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May 19, 2020

The ability read, write, speak and listen plays a vital role in helping us communicate and understand a full range of thoughts and emotions. Y4Y’s recent webinar series, “Literacy for Frontline Staff,” covers critical steps in arming your 21st CCLC program with strategies for improving students’ language and literacy skills. The three-part series can be viewed in the Y4Y archive. Guest speaker Meredith Fraysure shares her experience as an elementary teacher, literacy-based STEM curriculum developer and 21st CCLC program evaluator. Short on time? You’re in luck! Here’s a summary that hits the highlights.

Prepare for Liftoff

The afterschool environment has benefits and challenges in presenting literacy learning opportunities. Students may be mentally exhausted at the end of a school day, especially if they’re English learners, yet it’s the perfect environment for low-pressure, fun and engaging activities. Meeting students where they are and using a tailored, small-group setting is best.

Keep in mind that low-income students may have few books at home, and they may be exposed to a more limited spoken vocabulary than peers from more affluent families. Those who struggle with the basics of reading are less able to access academic content, and poor reading skills can also impact areas of living such as understanding basic health-related information. In fact, Ms. Fraysure says the greatest challenge for young readers is taking that step from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” These concerns drive initiatives to improve student literacy. Building their skills and confidence inspires students to explore areas of interest and even passion, producing competent and knowledgeable citizens. Fostering a positive relationship with books that interest students is a good place to start.

Reading, of course is only one element of literacy education. Here’s a description of all four elements:

Reading is the process of simultaneously extracting and interacting with written text, and involves phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

Speaking is the communication of thoughts and ideas.

Writing addresses how we structure language.

Listening refers to how we actively filter information and respond appropriately. Owing to the brain’s ability to effectively create white noise, this can be a greater challenge for some brains than others.

Always Start With Data

Data are at the heart of all you do in 21st CCLC programming. You’ll look for quantitative data about literacy through statewide assessments and school-day assessments, including benchmarks, unit tests, reading assessments and progress monitoring tools. Without a doubt, your most successful activity designs will be well coordinated with the school day, especially around qualitative data about each student. Invite your students’ school-day teachers to share a list of student literacy needs and a “wish list” of supports your program might provide. To help you collect important needs assessment data, Y4Y offers tools such as a Literacy Focus Group tool, Comprehension Checklists and a Reader Questionnaire for Students.

To better understand the elements of literacy and reflect on what to assess, try these tools from the new Y4Y Literacy course: Developmental Stages of Reading, Literacy “I Can” Progression Ladders, Literacy Anchor Standards and Phonemic Awareness Continuum. You don’t need a background in literacy to use these tools or to help students improve their skills.

Let’s Get SMART

With your data at the ready, your 21st CCLC program will develop literacy SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable achievable, relevant and time bound. You’ll develop  goals that apply to the program on the whole, and a separate set of goals for the literacy activities that you’ll design. Use Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool to ensure that your goals are addressing the literacy needs of your students on the whole and day-to-day.

Keep these tips in mind as you design literacy activities based on your SMART goals:

  • Building “reading stamina” is an important goal for early readers. Be honest with students about why it’s important, especially as they switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Studies show that just 20 minutes of independent reading each day, of a student’s chosen material, makes a tremendous impact on academic achievement.
  • Your middle schoolers may already find themselves behind in reading, which means being behind in other subjects at school as well. Don’t ignore the social and emotional component of building reading skills. Now more than ever, it’s critical that students have a voice in what they’re reading. Fostering a love of books is one of the best things you can do for young people at this age!
  • Reading aloud to students at all grade levels has importance when it comes to literacy. Listening, after all, is one of the four building blocks of literacy, and hearing books means a different mode of appreciating the way language is structured.

Let Your Activities Soar

Your next step is to design and facilitate literacy activities aligned to student needs. Use strategies to increase the time students spend reading and writing after the school day.

The Third Dimension

When intentionally designing literacy activities in an afterschool setting, consider three dimensions:

Logistics: Think about what your students’ needs and goals are. Then consider how to use available resources, time and space to address those needs and goals.  

Literacy elements: Decide which element of literacy – speaking, reading, writing or speaking – you’ll focus on during each activity. Most activities will involve one or more of these elements, and that’s a good thing!

