It was SO exciting to have the first face-to-face British Columbia Literacy Council Leadership Meeting since pre-COVID times. The best part about membership in the International Literacy Association and provincial council, the British Columbia Literacy Council, is the conversation. Last Tuesday night at the Sylvia Hotel was not a disappointment.
Rob Tierney arrived prepared to talk about his current role as the immediate past president of the International Literacy Association. He has a broad range of participation in ILA and background experiences in education throughout the world, including Australia, the U.S., China, and recently Nigeria. Although he began as a classroom teacher in Australia, many of the people in the room embrace him as “Canadian” due to his work at The University of British Columbia, including but not limited to Dean emeritus and professor emeritus of Language and Literacy Education. His research in reading, reading-writing connections, assessment, and global perspective held promise.
The spark of magic for the night came from the diversity of the people in the room. Traditionally the B.C. Literacy Council (BCLCILA) and the Lower Mainland Council of the International Reading Association (LOMCIRA) before it, framed Leadership Meetings as working committees of the executive committee with feedback from ILA executive members. The focus was on developing strategic plans to move forward as a council. However even prior to COVID, there has been a step away from volunteerism and participation in professional organizations. Part of this came from the focus on newer teachers striving to create some work-life balance and part of it came from the stronghold lock of some of the developed organizations to step away from the refrain “But we’ve always done it this way” and embrace new ideas and new ways of doing things. The opening up Post Covid is the perfect time to embrace new ways of approaching our work. The people attending this Leadership Meeting included long time ILA members, recent members, and people from different roles as educators in private and public institutions.
Many of the people in the room shared the experience and passion for developing partnerships to address local literacy needs with educators in different countries along with Dr. Tierney. Sabine Maiberger brought her experience of starting a school in China. Lulu Wang brought her perspective of attending school China and her efforts to meet the expectations of Chinese parents while providing stimulating experiences through iGeneration Education programs. My experiences teaching at The Fuyang Bureau of Education and Sandy Murray’s experiences bringing SongWorks to China and Japan made for some interesting conversation. Dr. Tierney was able to share interesting experiences in Nigeria and the importance of adopting the stance of the learner in these interactions. Susan Ruzic was able to incorporate the social justice work that she has been doing at The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (B.C.T.F.). The conversation teased out how much we have to learn from working collaboratively and learning from what other countries have to offer. The work towards reconciliation in Canada has helped to move this conversation forward. It has allowed us to step away from the notion that Western Culture is not responsible for helping people to adopt our educational paradigms but called us to create space for other cultures to show us what they need from us to be supported in their work. The question pursued was how do we develop the INTERNATIONAL in the ILA.
This conversation had many common elements with the conversation of the Science of Reading. Some teachers in the room were looking for the ways to support children coming into the classroom with many needs and often few supports. Others were very concerned with what looks like a top-down trend in the United States to impose a very simplistic view of reading that discards much of what we have learned since the 80’s. Ruth Hodgins brought her experience with Reading Recovery and a thorough knowledge of the research and success stories that have come from implementation. Sandy Murray brought the perspective of a music educator and classroom teacher using song to joyfully develop literacy concepts. You would not find anyone in the room who discards the importance of phonics instruction. In fact, there was a lot of discussion about the many ways we have done this in the classroom. The Writing Process was celebrated as away that children are given the tools to communicate through through phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. The reciprocal relationship between reading and writing is seamless. There was deep discussion about reading-writing connections and how researchers such as David Booth and Lucy Calkins provided transformational support to educators.
Dr. Tierney thorough knowledge of existing research at his fingertips was helpful in focusing the conversation. There was frustration in the room about the reading noise in the Twittersphere referencing decontextualized research that points a finger to easy answers. The research on literacy instruction tells us is that it is anything but easy. This is not something that Coastco can market in a workbook. Reading, writing, listening and speaking are interwoven with amazing complexity. The learner sitting in front of us at any time will require four cueing systems in order to unravel the mysteries of reading. In order to provide what that learner needs, the teacher will need to unlock the complexities and subtleties pertinent to the learner. It will require an educator that has access to the plethora of literacy research, professional development, and the autonomy to decide on how best to meet the learner’s needs. Well informed educators are able to determine and build on background knowledge and ascertain the pathway to create a reader that experiences the power of making new discoveries and the joy of expanding their world through literacy.
Dr. Tierney underlines what the International Literacy Association provides for us. The access to literacy research helps educators to make decisions about how they will reach their learners. Local and provincial councils are not simply volunteer activities but professional organizations that facilitate important conversations between literacy educators. We hope you will join the conversation. This link takes you to the International Literacy Association membership tab. If you live in British Columbia, you automatically become a member of The British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association (BCLCILA) when you join ILA.
Thanks so much to the following people for attending the B.C. Literacy Council of The International Literacy Association Leadership Meeting and for providing your perspectives in the discussion:
Dr. Rob Tierney – speaker
B.C. Literacy Council Members:
Dr. Karen Addie, Darlene Archer, Larkyn Froese, Linda Klassen, Sabine Maiberger, Donna McCormick,
Tricia Stobbe, Executive Director, Christian Educators of B.C.
Sandy Murray, SongWorks Educators Association
Susan Ruzic – BCTF Social Justice Committee
Lulu Wang, founder and CEO of iGeneration Education Group
Ruth Hodgins- Consultant
We very much hope you will extend the invitation to your networks to join the conversation about literacy learning.