Each weekday, Reading Rockets gathers interesting news headlines about reading and early education. Please note that Reading Rockets does not necessarily endorse these views or any others on these outside websites.
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Talking with adolescents about race and identity is important but may also feel daunting. At Jesuit High School (JHS) in Portland, OR, Gene Luen Yang’s Printz Award–winning graphic novel American Born Chinese has made these discussions more effective. During the “Using Graphic Novels To Develop Racial Literacy in Teens” panel at SLJ’s October 7 Leadership Summit in Nashville, educators and high school seniors at JHS expounded on how the book facilitated conversations and led to often painful realizations. Though National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Yang was also on hand, it was the teens’ insightful comments that had the greatest impact.
For close to two decades now, or even longer, depending on your perspective, education reform has been on the agenda of Democrats and Republicans alike, school leaders around the country and major philanthropists who have influenced the debate. It’s all led to big changes, new laws and programs, tougher requirements and additional funding, lots more testing, and occasional school closings and teacher layoffs. But what has it all brought? Our former education correspondent John Merrow chronicled these efforts for our program for many years. He now looks back and into the future with a critique and with prescriptions in his new book, “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education.”
In her first few years as a young teacher in New Orleans during the 1970s, Kathleen Whalen was overwhelmed by classroom management. As both a newcomer to the city and a white woman teaching in historically black schools, the language and cultural gaps made it particularly challenging to communicate effectively with the students at times. But by her fifth year of teaching, Whalen felt like she had finally hit her stride when it came to classroom management. That’s when a new kind of challenge presented itself: a small, sweet-faced kindergartener named Jonathan Johnson who just wouldn’t talk.
Schoolchildren who read and write at home with their parents may build not only their academic literacy skills, but also other important life and learning skills, a recent study found. The project, a study by researchers at the University of Washington, followed children for five years, either grades one through five or three through seven. It looked at their reading and writing activities at home, their school progress and their skills, both according to their parents’ reports and according to annual assessments.When we speak of literacy and literacy promotion, we need to acknowledge how much literacy encompasses. Yes, it’s a key to success in school, with all that implies about life trajectory, earning power and socioeconomic status. It’s also a key to citizenship and enfranchisement in society, to your ability to understand and take part in all the discourse that shapes your community and your country and your world. It’s the product of a whole range of brain circuits from vocabulary and vision and visual processing to memory and meaning.
Some students have an even harder time learning to read than most. These reading struggles can persist even when students have average to above average cognitive abilities and explicit reading instruction. Fortunately, in recent years, new research has allowed us to better understand how to help readers for whom this is true. Current statistics indicate one in five students or 20 percent of people struggle with learning to read. Regardless of whether a student has a diagnosed reading disability such as dyslexia, if a child is struggling with decoding words, the treatment is often the same. In “Overcoming Dyslexia,” Sally Shaywitz highlights that struggling readers need intense instruction that is systematic, research-based and multisensory. There are many programs that Shaywitz discusses in her book such as Orton-Gillingham based programs and Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program, or LiPS. Any program should include intensive instruction in phonology, which is the ability to hear and understand how sounds are organized in words, since this is often considered the core deficit in students with reading challenges.
In its first five years, closing schools and shifting students to higher-performing district and charter schools did more to boost Newark, N.J.'s achievement than improvement efforts in the schools overall, according to a new study. In a working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers from Harvard and Dartmouth universities found that higher-performing schools in the Newark district provided a buffer for the shock of disruption in the early years of the initiative and gave improvement programs within schools more time to gain traction. The study comes as Newark reverts from state to local control of schools this year, and residents debate how to shape the district in the future.
Many states have failed to enact policies that support young children from families in which languages other than English are spoken, a new report from the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute has found. In its survey and analysis of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Migration Policy Institute found that many states don't support the early learning of dual-language learners—which the organization defines as children who are 8 or younger with at least one parent who speaks a language other than English. The dual-language-learner population has grown by about 24 percent since 2000, and now represents about 32 percent of the nation's children in that age group. A patchwork of policies across the country has meant that many of the children lack access to high-quality prekindergarten courses, which can boost school readiness and provide a foundation for future success in school. That lack of access contributes to the gaps in achievement between English-learners and non-English-learners that begin in elementary school and can continue throughout their K-12 education.
Will we continue on our current path of steadily weakening the only resource that can turn our schools around — our teachers — or will we join the ranks of the world’s top-performing education systems and do what it takes to give our schools one of the finest teaching forces in the world? As states across the nation have now submitted their plans for addressing educational equity and quality under the Every Student Succeeds Act, this is a critical question. There is no mystery about what needs to be done. We have recently released “Empowered Educators,” a massive study of teaching quality in the world’s high-performing education systems. This global body of evidence shows that in order to deliver the quality of education our children will need in tomorrow’s world, we must forge a new commitment to the teaching profession focused on building effective systems to support educators and their work.
Kindergarten entry assessments, which some states call "kindergarten readiness assessments" or "kindergarten entry inventories," are intended to guide a teacher's instructional practice. They may include direct assessment of children's skills, teacher observations, or both. They're intended to give teachers a well-rounded picture of the whole child, including his or her academic, social, and physical development. While these assessments are becoming more widespread, they're offering mixed results for teachers and for school districts. Supporters say they're useful in supporting all elements of a child's development during their important early school days. Others have criticized the assessments as an additional burden that doesn't let teachers know what they should do with all the data they're expected to collect. And the assessments also raise concerns for some that they'll be used for high-stakes purposes, like evaluating teachers or sorting children into educational tracks.
