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Leading Literacy is a podcast co-hosted by Leslie Zoroya, Coordinator of Reading Language Arts, and Mara Shinn Smith, Senior Program Specialist, at the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Join Leslie & Mara as they engage in literacy conversations that both inspire and instruct.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 1 - Interviewing Leslie & Mara

Welcome to Leading Literacy, a new podcast from Reading Language Arts. In this first episode, we get to know Leslie and Mara and find out why they decided to give podcasting a shot.



Episode 2 - Spell Master Extraordinaire

Leslie & Mara are thrilled to chat with their dear friend and spell master extraordinaire, Donna Van Allen! If you've ever wondered what it's like to host a county-wide spelling bee, look no further. In this short episode, Donna shares tips for future spelling bee contestants and her experiences from over a decade as the  spell master for the LA County Spelling Bee. Is it possible to stump a spell master? Find out!



Episode 3 - Carolyn Strom

Leslie & Mara welcome Dr. Carolyn Strom - first grade teacher, turned reading specialist/literacy consultant, turned NYU Professor. Carolyn joins the podcast to discuss the pervasive gaps between research and practice and the importance of connecting the two for our earliest learners - whose brains are developing the most! You won't want to miss this lively conversation!

Click here to download a copy Dr. Strom's Family Playlist and Extension Activities.



Episode 4 - Natalie Wexler

Natalie Wexler shares her insights and thoughts with Leslie and Mara about her two books: The Knowledge Gap and The Writing Revolution. Join the conversation as Natalie discusses the importance of immersing all students of varied socioeconomic backgrounds, with content knowledge about the world and then linking that knowledge to explicit writing instruction.

Click on the following links to read Natalie Wexler's articles:

The Need for Explicit Instruction in Teaching Students to Write Well

Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong



Episode 5 - Emily Hanford

Leading Literacy is so excited to have Emily Hanford! Emily is a senior education correspondent at American Public Media Reports and a total science of reading rockstar! She's been working in public media for over 2 decades as a reporter, producer, news editor, and program host. She's won all kind of awards and is one of our reading heroes. Be prepared to have your mind blown!

Click on the following links to read Emily Hanford's articles:

Hard Words

At a Loss for Words

What the Words Say



Episode 6 - Elizabeth Jimenez Salinas

Join Leslie, Mara, and Elizabeth Jimenez Salinas as they discuss the "superpowers" of being bilingual and practical strategies to implement in the classroom to help all English learners. Elizabeth brings her knowledge and experience from her days as a bilingual educator, advocate and consultant. Elizabeth is amazing!

Click on the following links to access the resources mentioned in this podcast:

Cognates Resources

Eradicating Learned Passivity

Homework Questions and Prompts for Long Term English Learners

Language Organizer

Reparable Harm Document


LeadingLiteracy Episode 7 - Jeff Share

Leslie and Mara are delighted to welcome UCLA professor, Dr. Jeff Share, co-author of The Critical Media Literacy Guide: Engaging Media and Transforming Education.  In a world full of “fake” news and information over-load, Jeff shares his passion and insights into the field of critical media literacy and how educators can help students analyze memes, verify sources, and investigate biases.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 8 - Louisa Moats

Leading Literacy is over-the-moon excited and honored to welcome THE Dr. Louise Moats.  Dr. Moats has dedicated her entire career to literacy education as a teacher, researcher, psychologist, graduate school faculty member, and author.  Dr. Moats was kind enough to drop in and have a chat with us about the importance of the science of reading.  You won’t want to miss what she has to share!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 9 - Maryanne Wolf

Leslie and Mara welcome Dr. Maryanne Wolf on Leading Literacy. Dr. Wolf is the director for the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. She is an author and advocate for children and literacy around the world. Dr. Wolf shares her knowledge and passion on how to help build “the reading brain” for all of our students.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 10 - Jessica Hamman

Leading Literacy welcomes Jessica Hamman, founder and CEO of Glean Education. Jessica has worked in education for close to two decades. She started Glean Education to empower educators with best practices to support struggling students. Jessica has much to share during our conversation, including her deep knowledge and experiences with dyslexia. You won't want to miss it!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 11 - Teacher Roundtable

We have a very special episode of Leading Literacy - our very first teacher roundtable discussion! We are thrilled to welcome Xochitl Morales (K teacher, Los Altos Elem., South Whittier SD), Andrea Castaneda (SPED Autism Spectrum Disorder Mod/Sev. teacher, Lone Hill MS, Bonita USD), Ella Farinas (Instructional Coach & 6-8 AVID Coordinator, Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy, Pasadena USD), Curtis Duong (8th grade teacher, Garfield Elem., Alhambra USD), and Jenna Kamp (12th grade English teacher, University Prep. Value Charter HS). Listen in to hear their experiences and how educators are adjusting and coping during the pandemic. We are so proud of our hard-working educators and we couldn't be more excited to highlight these rockstars!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 12 - Ricky Robertson

