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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Creative Kids Learning Center in Northwest Seattle is cheaper than most preschools in the neighborhood. That’s because Creative Kids is one of 20 preschools that has joined a city program that not only offers reduced fees, but also mandates class size, length of school day, and curriculum in exchange for higher pay, training, and tuition assistance for teachers. In the absence of adequate federal and state funding, Seattle is building a top-ranked preschool program by subsidizing tuition on its own. Who’s footing the bill? Taxpayers. And a broad majority are doing so willingly. Five years ago, Seattle residents voted for a ballot measure to raise property taxes, generating $58 million to fund an overhaul of existing preschools, some of which are run by nonprofits or out of homes, and create new ones.
When Whitney Hamilton looks back on her days as a teacher, she remembers a stark divide between the students who kept sharpening their minds over the summer and those who didn’t. Students with resources, such as an abundance of books in their homes, returned to school in the fall “ready to dig back into the learning,” she said. Then there were the students who didn’t have those learning experiences – students who actually started off the school year behind due to a phenomenon called summer slide. That’s when students forget over the summer the skills and content they mastered during the previous school year. Now an elementary literacy consultant with the Kentucky Department of Education, Hamilton recommends parents take simple steps to reduce summer slide. Research shows, according to the department, that students on average lose two months of mathematics and reading learning during summer vacation. “Learning can happen very authentically,” Hamilton said, stressing strategies that parents can adopt and use at home.
When we think about speaking and listening standards, many of us count on accountable talks or literacy circles, those often used after the completion of a read-aloud or shared text, where students sit in a circle and talk with guidance from a teacher or, if they are experienced, without that guidance. In these conversations, it is usually our strongest verbal students who drive the direction of the thinking, often leaving out or leaving behind students who require more time to process and share. Not only have I been frustrated that my conversations may only involve a handful of students, but I have also found it challenging to teach developing speakers how to listen—really listen—to what others are saying and to build off that rather than throw another idea into the mix. To address this challenge, which many other teachers experience, I introduced a way of sharing ideas without ever opening your mouth and instead opening your marker cap. Quiet conversations can be used with a range of texts, from excerpts from primary sources to book blurbs to introduce and build excitement for book clubs. Following is a series of steps to spark quiet conversations.
Most years, in the school where I work, our second grade students embark on a bird study. Reading, research, field trips, and a culminating activity are all part of the work. Almost every child who participates becomes a dedicated birder, as do their family members, and every new book purchased on the subject gets borrowed immediately. Even though we're city folk, when spring arrives many of us wake up to the sounds of birds chirping; lately those chirps and tweets have me thinking about placing my next order of bird books. Here are some of the titles you’ll find on my list.
California is considering overhauling a test intended to measure whether prospective teachers are prepared to be effective reading instructors. That’s because the test, known as the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment, or RICA, is outdated, and there is no evidence that it contributes to more effective instruction. The test hasn’t been revised since 2009 when it was aligned to the English Language Arts-English Language Development Framework put in place two years earlier to guide instruction in classrooms. Frameworks are blueprints for teachers and schools to use to implement state-adopted content standards in different subject areas. When a new English Language Arts framework was adopted in 2014 the test was never revised to reflect the changes. “In failing to align with the current standards and framework, the RICA does not reflect current research and instructional best practices in literacy,” said Mimi Miller, a professor from Chico State University, who is part of a literacy expert group convened by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to offer recommendations on the skills and knowledge prospective teachers need to teach reading and literacy.
By the time many students reach middle school, they no longer have books read aloud to them at home or at school. But research shows benefits of hearing books read aloud, including improved comprehension, reduced stress, and expanded exposure to different types of materials. For five minutes of each class period, I read aloud to my middle school students. I’m often asked how I “give up time” each day to read, but the five minutes are a gift to my students. Spending this time each day enriches the classroom community, allows me to share a love of reading, enhances my language arts instruction, and exposes students to new authors, genres, and themes.
Summer for young children is a time for play dates, fun-in-the-sun, and fun-filled days of doing not much of anything, but summer should also be a time filled with learning. Just because school is not in session for most kids does not mean that learning should not be taking place. On the contrary, summer is a time kids can learn from experiences beyond classroom walls and without formal assessments and rigidity. Imagine for just one moment that you have the opportunity to be the teacher to the open, imaginative, wandering mind of your child wanting to do nothing more than simply have a summer of fun. You can combat the summer slide by encouraging your child to devote a small bit of time each day to keeping up the skills they learned during the school year.
