Getting to Know Our Students: The Heart of Differentiation in the Balanced Literacy Classroom

By Margaret Mary Policastro, Diane Mazeski, Noreen Wach (Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois), and Tom Magers (Broadmeadow Elementary School, Rantoul, Illinois)

From the Illinois Reading Council Journal, Fall 2019
Recently, at our Summer Reading Clinic open house, a parent asked if we “ever had success with a student who doesn’t like to read?” As we were thinking of a response, her son, who is just going into 1st grade in the fall, was telling us how much he likes “bones and skulls.” He took out an object from his pocket and showed us a small dinosaur skeleton that he had put together. Collectively, we responded with positive thoughts about how all of these interests would be an important factor for the first day of the clinic and moving forward with him as a reader. On opening day, we had an abundance of books awaiting him about skeletons, bones, dinosaurs, and skulls. We were eager to see how he would respond. Indeed, within minutes of surrounding him with these books, he was totally engaged, curious, and captivated by the informational texts with which he was encircled. The photo in Figure 1 captures the essence of what happens when you match books to students’ interests. In this instance, the student going into 1st grade had access to books that had pictures, diagrams, and illustrations for him to comprehend. One pop-out book dis- played dinosaur skeletons. Since that first day, we noticed how his interest in these topics is both dense and deep—a knowledge base of information far greater than most of his peers.

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Discourse: The Importance Of Talk In The Balanced Literacy Classroom

By Margaret Mary Policastro, Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois

During a classroom book club discussion in our university summer reading clinic, the students we were observing had just moved their chairs into a circle to discuss The WatsonsGo to Birhmingham — 1963 and, even before they were in place, the students were eagerly discussing the book. In this open forum discussion, they were saying “I can’t believe this happened …,” “I was so sad when I read…” and “I thought it was so funny when …” Even class conversation outside of the book club seemed to be connected to the book. For example, “My dad did this funny thing last night, and it reminded me of the Watsons …” The students were eager to share and respond to each other about funny events, sad events, and much more. Parents also commented on how the children were discussing the book at home.

Read more: IRCJ Discourse Corrected

Creating Parent Libraries: Enhancing Family Literacy Through Access To Books

By Margaret Mary Polieastro, Diane K. Mazeski, and Becky McTague

Imagine walking into a school and the first thing you see is an inviting parent library where books are displayed and celebrated. This would be a place where parents can check out children’s books or read a book and find information about family literacy.

It has been our goal to assist reading specialists and literacy coaches to develop and create such parent libraries within the schools and districts where they work. The last several years have provided an outstanding opportunity for us to work in a large urban public school district. Most recently, we have focused our attention and efforts on understanding and creating a structure or framework for access to books for parents through designing and implementing parent libraries. This critical and essential access to books requires a confluence of ideas that bridges libraries within a school and provides access to books for families and caregivers.

Thus, the notions and ideas of family literacy permeate throughout our work and efforts. Family literacy is based on the idea that parents and children learn best when learning together and, through this process, both parents and children develop essential skills. Furthermore, this approach to literacy has been identified as a potential strategy for ameliorating the challenges of low levels of literacy and poverty (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). The purpose of this column is to introduce the idea of developing and creating parent libraries and to provide descriptions, elements, photographs, references, and a checklist. Further, we showcase several parent libraries—one recently created and another that has long been in existence as an exemplar model.

Read more: Creating Parent Libraries IRCJ Article

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