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Read to Me Program Receives ICIRA Award

The Idaho Council of the International Reading Association (ICIRA) recently honored the Commission for Libraries’ Read to Me program for advancing early literacy statewide. ICIRA officers presented Idaho Commission for Libraries’ staff with a check for $500 that will be used to purchase books for Literacy in the Park and other Summer Reading outreach efforts.

The award was presented by ICIRA President Kristin Oostra and BSU Literacy Professor and ICIRA Awards Chair Maggie Chase in June at the Commission. Oostra and Chase were able to tour the Commission and see volunteers preparing books for several Read to Me efforts. Oostra said programs such as Every Child Ready to Read, Books to Go, My First Books, Jump Start, and the Idaho Child Care Reads workshops are among the many examples of programing that help develop, enhance, and encourage caregivers, parents, and educators to be more involved in literacy.ICIRA

“It is great to see librarians engage preschool children and families in games and activities that are developmentally-appropriate, language-rich, focused on literacy, and, most importantly, totally fun,” Oostra said. “As an organization that is passionate about literacy learning, ICIRA is enthused and excited about all the work you do for children in Idaho.”

The timing of the award was great as Read to Me Coordinators were able to use the funds to purchase new books for the 2015 Literacy in the Park program and 27 other library outreach programs statewide. Read to Me Coordinator Stephanie Bailey-White said the Commission gets a nice discount on books and they be will used to get books into the hands of children who are unlikely to have many resources at home. “These summer reading outreach programs ‘follow the food’ and have been proven to reach kids who have barriers getting into a public library. We are very grateful and humbled by this generous award from the ICIRA,” Bailey-White said. “We know we can help ensure that more Idaho children are reading on grade level when everyone is working together to help achieve common goals.”

Belize Education Project by Maggie Chase

This past October, while on sabbatical, I had the honor of participating in the non-profit organization called the Belize Education Project, BEP for short. It consists of teachers, most of whom are from Colorado, who go to the San Ignacio area in Cayo, Belize, to work with teachers, parents, and children in three schools.  Since I was on a sabbatical this past Fall semester, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to participate in this amazing experience.

Maggie 1For the past five years, teachers in and around the Denver area have been going to San Ignacio during their fall break to provide professional development for the teachers, show them how assessment of literacy skills can lead to targeted instruction and differentiation, and how lessons can be engaging, hands-on, and deeply grounded in literacy learning. Prior to the BEP presence, the teachers in these schools engaged in fairly punitive practices, a heavy dose of rote chanting much of the day, and no recognition of individual differences.  For the most part, the teachers there have little more than a high school education, but the influence of the BEP has encouraged many of the Belizean teachers to seek courses in teacher education.  There is really nothing in that country equivalent to what we offer here at Boise State Universisty: either an endorsement in literacy or a Masters in Literacy.  One of the great aspects of this non-profit is that it also raises funds to pay for two teachers and the principal from each of these three schools to come to the U.S. each April to spend a week in an American school. This year we had requests from several other Belize schools to include them in this professional development and outreach.

Maggie 2One of the other things that really impressed me was the generosity of the donations to this project. We had a total of 49 large suitcases, 50 pounds each, filled with materials and books for the classrooms. I was able to donate 96 books – 32 copies of three titles – to be divided evenly between the three schools. The photo to the left shows the array of book sets we amassed to distribute to the schools.

The other photo, below and to the right, is just one of the 49 suitcases we brought, full of supplies for classroom use. In a country where a single pencil is a treasured possession, our donations no doubt seemed like chests of gold.

If any of you have time, are retired, or in need of a worthwhile, unforgettable experience, please consider joining

Maggie 3this project. I am happy to give you additional information if you are interested, or put you contact with the visionary for this project, an incredible second grade teacher who teaches in a Denver area school.  I’m hoping that even though I’ve experienced my one and only sabbatical, I’ll still find a way to include this amazing, humbling, enriching experience in my future Fall semesters.  Maggie Chase

Words: The Mind’s Playground

Lee Ann Tysseling, Ph.D.

