FOCUS Newsletter Fall 2021

Georgia Association of Literacy Advocates (GALA)

FOCUS Issue 12


1. Welcome from the Current GALA Chair, Dale Ioannides

2. UPDATES from Local Councils

3. HOW TO...(with "Real Life" Examples from Around Georgia!)

  • HOW TO Create a Blind Date with a Book! by Carmen Thomason
  • Book Talks: HOW TO Spread the Love of Reading in Your Own Classroom by Bethany L. Scullin and Jennifer K. Allen
4. Feature Article
  • Teacher Educators: P-5 Community Literacy Advocates During a Pandemic by Jessica Morris

5. Book Review

  • Fighting Words (Bradley, 2020) by Bethany L. Scullin

6. Author's Chair!

  • Remember Me by Ashley Hill (Fictional Story)
  • Act Straight by Eden Russell (Poem)
  • What to Write by Autumn Morris (Narrative)

1. Welcome from the Current GALA Chair, Dale Ioannides

Dear Membership,

When asked to submit my recent thoughts around literacy in Georgia and our place in it, I went back into my Google Drive to read what I had written last year to see how my thinking has evolved, or not. The first item that struck me was how uneasy feelings were one year ago, in myself and my coworkers’ personal and professional lives. That uneasiness has evolved for sure. On the one hand, there is hope. Our students in many areas are back in the classroom, and communities are opening back up. Some folks are even thinking of travel! This excitement is catching, and students feel us relaxing a bit. The second, though, is less uplifting. Educators will need to address academic recovery, pronto.

Over this past summer, I had the opportunity to learn and practice the academic recovery program my district has chosen for our students. Academic coaches will have to be on fire this year, and GALA hopes to serve as a support for both coaches and teachers as we address the loss of literacy instruction.

Data-driven practices, such as sharing the results and rubrics of DRAs (Developmental Reading Assessment) or BAS (Benchmark Assessment System) assessments with students will help put them in charge of their own learning, as well as explicitly naming the many parts of the reading process. My district, Atlanta Public Schools, is adding on an additional 30 minutes to each school day over the next three years. In addition, one tutor per grade level will pull the highest-risk students each day. Likely, your district is implementing similar initiatives that will include new learning or focus for you as a teacher. What keeps me up at night is the amount of screen time our new district plan involves, when my focus is also to instill a love of reading. This year’s 5th graders jumped for joy when they were able to finally do an assignment in their notebooks instead of a jamboard!

GALA’s goal is to provide support in this new educational environment. If you are reading this, you have seen our improved online interactive newsletter format, published through, where we now have the ability to incorporate video submissions. Our tweets keep coming and should help inform you about PD opportunities and new buzzes and initiatives in the educational field.

On behalf of the GALA board, we wish you a peaceful and productive start to the 2021-2022 school year! We have lots of volunteer positions and are in need of refreshed committee members and leaders. When you JOIN or RENEW your GALA membership, be sure to let us know your interests and how we can use your talents in building literacy teachers and learners.

Yours in education,

Dale Suzanne Ioannides, Ed.S.

GALA Chair

2. UPDATES from Local Councils

Henry Heritage Reading Council Hosts Annual Summer Reading Celebration

Each year as the school season winds down, members of the local GALA council, Henry Heritage Reading Council in Henry County, meet to share their suggestions for “entertaining” summer reading. As educators, we all know there are textbooks, professional development articles, etc. that need to be read over the summer, but we also finally have time for rest and relaxation. With that comes reading from the Top Ten list, some classics, and books that everyone is talking about. Due to Covid, we shared our books over Zoom, but we still enjoyed seeing each other and talking about books that we enjoyed reading. We left our meeting with well over a dozen book titles and summaries to choose from, and some worked out swapping books. We discovered that two of our educators had published books recently, and they were able to share their titles with us. In an upcoming meeting, we are looking forward to hosting our Henry County authors, an event that has always been one of our favorite meetings!

Anita Beasley, President

Henry Heritage Council

The International Literacy Association (ILA) announced on May 19, 2021, that the University of North Georgia is the latest recipient of ILA National Recognition with Distinction—the highest institutional honor awarded by ILA!

ILA National Recognition for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals recognizes outstanding literacy preparation programs in the United States with ILA National Recognition or ILA National Recognition with Distinction. By receiving ILA National Recognition with Distinction, the University of North Georgia’s Elementary Education program demonstrated that it adheres to a rigorous set of standards for preparing literacy professionals and exceeds ILA’s benchmarks.

“Our review team was particularly impressed with the University of North Georgia and their clear emphasis on continuous improvement in teaching across all areas of literacy,” said Diane Kern, ILA National Recognition program coordinator. “The teacher candidates, all of whom graduate with a reading endorsement, are provided with multiple opportunities to observe, teach, reflect, and improve as they progress through the rigorous and robust program. We are honored to award their program ILA National Recognition with Distinction.”

The University of North Georgia joins just two institutions that have received the distinction level of honor: The University of Texas at San Antonio and West Virginia University. In addition, Loyola University Maryland has earned ILA National Recognition.

The ILA National Recognition and ILA National Recognition with Distinction honor outstanding licensure, certificate, and endorsement programs that prepare reading/literacy specialists and elementary/intermediate classroom teachers.

THE SCIENCE of READING: A Yearlong Professional Development Journey (GaDOE)

Over the 2021-22 school year, the Cox Campus for Language & Literacy is offering a comprehensive Science of Reading course sequence. The GaDOE ELA Team has partnered with Cox Campus to offer facilitated courses before each live discussion with the Cox Campus team. Open to all educators–teachers, coaches, leaders, special educators, media specialists, paras, etc. All are welcome! More Information Here!

Call for Submissions FOCUS Newsletter SPRING 2022!

Submissions due by November 15, 2021

3. How To...(with "Real Life" Examples from Around Georgia!)

HOW TO Create a “Blind Date with a Book”

Carmen Thomason

UWG Teacher Education Student and an employee of the Warren P. Sewell Memorial Library in Bremen, GA

Blind Date with a Book was one of the ideas thrown around in one of our young adult readers’ advisory meetings at the Warren P. Sewell Memorial Library in Bremen, GA. A Blind Date with a Book is a hand-wrapped book, or collection of books, carefully selected from a wide range of genres that are tagged with interesting clues alluding to the book inside the wrapping. The idea centers around getting more people to read more books!

My library manager and I came up with different ideas to get all age groups of readers involved and try something new in their reading lives. We created different displays for different age groups, including “Spring Fling with a Book” for young adult readers, “Find your Sweetheart in a Book” for junior readers, and an adult blind date with a book. We've had great feedback from our readers, and they are looking forward to the next Blind Date with a Book we will hold later this fall!

Steps We Took to Create and Display Blind Dates with a Book: (These steps can be modified to fit the needs of a school classroom setting!)

  • Select between 20-25 age-appropriate books and make sure the books are interesting, have diverse characters, exciting storylines, and relevant social content. (I choose a mix of current classics, known and upcoming authors, and a variety of topics.)
  • Write down the barcode or any other identifiers you use in your library. (Significant step!)
  • Wrap the books in construction, brown shipping, or gift wrap paper. (Choose the right paper that goes with your display.)
  • For each book, read the book flap or review of the book; create by hand or software a small summary or catchphrase of the book, secure the summary or catchphrase on the front cover of the book. (Make sure that you place the proper summary on the right book...yes, things can happen!)
  • Write the barcode or your identifiers on the back of the covered book.
  • Use construction paper strips or twine as a strap around the book so that no one can see inside of the book. (Ribbons are suitable, too. Use your imagination to create a fun and inviting display.)
  • Display your blind date books; to attract your target readers, present them in a fun and exciting way. An eye-catching display is everything!
  • Establish and display rules, like just one book at a time, rate your “Blind Date,” etc.
  • If it’s possible, you can draw a prize at the end of the contest. (We use the “Rate your Date” bookmark slips to draw a winner. Please refer to the photo gallery below.)