Explicit or embedded instruction: Now we’re really cooking! Is your activity an academic intervention (meant to help students catch up) or an academic enrichment (where you have the luxury of helping your student get ahead)? Generally, intervention activities include explicit instruction, whereas enrichment activities tend to use embedded instruction. Let’s dive a little deeper into intervention vs. enrichment activities.

Intervention Activities

Let’s say your program has discovered that you need to help students meet individual academic goals. Your activities are going to be explicit, or in other words, designed specifically to target needs and teach the elements of literacy. For example, if you have students who struggle with decoding words and reading fluently, an intervention might be to set up four literacy centers that focus on high-need reading skills. These centers might include an online learning program, a small-group literacy game, an independent practice activity and a small-group instruction center. Students could rotate through these centers in very small groups, doing activities at each center that are designed explicitly to build a single literacy skill.

The keys to intervention activities? Explicit design and small groups.

Enrichment Activities

When your 21st CCLC program is poised to enrich the academic achievement of students, you are more likely looking for activities with embedded literacy learning. This can often be done by adding one or more literacy elements to an activity you’re already doing.

Some examples of enrichment activities might be asking students to interview each other during snack time or allowing students to follow through on their voiced preference to start a newsletter that involves research, writing, and using an online platform to tell about your program.

It’s much easier to embed literacy components into large-group activities than it is to modify small-group activities. If your program is more geared toward enrichment, you likely focus your attention on large-group activities already. If your program logistics don’t always align perfectly with students’ literacy needs, don’t lose sight of the fact that even small gains matter in the lives of the students who need them the most. Check out Y4Y’s Embedding Literacy in Enrichment Activities Training To Go for ideas and guidance on training staff.

Do I Have to Read the WHOLE Book?

Ms. Fraysure shared some of her favorite large-group, embedded learning activities around single chapters of favorite children’s books. This best practice entices students to finish books on their own after they’ve had a taste of a story — especially when they’ve become invested through the chance to do something fun. One example is to have students read Chapter 19 of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Ms. Fraysure asks students to visualize the elaborate machinery described when the characters first enter the candy-making room, then build their own “Rube Goldberg” machine. We’ve all seen a Rube Goldberg machine: they’re those multi-step contraptions that use a complicated process to perform a simple function. Using only items found in the room, students can employ concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as they work collaboratively and dive into all four elements of literacy with this fun activity.

On a smaller scale, younger students might look at Dr. Seuss’s “Sneetches” and present their ideas on how the machine might be applying stars to the bellies of these memorable characters. To illustrate how creatively children can think, Ms. Fraysure shared that one of her students proposed that the machine, in fact, is uncovering existing stars!

BDA

The before-during-after (BDA) framework is a great tool to keep in mind as you intentionally design reading activities. Check out Y4Y’s BDA Lesson Planner for practical steps to meet the objectives of making predictions, learning new vocabulary, demonstrating comprehension, participating in discussion, responding to text in a meaningful way, and developing work skills through collaboration and listening to others.

More Ideas for Literacy Activities

  • Check out Y4Y’s Guided Oral Reading Tool to improve students’ fluency.
  • Stage a readers theater. Speaking is an often-overlooked literacy skill, especially in younger students.
  • Use fun repeated reading exercises such as trying out different voices.
  • Arrange a writers workshop to hone skills in prewriting, drafting, revising and editing, and publishing and production.
  • Journal! Let students start out with pictures that help them develop the practice of communicating their thoughts and feelings, then work their way up to a broader use of language.
  • Use rich language to describe a painting or a piece of music with no lyrics.
  • Write a reflection on a science experiment.
  • Have students talk about how they used math in their everyday lives the previous day.
  • Do you have a mix of native English speakers and English learners? Build confidence through hands-on activities that help level the playing field, allowing them to pair with each other if they’d like so that they can better communicate in a team project.

You don’t have to totally revamp your 21st CCLC program or become a certified English language arts teacher to be successful at improving students’ literacy skills. You can accomplish a lot if you’re willing to scaffold learning and support the school day. If you’re trying a new strategy, don’t be afraid to ask for instructions to be simplified to be sure you’re implementing right.

Nail the Landing

To “nail the landing” in your literacy routines and activities, there are three things you can do: engage families in literacy, implement literacy activities with fidelity, and assess the impact of activities.

An Engagement in the Family!

