Title

Equity-Focused Literacy Leadership in Practice through an American Library Association Collaborative Grant Initiative

Format

Individual Presentation

First Presenter's Institution

Georgia Southern University

Second Presenter's Institution

Georgia Southern University

Third Presenter's Institution

NA

Fourth Presenter's Institution

NA

Fifth Presenter's Institution

NA

Location

Session 7 Breakouts

Strand #1

Head: Academic Achievement & Leadership

Strand #2

Home: Family & Community Engagement

Relevance

The purpose of this American Library Association-funded grant project—“Growing Up Brave on the Margins”— (http://www.ala.org/tools/programming/greatstories/resources/brave) was to engage a group of sixth grade students in an urban, public middle school in the Southeastern United States in a thematic reading and discussion series using the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) program model as established by the Great Stories Club. The goal is to explore effects on student development as critical readers, writers, and thinkers (supporting the “National Youth at Risk Conference” “Head” conference strand). The discussions, facilitated by a College of Education Associate Professor of Reading, and a university librarian, with support from a community storyteller, feature books that explore questions of race, equity, identity, and history (supporting the “National Youth at Risk Conference” “Home” conference strand). The school counselor and school media specialist support the logistics of our program implementation. This program is a literacy leadership team that meets at the middle school consistently on a weekly basis. It is considered an honor to be selected to participate in the program and to serve as a school-wide literacy mentor to peers and the local community. Strong character and model citizenship behavior, as noted by their teachers and the middle school counselor, are considered imperative for participation as well as an interest in serving as a literacy leader to members of the school community.

Brief Program Description

A reading professor and university librarian collaborated with a middle school literacy leadership group to read, discuss, and write about stories that explored questions of race, identity, history, and social justice through an American Library Association grant initiative. The titles were selected to inspire young people to consider "big questions" about the world around them and their place in it. Participating teens also took part in storytelling sessions with a local community leader.

Summary

The Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) program model established by the Great Stories Club provides an authentic opportunity for young adolescents to interact with university personnel and community partners on a consistent basis. It is a thematic reading and discussion program that engages underserved teens through literature-based library outreach programs. Recipients of the grant receive copies of the books for student participants, a stipend for a community storyteller and materials, as well as a professional development training session for facilitators.

The theme for 2019-2020 was “Growing up Brave on the Margins: Courage and Coming of Age.” The students and the facilitators benefited from the open dialogue and examination of the selected texts. By reading the books, March (Lewis & Aydin, 2013) and The Sun is Also a Star (Yoon, 2016), students and facilitators gained greater insight into how individuals can work together to overcome racial injustices and build intercultural understanding. The facilitators not only learned how to help students achieve this goal, but also consider how they can work with individuals in the community to promote a sense of racial healing.

Middle school students read the books in weekly facilitated discussion circles. They completed reflective journal entries and participated in group discussions, with comments recorded on large sheets of chart paper as an audit trail. The Questioning-Answer Relationships (QAR) instructional strategy (Fisher & Frey, 2018) was used to help students understand what type of questions to ask as they read the selected texts.

A local community storyteller built racial healing circles into the discussion at least once each semester. Racial healing circles are a component of the American Library Association program model, which seeks to generate capacities required for achieving greater equity and healing, particularly in the lives of teens facing personal challenges.

The students had a variety of reading levels, and this program supported motivation to learn and develop 21st Century skill sets. Strong character and model citizenship behavior were considered imperative for student leaders and critical to adolescent development. Our goal was to show students through these stories how they too can “grow up brave” and effect change in their own community.

Evidence

Guided by tenets of critical literacy and the role this plays in affirming diversity, advancing equity, and promoting justice, the initiative sought to provide a space for sixth grade students to “explore, interrogate, and challenge social issues in an effort to work toward a more equitable world” (Driessens & Parr, 2020, p. 416). Critical literacy accounts for “ways that literacy can be used in service of self-actualization and social change” (Riley, 2015, p. 418). Reading through the lens of critical literacy allows students to understand what they are reading from diverse perspectives (Norris, Lucas, & Prudhoe, 2012). Cervetti and Hiebert (2019) noted that “readers use their knowledge to fill out meaning and make connections in a text, and these connections help readers form local and global understandings about the text” (p. 499). In addition, Shankar-Brown (2014) emphasizes the importance of “engaging learners in projects that are relevant to their lives” and “[provide] opportunities to apply knowledge and develop global skills, while actively integrating multiple forms of literacy, including reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing” (p.367).

