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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Budgets for professional development (PD) have been shrinking for years despite the fact that no one denies the critical importance of PD for educators’ success. These days, in order to continue their professional learning, many teachers have to get creative. Thankfully, there are several budget-friendly options that literacy educators can rely on, even when faced with limited funding: digital tools, coaching, collaboration, micro-credentialing, and Edcamps.
Organization is a critical academic skill and one that many students struggle with in both the physical and digital worlds. Parents and teachers already help students get organized and now need to extend that to the digital world. Given the influx of technology in their academic lives, students need to develop an effective organizational system for their digital notes, projects and thinking. One challenge for educators will be to view digital note taking as a unique, necessary and completely different skill set to be taught to help students to engage with ideas, synthesize concepts and build the critical thinking skills that they will need to be successful learners in the future.
In a nine-school writing study conducted by the Great Books Foundation with third, fourth and fifth grade students in Washington D.C., students who were involved in inquiry programs showed greater improvement in the nine SAT skill categories: ideas and development; organization, unity, and coherence; word choice; sentences and paragraphs; grammar and usage; and writing mechanics. This is beneficial beyond academic testing: employers regularly report that they wish new hires were better able to think and express themselves, especially in writing. Working effectively with other people requires activating emotional intelligence as well as these critical thinking and collaborative skills. And an increased sense of belonging to a community is another regularly observed benefit of more student-centric learning. Inquiry-based discussions help students practice integrating working with people and working with texts and ideas.
A boring read is the last thing readers have to worry about when approaching Handy’s first book Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult. Inspired by reading to his own kids, Handy’s brief but deeply satisfying survey of children’s literature marries curiosity, humor, and downright excitement. Don’t worry about agreeing with him – Handy cites several occasions on which he and his children sat emotional worlds apart as he read to them. The moment Christopher Robin tries to tell Pooh goodbye – tries to grow up – in A. A. Milne’s "The House at Pooh Corner" left Handy with “tears spilling down [his] face, and [his] heartless kids couldn’t have cared less. They were just glad the book, which they had endured to humor [him], was almost over."
Many working-class families in Lafayette, IN, a manufacturing city across the Wabash River from Purdue University cannot afford to send their children to private pre-kindergarten, nor can they rely on government-funded programs—like Head Start and subsidized childcare—which serve a fraction of eligible children. The city resembles Indiana as a whole, where 60 percent of children miss out on preschool. So instead, some 275 Lafayette families sent their 4-and 5-year-olds to schools across the district for the free, month-long summer program, which aims to cram the basics of preschool into 20 half-day sessions. By the final class on August 1, one week before the start of school, the Miami Elementary students were walking in a single-file line to the cafeteria, writing their names, counting to 100 and reciting the alphabet.
In recent years, libraries have broadened their scope of offerings to the local community to involve more making activities like 3-D printing and sewing. Some libraries even have a facilitator for maker projects. At Millvale Community Library in Pennsylvania, maker program coordinator Nora Peters saw an opportunity to better connect the activities of the maker space with the library’s mission to promote literacy. So, she set out to build a bridge between making and reading by creating maker activities for children’s books. Peters creates project instructions that tie into the theme of a children’s book. She prints the instructions on a 5 x 7 sticker that affixes to the front of the book. Because Millvale serves a lower-income community, she also keeps materials low-tech.
In the age of standardized testing, screen time and what some see as a generation of excessively coddled children, a new movement of preschools is pushing kids outdoors, come rain or shine, heat or cold, to connect with nature and learn to take measured risks, in addition to math and the ABCs. Across the U.S., nature preschools are seeing a surge.
A federal lawsuit centering on the Detroit school district raises a fascinating argument about the relationship of literacy to citizenship: Is it possible to be a participating member of society without the ability to read and write? The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Gary B. v. Snyder, don't think so. And they argue that Michigan's failure to help Detroit's needy students, and students of color, to read falls afoul of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees liberty and equality under the law. Think about it, they say: If you can't read and write, you will have trouble voting, reading the news, getting a job, or otherwise being a fully formed citizen. The unusual lawsuit is among the first to argue that public education should lead to a specific educational outcome in a content area: if not literacy outright, the schools must give access to literacy instruction.
More and more, people in education agree on the importance of schools’ paying attention to stuff other than academics. But still, no one agrees on what to call that “stuff.” There were a bunch of overlapping terms in play, from “character” to “grit” to “noncognitive skills.” If anything, the case for nonacademics has gotten even stronger since then. In fact, it has been enshrined in federal law. The Every Student Succeeds Act mandates that states measure at least one nonacademic indicator of school success. There is also new research indicating that school-based interventions to promote social and emotional skills have large, and long-term, positive impacts: an average of $11 for every dollar invested, according to an analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. But despite all the hoopla there is still — still! — no consensus on how to define these indicators, or even on what to call them.
Children often prefer the factual over the fantastical. And a growing body of work suggests that when it comes to storybooks, they also learn better from stories that are realistic. For example, preschool-aged children are more likely to learn new facts about animals when the animals are portrayed realistically as opposed to anthropomorphically, and they're more likely to apply the solution to a problem presented in a storybook to a new scenario when the storybook involves real people (as opposed to fictional characters) and a realistic plot (as opposed to a space adventure). A new study by Nicole Larson, Kang Lee, and Patricia Ganea, forthcoming in the journal Developmental Science, reveals that learning about good behavior is no exception. When children read a realistic storybook about humans who shared, they were more likely to do so themselves.