You’re all too familiar with the barriers families face in engaging with your 21st CCLC program, yet we know how critical program engagement is to getting families’ support at home too. Parents and guardians might have limited access to transportation, multiple jobs, cultural or language barriers, younger children to care for, socioeconomic concerns or even their own scars and lack of confidence around literacy. To overcome such barriers, be consistent but accommodating and flexible in your expectations, and work to build trust with students’ adult family members. Don’t forget that adults like to have fun too!

One great family engagement idea is to host a grocery store scavenger hunt with sponsorship from a local merchant. Families get a clipboard with a list of inexpensive items that the store could donate as charity to your program. Maybe the items are presented in simple riddle form. Throw in some math, asking how much it would cost to buy three pounds. What would your total be at the end? The whole family activity takes less than an hour, but families come away with a better understanding of your role in their child’s life, quality time spent with their child, and maybe some free food. Some programs have developed partnerships with supermarkets willing to provide program snacks through the year.

How about a Living Wax Museum event? First, students research a public figure, past or present, and take notes so they can portray that figure in a Living Wax Museum. When the event starts, students “get into character” and take positions around the room. Families move from student to student, asking questions about the character each student portrays. It’s an opportunity for students to read, write, speak AND listen!

Themes are always winners. Camping, a picnic theme, or a cultural fair that celebrates the different backgrounds represented in your program all offer opportunities to have some fun and engage families.

Ms. Fraysure offered clever solutions to common barriers to successful family engagement. Are parents heading into second-shift jobs at pickup time? Try a before-school breakfast (with support from your grocery store partner). Another idea is to engage parents on their “home turf” by starting a lending library. Each week, a student takes home a different bag with a book and journal inside. Families are asked to read it together and jot down what their family discussed about the book. Or you could offer a “How It Works” seminar for families, perhaps given by a community college partner, to explain the literacy tools your program uses and how they can impact students’ lives.

Measure Your Success

The success of your family engagement efforts needs to be measured just like your in-program efforts. Walk around at events and get a sense of family response, directly and indirectly, by asking and observing. Do you see an increase in engagement at pickup after an event? Watch for signs, big and small, that you’ve earned families’ trust. Don’t forget: Y4Y offers customizable tools that can help, like the Family Engagement Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist and Family Satisfaction Survey.

Speaking of Measuring…

How will you know if you’re you implementing your literacy programming with fidelity? Keep those program and activity SMART goals close at hand throughout implementation. Be sure to “read the room” along the way, communicating consistently with your site coordinator or program director, especially when you’re trying something new. For the program to succeed, YOU need to believe in it too, which you will if you have a voice.

Fidelity has four measures:

  • Adherence – Did you follow the steps of the activity design plan?
  • Dosage – Did you spend as much time on the activity as was intended?
  • Engagement – Did the students fully participate and show interest?
  • Delivery – Did you engage students enthusiastically and guide them appropriately?

When you know going into an activity that these are the ways success is measured, you have a higher chance of implementing that activity with fidelity. Here are three additional strategies that will ensure that you successfully meet your program and activity SMART goals: (1) Create a decision-making process to guide your implementation. (2) Establish evaluation routines so that you’re making real-time observations and adjustments as needed. (3) Create guidelines for families’ progress — because 21st CCLC programming is a true success only when families play a big role in your outcomes.

Y4Y’s Implementing With Fidelity Guide is the perfect resource for addressing the right questions as you implement literacy activities in your program. Also check out the Continuous Improvement Planner to stay true to your SMART goals. Finally, be sure to check out the Discussion Board created for Y4Y’s three-part virtual series on literacy, where many more links and resources are housed.



April 20, 2020

What if the language you grew up speaking didn’t have its own alphabet? What if people tried to “borrow” from another alphabet but it didn’t work well, so written messages were hard to decipher, and no books or newspapers existed in your native tongue? Would you decide to create a new alphabet for your language? Would you start working on it at 14, along with your 10-year-old brother?

As incredible as it sounds, that’s exactly what brothers Abdoulaye and Ibrahima Barry did in Guinea (in western Africa) about 30 years ago. Their alphabet is called “ADLaM,” and if you enter that term into a search engine, you’ll find articles and videos about it. An article in The Atlantic tells the brothers’ story, shows the alphabet they created, and explains how some of the 40 million speakers of Fulani are reaping the benefits.