Driessens & Parr (2020) elaborate on principles of critical literacy that were incorporated throughout the project. This social practice is context and learner dependent, lending itself to facilitating a way of engaging with texts, ourselves, one another, and the world (Vasquez, 2017). By reading the books, March (Lewis & Aydin, 2013), and The Sun is Also a Star (Yoon, 2016), students gained greater insight into how individuals can work together to overcome racial injustices and build intercultural communication and understanding. As students unpacked issues of civil rights and immigration that are discussed throughout these two books, critical literacy provided a framework for them to question issues related to privilege, power, and equity (Comber, 2001; Freire, 1970)

As students “imagine how the world might otherwise exist and what they can do to positively contribute to that vision” (Driessens & Parr, 2020, p. 417), they are drawing upon issues presented in the literature to learn, grow, and effect change. There is no standard way of implementing a critical literacy framework with students. This flexible model allows teachers freedom and agency. Comber (2001) has suggested that critical literacies showcase “people using language to exercise power, to enhance everyday life in schools and communities, and to question practices of privilege and injustice” (p. 1).

Baugh (2017) describes how a “comprehensive reading program incorporates effective instruction, multiple resources, and a wide variety of experiences to help each student achieve optimal reading progress every year” (p. 229-30). This collaboration between an Associate Professor of Reading, a university librarian, and a community storyteller on this Great Stories Club grant initiative authentically introduced the sixth grade students to individuals in the local community. As we worked together to read, discuss, facilitate, write, and unpack the issues discussed in these two pieces of literature, meaningful connections were forged.

Vaughn, Premo, Sotirovska, and Erickson (2020) explain that student agency or “the ability of individual students to influence and to create opportunities in the learning context through intentions, decisions, and actions” (p.428)—merits consideration. It is important to consider, how do students develop characteristics to persist and engage in the learning process? In addition, Vaughn, Premo, Sotirovska, and Erickson (2020) encourage educators to consider how students interact “to exert influence and open up new learning opportunities” (p. 428). What kind of effect would this equity-focused literacy partnership exert on the fifteen sixth grade students who were participating in this initiative? Would modeling and facilitation of student agency by university and community partners provide a space for participants to reflect on “different journal entries, sharing something they wrote or an idea about the text, or selecting a text that they recently read to recommend to a friend” (Vaughn, Premo, Sotirovska, and Erickson, 2020, p. 440)?

Afflerbach and Harrison (2017) note that:“positive motivation leads to increased engagement, increased engagement leads to continuing reading success, and this ongoing reading success leads to increased motivation . . . a key to students’ reading achievement is creation of classroom environments in which motivation and engagement thrive” (p.218).

Youth are encouraged to engage with powerful works of young adult literature and consider "big questions" about the world around them and their place in it, affecting how they view themselves as thinkers and creators. The strategies in the presentation will serve as powerful lenses to support educators as they strive to affirm diversity and facilitate students’ personal and academic success.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand how to host a meaningful book discussion to promote racial healing and build cultural understanding.
  • Define critical literacy theory.
  • Identify critical literacy strategies to use in the classroom.

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Anne Katz is an Associate Professor of Reading in the Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading in the College of Education at Georgia Southern University in Savannah. Her current research and service interests include community literacy initiatives, with a focus on middle school students in local schools. Dr. Katz serves as a collaborator on a National Institute of Health (NIH) grant, contributing close reading workshops to prepare undergraduates to pursue biomedical science careers (2018-2023). She has previously provided professional development in content-area literacy for Georgia educators through 3 federal Teacher Quality grants. Dr. Katz was the recipient of the university’s 2017 Kristina C. Brockmeier Faculty Award. She was selected as a 2015 Governor’s Teaching Fellow through the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia, and is currently serving as a member of the Notable Books for a Global Society Awards Committee of the International Literacy Association.

Vivian Bynoe, MLIS is an Assistant Professor and Interim Head of Reference and Instruction at Lane Library, Georgia Southern University, Armstrong Campus. As the liaison to the College of Education and Social Sciences, she works closely with professors to promote information literacy skills in students. She is a member of The American Library Association and active in the Georgia Library Association. Her work with promoting literacy began prior to her academic career when she worked in the children’s department of a public library in Charlotte, North Carolina. There she developed an expertise in readers’ advisory for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. She is a fellow of The Red Clay Writing Institute at The University of Georgia. Her other interests include promoting critical literacy, motivating and educating non-traditional students, assisting underserved communities in gaining access to information, and promoting diversity initiatives in the library and the larger community.

Keyword Descriptors

Community literacy, partnership literacies, middle school literacy, motivation, equity, diversity, critical literacy

Presentation Year

2021

Start Date

3-9-2021 3:00 PM

End Date

3-9-2021 4:00 PM

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Equity-Focused Literacy Leadership in Practice through an American Library Association Collaborative Grant Initiative

Session 7 Breakouts

A reading professor and university librarian collaborated with a middle school literacy leadership group to read, discuss, and write about stories that explored questions of race, identity, history, and social justice through an American Library Association grant initiative. The titles were selected to inspire young people to consider "big questions" about the world around them and their place in it. Participating teens also took part in storytelling sessions with a local community leader.