Teacher preparation programs should be getting into the sciences--neuroscience, that is. Neuroscience is the study of how the brain and nervous system are developed and how they work. Neuroscientists examine how the brain is connected to behavior and cognition.How could neuroscience help teachers? Neuroscience can help teachers understand how the brain learns new information. Even having a basic knowledge of neuroscience can inform the way teachers teach. For example, neuroscience tells us that when children learn new information, that information goes through pathways in the brain. These pathways connect neurons together. The more connections that exist between neurons, the easier it is for the brain to access information.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling on its members to advocate for high-quality early childhood education. The group, which represents 66,000 doctors, has issued a policy statement on the issue that was published in the August edition of the journal Pediatrics. It notes that high-quality early childhood education has particularly strong benefits for children from low-income families and lays out what pediatricians can do to ensure young children in their communities are getting this strong foundation. For example, the statement suggests the quality rating and improvement system, or QRIS, which is used in most states to measure and improve the quality of early childhood education, could benefit from more input from pediatricians. The AAP also praises early childhood health care consultants who can provide screenings for things such as developmental delays as well as hearing and vision problems.
Scattered around a meeting room in groups of three or four, 13 women bent over laptop computers and smartphones, squinting at Colorado’s hundreds of child-care regulations. They were child-care and preschool employees from all over Denver on a scavenger hunt of sorts, searching for answers to worksheet questions such as how quickly child-care workers must be trained on child-abuse reporting and which eight kinds of toys and equipment classrooms are required to have. The exercise on a recent Tuesday night was part of a 120-hour course—the equivalent of two college classes—that leads to a nationally-recognized child-care credential. Leaders at Mile High Early Learning, which operates seven centers around Denver, decided last summer to launch the training program to help solve one of the organization’s—and the field’s—most intractable problems: A shortage of qualified teachers and assistant teachers.
Bruce Handy, contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine and a father of two, took on the delightful quest of revisiting some of the classics in his new (and first) book, “Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult.” His insightful, multi-sourced book is unashamedly biased toward his favorite authors and illustrators. He visits in-depth the lives and works of Beatrix Potter, Margaret Wise Brown, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis and E.B. White. With regret, he confesses he had no time or space for many others: Kenneth Grahame, Roald Dahl, Mo Willems and Katherine Paterson, among them. Another he does not write about in depth is J.K. Rowling, who, he says, “created a true monument of children’s literature.” Experiencing the “Harry Potter” books in real time, as Handy did with his children, was like waiting for “a new Beatles album or the next installment of ‘David Copperfield.’”
Promoting good oral language and communication skills is perhaps the most important thing parents, caregivers and educators can do to prepare children to enter kindergarten. Just like any other skill, learning to talk requires frequent practice. That’s why it’s essential that family members and others who interact with a child on a daily basis do all that is possible to encourage oral language. These everyday moments spent with your child are valuable opportunities for increasing these skills. By age 3, a child with typically developing language skills should be comfortable verbally answering common questions and shouldn’t be accustomed to communicating only with a head nod or gesture.
A common complaint among English-language-learner educators is that high-quality learning materials are hard to come by. The Council of the Great City Schools wants to do something about it. The council—which represents 70 of the nation's largest urban public school systems—has formed a purchasing consortium to encourage the production of better instructional materials for English-learners. The hope is that the joint buying power of member districts that serve about 1.3 million English-learners will force education publishers to step their game up and improve the quality of materials they design for ELLs.
Not many librarians and educators realize that children’s literature treasures are housed in several institutions across the country. At a recent event in New York City for members of the children’s book publishing community, the Children’s Book Council brought together representatives from the Morgan Library and Museum, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, the Kerlan Collection, and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art to talk about what they have in their collections.
Inside the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 35th and Baring streets on a Tuesday morning in late July, children are trickling in for a day of reading and writing instruction, armed with novels and notebooks. It may be summer, but neither the 21 kids making their way through the front doors nor the Drexel University graduate and undergraduate students waiting to teach them are taking time off from their educations. The first edition of Drexel’s Summer Literacy Camp launched in mid-July, offering a four-week run of lessons aimed at preparing these third-, fourth- and fifth-graders for the coming school year and ensuring they stay on track for language fluency.
What do you learn when you take some of the United States' best teachers to a country that reportedly has one of the best education systems in the world? Five state teachers of the year spent three full days in Finland last month, where they visited the University of Helsinki and the Finnish National Board of Education. They attended several workshops and panel discussions on developments in the Finnish education system, including phenomenon-based learning, which prioritizes interdisciplinary, student-centered projects. The teachers left with the impression that Finnish schools are doing a lot of the same things U.S. schools are: The major difference is that teachers are held in higher regard. Teacher preparation programs are rigorous and selective, and there's only about a 10 percent acceptance rate. Because of that, teachers are not evaluated through standardized test scores. And teachers in Finland have the autonomy to decide what and how to teach in their own classrooms.
Black children, Hispanic children, and children who come from non-English speaking households are less likely to receive speech and language services in kindergarten than white children who are otherwise similar to them, says a new study published in the journal Exceptional Children. About 18 percent of school-aged children with disabilities are identified as having a speech or language impairment, making it the second-largest disability category recognized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (Children with "specific learning disabilities" are the most prevalent, at about 40 percent.) There are good reasons for trying to identify and treat the disorder early. Some studies have shown that a child with a speech or language impairment has a higher risk of reading and behavioral problems compared to typically developing peers, and later on, a higher risk of unemployment or underemployment.