Book Talks: HOW TO Spread the Love of Reading in Your Own Classroom

Dr. Bethany L. Scullin, Assistant Professor of Literacy at the University of West Georgia

Dr. Jennifer K. Allen, Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of West Georgia

In our Children's Literature classes at the University of West Georgia, we are passionate about our preservice education students spreading the love of reading to their future elementary students. One of the assignments specifically focused on extending this love is called a Book Talk. A Book Talk is a short (2-4 minutes or less) presentation about a book with the goal of convincing others to read it.

To introduce this assignment, we first model our own Book Talk in front of our class, so our students have the opportunity to see what a Book Talk entails. We typically follow these guidelines to talk about one of our favorite books:

1. Introduce yourself and the book. Include your name, title of the book, author, publication date, and why you chose this book to share with others.

2. Provide a short summary of the story without giving away the ending. You might want to talk about the main character a bit or other interesting characters. Maybe discuss something you learned or thought was exciting.

3. At some point, you will need to show the actual book to your audience. Consider showing the book’s cover and a couple of pages inside the book to show how the text is formatted, especially if you’re sharing a picture book, poetry, or a graphic novel.

4. Show your excitement for the book! Explain why you liked reading this particular book. For example, you might refer to the book’s genre, how the author writes, what makes the characters interesting, and so on.

5. (optional) Read a short passage from the book and explain why you like that part so much!

6. Thank your audience for listening to your Book Talk.

We also point out to our preservice teachers that their passion for reading and sharing books is CONTAGIOUS. They should strive to display this excitement when completing their Book Talk assignment for class and during their future Book Talks with their prospective students.

Take a look at the three Book Talks posted below which were conducted by public school students in Georgia!

Do you want to see your Book Talk in our next FOCUS Newsletter? Please select THIS LINK for more information! Submissions DUE November 15, 2021.

Raising Lumie Book Talk 2021
Isaac Book Talk on Rescue
Ground Zero Book Talk 2021


Teacher Educators: P-5 Community Literacy Advocates During a Pandemic

Dr. Jessica Morris, Assistant Professor of Education and Teacher Preparation at the College of Coastal Georgia

During a pandemic, how are we supposed to be literacy advocates in our community? This was the question that was proving difficult to answer when I was thinking about my own practice in 2020. While I was already struggling with my own role in providing safe advocacy for literacy in our community, I also had the aspiring P-5 teacher candidates in my literacy education courses in mind. How could these teacher candidates practice P-5 literacy skills while also making an impact on the current needs of the community?

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning (in the form of Service-Learning) proved to be the answer. Experiential learning highlights the power of reflection in shaping active experiences (Figure 1. Please select the graphic in the top right corner for an expanded view of Figure 1). Service-Learning projects are purposefully planned service projects within a college course that place emphasis on not only academic outcomes but on community needs. As if on cue, the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Georgia voiced an interest in our teacher candidates volunteering (in a safe capacity) to help their P-5 students with deficits in reading and writing skills due to pandemic-related issues. This became our opportunity to hone in on challenging literacy issues in the community while also practicing research-based instructional strategies in an after-school setting.

Reader’s Notebooks and Learners

Using Reader’s Notebooks (Fountas & Pinnell, 2016) as a tool for “writing about reading,” our teacher candidates volunteered throughout the course of the semester with students at the Boys and Girls Club. The Reader’s Notebook was used as a flexible resource with students to promote “writing about reading” skills depending upon needs and abilities. Teachers candidates were required to work through webinars and trainings so that they would adequately understand the various ways a Reader’s Notebook could be used with P-5 students. In addition to promoting academic growth as an outcome of this project, teacher candidates were also required to spend time getting to know their learners at the after-school program. This proved to be the most important step for the teacher candidates to experience, as they began to authentically understand the individual needs of their learners as a crucial step to then implementing developmentally appropriate instructional strategies.

Experiential Learning Here to Stay

The experience of incorporating an experiential project involving community Service-Learning, literacy-based instructional strategies, and reflective analysis for aspiring P-5 educators was one that was rewarding. Requiring aspiring teachers to practice a challenging skill with students (writing about reading) while giving back to the community and promoting strong literacy practices proved to be a practice that will remain in my courses for years to come.

*For examples of teacher candidate projects, the following link provides access to The College of Coastal Georgia’s 2021 Digital Service-Learning Symposium:


Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2016). Literacy continuum: A tool for assessment, planning and Teaching (Expanded ed.). Heinemann.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall.

