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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Lately there’s been a push to acquaint educators with “the science of learning.” But only some aspects of that science actually help teachers do their jobs. Others just waste their time. Recent efforts to connect educators with these findings, including some by deans of education schools and by teachers themselves, are beginning to bear fruit. And some foundations—notably those headed by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates—are putting significant resources into bringing the science of learning into classrooms. But there are two basic categories of learning science: cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Whatever its larger value, neuroscience is distinctly less useful to teachers. Cognitive psychology, in contrast, has yielded a number of insights into what makes teaching and learning effective.
Most Kansas parents know reading is important. But they’re short on time, and they’re not sure how to fit reading into their busy routines. Parents of toddlers may wonder what to do if their child won’t sit still for a book. Some worry that they’re not solid readers themselves. Or they can’t read English and don’t want to confuse their children with multiple languages. (Important point: Being bilingual does not slow down or confuse children when it comes to reading. In fact, it’s often an advantage.) The Kansas Health Foundation’s new campaign and website, ReadWithThem.org, offers advice for parents and caregivers where they live — online and on their mobile phones. Parents can sign up for 28 days of texts or e-mails, in English or Spanish, that feature free tips, resources and information about organizations that can help their kids learn.
Librarians want more children’s books about disability—stories authentically portraying characters living with disability. The problem is finding them. According to SLJ’s Diverse Books Survey released in October 2018, 62 percent of librarians said that books featuring characters with disabilities were in demand and hard to find; 61 percent said titles with neurodiverse characters—or those with invisible disabilities—were in demand, and 45 percent said those were difficult to find. They keep looking, though, because they know representation matters. Of 1,156 school and public librarians serving children and teens in the United States and Canada, 81 percent said they consider it “very important” to have diverse books in their collections, including titles about disability. That encompasses physical disabilities, such as conditions that require the use of a wheelchair or hearing aid, and “invisible disabilities,” such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or bipolar disorder.
I am an addicted audio book “reader.” Whether I’m listening to books for young children, teens, or adults, I look for the same qualities. I seek excellent narrators who add dimension to characters, strengthen evocative scenes, dramatize feelings and relationships, build tension and suspense, and invite listeners to join in the storytelling experience. Here are some of the best 2018 audio books I discovered for children of all ages.
A December 2018 report from Duke University adds another study to the pile of research showing the benefits of pre-K. This study examined the outcomes of the state’s pre-K programming, which proved evident well into middle school. Researchers cited funding levels for the state’s pre-K programs, Smart Start and More at Four in the counties where children were born. Researchers compared students’ end-of-year standardized math and reading scores, examined grade retention over students’ academic careers, and indicated whether students had been placed into special education. The study found a strong correlation between individual students’ assessment scores in reading and math in elementary and middle school and their participation in the Smart Start and/or More at Four programs. Both programs reduced the likelihood of repeating a grade between 3rd and 8th grades. Notably, results showed that Smart Start reduced the placement of children into special education services by 9 percent while More at Four reduced placement by 36 percent. Positive program impacts were consistent from 3rd grade through 8th grade.
It starts with the babies. Black Hills Reads, a program under the umbrella of the United Way, is midway through a six-year, community-wide campaign to improve grade-level proficiency. The program is based on research showing that reading proficiency by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and success, said Director Kayla Klein. Much of their work involves aligning funding and resources behind programs that operate in the Black Hills. “We do some boots-on-the-ground work, but really we’re an organization that provides connectivity,” Klein said. “We lift up other organizations so they can do the best work they can do.” That means partnering with schools, universities, parents, local youth organizations and health institutions. The program is focused on four key areas: successful parents, school readiness, school attendance and summer learning. Baby’s First Book Bag is a great example of the type of collaboration, Klein said. The Bright Start home-visiting program includes visits by local health care professionals to the homes of expectant and new mothers.
For this month’s column, I’m not going to share books about black history, but rather books by black authors about black characters that MADE history. There is no better person with whom to start than Walter Dean Myers. It’s 1969, the year of the moon landing, the last Beatles’ performance and the creation of PBS. It was also the 14th year of the Vietnam War, the first American war in which black and white soldiers were integrated, which tells you a lot about the America of that time, and why it’s so revolutionary that 1969 was the year the children’s book “Where Does the Day Go?” was published. More than 40 years before Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” would be the No. 1 New York Times Best Seller, Walter Dean Myers was pushing the envelope, and winning awards for it. He wrote more than 100 books before his death in 2014. Also in 1975 came another seminal moment in children’s literature: Virginia Hamilton won the Newbery Medal for “M.C. Higgens the Great,” making it the first time in the medal’s 53-year history that the award went to a black author.
