Background knowledge

Meet Monica Brown!

Monica Brown’s life is full of words. She not only writes for and teaches adults, she introduces children to memorable characters in fact and fiction. I met Monica first through stories about Marisol, Lola, and Celia Cruz but one day met the woman behind the words. I stopped at a booth during a conference and met the writer who brought these characters to life for me. Happily, she agreed to answer my seemingly endless questions to share with a broader audience.

Monica Brown

Map Fun: Creating a Visual Itinerary

Shen family trip to France

This summer we traveled to France for a friend’s wedding and the Tour de France. It was a trip that included a long road trip with multiple stops. I thought a fun way to get the kids excited about the trip would be a map exercise: creating a visual itinerary to help the kids understand where we were going and what we’d be seeing.

Sun versus Shade Experiment

Weather book

We live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and it’s been hot. Really hot. And based on the weather reports we’ve seen this summer, much of this country has experienced at least one, if not many heat waves already. Addie and I have been reading about the topic of weather, and she was curious about how hot things can get under the sun.

Do Architects Build Dollhouses?


When you ask my daughter Addie what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll say a number of things, one of which is wanting to be an architect. When you ask her why she wants to be an architect, she’ll tell you that buildings come in all sorts of interesting shapes and designs. She may also mention that it’d be fun to build dollhouses.

Imaginations Take Flight

Last month I read an article about Clip-Air, a concept for a new modular aircraft. Clip-Air would separate the wings from the fuselage so that body of the plane could be loaded with passengers or cargo anywhere — like a bus station or train depot — and then driven to the wings for takeoff. Even more cool is that up to three passenger or cargo units could be attached to one set of wings!

A Fine Mess: Confusing Close Reading and Text Complexity

Reader question:

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go Olympics!


Smithsonian Learning Labs: Can Digital Images, Recordings, and Texts Transform Learning?

The Smithsonian's Learning Lab team members are in Denver, Colorado this week for the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. Staff members traveled to unveil more than one million digital resources that students can use to discover, create, and share.

Further Explanation of Teaching Students with Challenging Text

Last week I pointed out that from grades 2-12 it wasn’t necessary to match students to text for instruction to proceed effectively. Research has not been kind to the idea of mechanical “instructional level” criteria like 90-95% accuracy (e.g., Jorgenson, Klein, & Kumar, 1977;  Kuhn, Schwanenflugel, Morris, Morrow, et al., 2006; Morgan, Wilcox, & Eldredge, 2000; O’Connor, Swanson, & Geraghty, 2010;  Powell, & Dunkeld, 1971;  Stahl, & Heubach, 2005;  Stanley, 1986).
Language learning doesn’t work that way.

Free "Summer of Listening" Podcasts Help Build Background Knowledge and Comprehension

Thanks Listen Current! Great stories await learners in grades 5-12 this summer and this listening comprehension program is free.


"Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!" — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943