What word have you learned today? What word have you taught?  As I move around in my professional role I am impressed with the passion with which teachers are approaching the implementation of CCSS.  I am a little concerned that I am not hearing as much conversation about vocabulary development.   A large and varied vocabulary is instrumental in comprehension, helping students acquiring skills to read increasingly complex text, and writing clearly with clarity and eloquence.

As early as 18 months we begin to see differences in vocabulary development between children who become strong readers/writers and those who do not.  By middle school this gap has widened and gets worse each year.  Clearly our current approaches to vocabulary development are not working as well as we would like.  We need to look at several strong pieces of evidence from research that should influence classroom practice.

First is the important relationship between reading and vocabulary size.  Currently, national reports indicate that students do an extremely low amount of reading on a daily basis, especially silent reading.  If students are going to succeed on CCSS this must change! Both in and outside of classrooms we must find ways for students to dramatically increase the amount of time with “eyes on the page.”  The research with which I am familiar also strongly suggests that the materials that students read should be carefully matched so that students are reading texts that are challenging, but not too difficult.  It also suggests that students need to report back on their reading–they need to be held “accountable.”

Secondly, we need to focus some attention and positive energy on vocabulary development both in and out of school. One of the fundamental attributes of students with high vocabularies is a sensitivity to and curiosity about new words.  Also vital are strategies for exploring these unfamiliar words.  If vocabulary development is limited to the memorization of definitions or lists of morphemes then students are not likely to develop curiosity about new words or strategies for learning about them independently.

Learning words should be a great adventure.  I’ve been looking carefully at the VINE and Word Generation projects.  In addition to those more traditional teacher directed/supported vocabulary programs, there are many exciting and fun internet and/or digital resources that appeal to students.  I’ve provided many of the details about these in Word Travelers, (Stenhouse Publishers, 2012) but something new has developed that I find quite exciting. has some great free resources for learners to explore individual words.  It also has an impressive set of assessment tools for teachers, but this portion of the site is fee based.

With so many of our students being passionate gamers it is a good idea to be able to recommend some good games that will help them develop a passion for word exploration.  Including a list of vocabulary games on your classroom site is one way that you can help students use their passions in productive ways.  You can visit to participate in a profession learning community focused on helping school-aged students develop powerful vocabularies that will help brighten their futures.   

I can’t find the segment now (the problem with listening to satellite radio in the car) but one of the interviews I heard recently said something to the effect that “words are the mind’s playground.”  I’ll be thrilled when we can create a playful approach to work learning in our work with K-12 students. [/toggle]


Joining the Department of Literacy in January 2014

Petros Panaou
A few weeks ago I was on campus, working with colleagues from diverse disciplines on a new research grant. Collegiality and hospitality are the two words that can best characterize my experience… As I am getting ready to move my family to Boise in January and assume the post of the Literacy Center director, I look back at that visit as a prelude to the wonderful experiences and collaborations that will follow.

Read more: Joining the Department of Literacy in January 2014

I am convinced that 2014 will be the year that I made the best move in my career. I am also certain that 2014 will be an important year for the Literacy Center. We will build on the excellent background and foundations that are already in place, extending the center’s research and development output, enhancing its impact on the local and the academic community, and pursuing even more collaborations and grants.

I would like to use this forum to invite colleagues to share research ideas and discuss with me possible research and development projects and grant proposals. I would also like to send my love and best wishes to all the friends I have already made at BSU. Have a great holiday and a wonderful new year!

We’re all Common Core Rookies…

It started similarly to many conversations between a mentor teacher and a Boise State intern…

Mentor – Here’s my file on native tribes of Idaho.  You can take over the Idaho History instruction starting next Monday.

But then the conversation took a new and interesting turn.  After she browsed through the file, the intern asked a good question:  Would you mind if I expanded this lesson plan to include ELA standards from the Common Core?

Read more: We're all Common Core Rookies...

Without hesitation, the mentor enthusiastically gave the following reply:  Not at all!  Teach me how to do this stuff because I’m still not sure how it all fits together.

