Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Motivating Readers: Introducing Evertaster, a Novel by Adam Glendon Sidwell

Working for a reading company over the past six years has provided me with an elevated perspective on "the value of literacy". (I've blogged about it before here.) In addition, working for a reading company that possesses a vision to teach new and struggling readers how to read, I have gained increased appreciation for literacy -- appreciation not only for the need to teach reading using effective strategies and guided practice, but for providing text that is engaging to ensure students' motivation to read is not only maintained, but also constantly escalating...escalating so that reading skills can improve and "reading to learn" can take place. As a curriculum writer, I am also mindful of what it takes to produce text that is motivating, engaging, and level-appropriate. 

I have a friend, Adam Glendon Sidwell, who is getting ready to release his first book, Evertastera novel written for youth ages eight to 12, which will be released June 14, 2012. Adam is a good friend of mine from a few years back. I recall days when Adam would quarantine himself in his unfinished basement, disciplining himself to write for hours at a time. At the end of a successful day, he would enthusiastically report the number of pages he was able to crank out that day. I read a draft of a book he was working on during that time. Suffice it to say that Adam was born to be a writer. 

Evertaster is one of those books that stimulates students with the motivation to read...and to keep reading. That's "the value of literacy". 

Here is a synopsis of Evertaster:

When eleven year-old Guster Johnsonville rejects his mother's casserole for the umpteenth time, she takes him to the city of New Orleans to find him something to eat. There, in a dark, abandoned corner of the city, they meet a dying pastry maker who tells them of a legendary recipe called the Gastronomy of Peace -- a recipe created hundreds of years ago, shrouded in secrecy, and sought after by connoisseurs everywhere.

So begins a perilous adventure that will take Guster, his clever sister Mariah, and the rest of the Johnsonvilles on an adventure to ancient ruins, faraway jungles and forgotten caves, where they discover that their search is more than just a quest to satisfy Guster's cravings -- it is a quest that could change humanity forever.

You can read more about Evertaster at I've included a snippet from the website here:

"Evertaster is the first novel in a children’s adventure series by author Adam Glendon Sidwell. When a couple of kids start a worldwide search for a legendary taste, they find out they’ve bitten off more danger than they can chew."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Opening Doors to Literacy in New York City Public Libraries

Last fall I conducted a literacy training for literacy and English as a Second Language teachers and tutors in the Bronx. (See my post about it here.) I recently returned to New York City where I helped conduct a follow-up literacy training, this time for five of the previous attendees who supervise the literacy teachers and tutors throughout the city at New York City Public Libraries. The purpose of this training was to train the supervisors on how to become certified Reading Horizons trainers. The training was held at the Bronx Library Center (down the street from one of Edgar Allen Poe's homes). This three-day training consisted of method review, explicit strategy instruction in decoding and spelling skills, as well as instruction on conducting consistent, teacher-directed practice. The attendees also had an opportunity to participate in peer coaching as they each took a turn teaching a skill and receiving feedback from the group. I am impressed with these individuals' competence, as well as their passion and drive to help teach literacy and English to speakers of other languages.

Aside from the training itself, I witnessed something magical going on within the walls of this library. Each day as I walked out of the training, I saw kids from the Bronx gathered around computers after school. I saw parents and children checking out books together. I saw middle school and high school kids meeting at the library to collaborate. I saw adults standing next to book shelves, books open and eyes scanning the pages, taking in the words like they were a refreshing drink of water. Libraries are magical places. I am grateful to be able to participate (in a very small way) in the amazing literacy programs offered throughout New York City. I am aware that there are several other libraries throughout the country doing similar things, whose efforts I applaud, as well. Libraries are magical places. They open the doors to education like no other.

Free Webinar on Transfer for Improved Reading

An essential part of the process of teaching one to read is not only teaching effective reading strategies to help students decode automatically and effortlessly (to achieve fluency and comprehension), but also to provide opportunities for students to transfer these learned reading strategies to connected text. A free webinar hosted by Reading Horizons was recently delivered by Shantell Barrett and Jay Kelly on transfer. The title of their webinar is "Getting From Point A to Point Z." Shantell and Jay discuss ways to provide opportunities to transfer decoding strategies to help the students become autonomous readers. The webinar can be viewed here. (The power point slides can also be downloaded on the link.)

View other free webinars on the Reading Horizons website here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Using Needs Assessments in the ESL classroom

Here is another guest blog post from the English Skills Learning Center (ESLC) about using needs assessments in the ESL classroom. (Read another guest blog post from the ESLC about using repetition in the classroom here, or interactive activities here.)

When was the last time that you asked your students what they want to learn? Conducting a needs assessment, or asking students what they want to learn, is essential because adult students who feel they are not learning what they need to know in English class are more likely to stop attending class than to express their discontent. On the other hand, students who feel that they have a say in what they are learning are more likely to attend class regularly and to participate in class.
                There are a few ways you can effectively use a needs assessment::
  • Students point to or circle the picture of the subject about which they most want to learn.
  • Students circle more than one picture and then rank their preferences. If you are teaching a class, you could then share the results with the entire the class so that they understand that decisions about the curriculum are based on their feedback. 
  •  Do a “vote with your feet” activity in which you post pictures of ESL topics or the four language skills on the walls of your classroom and then invite the students to stand by the topic or language skill that they most want to work on.
The ESL Center recommends that you conduct needs assessments on a regular basis. This could be when a new student joins the class, when you finish a unit or chapter in your lesson material, or when you receive new testing results. You will find that as you begin to make needs assessments a part of your classes that students will share their personal English-language goals with you. As you teach students the English they need to accomplish those goals, you will share in the students’ excitement as they succeed in accomplishing their goals!

For more information about Needs Assessments, please visit: