Literacy can serve as a powerful tool for communities by providing a means for participating in advocacy and civic engagement.  The Read.Write.Act 2017 Virtual conference will focus on this connection.  We are excited for this year’s presentations that provide models of of civic and community engagement through literacy-especially those that focus on social justice.  We will also have presentations that provide specific teaching techniques based on best practices for community-based literacy groups and organizations that use learner centered and participatory approaches.  The presentations are not limited to the topics of reading and writing but  include other forms of literacy (e.g. digital literacy, math literacy, health literacy, financial literacy, etc.).

Register for the RWA 2017 Conference here!

Click on the image below for a printable pdf schedule

Friday, October 27th

1 PM
The presentation will report findings from an NSF funded project to develop and study two six week modules for middle school technology education classes that supports engineering and technology literacy through five unitizing themes of design, modeling, systems, resources, and human values while promoting social justice and the potential for engineering as a social good. The units focus on two important real world needs: availability of clean water and production of needed food. Presented within a global context students learn to create inexpensive water filtration and hydroponic gardening systems. This presentation will share what was learned about creating this curriculum and outcomes for student and teacher after completing the curriculum. Participants will learn about the Engineering for All materials and take away strategies and ideas for how social justice can be fostered within an engineering and technology literacy setting.


Dr. Deborah Hecht, Senior Research Scientist, Center for Advanced Study in Education, The Graduate Center at the City University of New York

Dr. Michael Hacker, Co-Director, Center for STEM Research, Hofstra University

Melissa Gelin, Graduate student at Queens College, CUNY/Research Assistant at the Center for Advanced Studies in Education (CASE) at the CUNY Graduate Center

Dyslexia affects as much as 20% of the population. Individuals who struggle from this language-based learning disability suffer needlessly because of a lack of awareness of the typical characteristics of dyslexia and best practices for treatment or support. This session will provide participants with a clear understanding of what dyslexia is, what the typical characteristics are, how it is diagnosed, and how to support those who struggle.
2 PM
In recent memory, social media evolved, and our sense of community, connection, and even teaching has drastically changed. These days, online social communities and classrooms are extremely active, but they can become dangerous and inauthentic places when it comes to social justice. People may feel isolated, or even attacked. Others are emboldened to share hate speech or insecurities because they do not have to face the consequences of hurting others personally. Tragically, it’s easier for authorities and organizations to dismiss real problems like homelessness, domestic violence, food scarcity, health problems or even technical difficulty for some of the same reasons. Through screens we are becoming more immune to compassion in responsiveness to others’ struggles. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and properly curated, online classrooms can be boons for justice, change and unity.

Throughout the utilization of certain best practices, it is possible to create humane, empowering, and egalitarian spaces where everyone is free to grow. These practices can apply directly to online classrooms for adults or high school students; however, they are relevant to anyone trying to create a positive, and just social space. The goal of these materials to increase the awareness of social justice issues in the classroom, emphasize the role empathy and flexibility, build teacher immediacy to create productive classroom communities, share stories from a wide variety of perspectives, and discuss our students’ fears around academic writing.

Since 2014, CWP-Fairfield has offered Young Adult Literacy Labs – summer camps for young people, 3rd-12th grade, in partnership with Invitational Summer Institutes for teacher leaders. Labs include: Little Lab for Big Imaginations, Novel Writing, Sports Writing, College Essays, Spoken Word Poetry, and Ubuntu Academy, a literacy lab for immigrant and refugee youth.

The literacy labs began with 42 youth, quickly expanded to 120, and now service over 200 writers each summer. This is in addition to the 15-35 teachers and writers who attend a National Writing Project institute at Fairfield University.

Project Citizen began with Sean Mitchell (a Beard Teacher Award recipient) and Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall realized that there needed to be more opportunities for young people to advance their passions through social advocacy. Here, students wrote OpEds, articles, and letters to local newspapers, organizations, and community leaders to enact change. After two years of this work, the National Writing Project awarded CWP-Fairfield a Summer Camp grant to not only continue the literacy lab, but to expand it so that more youth were included and teachers could collect data on what they accomplished (in order to help other teachers across the nation).