It is our belief that levels have no place in classroom libraries, in school libraries, in public libraries, or on report cards. That was certainly not our intention that levels be used in these ways. We designed the F&P Text Level Gradient™ to help teachers think more analytically about the characteristics of texts and their demands on the reading process, and the A to Z levels were used to show small steps from easiest to most difficult. The goal was for teachers to learn about the characteristics of each level to inform their decisions in teaching—how they introduce a book, how they discuss a book, how they help children problem-solve as they process a book. We created the levels for books, and not as labels for children, and our goal was that these levels be in the hands of people who understand their complexity and use them to make good decisions in instruction.
In 2017, Davis Magnet was one of the highest-performing schools in Mississippi on the spring STAR Early Literacy exam, a kindergarten readiness assessment, which is given twice each school year, in the fall and then in the spring. Principal Kathleen Grigsby says she knows her school is unique in that it has a screening process for admission and students tend to enter kindergarten with fairly strong skills as early readers. Despite this, Grigsby says her young students still have specific reading deficits, especially when it comes to phonics, and many are dealing with the effects of poverty. Grigsby said every student at the school receives free or reduced-price lunch. Here are four practices she says make a big impact and could be replicated at other schools.
As a child growing up in Fullerton, John Rodrigues heard the criticisms over and over in response to his poor performance in the classroom. He internalized the negative comments. At 16, he dropped out of high school. It wasn’t until years later that Rodrigues, now 47, discovered his low grades had nothing to do with a lack of intelligence or work ethic. “At the time I didn’t know it but I was an undiagnosed dyslexic,” said Rodrigues, a husband and father of a 5-year old girl, who now dedicates his life to raising awareness about the learning disorder through his nonprofit ThinkLexic. October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month, and Rodrigues’ message is this: Dyslexia is not a condition to be loathed or stigmatized but a unique gift to be lauded.
Children’s book author Mac Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen are friends first, co-workers second. “Jon and I became friends before we started making books together, which is not the way it usually goes,” Barnett explained in an interview with the Deseret News. “Most of the time, the authors and the illustrators don’t know each other and they don’t get to talk to each other, but Jon and I became friends first because we met at a book party and we both loved the same books growing up.” It only takes a minute talking to the writer-and-illustrator duo to see they have a quick wit and strong rapport — traits that shine through in their books. Barnett, a New York Times best-selling and Caldecott Honor-winning writer, and Klassen, a Caldecott Medal-winning writer and illustrator, recently released their fourth children’s book together, The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance for states and regions affected by natural disasters. As of now, that includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as other states that are receiving displaced students. That's with another two months of hurricane season ahead of us, and doesn't include the major disaster declaration just made today in California, which is dealing with deadly wildfires in the Napa Valley region. In general, the Education Department said, it wants to provide what support it can to states and regions as they recover and rebuild, said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Move over, English/language arts and math: Publishers in other content areas are starting to realize the potential of so-called open education resources, or OER, in subjects like history and social studies. The nonprofit Core Knowledge Foundation has released what appears to be among the first fully OER social studies curricula, currently for grades 3 to 5 and soon to expand to grades 6. Parts of it were available earlier this year, but the entire curriculum for all three grade levels was not put online until August. Core Knowledge is known for being the brainchild of E.D. Hirsch Jr., whose work has focused on building students' background knowledge via a content-rich curriculum.
Finding patterns and honing in on struggling readers’ skill deficits will quickly point educators to the appropriate intervention. In “Timesaving Strategies for Selecting Interventions for Struggling Readers,” Cindy Kanuch, reading specialist at Calhan Elementary School, presented tips on working to address skill deficits in the most efficient and effective manner. The components of reading—oral language, phonological/phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge, comprehension, and comprehension for cognitive processing—relate in that they all build upon each other. When testing for a skill deficit, is it important to identify the precise lowest skill level with which a student struggles, and begin remediation from there.
In a culture that measures reading success as a progression from pictures to words, it can seem iconoclastic to select picture books to use with older students, but a roundup of recent titles reveals just how much readers would miss if we heeded that dictum. Wise educators know the value of introducing a unit with a visual narrative—whether it’s found within a single image or a well-chosen book. The images provide a focus, a unifying, common experience of the subject for the class, along with an affective connection and aesthetic pleasure. Short on text and provocative in theme, these picture books are guaranteed to engage students in middle school and beyond.
Books with the titles like “The Stinky Cheese Man,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” and “Captain Underpants” might have once made educators and parents cringe. Now, these fun and creative stories are being used to fix a problem that has been going on for decades: young boys don’t read as much as girls do. Thursday night, the top floor of An Unlikely Story bookstore was filled with teachers, librarians, and parents, all eager to learn from a panel of authors how to get and keep their boys reading. The panel included five authors, all of whom had published children’s books with particular appeal to boys. They all credited their success as writers to being avid readers when they were children, so they were happy to share tips for getting more young people into reading.
The U.S. Postal Service has unveiled a "forever" stamp collection featuring illustrations from the 1962 children's book The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Deborah Pope is the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. She says that even though the book had a big social impact, that was not the author's intention. "He was thinking about the fact that in all the books he had ever illustrated, he had never seen any African-American children. And yet, they were everywhere around him. And so he determined he would write a book that featured an African-American child because it should be visible."
As we move forward in the new school year, we strive to help students continue to learn about each other and to foster a strong classroom community. This can be done using WRITE, a five-step process that employs digital tools and resources to help students share their stories. You will find that students will quickly become engaged as they use technology to move through each step. W: What to Write; R: Research; I: Initial Draft; T: Two Kinds of Editing; E: Extend to an Audience. Community building is a critical component of a strong student-centered, collaborative learning environment. Students can only learn and grow when they feel that they can take a risk and try something new without fear of judgment or ridicule. This project allows students to recognize and to appreciate that they each have a story to tell and that the community of the classroom would be incomplete without each one.