5. Book Review

Fighting Words (Bradley, 2020)

Dr. Bethany L. Scullin, Assistant Professor of Literacy at the University of West Georgia

Let me tell you about a book that I’ve been waiting for and didn’t even know it. A book that I read in one day and touched me to the core. A book that we, as a society, have needed for a very long time. It’s Fighting Words (2020) written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Right off the bat, we learn about Della, a ten-year-old steadfast girl who just reveals a new tattoo on her wrist. Yes, she’s ten and has a tattoo. As a former teacher, I’m sad to say I might have reacted in the same bothered way Della’s teacher, Ms. Devonte, does on the opening page:

Della,she says, “is that a tattoo?

I hold up my wrist to show it to her.It’s an ampersand,” I say, careful to pronounce the word correctly.

I know that, Ms. Davonte says. Is it real?

It’s so real, it still hurts, and the skin around it is red and puffy. Yes, Ma’am,I say.

She [Ms. Devonte] shakes her head and mutters. I am not one of her favorite students. I may be one of her least favorite students.

I don’t care. I love, love, love my ampersand tattoo. (p. 5)


Della and her older sister Suki are inseparable. These two have taken care of each other ever since their mother was arrested for a meth lab explosion in the motel room they were renting. Both sisters, much younger then, are taken in by their mother's boyfriend, Clifton, who is presumed to be their father, however, no one ever looked into the legitimacy of the relationship.

Fast forward years later and Della (now 10) and Suki (16) are placed in the care of Francine, a foster parent. It is not until much later in the story that we learn the girls were removed from Clifton's care because of sexual assault.

Revealing her story slowly but purposefully, Della prepares us as readers when things are about to get ugly. The author, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, does an incredible job of only using words that matter, so when the truth of the assault is exposed, it is done so in an understandable and honest way. What I truly appreciated about this book was how it tells a story in a way to let children know they are not alone, without trying to make it seem like these are normal experiences.

Let me tell you this book is a handful in the same way life is a handful. However, it is well balanced and left me with very positive feelings. Unfortunately, there will be people who want to keep books like this out of the hands of the very readers who need them the most. This would be an injustice not only to our young readers but to humankind. This is a necessary book as one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted in the United States before the age of 18. It is time for educators like us to genuinely ask our students like Della, “Will you please tell me more about your ampersand tattoo?

Fighting Words. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. 2020. Dial Books for Young Readers. 272pp. $17.99, ISBN: 9781984815682

  • Newbery Honor Book

  • Boston Globe Best Book of the Year

  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

  • Kirkus Best Book of the Year

  • New York Public Library Best Book of the Year

  • Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Choices Selection

  • Junior Library Guild Selection

Other recommended books written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley:

The War that Saved My Life (2015)

  • Newbery Honor Book

  • Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award

The War I Finally Won (2017) *sequel*

  • Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People (2018)

  • New York Times Best Seller

Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children (2011)

  • Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People (2012)

GALA Fall 2021 Planning Meeting

Saturday, Aug. 21st, 9am

This is an online event.

Please join us for our FALL 2021 planning meeting with fellow GALA members! Feel free to attend even if you're not a member, but are interested in learning more about our organization!

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 864 3417 4606

Passcode: se0Q9Z

RSVPs are enabled for this event.

6. Author's Chair!

Please take a minute to read...

REMEMBER ME (Creative Fiction)

Written by Ashley Hill

University of West Georgia

Teacher Education Student with a Minor in Creative Writing

"Act Straight" (Poem)

Written by Eden Russell

University of West Georgia

Teacher Education Student

What to Write (Narrative)

Written by Autumn Morris

Call for Submissions FOCUS Newsletter SPRING 2022!

Submissions due by November 15, 2021

FOCUS: A Newsletter of the Georgia Association of Literacy Advocates (GALA)

Dr. Bethany L. Scullin, FOCUS Newsletter Editor

FOCUS Editorial Reviewers

Dr. Jennifer K. Allen

Dr. Robert A. Griffin

Dr. Tamra W. Ogletree