Please join me in welcoming today's guest blogger, Janet Phillips. Janet was born in Arkansas but grew up a Navy brat and lived up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Janet lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina for four years where she attended high school at Lincoln American School. Over the years her path has crossed many other military brats and finds it amazing how many of them are avid readers. Janet has a master’s degree from Texas A&M. She has taught 4th grade in her home town for the last 26 years. Janet loves to read, paint, knit, and spoil her two grandchildren.
Long gone are rural family farms in the Natural State. Gone too is an educational system either at the bottom or second from the bottom on rankings of schools in the United States. Gone but not forgotten in the collective memory. When people from other states think of Arkansas, they often have us caught in a Groundhog Day scenario of the 1950’s. Over the past decades, educational leaders, politicians, and communities have been using literacy for educational changes. We teachers who fall into the book nerd category love it!
The progressive powers of education divided the state into fifteen educational cooperatives. These cooperatives have a vast array of experts, resources, supplies, and professional development offered free to the schools serviced. Professional development in literacy includes Early Literacy in Arkansas (ELLA). ELLA is a two year professional development for k-1 teachers for the implementation of a comprehensive literacy program. Effective Literacy (ELF) is also for two years for teachers of grades 2-4. Comprehensive Literacy for Adolescent Student Success (Class) is a two year program designed for teachers 5-12. CLASS is a comprehensive research-based approach to literacy instruction. Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) focuses on Common Core Standards of English language arts. Teachers of social studies, science, ELA, and technical education use the LDC framework to build reading and writing skills in junior high and high school students.
At the Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, teachers can attend Smart Step Literacy Lab Classroom project. This is another two year professional development opportunity. Ken Stamatis is a professor at Harding and director of the lit. lab. Ken Stamatis brings the rock stars of children’s and young adult books to Arkansas in another program called YA Author Series. Authors such as Patrick Carmon, Mary Downing Hahn, and Gary Schmidt come to Searcy for a dinner at Harding. This is on a Friday night. The most exhilarating Saturday follows. The author talks about how to use his or her books in your classroom. Yes, you need theory and direction but this is the bread and butter of making life long readers. A. LaFaye lived in Searcy several years ago because teachers in Arkansas were so passionate about reading.
In my classroom, I use a reading and writing workshop approach. I use a hybrid of theory and strategies but I want my students to love books. We just finished a Reading Fair. The children pick a book they love and present it on a tri-fold board with rubrics for fiction and nonfiction. They learn about tone and mood, text structure, information on the author etc. This project is fun but the real day to day thing I do is love books and get them to love them also.
Thank you Janet for giving us some insight into the growth of the educational system in Arkansas. Keep up the inspiring work!