This summer, 28 youth attended Project Citizen through the National Writing Project support and 50% of them receive full scholarship. The two-week literacy lab intentionally (re)mixed and (re)hashed youth populations so that participants represented the heterogeneity of American society: racially, economically, regionally, biologically, and sociologically. Included in the literacy lab were young people from urban, rural, and suburban schools districts, including Lakota Sioux youth from S. Dakota. Three teachers led the literacy lab and encouraged OpEd writing, memoir, spoken work poetry, hip hop/song, and TedTalks. The two-week literacy lab culminated with a “Performance Prom” where students showcased their best work. In addition, the National Writing Project published student writing on a website created for them and will later be published in POW! Power of Words, an Anthology for Teachers and Youth.

In two weeks, young people wrote in a variety of genres. Special to the intent of Project Citizen, however, was special bonds that were created between youth attending this literacy lab and others enrolled in Ubuntu Academy. The young people not only wrote about local concerns, but had opportunities to collaborate on international issues (which resulted in a spontaneous hip hop collaboration between both programs)

This presentation will highlight the history of Young Adult Literacy Labs, the expertise of teachers involved in the project, and demonstration of youth writing and success.

3 PM
The most common are of weakness that persists for students with dyslexia, despite appropriate intervention, is spelling. Spelling mistakes struggles first appear in kindergarten, and without an understanding of the English Writing system it is often left to the student to either memorize the words they can’t spell or begin the process of pretending that spelling doesn’t matter. In this workshop, common spelling errors will be studied and that study and understanding will provide the instructor with the information they need to plan instruction and to document progress.
While “fake news” has been around more or less since the advent of mass communication, there has been a significant spike in recent history, largely do to the prevalence of internet access. What we once identified as yellow journalism, tabloid journalism and the like has taken a shift, mimicking legitimate news sites in a way that certain populations do not know how to–or do not care to–differentiate from fact.

As a result of this discussion, people have also begun to become increasingly aware of the importance of information literacy. While this is not a new conversation amongst information professionals and educators, it may be a relatively recent concept for the communities that we work with. We believe this is an essential survival skill for the promotion of effective civic engagement in our current era of alternative facts.

Join two MLIS candidates from Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies as they explore the phenomenon surrounding fake news and posit potential ways to promote information literacy. This discussion will include a historical overview of these concepts and a close look at how information is relayed and received in the digital age. Additionally, we will provide methods of identifying fake news and teaching digital literacy to communities. Our hope is to conclude with a look at current practices and a conversation about where we can promote continued growth in this area.

Saturday, October 28th

10 AM

It is critical to thoroughly examine controversial media caricatures and racial stereotypes to decode the hidden meanings behind these images, the influence have over the formation of their audiences’ implicit biases, and how the implications of their meaning cultivates educators’ perceptions and subsequent treatment of their African American male students.  Participants will investigate their own dispositions and implicit biases of African American males, their leadership capacity as educators and instructional facilitators, and the diverse populations they serve. This session encompasses theoretical analysis and research, as well as, individual training on the effects of racial stereotypes of African American males in the media and how these stereotypes impact the treatment and academic achievement of students of color. This session will also provide an analysis of the historical and structural practices that have allowed institutional racism in the media to flourish. Using a racial equity impact assessment, this session will provide educators with a framework in which cultural competence and an awareness of negative racial media portrayals undergird and influence everyday instructional practices, policies, and programs.

