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The Children’s Literacy Initiative

In this conversation, Gina Post, a bilingual 2nd-grade teacher at Sumner Elementary School in Camden, N.J. discusses her work with the Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI). CLI is a Philadelphia-based organization that supports teachers focused on early literacy. In 2010, CLI won a $21.7 million Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant, and has demonstrated significant impacts on students & teachers. You can learn more about their i3-supported work here.

Q. Can you describe CLI’s approach to training?

A. The training was very methodical and hands on. The coaches were very involved. My teaching practice just seemed like it changed overnight for the better. The way it would generally work is my coach would come in and we would have a pre-conference. We would decide what I was going to teach that day and then we would walk through it. My coach also was there during the lesson, and she would model the best practices.

Q. How did CLI change your classroom?

A. It’s now very print rich. Everything hanging up was made with my students. When my students come in at the start of the year, the classroom is bare. Every time we put something up, we’ve created it together or they’ve created it. They reference what’s on the wall when they’re doing independent work. Or, I reference routines and procedure. We agree on these as a class community, we write it down, and hang it up during the first weeks of school.

CLI also created a classroom library for me with about 50 new, high-quality, bilingual books. They’re beautiful award-winning books, and half are in Spanish. When I came in to my classroom, the teacher before me had retired. I inherited what she had. Also, a lot of the materials we get in urban environments tend to be pre-fabricated books or a part of a set curriculum. They’re not individual books like you can find when you go the library or if you want to study an author.

Q. How did CLI change your teaching practice?

A. Before CLI, my writing lessons weren’t as explicit. I wasn’t as sure how to focus the students’ writing. It was much looser. As an example, I didn’t do the mini-lessons at the start of a persuasive writing lesson with an explanation of phrases the kids might start with. I also didn’t have an anchor chart with sentence starters, which I can use to send the students back to as a reference while they’re working. The way it works now with writing assignments is each day I’d add another step and another one and by the end of the four-week unit on opinion writing, seven-year-olds have crafted amazing pieces. Writing was much more of an open-ended activity before. It wasn’t explicit.

Q. Can you share a story of success from your classroom that you attribute to this new approach to reading and writing?

A. In the spring, I was reading the book “A Cricket in Times Square” with my students. We worked on it for about a month, and I had them make paper-bag puppets of their favorite character and do an in-depth analysis of the narrative from point of view of their character. When it was time for a share out, they came to the circle with their puppets and took turns sitting in the author’s chair. My English language learners, who previously didn’t want to speak out loud because they were afraid they’d make mistakes and were afraid they’d be made fun of, started having intelligent conversations out loud about characters in the book. These quiet, shy kids were comparing and contrasting events in the story. They were having this really thoughtful discussion about the book. I was simply there to make sure everything went smoothly. I was just so excited to see that.”