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Fostering Literacy In One Fell Stroke...

Today's guest blog is written by Lisa Dolan, Literacy Coach in the Hudson City School District (Hudson, NY).

I've been teaching the arts of reading, writing, listening, and speaking to elementary students for three decades.  Until my son, Michael, suffered a pediatric stroke on his seventh birthday in 2007, I had no idea how fully my life would become consumed with the foundations of literacy.  I didn't know what it truly meant to live a literate life.

My son's stroke--ischemic and left brain--attacked his language center.  The rewiring necessary to facilitate much of his recovery would be long, tedious, emotional work.  That work would require all of those around him--my husband and I, his sisters, teachers, therapists, and friends--to understand and utilize the miraculous powers of language.

As his educational advocate, I employed a new lens in my understanding of language. I knew that the strategies we would use had to be intense and immersive. In Michael's case, they needed to be engaging and simplistic as well. We used rich, diverse, quality literature; mentor texts to dissect, scaffold, and dive into.  There were stories, cereal boxes, videos, magazines, computer games, road signs and picture books that would hold his attention when we read them over and over for meaning and craft.

Rapidly, I realized that the strategies we were finding successful with Michael would work for many young learners. It was obvious.  You did not have to be a stroke patient to live a life focused on all things literacy.  All students could and should enjoy these abundant, special experiences learning to read and write to construct meaning and understand the world!   We needed to make the love of literacy and learning into life events.

In 2009, in my new role as Literacy Coach at the M.C. Smith Intermediate School, Maria Suttmeier (current Hudson City School District Superintendent of Schools) and I jointly planned the first Hudson Children's Book Festival (www.hudsonchildrensbookfestival.com).  The festival's mission has been to create, sustain, and nurture a culture of literacy in partnership with our community and schools.  This free, public event fosters a love of reading as families meet and greet world-class creators of books for children of all ages.  In 2010, we launched the Hudson Reads Mentorship Program (www.hudsoncityschooldistrict.com) which pairs over one hundred of our community members as reading mentors for students in our school. These mentorships have helped our students in building confidence, self-esteem, and academic skills, as well as a love of reading and learning.  In 2011, I began authoring a book review, musings on life column for our local newspaper called Lisa's List.  For me, this was yet another piece of bringing authentic literacy experiences to life! (www.registerstar.com)

Now, when I deliver professional development, model lessons in classrooms, and work with students and teachers, I find myself placing new significance on the strategies that we use. These strategies do not simply teach students to sound out words or write letters. These strategies celebrate books and revere authors. They honor relationships and mentorships and an intergenerational shared love of the written word.  They involve families, schools, and community.  They require organization, hours of work, and the time and commitment of many. They work. 

Watch Lisa's powerful TEDxHudson speech here. 

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