The mentor’s response struck me as a powerful, collaborative move.  He recognized that as educators, we are one big, collective group of rookies when it comes to implementing instruction to meet Common Core Standards.  The mentor, an experienced master teacher, acknowledged his own inexperience as well as the intern’s knowledge of CCSS. He seized the opportunity to be a mentor, AND a thinking partner with his intern, which ultimately served to upgrade his teaching.

What this mentor/intern team planned and taught together was fantastic!  Using the Hot Seat strategy ( ), kids dramatized elements of culture unique to native Idaho tribes.  To prepare, small groups developed questions and then researched the culture of a tribe.  They did close reading activities with various texts, eventually becoming experts on the material.  Throughout the project, student engagement was authentic!   The understandings gained were deep and cross-curricular.  And… mentor and intern each gained important insights about teaching.

Whether college student, master teacher or professor, our inexperience with a new set of vigorous standards places all educators on equal planes of (in)experience.  This invites, even demands extensive collaboration if we hope to do this thing right.

Students in ED-LTCY 440 (Content Area Literacy) are doing similar work.

Early in the fall semester, they contacted area teachers to find out specifically how they could be helpful as unit designers.  The teachers then submitted an order for a content area unit.  Some orders were specific, listing standards, classroom procedures, suggested final projects and time constraints.  Others were as general as, “I don’t have time to give you much detail, but I would be very grateful for a 2ndgrade unit on artic habitats!”  The 440 students were tasked with designing a one or two week unit of study built to the specifications of the individuals in each classroom.  It had to be engaging, culminating with a meaningful project that would measure the understandings defined by the CCSS and content standards.  It had to utilize research-based literacy strategies to navigate texts analyzed closely for text complexity…. This project was no small feat!  But these students tackled it with typical Boise State vigor.  They knew they were doing important work.

I’m proud to be an educator with 19 years under my belt.  And I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a Common Core rookie!  There are enough divisive forces in the education world, let’s remember the potential energy of a diverse group of educators thinking and working together towards significant learning.


Summer Literacy Academy

Hearing the sounds of little voices on the fifth floor of the education building?  You do if you’re visiting on a Saturday.  Every Saturday for 10 weeks this fall, 28 children receive one on one tutoring with the undergraduates taking ED-LTCY 343.  That’s right.  We meet on Saturday mornings.  Yep, even after Friday night football games.  The BSU students wander in, sometimes bleary eyed, to begin with 2-3 hours of class time. Here we learn all about Guided Reading Intervention, taking running records, doing word work and having comprehension conversations, and generally problem solving the myriad of issues our tutoring students present.

Read more: Summer Literacy Academy

What’s the biggest issue, you might ask?  Well, according to the parents, it’s “fluency”.  Unfortunately by fluency, they mean “rate”.  The parents have been told by their children’s teachers that the students lack fluency, because they aren’t hitting their targets for WCPM (words correct per minute), which, by the way, is just Summer Literacy Academy, St Mary's School, Petros Panaou, Photo Patrick Sweeney Image 1about the most important assessment used in the schools.  Why, you may ask?  Well, fluency is easy to measure, and theoretically a child has good comprehension if he/she is reading fluently.  We know, however,that a “fluent” reader does not always have good comprehension.  We have several students that are able to “race” through a passage, only to get to the end and not have a clue what they’re reading.   We don’t use stopwatches, but we’re pretty sure if we did, the heart rates of these little guys would go up tremendously!   We also have many children who read more slowly, but use expression, and know exactly what the Summer Literacy Academy, St Mary's School, Petros Panaou, Photo Patrick Sweeney Image 2story is about at the end.  Research tells us that fluency and comprehension are highly correlated, but their relationship is not causal.  Fluency doesn’t cause comprehension.  A one minute WCPM assessment does not tell us if a child understands what he/she read.  So, long story short, parents are concerned about fluency and we would rather them be concerned about comprehension, so we work on fluency hoping to improve comprehension.