Ricky Robertson stops by Leading Literacy to discuss the importance of student trauma and adversity and how it impacts their educational experience and outcome.  As a former teacher, Ricky provides a unique lens through which to serve students who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACES).  Currently as an author, consultant, and coach, Ricky supports schools and districts to develop multi-tiered social-emotional and behavioral supports that are both trauma-informed and culturally responsive.  Ricky is a co-author of the book, Building Resilience in Students Impacted by Adverse Childhood Experiences: A Whole Staff Approach.  You can learn more about Ricky and his work on his website:  www.buildingresilienceinstudents.com 


LeadingLiteracy Episode 13 - Margaret Goldberg

Leading Literacy welcomes Margaret Goldberg for a chat about all things science of reading, coaching, and evidence-based reading instruction.  Currently, Margaret is a first grade teacher in a Title 1 school in Oakland and has served in her district in a variety of literacy leadership roles.  She is the co-founder of The Right to Read Project, a group of teachers, researchers, and activists committed to the pursuit of equity through literacy.  Margaret has tons of knowledge to share!  Check out her amazing blog, reading resources, and infographics at https://righttoreadproject.com/ and on Reading Rockets https://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/right-to-read.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 14 - Thomishia Booker

Today on Leading Literacy we are thrilled to welcome licensed therapist, author, mother and advocate, Dr. Thomishia Booker. Dr. Booker is the author of three books and CEO of HeyCarterBooks. Her self-published book, "Brown Boy Joy" has been featured in the Netflix Family series, "Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices." Dr. Booker's background serves as a foundation for writing books focused on building self-confidence and pride among children of color. Be sure to drop in to listen.

Click on the following link to learn more about Dr. Booker: Meet the Self-Published Author Who Negotiated a Deal with Netflix

As mentioned in the podcast, learn more about Black Literacy Collective


LeadingLiteracy Episode 15 - Dr. Julie Washington

Leading Literacy welcomes UC Irvine School of Education professor, Dr. Julie Washington. Dr. Washington's research is focused on the intersection of literacy, language variation, and poverty. Her work pays a particular focus on understanding the role of cultural dialect in the identification of reading disabilities in school-aged African American children. We hope you enjoy this gem of a conversation as much as we did.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 16 - Dr. Kathryn Edwards & Leslie Zoroya

On this special episode of Leading Literacy, Mara interviews Leslie and Dr. Kathryn Edwards, the Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at LACOE. Leslie and Kathryn recently completed a year-long project in collaboration with UCLA and the Center for Powerful Public Schools and Riverside County Office of Education, on a document entitled, Supporting the African American Learner: A Guide for Transforming Beliefs, Systems and Practices for Black Students. Leslie and Kathryn's passion will inspire and motivate as they discuss how this document can be put into practice to ensure better outcomes for Black students. You won't want to miss it!


LeadingLiteracy Episode 17 - Francisco X. Stork

Leslie and Mara interview celebrated young adult fiction author, Francisco X. Stork. Francisco has a very interesting backstory as a young immigrant from Mexico and overcoming many obstacles to attend both Harvard University and Columbia Law School. Although Francisco worked many years as a lawyer, it was his true passion of writing that led him to success as an author of nine young adult novels. We are so excited to share this genuine conversation. 

Click here to learn more about Francisco and his work.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 18 - WriteGirl L.A. Founder:  

Keren Taylor 

In this must-listen episode of Leading Literacy, Leslie and Mara have a wonderful discussion with Keren Taylor, Executive Director and Founder of WriteGirl L.A. Keren shares her journey in developing and expanding WriteGirl into a nationally-recognized writing and mentoring organization aimed at helping underserved Los Angeles teens discover and express their creative voices. Join this inspiring conversation and you'll catch yourself smiling right along with us! 

Learn more about WriteGirl L.A.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 19 - L.A. County Poet Laureate: Lynne Thompson

Leading Literacy has the honor and privilege to welcome L.A. County's 2021 Poet Laureate, Lynne Thompson. Listen in and get to know Lynne and the unconventional path that led her to this special role. Enjoy! 

Read more about Lynne on the Los Angeles Public Library website.


LeadingLiteracy Episode 20 - Dr. Katie Novak & Mirko Chardin

Leading Literacy is super thrilled and honored to welcome Dr. Katie Novak and Mirko Chardin to the podcast to talk about their new book, "Equity by Design: Delivering on the Power and Promise of UDL." Katie is a world-known educator, college professor, author, and has done extensive work around Universal Design for Learning. Mirko Chardin is also an educator and founding head of a school in Massachusetts as well as a hip-hop artist. Katie and Mirko both bring their authentic selves, knowledge, and passion around social justice, equity, and UDL. This conversation elevates the pairing of: will and skill. Your equity-educator-self will LOVE this episode!

Click here to learn more about Katie and Mirko, their work, and their latest book.