11 AM
In 1968, the Kerner Commission released its findings on the heels of volatile year beforehand. In 1967, riots erupted across the United States due to growing racial segregation between blacks and whites. Fifty years later, the findings from the Kerner Commission are still relevant today in the discussion of empowering communities.
Books & Beyond is a collaborative service-learning project that connects primary and university students in the United States and Rwanda through authoring, illustrating, and publishing annual collections of children’s stories. Since 2008, the project has published nine volumes of stories and currently collaborates with a local school provide a holiday English day-camp for 4th and 5th grade students. The project offers a mix of curricular and co-curricular service-learning opportunities for university students, including mentoring young writers, editing stories, teaching in the holiday camp, fundraising, organizing public relations, and evaluating and documenting the activities of the project. The project was created by students and is considered a home-grown, student-led project that relies on peer teaching and organizing to create reading materials that share intercultural perspectives between children in the US and Rwanda. We will present an overview of the development of this innovative project and share key ideas for how the project can be replicated at other institutions. We will share evidence for success and for the replicability of the project. Books & Beyond is the winner of the 2016 NASPA Best Practices in International Education Award and of the 2013 Association of African Studies Programs Francois Manchuelle Award.
12 PM
SCALE, the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education, is a social-justice oriented literacy nonprofit that operates out of UNC’s School of Education. For the last 20 years we have been working diligently to promote representative literature and learner-centric tutoring practices. Research shows that learners are more motivated to read when they can visualize themselves in a text. The selection of library materials then becomes an important tool to fostering a learners relationship with reading. As such, we would host a session that outlines the importance of representation and cross-cultural understanding in education and how exactly that relates to social justice. We will then detail how we sought to implement a social justice framework in the selection, deselection and organization of library materials for our literacy tutors. Attendees will receive a checklist for evaluation of materials from a social justice framework so that these ideas can be applied to their own work. This session will be most useful to individuals working in collection development, children’s’ librarians, school media specialists and those working with literacy tutoring programs. All attendees can expect an unconventional, exciting session that provides them with knowledge of how to identify materials that are representative of all readers while also providing them with resources and practical steps to implement what they may learn.

1 PM

All too often high school students are relegated to the role of passive receiver; rarely are students given the opportunity to be active participants in co-constructing their learning experiences or weighing in on their curriculum. This presentation will highlight methods used in a graduate literacy class in which teacher candidates partnered with a high school student to analyze the literacy embedded in a curricular unit of study. The graduate student adopted a ‘student as expert model’, interviewing their high school collaborator and working with the high school student to revise and redesign the unit of study with the objective of making the content accessible to students with a wide range of literacy levels. This interactive presentation will present an overview of the project as well as several examples pre and post collaboration. Implications for further practice will be discussed.

Register for the RWA 2017 Conference here!

Ms. Melissa Gelin is a Graduate student at Queens College, CUNY and a Research Assistant at the Center for Advanced Studies in Education (CASE) at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is interested in education, educational reform and social justice. Dr. Deborah Hecht is a Senior Research Scientist at CASE. Her research interests include service-learning, social justice, educational reform and engineering and design thinking. Dr. Michael Hacker is Co-Director of the Center for STEM Research and PI on the Engineering for All project. His research interests are in the areas of informed engineering design and technological literacy.

Dr. Tammy Tillotson is, first and foremost, a mom to three incredible sons and wife of 25 years to Scott. As a longtime member of ALTA and IDA, and her personal connection with dyslexia, she actively works to raise awareness about issues surrounding dyslexia. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, Advanced Education Specialist Degree, and most recently completing her Doctoral Degree. Tammy became an Orton-Gillingham trained tutor to assist her youngest son and other children who face challenges with dyslexia and is now the Center Director of the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Upper Wisconsin. Her background and experience in directing and leading nonprofit organizations, training individuals in an IMSLEC accredited program, and coordinating publicity and development campaigns lends well in continuing to raise awareness about dyslexia, create opportunities to expand training and education, and to build resources for parents and professionals who can better support children throughout the country.

April Newman is a teacher and writer. She is the 2017 University of Phoenix faculty member of the year for the College of Humanities and Sciences. She has taught college research writing, English, and composition for over ten years, beginning her career teaching middle school. She has been a presenter at local and national conferences on the subjects of classroom and creative engagement, and published creative nonfiction and research on mindfulness in The Iowa Review, Hair Trigger Magazine, and The University of Wisconsin Press.

Melissa Warren is a NCTE board certified English instructor with fifteen years classroom experience. She also serves as a teacher mentor at the college level, and most recently presented at the 2017 PDS National Conference sponsored by The University of South Carolina. Additionally, she researches and presents on creating dynamic classroom experiences, storytelling in the classroom, and how to create safe learning environments. In 2012, she was the North Carolina Southeastern Regional Teacher of the Year.