Maria Tina Beddia, an illustrator who grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, knows learning to read can be tough. Beddia describes herself as a visual learner who began to feel the stress of reading during the fourth grade. So when rapper Raj Haldar and software developer Chris Carpenter approached her to do the illustrations for the book “P is for Pterodactyl,” she was immediately on board. The New York Times best-seller pokes fun at silent letters in the English language and some other funky phonetic exceptions. The book cover states that it’s “the worst alphabet book ever.” “F is not for photo, phlegm, phooey or phone,” reads one line. “F is only for foto when you speak fluent Spanish at home.”
Is there an end in sight to the "homework wars?" Homework is one those never-ending debates in K-12 circles that re-emerges every few years, bringing with it a new collection of headlines. Usually they bemoan how much homework students have, or highlight districts and even states that have sought to cap or eliminate homework. Now, a new analysis from the Center for American Progress suggests a more fruitful way of thinking about this problem. Maybe, it suggests, what we should be doing is looking at what students are routinely being asked to do in take-home assignments, how well that homework supports their learning goals (or doesn't), and make changes from there.
Beloved by young readers, speculative fiction often gets a very different reception from grown-ups, some of whom lament that such books lack the depth of literary fiction, especially if — horrors! — they are popular ones in a series. It took a tsunami of media attention to get such adults to capitulate to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and, once they did, they raved about the series as an exception, seemingly unaware of its distinguished lineage. Fortunately, others feel differently, aware that some of the most inventive, enthralling, provocative and (yes) literary writing for children comes in this form. Setting their stories in invented places, a magical version of the real world or far across the universe, these authors explore weighty themes in highly original ways. For established fans, new readers and open-minded skeptics, four new titles offer distinctive and rich reading experiences.
Jan Wahl, a children’s author known for his nimble prose whose work over many decades was illustrated by eminent artists like Maurice Sendak, Norman Rockwell and Edward Gorey, died on Jan. 29 at a hospice facility near his home in Toledo, Ohio. He was 87. Mr. Wahl was an extraordinarily prolific author who published more than 100 books, many of which found favor with children and parents alike. His collaborating with leading book artists was one measure of the esteem with which his work was held; they can be notably selective about what children’s book authors they’ll work with. His most recent book, “Hedy & Her Amazing Invention,” was published this month by Penny Candy Books. Illustrated by Morgana Wallace, it tells the life story of the actress Hedy Lamarr, emphasizing her work as a scientist and inventor.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) just tapped Linda Darling-Hammond, a giant in the world of education, to head the 11-member state Board of Education. During his first State of the State address, Newsom announced that Darling-Hammond would work alongside the newly elected state superintendent, Tony Thurmond, to help “confront” problems plaguing California’s public schools. Darling-Hammond is one of the most renowned names in education. An expert in teacher education and educational equity, Darling-Hammond wrote an award-winning book, “The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future,” about authentic educational equity. Starting her career as a public school teacher, she became a professor at Columbia University and at Stanford University, where she founded the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She served as the faculty sponsor of the Stanford Teacher Education Program, which she helped redesign. A few years ago, she founded — and now serves as president — of the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute, which conducts high-quality independent research to improve education policy and practice.
Words are powerful, and a rich vocabulary can provide young people with significant advantages. Successful vocabulary development is associated with better vocational, academic and health outcomes. When parents read books aloud to their children from an early age, this offers notable advantages for children's vocabulary development. This gives them a broader range of possible word choices. Research also suggests children who don't have the opportunity for shared reading are comparatively disadvantaged. If we want our children to be able to draw on a rich vocabulary to express themselves clearly, we need to read to them. Developing a child's vocabulary is a valuable investment in their future.
The artist Oliver Jeffers, born in Northern Ireland and living and working now in Brooklyn, always has a lot going on. So it makes sense that his studio is in the Invisible Dog Art Center, a converted factory that is home to art exhibitions, performances and public art events, as well as studio space for several dozen artists. With Jeffers’ public installation, “The Moon, the Earth and Us,” now up on Manhattan’s High Line, we stopped in to his studio to find out how he makes it all happen.
