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Improving early literacy achievement in Michigan is focus of conference

Diversity in literature emphasized during event

LANSING – Six hundred educators from around Michigan gathered to learn more about the latest ways to teach children to become better readers. 

Thursday’s 2024 Diversity in Literacy Symposium – with the theme “The How and Why of Literacy” – supports Goal 2 of the Michigan Department of Education’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan, to improve early literacy achievement. The Michigan Department of Education co-sponsored the day-long event at the Lansing Center in partnership with the Michigan Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports Technical Assistance Center. 

The symposium featured nationally renowned writers Ifa Bayeza, co-author of “Some Sing, Some Cry,” and Dr. Anita Archer, author of “Explicit Instruction.” Also presenting was Nandi Comer, Michigan’s poet laureate and author of “American Family: A Syndrome,” and Angela Joy, author of “Black is A Rainbow Color.”

Bayeza told the story of her journey growing up in Missouri and New Jersey, when she was often one of the few Black students in her class and faced biases from her teachers. She offered encouragement to the educators at the symposium.

“You never know what may be the moment. You never know what might be the spark when you change a child’s life or she changes yours,” Bayeza said. “You are their guides and the ones with whom we entrust our future. Let’s look in the mirror and see what we see. Shall we? Sometimes that’s all a child needs. Sometimes that’s all a child wants – ‘I see you.’”

Dr. Archer provided the educators with details on explicit instruction, the topic of her book, which is described as systematic, direct, engaging and success-oriented instruction that has promoted achievement for all students. She talked about the importance of educators removing barriers that otherwise would result in children not being able to read.

“It is why we gather here today to be with really fine people having a very important mission for a critical outcome,” Dr. Archer said. “And that is literacy that allows access to literature for all.”

State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice shared how, as a child, he was a voracious reader whose mom took him to the library regularly. But it wasn’t until after college that he read diverse literature by writers such as Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and James Baldwin. 

Now Dr. Rice believes educators need to be familiar with diverse authors so they can share their works with students. “Educators: You can’t lead it if you don’t read it,” he told symposium attendees. “You can only lead what you know. Which is why we’re here today.”

In discussing the importance of diversity in literacy, he referenced “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors,” a metaphor from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop of Ohio State University that says books are mirrors when readers see their own lives reflected in the pages, windows when they allow readers a view of lives and stories that are different from their own, and sliding glass doors when readers feel transported into the world of the story and feel empathy for the characters.

Participants engaged in interactive professional learning sessions, shared personal stories of how they discovered the joy of reading, and discussed the importance of students having access to diverse and reflective literature.

They also considered the importance and impact of literacy instruction based on science of reading research – which is being emphasized in Michigan schools to ensure all students have the necessary skills to read accurately, fluently, and with strong comprehension. Michigan educators can sign up for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling – commonly known as LETRS – training to learn more about the Science of Reading. Funding for the training was approved by the Michigan Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Whitmer.

Jamie MacMillan, a learning specialist at Northwest Early Elementary School in Jackson County, attended a presentation at the conference called “Fostering Family Partnerships in Literacy.” MacMillan, who specializes in reading intervention, said the topic is a good fit for initiatives at her school.

“We’re really trying to reach out and strengthen our partnerships with our parents,” she said. “I think – especially since COVID – a lot of districts are dealing with that. The presentation provided good ideas about how to reach out to parents and how to engage them. Include them in the process. Ask them, ‘What are your goals for your child and how can we come alongside you and support you?”

The “How and Why of Literacy” are both needed to support and provide a literacy program framework for successful readers. The “how” refers to researched and evidence-based approaches to literacy instruction that serve as the building blocks for students to learn to read. The “why” of literacy speaks to those literacy learning experiences that encourage students’ joy, motivation and engagement.

The literacy symposium occurred during March is Reading Month, as proclaimed by Gov. Whitmer. 

During the month, MDE invites educators to submit their March is Reading Month plans and celebrations through the Michigan Reads! School Celebrations Form. MDE will compile the responses received and share them statewide so educators can learn from one another. All submissions will be entered into a drawing to receive special recognition and a commemoration keepsake. The department is also offering schools the opportunity to request MDE guest readers to come to their classrooms in March and beyond. Schools can request an MDE guest reader by completing an MDE Guest Reader Request Form. They can get more information by emailing

Ifa Bayeza

Ifa Bayeza, co-author of “Some Sing, Some Cry,” is shown speaking at the Diversity in Literacy Symposium.

Dr. Rice and Sexton students

State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice, right, is shown at the symposium with Lansing Sexton High School students and staff. Students, participated in a writing and public speaking workshop with Nandi Comer, Michigan’s poet laureate, third from right, back row.


March is reading month flyer

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