Bryan Ripley Crandall, Ph.D., Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University and Assistant Professor of Literacy in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, works nationally with educators and youth in support of student publication, activism, and empowerment. His research interests include writing instruction, young adult literature, refugee and immigrant youth, and community-based scholarship. Crandall’s work with youth communities and schools across Connecticut received a 2015 MLK Vision Award, a 2016 Presidential Innovation Award for Service, a 2017 Elizabeth M. Pfriem Award for Community Engagement, and a 2018 Divergent Award in 21st Century Literacies. Most recently, Crandall has redesigned summer opportunities for youth and teachers through Young Adult Literacy Labs and teacher institutes, including Ubuntu Academy, a literacy initiative for immigrant and refugee youth.

Kelli Sandman-Hurley, Ed.D. is an author and co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute. She received her doctorate in literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University. Dr. Kelli is a certified special education advocate assisting parents and children through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan process. She has training in mediation and also serves as an expert witness in the area of dyslexia. Dr. Kelli is trained in Structured Word Inquiry, Orton-Gillingham, Lindamood-Bell and RAVE-O. Dr. Kelli is a Past-President of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. She co-created and produced “Dyslexia for a Day: A Simulation of Dyslexia,” and she is a frequent speaker at conferences. She is the author of the well-received book, Dyslexia Advocate! How to Advocate for a Child with Dyslexia within the Public Education System.

Nicole Potter has always been interested in librarianship and information studies, in fact, her first job was in a library when she was sixteen years old. Since then, she has worked at a variety of cultural institutions, including academic libraries, an anthropology and paleontology museum, and a medical archive. She received her BA at St. Lawrence University (2015) and, currently, she is pursuing her Masters in Library and Information Studies with Certificate of Advanced Study in Cultural Heritage Preservation at Syracuse University. While she hopes to go on to work in paper conservation, she is also committed to the idea of radical librarianship. She knows that libraries can serve as agents of change and that social justice movements can begin there.

Jill Scarson is a Syracuse-area native with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration (SU 2010). She happily stumbled across the field of Information Studies as an undergraduate, working one-on-one with library administrators. Jill is currently pursuing her MLIS part-time while she works for Project Advance, Syracuse University’s program for concurrent enrollment in high schools. Although her primary interest lies within academic institutions, she is fascinated by the ever-evolving role of libraries as beacons for community engagement. She is particularly interested in policy, intellectual freedom, and the relationship between libraries and democracy. In her free time, Jill can be found reading, sewing, and utilizing her undergraduate degree to create hand-stitched “protest pieces”. It is her belief that libraries should provide communities with the tools and resources necessary to become (pro)active members of society.

Sheldon Lanier, Ed.S., Director of Equity Leadership & AVID

Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools

Shagufta Hakeem has a graduate degree in Liberal Studies from Duke University. Her research focus has been in the areas of the social sciences, education, gender studies. After serving a year as an AmeriCorps member, she is interested in doing research about history and educational policy.

Beth is a founding member of Books & Beyond. She has served as a faculty advisor, instructor, and advisory committee member since 2008. Vera is the assistant director of the Global Living Learning Center and has worked with the project since 2013.

Laura Brown, Interim Director at SCALE

Mattie McKines, America Reads & Counts Coordinator at SCALE

Areej Hussein, Bonner Leader at SCALE

Lesley N. Siegel is an assistant professor at Arcadia University. She teaches courses on inclusive education, content literacy, and differentiated instruction. Her research interests include the development of teacher dispositions for literacy and inclusion; the experiences of lesbian and gay faculty; and the role of public pedagogy in teacher preparation.

Dr. Melissa Kapadia-Bodi is a Philadelphia-based organizer, educator, and writer/researcher. As a lecturer in the Critical Writing program at the University of Pennsylvania, she works with first-year writing students learning to write in the disciplines. Through her prior work as an academic secretary, she created writing workshops and served as an unofficial writing coach for academic support staff. In her research, Melissa examines how academic support staff write, navigate power, and tell stories in the workplace. In addition, she studies how academic support staff do unofficial labor at work and how they use workplace literacy practices as tools of resistance.

Register here!


Non-Members Pricing:

General Admission: $50

AmeriCorps/Student: $10

Unpaid Volunteer: $20

Please fill out a registration form here and if you are a non-member you will be directed to our payment portal.