The Boise State students take their jobs very seriously.  Many worry that they won’t make a difference, or the difference, for these children.  Wandering around the building listening to them work with the children, I know that just by dedicating this one hour each week to them, just by giving them their undivided attention, these children will grow.  Four weeks into the program, it’s rewarding to see the children step off the elevator with big smiles on their faces ready to work with their tutors, a long way from the tentative looks they had during week one.  The tutors have grown too.  Many of them have expressed concern about meeting so many individual needs in a classroom of 25, when meeting this one child’s need is taking so much of their time now.  This one on one experience allows them to see, up close and personally,  reading development as it happens.

What’s the big reward?  A child ran up to his mom at the end of our tutoring time today and said, with a wide toothless grin, “Guess what, Mom?  I’m on level G!”  Four weeks ago this little boy reported on his interest inventory that he hated reading and he was a poor reader.  “I’m the worst reader in my class,” he said.  Improved self esteem is the most rewarding thing to watch…..and the Boise State student was pretty proud of herself too!


A Glimpse into Culture of the Irrigated West

In my previous post, I discussed the educational approach called “place-based education,” which David Sobel put forth in his book with the same title.  This approach views the local environment and community as text for teaching concepts across the disciplines.  I presented a personal version of this educational approach that involves writing poetry in response to my living in Idaho. For the past ten years, I’ve been collaborating with two other professors on a place-based project called Culture of the Irrigated West

Read more: A Glimpse into Culture of the Irrigated West

My collaborators are Peter Lutze, a videographer and former professor of communication at Boise State (now at Valparaiso University in Indiana) and Laura Woodworth-Ney, a historian at Idaho State University.

Our project has involved researching the history and culture of twentieth-century irrigated settlement communities along the Snake and Boise Rivers in southern Idaho.  Massive federal projects in the early 1900s transformed parts of southern Idaho from desert into arable land, thereby creating the foundation for Idaho today, one of the world’s largest irrigated cultures.  We have presented our research in journal articles and as presentations in a medium we call VideoPoetry.  VideoPoetry integrates historical photographs with poetry, historical narrative, and videography into a video presentation.  We’re now in the final stages of completing a DVD of Culture of the Irrigated West, which has a general introduction and seven VideoPoems, each with its own historical introduction.

One of the subjects of the video is Clarence E. Bisbee, a professional photographer who came to Twin Falls in January 1906 and set up a tent as his first studio.  Bisbee succeeded quickly through his portrait business, postcards, and contracts with the railroad and other organizations, who published materials promoting the area.  In 1914 he and Jessie, his wife, built a combination home-studio on a downtown street corner.  Bisbee had this motto inscribed over the front door of his business: “Life and Art are One.”  For thirty years Bisbee photographed fields under cultivation, orchards, and prize-winning produce as well as community events and towns in the surrounding area.  He documented the growth of Twin Falls almost from its beginning as a rural village through its development into a thriving modern city.

The VideoPoem on Bisbee uses his still photographs for the video track and poetry I’ve written as the script for the voice-over.  Figures 1 and 2 show the correspondence of the poetry and photographs as presented in the video.

Figure 1. The Bisbee Building. Bisbee photo 1760. Courtesy Blip Printers and Twin Falls Public Library.

Jamie 1                                           

“Life and Art are One”— Chiseled over your Twin Falls storefront Your studio, your livelihood, your vision.

Figure 2. Four Year Old Orchard/Sudweek’s Ranch/1 Mi S.E. of Kimberly, Idaho. Bisbee photo 10. Courtesy Twin Falls Pubic Lib

Jamie 2

Looking through the Kodak’s viewfinder

You see an apex where tree rows converge,

A wide-angled isosceles apple orchard.

The DVD will be accompanied by online lesson plans addressing the specific historical content and providing ideas for interdisciplinary projects and individual writing assignments for place-based historical inquiry.  These lessons plans are being developed by Literacy Department professor Lee Ann Tysseling.  Once completed, the DVD of Culture of the Irrigated West and lesson plans will become available to teachers in Idaho.  We hope that the use of this video will encourage teachers and students to embark on interdisciplinary, multi-genre projects that are anchored in place-based education.

Jamie Armstrong