Sophie Blackall’s 2019 Caldecott-winning Hello Lighthouse is a stylistic tour de force that will intrigue and delight readers. The following teaching ideas emerged from the powerful storyline, the skillful, varied illustrations, and the myriad opportunities for students to hone their close reading and research skills.
Students develop the foundation for lifelong reading skills in early elementary school, and a new neuroscience study suggests they may be particularly hindered in that learning by background noise. A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience finds that we develop the ability to track voices over time, and children may be hampered more by additional noise than adults. Early reading instruction in the United States focuses heavily on teaching students phonics. These results seem to suggest that students may have a more difficult time distinguishing phonemes and following speech or instructions as classroom noise rises, and highlights the importance of quiet classrooms while children are learning to recognize language.
Since 2012, families in Grundy County, Tennessee — northwest of Chattanooga — have been learning about lesser-known treasures in their rural community in partnership with the Yale Child Study Center, Scholastic and Sewanee: The University of the South. Discover Together Grundy is a place-based, early literacy and family resilience initiative that aims to build stronger connections between families as they learn and share the stories that surround them. Through a parent co-op for young children, a summer camp and an after-school program, the children and their families begin to take pride in the place they call home.
United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY), launched its annual Outstanding International Books list to celebrate and elevate the most exemplary international titles that U.S. publishers and distributors bring in from the rest of the world each year. The 39 titles on the 2019 OIB list represent literature from every continent. Access the downloadable pdf here.
Education Week has published a video with practical advice on how teachers can differentiate instruction for their English-language-learner students. In the nearly three-minute video, Education Week blogger Larry Ferlazzo and teacher Katie Hull Sypneiski, both of whom are veteran English-learner educators, outline tips on how to identify students' individual strengths, needs, and interests and develop lessons to best serve them. The tips ranges from relatively simple steps —use closed captioning when playing videos in class —to more advanced strategies.
Unlike Georgia, most states in the region have laws on dyslexia, according to the Southern Regional Education Board, a research institution established by governors. But Georgia would be a leader if it passes a law mandating dyslexia training in teacher colleges, becoming the fifth of 16 Southern states to do so. Teachers who’ve had dyslexia training marvel at what they were missing. “It has changed my teaching drastically,” said Kelsey McCorkle, who was among a group of Atlanta teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham method. The decades-old teaching system helps dyslexic students cope with the different wiring of their brains. Teachers learn different ways to communicate how to break words down into their basic components.
Even though numbers are improving, more than half of all U.S. children aren’t proficient readers by fourth grade. More alarming, 81 percent of black children aren’t, and Hispanic children lag close behind, according to the latest National Kids Count data. The numbers are worse for boys. Through early intervention and trust-building, Leading Men is getting more children ready to read, and more men ready to get them there. In 2016, Leading Men partnered with Washington, D.C., public schools to bridge both gaps in early reading and teaching demographics. Recent high school graduates tutor in preschool classrooms for a year, exposing them to a career in education while nurturing early literacy and kindergarten readiness.
African-American picture books have always been successful at capturing the breadth, depth and beauty of the black experience, allowing children to gain much-needed access to the strong legacy and vibrant history of African-American art and storytelling. But how we present this story is always undergoing revision and refinement, as four new books — from a closer view of plantation life to a visually rich depiction of the history of hip-hop — show. In these books, word and art combine to give us fresh insight into the lives, creativity and achievements of a truly resilient and profound people.
Many states now screen for dyslexia, the most common learning disorder in the United States and one that can be mitigated with early identification and intervention. Georgia is not among the states that mandate screening, but legislation is under consideration that could change that. Senate Bill 48 requires a universal dyslexia screening in kindergarten and would provide for training for teachers already in schools and those in pre-service. While dyslexia may give children challenges in their reading, it does not mean they have challenges in their thinking. In fact, dyslexia is often missed in the early grades because children find creative work-arounds, relying on memorization and context to figure out words. However, in fourth and fifth grade, a shift occurs from learning to read to reading to learn, and the kids can no longer keep up.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza kicked off the first day of Pre-K and 3-K for All applications by announcing that 47 new pre-K Dual Language programs will open across the City this fall. The new programs will include the City’s first French, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew, and Japanese pre-K Dual Language programs. At the start of the 2019-20 school year, there will be 107 programs throughout all five boroughs, more than triple the original 30 in 2015. “Building the fairest big city in America starts in the classroom. We believe every child deserves the same strong start which is why we’re providing New Yorkers in every zip code with access to early childhood education,” said Mayor de Blasio. “By offering even more dual-language Pre-K programs across the five boroughs, we’re readying our children for the global economy of the future.”