Researchers estimate as many as one in five children have dyslexia. But many school districts identify less than 5% of their students as having it. They also don’t test all students for potential reading disorders. And many have avoided the word “dyslexia” altogether. Montgomery County is one of these districts, but it’s far from the only one. Experts in teaching students with reading disorders say what parents and students experience in Montgomery County is a common occurrence across the country. When schools don’t proactively screen for serious issues, they say it can lead to more students going undiagnosed and untreated, falling further and further behind. This could soon change, at least in Maryland. Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan signed a new law — one championed by parents of students with dyslexia — that requires schools to screen for students at risk of developing reading disorders and provide support.
Krumulus, a small bookstore in Germany, has everything a kid could want: parties, readings, concerts, plays, puppet shows, workshops and book clubs. On a recent Saturday afternoon, a hush fell in the bright, airy “reading-aloud” room as Sven Wallrodt, one of the store’s employees, stood up to speak. Brandishing a newly published illustrated children’s book about the life of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, he looked at the crowd of eager, mostly school-aged children and their parents. “Welcome to this book presentation,” he said. “If you fall asleep, snore quietly.” Everyone laughed, but no one fell asleep. An hour later, the children followed Wallrodt down to the bookstore’s basement workshop, where he showed them how Gutenberg fit leaden block letters into a metal plate. Then the children printed their own bookmark using a technique similar to Gutenberg’s, everyone was thrilled.
Chicago’s Open Books — a 13-year-old non-profit dedicated to children’s literacy — aims to put books into every child’s hands citywide, starting at birth. The group, which sells donated books online and from two bookstores to raise money for its literacy programs, has partnered with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to expand its reach to children who most need libraries of their own. In just a few months, Open Books has enrolled nearly 1,000 children into the program. The process behind the Imagination Library is simple. Parents or guardians fill out a form to sign up their children — even as early as a child’s due date — to have a free book mailed to each child every month, from birth to age 5. This means a child can receive up to 60 books, chosen by a group of early education experts, before he or she enters kindergarten.
Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki says exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain, and she is on a mission to help her students and the public understand the “life-changing,” mood-boosting, cognitive-enhancing effects of physical activity. Suzuki encourages people to think about the brain like a muscle. Exercise strengthens both the prefrontal cortex (which is involved in executive functioning) and the hippocampus (which plays a key role in memory and learning). In this way, exercise supports our ability to think creatively, make decisions, focus and retrieve key information. In her research, Suzuki found a single workout can improve a student’s ability to focus on a task for up to two hours. She argues that movement breaks in K-12 classrooms support the deep kind of learning that they should be striving for.
Children from low-income and minority families will be more likely to flunk than wealthier white classmates with similarly low test scores under Michigan’s third-grade reading law, if the experience of Florida is repeated here. Florida implemented a third-grade retention policy for children not reading at grade level nearly two decades ago, in 2002. That policy ‒ which, like Michigan’s, provides loopholes for some students ‒ is markedly similar to Michigan’s read-or-flunk law that goes into effect next school year. A soon-to-be-published study by researchers at the American Institutes for Research and Northwestern University found that Florida third-graders with similarly low reading scores were held back at different rates, depending on the socioeconomic status of their families.
After Arkansas parent Kim Head discovered her kindergarten son had dyslexia, her search for curriculum that would address his learning disability highlighted the shortcomings in the education system's approach to reading — the work she did with him at home improved both his self-esteem and academic work. The experience led Head to form an alliance with other families facing the same struggle, advocating for changes in reading instruction that included asking for new laws requiring the incorporation of phonics.
Many teachers and parents do not know the pedagogy behind inclusive instruction. Inclusion is not about throwing disabled children into general education classrooms without support or tools and leaving teachers to clean up the resultant chaos. Schools don't meet anyone's needs when they integrate thoughtlessly. Inclusion, by definition, involves carefully assessing a child's needs and then implementing a strategic plan to support that child within the general classroom setting. This is done by a special education team, rather than one general education teacher. The team offers options such as teacher training, team-teaching, pushed-in special education instruction, classroom accommodations (a standing desk, computer workstation, etc.), an interpreter, or a classroom assistant added to the room for portions of the day.
A California company founded by game-developer parents who wanted to help their special-needs son is sharing a $10 million XPRIZE award with a London-based educational nonprofit for programs created to teach illiterate children how to teach themselves to read. The Berkeley-based Kitkit School and London’s onebillion educational nonprofit were declared co-winners of the XPRIZE For Global Learning. The goal was to develop open-sourced software, put it on tablets donated by Google and have thousands of children in 170 remote villages in Tanzania test it. They had to develop programs filled with games that could grab children’s attention and then, like teachers do, use drawings, letters, numbers and sounds to teach them to teach themselves to read, write and do arithmetic.