Intrigued? Chances are, this amazing story would intrigue your students as well — and it could give them a new perspective on language and literacy. There are several online videos featuring the creators of ADLaM that you could watch and discuss together. A virtual “watch party” and discussion could be the springboard to a variety of fun follow-up projects or activities. Some students might be inspired to learn a new language. Others might want to create their own alphabet, or think up solutions to communication problems in English, or find out more about other young inventors who’ve made the world a better place. Some students might write a story about a world without written language, or draw a picture that tells a story. The possibilities are endless!

If literacy is a focus for your program team, the Introduction section of Y4Y’s updated Literacy course is your passport to knowledge. You’ll tour the four components of literacy (reading, writing, speaking and listening). You’ll also discover how literacy instruction has evolved over time, its benefits, and how it fits with 21st CCLC program goals.

Exploring new ideas together with your staff and students reminds them that the world is an amazing place, full of creative people and unexplored possibilities. Stories like that of the Barry brothers can inspire all of us to grow wings and soar high!



April 20, 2020

If the mere thought of public speaking makes your students wish they could fly out the window, they’re not alone. Many people say it’s one of their top fears. Yet nearly everyone has to do it, whether they’re making a presentation at school or work, responding to questions at a job interview, or agreeing to “say a few words” at a social gathering. The ability to speak in front of others has new significance in these unusual times, as students and teachers alike meet via videoconference. Many find themselves virtually in front of dozens or hundreds of people, with their own face staring back at them from the screen.

Don’t let your students’ fears hold them back! Your 21st CCLC program is the perfect place to give reluctant students the individual attention, support and practice they need to become confident speakers. Here are some ways to help them stand and deliver, whether virtually or in person:

Assure students that “nerves are normal.” Even experienced speakers like actors, teachers and politicians often feel nervous before a presentation. Share tips for feeling prepared and in control. For example, students can write a script or cue cards; practice on their own; and ask a teacher, friend or family member to listen and give feedback. If you know community members who are good speakers, invite them to share their secrets for getting past the jitters.

Provide direct instruction. Help students see public speaking as a set of skills that can be developed by anyone willing to try. Show them ways to select or write engaging material, and to deliver or perform for a target audience. If there’s a speaker’s bureau or Toastmasters club near you, consider partnering with members.

Share models and demonstrations. Share short YouTube presentations on various topics of interest to students. After each one, ask if there was anything they especially liked or disliked. Prompt them to look for things like the speaker’s confidence, energy or enthusiasm; audience awareness; clarity of speech; vocal variety and volume; pacing, movements or body language; and selection of words and images. Focus on just one or two aspects at a time.

Provide opportunities for practice. Start small. One-on-one interviews, small-group activities, and full-group discussions allow students to practice speaking in a familiar, low-stress environment. Readers theater is a good way to get students used to speaking in front of others. Community projects and showcase events give students a chance to speak in front of family members, school-day staff and others. You can match speaking opportunities to each student’s age, interests and skill level so that everyone gets a chance but doesn’t feel overwhelmed. For example, students might deliver a short scripted welcome message on family night, perform an original “spoken word” poem during a variety show, explain and demonstrate the results of a science project or be part of a panel discussion. (Remember, all of these things can be done virtually during this time of school closure.)

Create a low-stress, high-support environment. Some students may jump at opportunities to speak and perform in public, but others may want to run in the other direction! There are many reasons some students may not feel ready or willing to speak in public. For example, some might feel extremely self-conscious because they stutter or have some other speech or language disorder, don’t speak English as their first language, or have severe anxiety. Group presentations that include nonverbal roles like writing a script, creating a visual aid, providing tech support or serving as a sign language interpreter give everyone a chance to participate. By giving students voice and choice, you can provide opportunities and support without making them feel pressured.

The ability to speak in public is a literacy skill that can benefit every student. See Y4Y’s new Literacy course for tools and resources related to speaking and the three other components of literacy: reading, writing and listening.



March 18, 2020

Literacy is an area where your 21st CCLC program can dramatically enrich and improve the lives of your students. But where in the world is the professional learning to help you achieve your goals? Look no further! Y4Y has updated its Literacy course, with four objectives in mind: assess students’ literacy needs, design and facilitate literacy activities that align with those needs, use strategies to increase the time students spend reading and writing after the school day, and implement literacy activities with fidelity. Join the course tour guide, Will, as each of 11 key strategies will take you to a different country throughout this travel-themed course. Buckle up for an engaging trip around the world!

How might key strategies look when literacy is your focus?