Instructional expert and esteemed blogger Larry Ferlazzo wants you to know: Differentiation isn't as hard as you might think. In an animated video published by Education Week this fall, he explained that differentiating instruction is really about getting to know your students and being flexible with the ways they demonstrate their learning. It is not, in fact, about spending your evenings planning a separate lesson for each student. Today, we're publishing two more videos about differentiation featuring Ferlazzo and veteran teacher Katie Hull Sypnieski. In this video, Ferlazzo and Hull Sypnieski describe techniques they use to differentiate lessons for English-language learners. Those include strategies like pairing up students of different language levels and playing classroom videos at slower speeds.
Principals have the power to ensure English-language learners get an equitable education, but many don't realize how much influence they wield, a new study on school leadership concludes. The study, led by researchers from Michigan State University and Old Dominion University, examined how principals empower or impede equity through their leadership during decisionmaking about English-learner reclassification—the process schools use to determine when, and if, English-learners are deemed proficient in the language and no longer need specialized instruction.
We were performing our usual bedtime routine recently: she reads on her own for a while, then my husband or I read a book out loud and chat with her before switching off the light. That night, she picked “Keep Out, Claudia!,” where Asian-American babysitter, Claudia Kishi, is turned down for babysitting by a family because of her race. It is a relatively progressive installment of the 1980s and 1990s series, which is set in a fairly homogeneous, fictional suburban Connecticut town. Little kids are naturally inquisitive and don’t let injustices slide; my 8-year-old wanted to know why a family would treat Claudia that way. What followed was an important conversation about racism and prejudice. It unfolded in an organic, accessible way, driven by my daughter’s questions and rooted in a concrete example we could talk about with characters that meant something to her.
The small parent rebellion forming in one of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest school districts began at a Starbucks in suburban Chester County. Over coffee, three moms — Kate Mayer, Jamie Lynch, and Wendy Brooks — swapped stories about how their kids struggled to read as they moved through the Tredyffrin/Easttown school district, located about 30 minutes west of Philadelphia on the Main Line. They decided to start a local awareness campaign, beginning with an event where they passed out flyers and donuts to teachers. That was a little less than two years ago. Today, their group, “Everyone Reads T/E,” pushes a more subversive idea: that their acclaimed district doesn’t know how to teach reading. They’ve rallied a growing group of parents around this notion, and joined a national effort. They believe the way we teach reading in this country must change. And they’re determined to make it happen from the ground up. “Everyone Reads T/E” began as a support and awareness group for parents with dyslexic children. Dyslexia, it turns out, has become a common entry point for parents who come to question the district’s reading practices.
A recent study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly explored how teachers’ use of Spanish in the classroom is related to students’ growth in English and Spanish. In the classrooms studied, Spanish was used in instruction, social interactions, and classroom management. They found that in classrooms where more Spanish is spoken, DLLs made greater strides in their L1 development when compared to their peers in classrooms where the home language was less utilized. pecifically, students’ Spanish auditory comprehension—that is, their ability to understand the meaning of the words they hear—showed greater growth than their peers. Surprisingly, however, students from classrooms with more extensive Spanish use did not outperform their peers in Spanish expressive communication—or, their ability to put thoughts into words and sentences. When it comes to Spanish expressive communication, the researchers found that students from all classroom types made expected growth.
A San Antonio Independent School District bus driver is creating black history in San Antonio by making it her personal mission to get the students who ride her bus excited about reading. Jackie Washington has become a face and voice for SAISD's Rolling Readers Program, where kids have access to technology on the go. Washington has been passionate about shaping the program and the kids who ride her bus. "They like to listen to the audiobooks or play a little game that's on there," Washington said. "We have district-friendly Wi-Fi."