Reading for Equity: Naomi O’Brien

So, what would you want to do on your maternity leave? Answer some email questions about creating a culturally responsive learning environment in our schools through literacy, perhaps?!

The one and only Naomi O’Brien was willing to do just that which is why she is amazing, and we wanted to feature her in our literacy leader spotlight week. Her instagram, @readlikearockstar, pushes our thinking and promotes engaging conversations in communities near and far. We appreciate her taking the time to share her thoughts with us this week and hope you glean much from our interview.

Naomi O’Brien aka @ReadlikeaRockstar

TMP: Congratulations on your newborn! Not that you need one more thing on your plate right now, but we truly appreciate your time to answer these questions via email. Thank you for being willing to be featured as one of our fierce females leading the way with your expertise in literacy!

Tell us more about you and your work in schools.

NO: I am a primary teacher and have been teaching for 10 years. I have taken the year off for maternity leave, but I just finished a year in first grade. I love teaching kindergarten and first grade. I am currently in Orlando. I just moved back after living in Denver for 6 years.  I have been married for 9 years and my husband and I have two sons- a 4 year old and a 4 week old! I love talking with friends and talking with other educators about how to make schools more engaging and equitable for all students, especially as it pertains to race.TMP: Which is why we have so enjoyed being a part of your social media community as you push those conversations forward. Tell us more about your areas of expertise within literacy? How do you share those within your role?

NO: My strengths in literacy are building background knowledge that allows kids to access texts in ways they may not have before. I also love exposing students to diverse characters and using picture books to build their perspectives about the world around them. I create my own nonfiction texts to pair with picture books to ensure that all of my students have the background knowledge and vocabulary needed to truly comprehend a text. I facilitate discussions and use distributed summarizing to ensure that all students are participating and engaging during reading lessons.Another area of strength I have is building phonological awareness in my students in a fun way. I love using technology and thinking maps to enhance my lessons.

TMP: Distributed summarizing to promote accessibility for all readers is so powerful. We can’t wait to feature that further as we dive into that strategy in our schools, too. What is your favorite children’s book and why?

NO: Chocolate Me. It’s a great way to start a conversation about racism and being an advocate in the classroom.

TMP: We just discovered this book by Taye Diggs at a recent session on finding texts that are mirrors to students’ own lives and experiences. Plus Taye Diggs does an online reading, which is a win, win, right?

Tell us about a favorite resource or author on literacy and why? How do you use it in your role?

NO: My favorite resource is a resource I created called Phonological Awareness Activities. I project different types of activities that help my students build their phonological awareness. We practice phoneme substitution, blending, segmenting words, beginning sounds, etc. I love to see them grow quickly and become readers as they master these skills. I use a PowerPoint I created with bright visuals. My students are partnered up and have dry erase boards to work with as well. They work hard and it pays off!TMP: Those skills are the building blocks of literacy and so easy for teachers to rush to phonics before putting in the time to master the phonological skills. So critical to becoming a reader of the English language! So what are the ways you ensure literacy experiences promote equity?

NO: I am intentional about the text I place in front of my students. I make sure all of my students have access to the lessons I am teaching.TMP: What is your greatest hurdle in literacy, and how have you worked to overcome it?

NO: A lack of representation in the books provided by a school or reading program. To overcome this hurdle, I just buy my own books and create my own lessons that promote literacy and have representation.

TMP: Important for all teachers to know that if your literacy resource is not representative of all students, not just the ones in your classroom, you must supplement with the right resources. Thank you so much for your insight and sharing. We appreciate your incredible knowledge and impact through your daily work and social media presence!

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