  • To start, your literacy program team may include some new members, such as a librarian from your public library and reading specialist.
  • Qualitative data will be as important to your needs assessments as quantitative data, since qualitative data gives people room to communicate freely and add details.
  • Partnership assets may not be dramatically different through the literacy lens. On the contrary, you might discover some of your best partners already have literacy initiatives in place that you can tap into, such as book giveaways or English as a Second Language (ESL) volunteer tutoring programs.
  • Bear in mind that SMART goals will have to be set for the program level and for activities.
  • Just like partnerships, logistics may not change dramatically when literacy is at the heart of your planning, but here again, there may be space or budgeting opportunities and challenges that are unique to your literacy activities.
  • Intentional design of literacy activities will take into account the amount of enrichment versus intervention that may be called, for based on your student-level data.
  • Recruitment of students should involve general outreach to the community. Also, asking for referrals and good advertising from school-day educators will be crucial.
  • Whether your current staff has strong literacy skills, or you’re poised to hire new staff or you’re looking for other stakeholders to fill gaps, strong literacy skills (and the ability to teach those skills) are desirable as you’re choosing adults to interact with your students.
  • Consider the possible challenges around adult literacy when it comes to your family engagement efforts.
  • Helping your students understand the rubric used to measure their literacy progress is an important step in implementing with fidelity. Unlike math, where an answer is either right or wrong, literacy skills can seem mysterious to students. There can be multiple ways to write a good (or bad) paragraph, for example. Providing a rubric with clear measures can remove some of the mystery (and anxiety) for students.
  • When your organization is mindful of these steps in literacy programming, success is the final stop in your literacy tour. That means it’s time to celebrate!

Enjoy your worldwide tour of all four components of literacy — reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Your specific literacy activities might be developed around any or all of these components. Whatever you decide, the Y4Y Literacy course offers course tools to help you address student needs. Explore them all! Program directors and site coordinators are also encouraged to check out the Coaching My Staff section of the course.

The Y4Y Literacy course, like a good book, can be like a worldwide adventure. Be sure your passport is up-to-date, and let Y4Y help you explore the world of literacy so you can bring the very best ideas home to your students.



December 12, 2019

The concept of mentoring has been infused into all levels of society, from elementary school buddy programs to Fortune 500 executive training. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. Being mentored can be powerful.

According to research cited by The National Mentoring Partnership, young adults who were at risk for falling off track but had a mentor were 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions than their peers who were not mentored. Also 90% are, themselves, interested in becoming mentors. You’ve undoubtedly recognized the benefit to students of bringing mentors to your 21st CCLC program. Now it’s time to put together your elevator speech for adults in your community to educate them on what mentoring does for them on the two-way street called Mentor Way.

First, take a minute to reflect on the people in your life whom you consider mentors. Do you have a formal mentoring relationship? Probably not. For most people, our mentors are just people with more experience in some facet of living, even as fundamental as how to breathe (think swimming or Lamaze). The thing that made them special was, yes, their knowledge and wisdom, but equally important, their approachability and their desire to be useful to others. No doubt, there are people in your community with these characteristics. Finding them and connecting them with your program is one of the most valuable things you can do for your students, and for the “mentors in waiting” who respond to your call to serve.

Y4Y’s new course on strategic partnerships includes many tools that can help you map your community assets and link those assets to your program needs. For example, what if the greatest need in your program is support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities? Can you approach a local university to solicit student volunteers who might be wooed with the promise of a resume builder, improved communications skills, confidence boosting, networking opportunities and gratitude for their help? Factor these benefits for mentors into a targeted elevator speech for this potential partner.

What if your greatest need is literacy support? The retired teachers association in your area is a great resource for men and women who are hardwired to help and teach young people, and have the time and skills to do it. Your elevator speech for these potential volunteers might emphasize the liberty of leaving in the afternoon with no papers to grade, the emotional satisfaction of helping young people, the health benefits of contributing in a meaningful way, and the intellectual stimulation that comes from keeping up with their profession.

If strengthening social and emotional support for students is high on your list of program needs, check out community resources for mentors who can offer that extra adult guidance. These resources might run the gamut from veteran organizations to Big Brother/Sister programs to graduates of your program or programs like it. What does the other side of the street look like in this mentor-mentee relationship? This mentor has opportunities to reflect on the choices they’ve made in their own lives, to watch another life grow and change with their involvement, and to rest easy that they’ll be leaving the world a little better than they found it.