Too often, teachers are presented with new strategies and not given the time and support to unlearn their old practices. For Margaret Goldberg, realizing there was a better way to teach students how to read was transformational. After working as a 4th grade teacher for a half-dozen years, she became a literacy coach and reading interventionist for 1st graders. She taught the students reading behaviors, such as guessing words based on context, meaning, and picture clues. But the students were still struggling to read. Goldberg began researching reading instruction and determined that students needed to learn how to crack the alphabetic code through phonics, which explicitly teaches how letters represent speech sounds. That realization kick-started an unlearning journey—a process that resulted in gains for students but also prompted feelings of guilt. "Once I actually learned how to teach children how to read, I thought about all the kids who I hadn't helped," she said. "If I had known what I know now, I could have really accelerated them. ... I didn't know how to support them." Goldberg, an early-literacy lead in the Oakland, Calif., school district, now coaches teachers on evidence-based reading instruction. She said every teacher is different in terms of the unlearning journey—some are ready to embrace a new form of instruction, and others are more resistant to change.
This year’s Collaborative Summer Library Program reading theme, A Universe of Stories, offers unlimited opportunities to connect with students and to build community. This summer is also the 50th anniversary of the July 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing. As you include related fiction and nonfiction titles on your summer reading lists, consider adding a listening guide that explores the theme and anniversary through podcasts. New research provides compelling reasons to recommend them, and our curated lists will get you, your students, and their families started.
Nearly 60 years ago, a handful of 3- and 4-year-old black children living in a small city outside of Detroit attended a preschool program known as the Perry Preschool Project. The children were part of an experiment to see if a high-quality educational experience in a child’s early years could raise IQ scores. Kids’ IQ scores went up initially, but soon evened out with those of their peers. The same thing has happened more recently with the standardized test scores of children who attend preschool: They got a boost in kindergarten and then saw that boost fade as they grew older. But the Perry research didn’t stop when the initial academic benefit seemed to dissipate, nor was IQ the only thing the researchers tracked. Led for the last decade by Nobel Laureate James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, the Perry researchers have also looked at school success in terms of persistence to graduation, work success in terms of job retention and life success in terms of physical health and healthy relationships. Perry Preschool children did better on all of these measures than a randomly selected group of their peers who did not attend the preschool. The latest results from this long-running study, released on May 14, 2019, indicate that the children of the now 50- to 55-year old Perry participants reaped the same benefits.
Summer vacation is just around the corner. While most students take a break from school, experts say it's important to keep books in the hands of learners. The loss of reading skills over the summer can build up over time, resulting in lower reading proficiency as students progress through their schooling years. Lori Helman with the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development explains what summer reading loss is and how parents and educators can work together to help children overcome it.
The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia has awarded grants to 10 district elementary school to enhance literacy instruction for students in kindergarten through third grades. The “Good to Great” grants range from $20,000 to nearly $75,000 are funded by the William Penn Foundation. The Good to Great program enhances the District’s early literacy strategy and supports individual schools in continuously improving their early literacy outcomes through targeted initiatives that meet school specific needs. The grants are designed to overcome limited resources to help school tackle challenges faced by specific student populations. The funded initiatives have a particular focus on grade-level proficiency by third grade.
Compared with the past, the majority of young adults don’t read for pleasure. It’s not that they can’t. It’s that they choose not to. So how do we open the door? How do we help them grow into readers who seek information, get lost in a story and dig deep for the themes that make great literature so powerful? It comes down to one simple caveat: give them a reason to read. For Penny, it’s about connection and community. It’s imperative that we meet them where they are. If that means they’re reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” for the nth time, so be it. The decision to read something else must be their own. But that doesn’t mean we sit back, twiddle our thumbs and wait for the magic to strike. This is where the reading community becomes an essential part of the solution. Book by book, we build authority with kids—offering them compelling stories of courage, books that give them a peek into lives other than their own, or in some cases, connecting with the lives they’re living.
The OECD recently issued its new book-length report, "Measuring Innovation in Education 2019." The authors use the PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS databases to look at changes in a slew of instructional and system practices across the OECD nations between 2006 and 2016. Amidst the jargon and complicated charts, there are a number of interesting takeaways. Today, I'll take a look at what they found with regards to reading instruction. The vast majority of the findings on reading are for fourth-graders. First off, despite energetic Common Core-inspired efforts to change how the U.S. teaches English language arts (ELA), there was little evident change between 2006 and 2016 when it came to key ELA practices in U.S. schools. Second, for better or worse, between 2006 and 2016, there was a clear OECD-wide shift toward giving students less choice over reading. Third, the U.S. massively outpaced the OECD norm when it came to fourth-graders reporting that they "use computers to write stories and texts at least once a week." Finally, relative to the international community, the U.S. has declined in the role of teacher aides but increased in the amount of time teachers spend one-on-one with struggling students.
