On November 9th-11th, 2014 I had the privilege of attending the New York State Reading Association annual conference in Syracuse, New York. The conference was an educationally rewarding experience where I had the chance to present one of my latest projects in addition to attending many other presentations, workshops, and networking opportunities that help current and future teachers (like myself) meet professional development needs. This year’s theme, Literacy within the Disciplines, reflected the need to seamlessly integrate content and our literacy instruction in order to address Common Core Standards. My presentation focused on the theory of summarizing and the results that I found when implementing particular literacy strategies into my lesson plans. After scaffolding the different steps to creating a summary, such as determining important information vs. interesting information, note taking strategies, and GIST summaries (generating interaction between text and schemata), I saw that the student I was tutoring still struggled with being concise yet cohesive. As a result, I concluded that students need additional instruction on how to annotate readings concisely as well as writing concisely. Presenting my research and results was rewarding in and of itself, but only grew as I was offered to submit my research to The Language and Literacy Spectrum Journal of the NYSRAC.
In addition to presenting my own research, I was able to observe several panels on different topics ranging from music literacy to science and ELA intersected instructional strategies. One in particular that I found the most unique and inspiring was “We Are Readers, Writers, Artists, and Producers! The Power of Radical Youth Literacies and Community Engagement,” by Marcelle Haddix. Ms. Haddix, from Syracuse University, presented on the topic of helping teachers learn how to develop 21st century writers and radical literacy workshops. With increased demands placed on under-resourced, low performing schools to meet high stakes standards and various assessment benchmarks, there is little time for authentic writing that captures the interests and experiences of young people. Instead, more emphasis in writing instruction is placed on making sure that students are able to “pass the test” and graduate. These goals were not and should not be mutually exclusive. The talk highlighted the experiences of young writers, teachers, parents, artists, and community members who partner together to cultivate spaces for authentic writing practices within an urban community through the Writing our Lives, a youth writing project for youth grades 6-12 in the greater Syracuse area.
With afterschool writing programs, summer writing institutes, book clubs, digital composing programs, staged theatrical performances, and an annual youth writing conference, Writing Our Lives provides an example of a civically and community engaged approach with aims to address the problem of the achievement gap for urban youth, one that aligns with CCLS for authentic writing for real purposes and audiences. Although Syracuse is located outside of the Hudson River Valley, Writing Our Lives demonstrates the meaningful impact on students’ civic engagement as a direct result of teachers centering instruction on young peoples’ interests in addition to contemporary and local issues. By doing so, teachers bestow upon their students a higher sense of agency as well as higher expectations. As I reflect upon the presentation, I felt that it serves as a valuable lesson to all social studies teachers. Teachers should work to help their students make connections about what they’re learning in their social studies/history classes and what is going on in the world around them, both regionally and globally speaking. As students are exposed to the events outside of the classroom, teachers should help their students develop the ability to articulate their ideas and advocate their opinions in a professional and academic manner.