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Literacy lessons

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Project provides toolkit for teachers to incorporate social justice

Jill Flynn and William Lewis

​Profss Jill Flynn (left) and Bill Lewis have worked together to develop an online toolkit to help secondary English and language arts teachers incorporate equity and social justice into their lessons. The project was supported by the Partnership for Public Education and the Gates Foundation.

Teachers and prospective teachers often want to include topics about equity and social justice in their classrooms — and are expected to do so under national education standards — but adding new material to their already crowded instructional schedules can be daunting.

Now, however, a project developed at the University of Delaware aims to provide middle- and high-school language arts teachers with resources they can easily make part of their current literacy curriculum. The research-based project is led by Jill Ewing Flynn, professor of English, and William E. Lewis, professor of education, and is supported by UD’s Partnership for Public Education and the Gates Foundation.

“Jill and I have written together for some time, and we’ve always had a social justice focus,” Lewis said. “This project seemed like a great opportunity to show teachers how they could incorporate social justice and equity into the work they were already doing. The goal is to provide kids with a variety of texts and prepare them to read challenging texts — all part of the literacy curriculum.”

The result, Flynn said, has been a toolkit known as EquityQTS, which is accessible on a publicly available website and consists of resources that teachers can readily fit into their existing lesson plans. In developing the toolkit, she and Lewis worked with UD English education alumnae Taria Pritchett, a high school English teacher and Brandywine School District teacher of the year, and Casey Montigney, a middle school English teacher and member of the Delaware Professional Standards Board.

“We think we’ve devised a good framework that will help teachers by making their planning easier and without adding more burdens to their classroom work,” said Flynn, who teaches undergraduate methods courses and coordinates student teaching in UD’s English Education program.

The EquityQTS resources are focused around a framework known as “Quad Text Sets.” It’s a system that many educators already use in building their students’ reading, writing and comprehension skills as they prepare to read a challenging classic text such as To Kill a Mockingbird or more contemporary texts like All American Boys or The Hate You Give.

Before assigning students to read that “target text” itself, teachers select two simpler texts — one of them video- or visual-based—on a related theme or topic. These texts enable students to build their background knowledge of the subject so that they are more prepared and engaged when they read the target text. A fourth text is then chosen to help students make connections to the target text and to extend their understanding of issues of equity and social justice.

As Flynn and Lewis now work to share the resources with teachers, they’ve published an article about their project in the current edition of Literacy Today, the online magazine of the International Literacy Association.

In the article, “A Framework for Teaching Equity,” the researchers write that, by using high-quality young-adult literature in a strategic way, teachers “can expose students to multiple perspectives, build the background knowledge needed to critically engage with issues of equity and provide students with a volume of challenging texts that build their literacy skills.”

“We all want students to have engaging, challenging texts to read while developing social justice and equity awareness,” said Lewis, who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in English language arts in UD’s School of Education. “But we also know that teachers have a lot on their plates already. So we designed this to fit into the existing curriculum, not to be an add-on for teachers.”

For Casey Montigney, who worked on the project as a Christina School District teacher and is now an instructional coach helping other teachers in the district, EquityQTS builds on the quad text system that she knows educators are already using. By focusing on social justice and equity when choosing texts for their lesson plans, teachers can give their students a wider view and broaden their perspectives, she said.

“The goal is for students to be able to read and understand a rigorous text for their grade level,” she said. “Those skills and the concepts are what’s important. And students today, even middle school kids, want to talk about social justice issues. They’re aware of what’s going on in the news, and they want to learn more about it.”

Flynn and Lewis hope that teachers in other subjects such as social studies might also find the resources useful in their own classrooms. Social justice and equity are currently part of some national educational standards as well as accreditation standards for teacher training programs.

The researchers met recently with a Delaware Department of Education official, who invited them to make a presentation at an upcoming meeting of the Literacy Council, a group of literacy specialists from school districts around the state.

“We want to spread the word that this resource is available to them,” Flynn said. “We know that teachers want to cover these issues and that they can use support.”

Article by Ann Manser; photos by Office of Communications and Marketing and iStock

Published April 29, 2022

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Jill Flynn, professor of English, worked with William Lewis, professor of education, to develop a toolkit of resources that enable language arts teachers to incorporate social justice into their literacy lessons.
5/3/2022
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