Teacher education programs have a responsibility to prepare candidates to effectively incorporate instructional technologies in the classroom. Although considered tech-savvy, many preservice teachers’ expertise remains in social networking. Thus, preservice teachers need frequent opportunities for experiential learning with instructional technology to design purposeful use of technology for learning outcomes. In my literacy education courses at Furman University, I embed technology practices into assignments to expose preservice teachers to meaningful real-world interactions with students in addition to their required face-to-face classroom field experiences. For example, we have used a variety of platforms such as Lino, Edmodo, and Kidblog to engage in digital book clubs with elementary learners. This real-world experience provided the preservice teachers with opportunities to practice assessing readers’ comprehension.
Last year at a literacy workshop, fifth-grade teacher Rick Darst was speaking with colleagues from another school in the Livingston, NJ, district where he works and heard about their lunch book club. It was kept small by asking kids to apply to be included, and there was a field trip connected to the theme. “Ours is kind of a riff off of theirs,” says Darst, who immediately began planning with Mt. Pleasant Elementary’s library media specialist Lenore Piccoli. The two took the same theme as their district colleagues: “Books that had to do with people immigrating, moving, being forced out of their home,” says Darst. “One of the main reasons we chose it was because it was a big topic in the news—immigration, refugees,” he says. “The other reason—and when I say this, I’m not putting any judgment on it, it’s just a fact—our kids kind of live in a bubble. So they’re not always aware that there are people out there who live different lives than they do; that there are people who struggle in other ways than they might struggle. That’s important, I think. It’s why we should be reading, to get outside of our own world, out from under our dome. We all live under a dome of one kind or another. Reading is an experience. You get to experience another way of living.”
Music lends itself incredibly well to cross-curricular connections. Which leads me to the activity I designed for my second- and third-graders at the British international school where I teach in Cologne, Germany: Telling stories with music. For this project, I invited them, in small groups, to a write three-sentence story accompanied by music. They wrote the stories, chose the instruments and incorporated the musical elements they had learned. Borrowing a common technique from literacy lessons, I decided to give the children prompts to help get their ideas flowing.
Many studies show that when parents get involved with early literacy, a child is better prepared for school—and life. That’s why North Liberty (Iowa) Community Library developed a monthly podcast aimed at busy, expecting families. Caregivers can learn about the literacy skills kids need to succeed—such as phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and print motivation—whenever and wherever they can.
Little Doctor is a specialist in crocodiles, as we can see from the enormous green patients who flock to her examination room (which, shhhh, may just be a backyard office). She ministers to them with deep concentration, applying long bandages and tender, expert care — and cures them all except a toughie called Big Mean, who refuses to unclasp her jaws. There’s a scary trip inside the beast’s mouth, and a happy ending involving the adorable hatchlings Big Mean was of course carrying in there. With its softly detailed, virtuoso art and a perfectly wrought story full of heart and respect for the imaginative rules of children’s play, this debut shines.
From a newborn’s first wail, the brain acts like a sponge, absorbing every sensory experience, the good and the bad. What will help one child get past ugly experiences and keep another mired in them, childhood experts say, is the strength of a human bond formed early in life. It’s the same bond that helps build a strong neural network where language develops. Sovanary Heang, who’s the mother of three, says reading books to them helped her form that bond with her children — now 18, 12 and 5 years old. When she took her new baby for a wellness visit at a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia clinic, the pediatrician handed her a book and talked about the importance of reading to her child. The pediatrician said the family would continue getting brand-new books if they kept coming back for wellness visits. The program is called Reach Out and Read. It was founded by two Boston pediatricians in 1989 and is now nationwide at 6,200 clinic-based sites.
We live in a golden age of bad writing instruction. Learning to write for school was never a great path to excellent writing, but now that we have added learning to write for a standardized test, things have gotten even worse. The internet is a blooming garden of terrible writing, 150 word articles that have been stretched to 1,000 so that readers will have to click through more ad-displaying pages. What is a writing teacher to do? I've discussed some obstacles that have to be removed in order for real writing instruction to flourish in a classroom, but what positive steps can a writing teacher take? After thirty-nine years teaching in a classroom and writing in the world, these are the ideas that became the foundation of my practice. Here are eight rules about writing for teachers to internalize and make part of their practice.
Imagine a community where every child is ready to learn by the time they reach kindergarten. United Way of Kenosha County shares this dream and wants to make it a reality. Children begin learning right from birth, so we need to help them, along with their parents and caregivers, form habits that will help them become successful in academic achievement. In our focus area of education, United Way of Kenosha County is working to address kindergarten literacy readiness by introducing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to our community. Imagination Library promotes changes in home literacy environments and children’s attitudes toward reading and early literacy skills. These program outcomes will not only help children to be literacy ready by the time they reach kindergarten but will also give them a love for reading that will last a lifetime.