)- with audience discussion •video links (including vignettes from a play showcasing daily ways that literacy is important presented as a school assembly)- with audience discussion •video book trailers that students created for their school community •a "Teens for Literacy" student introduction of a local Children's Book Festival author to their peers •writing conferencing sessions between “Teens for Literacy” students and a local author •student poetry video clips to celebrate National Poetry Month •university-school district media coverage •small group discussions facilitated by the presenters (a university faculty member who facilitates the program in an urban school and a middle school teacher who facilitates the program in a rural school) to guide audience members to consider how they can adapt elements of the "Teens for Literacy" program model to fit their needs.
Motivation, or lack thereof, is a primary factor in adolescent learning and achievement (Daniels & Steres, 2011). Teaching practices most effective in encouraging students’ literacy achievement draw upon the power of social relationships (Knoester, 2010) and the creation of motivating learning environments. Strategies for fostering genuine engagement of adolescents in meaningful literacy tasks prompt the need to rethink our work as educators in some fundamental ways.
Current literacy assessment results reveal that students at these schools have yet to realize their fullest potential academically. However, the principals welcome innovative ways to improve instructional materials, methods, and curriculum and expressed enthusiastic support of the project to promote the school’s literacy initiatives. Wilcox and Angelis (2012) describe how teachers and administrators in schools that are higher-performing—regardless of their ethnic, linguistic, or socioeconomic backgrounds—credited their relationships within the broader community as being very important. This includes trust, respect, a shared responsibility for performance, encouragement of initiative taking, and professional opportunities beyond the classroom. With this project, we are taking strides towards building upon this relationship with the school community while cultivating an authentic university collaboration.
The Teens for Literacy program model provides a forum for students to empower their peers and their community regarding the importance and value of literacy. The initiative also encourages students to consider postsecondary education and their future careers. While the students are the architects of the program, we guide our brainstorming and work sessions to propel their ideas into action. As the year evolves, university undergraduate and graduate students are invited to serve as volunteers/mentors for various literacy projects.
The objective of this chapter is to describe these student-generated literacy initiatives. Throughout the 2012-2016 school years, Teens for Literacy student leaders have produced multiple editions of school-wide newspapers with topics they selected. In addition, the students launched a blog with book reviews to promote summer reading among the student body and researched/introduced select Savannah Children's Book Festival authors to their school community. They also established a pen pal exchange with students in Haiti through an author connection, participated in guided writing workshops with a local author, created a student-generated creative writing initiative, and inaugurated a school-wide poetry celebration, culminating in "Poem in Your Pocket Day," held during National Poetry Month. Kentner (2015) states that “maybe it’s time we rethink the image of our students reading into something that better fits the world they live in” (p. 640).
National Youth-at-Risk Conference
Katz, Anne, Cindy Igou.
"Students as Literacy Advocates: Implementation of the "Teens for Literacy" Program in Urban and Rural Settings."
Curriculum, Foundations, & Reading Faculty Presentations.