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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No district has more schools on Florida’s “persistently low-performing” list than Hillsborough. District schools make up more than a quarter of the list, a much poorer showing than bigger, urban systems. And year after year, Hillsborough has nearly 40 schools on another list — the state’s 300 lowest schools in reading. To better understand Hillsborough’s reading problem, the Tampa Bay Times interviewed nearly 100 teachers, administrators, literacy experts and students. They cited many issues that aren’t unique to Hillsborough, from a breakdown in student discipline to the challenge of learning English as a second language. Other challenges, like the teacher shortage and poverty, are universal as well, although perhaps worse in Hillsborough. Experts — including Stacy Hahn, a School Board member who spent years as a University of South Florida education professor — pointed to a lack of consistency in teacher preparation.
April is National Poetry Month, which provides an opportunity for teachers and educators to bring poetry into the classroom and inspire students to read and experience works of poetry on their own. Since 1996, the national holiday has celebrated the contributions of poets while recognizing poetry's vital place in our culture and everyday lives. Following are resources and activities to help students get excited about poetry.
A body of research shows a strong relationship between voluntary reading, at school or at home, and academic achievement. Voluntary reading is a strong predictor of reading achievement and correlates to increased brain and language development. A wealth of resources is available to support teachers of any grade level to facilitate choice reading in their classrooms. At the same time, pedagogy around whole-class novels is evolving. The books Whole Novels For the Whole Class: A Student Centered Approach, 180 Days, and A Novel Approach, all provide detail on how whole-class novel studies can be reimagined: Let go of some of the control traditionally exercised by teachers, and select texts that connect meaningfully to students’ lives, rather than sticking to classics. In my classroom, the distinctions between whole-novel studies and choice-reading cycles have actually become less clear than they once were. I celebrate this, because I think it reflects that reading is happening in an organic, continuous way. This continuity of practice builds strong readers who internalize the habit of reading, carrying it well beyond 8th grade.
More evidence is in: Reading from screens harms comprehension. According to a new meta-analysis of nearly three dozen research studies published over the past decade, reading from paper has a small, statistically significant benefit on reading performance. One likely reason: Readers using screens tend to think they're processing and understanding texts better then they actually are. Furthermore readers using paper saw better performance without having to expend more time or effort. For both literal and inferential comprehension, the advantages from reading on paper were found to be significant. It's also important to note, through, that such benefits from reading on paper were limited to expository texts. For narrative texts, generally regarded as easier to read and requiring less background knowledge to understand, no significant difference between paper and screens were found.
According to a joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, technology can support learning and development when it is used appropriately and intentionally by a teacher well versed in developmentally appropriate practices. And while there are screen time debates and fear of young children spending too much time spent on devices, there are no- and low-tech choices that align with and reinforce the goals and vision of an early childhood classroom. One such prospect is to incorporate basic coding games and screenless coding devices into project-based learning and centers. Coding affords children the opportunity to acquire and practice communicating with clarity and precision, while also encouraging decision-making, risk-taking, creativity, visualization, and problem-solving. Further, coding develops persistence, resilience, and confidence.
New federal figures indicate that autism prevalence among young children is on the rise. The number of 4-year-olds with the developmental disorder increased from 1 in 75 children in 2010 to 1 in 59 kids in 2014, according to data published late last week in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The CDC’s findings on 4-year-olds is based on information collected by researchers at sites in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Prevalence varied dramatically across the states studied. At the high end, New Jersey had a rate of 1 in 35 children with autism in 2014, nearly three times more than Missouri, which recorded the lowest rate. The researchers said that differences in record keeping as well as the availability of evaluation and diagnostic services in different areas could play a role.
Every day at LeBron James’s I Promise School, [students] are celebrated for walking through the door. This time last year, the students at the school — Mr. James’s biggest foray into educational philanthropy — were identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools and branded with behavioral problems. Some as young as 8 were considered at risk of not graduating. Now, they are helping close the achievement gap in Akron. The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district.
Not many writers can say they’ve transitioned from love poems to children’s novels about anthropormorphic jazz musicians like “Duck Ellington.” Poet, educator, New York Times bestselling author Kwamé Alexander has done it all. His newest work, “The Undefeated,” is his “love letter to black America.” He tells The Times that he wrote it for his daughter after Barack Obama was elected president. He’s currently writing a screenplay for “Crossover” and is also the host and producer of the literary variety/talk show “Bookish,” which airs on Facebook Watch. Alexander chatted with The Times about his new book and dropped some poetry, too.
When Jeff Kinney started working on Diary of a Wimpy Kid, he thought he was writing a comic for adults. "I always thought of comics as being for grown-ups, or maybe just for everyone," he says. After eight years of work, he finally showed it to an editor and learned: "I had actually written a children's series which was an absolute surprise to me." That "surprise" has now sold 180 million copies. There are 13 installments of Greg Heffley's diary and now, Greg's best friend Rowley Jefferson, is getting his own book — Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid. [Greg is a] kid who's in a rush to grow up. ... He's a kid who wants to get to that next level. Rowley is really quite the opposite. He loves being a kid. He's not in a rush to grow up and ... he's very pure.
Beverly Cleary, who turns 103 on Friday, is famous for her children’s books, and probably most famous for the protagonist of many of them, Ramona Quimby, an irrepressible little girl who hates arbitrary rules and condescension from grown-ups. Many have noted Cleary’s ability to take episodes from her childhood and bring them to life in her fiction. But to read A Girl From Yamhill, which was published in 1988, is to see that the line between Ramona’s childhood and Beverly’s isn’t a straight one. While many novelists reimagine their own history to heighten the emotion or exaggerate the events, the Ramona books soften the hard edges of Cleary’s real childhood.
Like many moms of a kid with autism, I was so excited in 2015 when Sesame Workshop added a wonderful new Muppet character: Julia, a 4-year-old girl, with autism who loves art, playing with her friends Abby and Elmo and sometimes struggles with sensory overwhelm and communication challenges. For Autism Awareness Month, Sesame Workshop has released a new Sesame Street episode—with accompanying resources—showing Julia with her family. We meet her mom, dad, brother and her companion dog. By showing Julia with her family, Sesame Street is allowing the siblings of kids with autism—who are so often overlooked—to see a family like theirs mirrored on TV. In a wonderful online book, we read about Julia and her family doing ordinary things that all families do—in this case, going on a picnic together.
In an effort to make the #ILAchat series align better with ILA's understanding of professional learning, the ILA team started gathering resources lists to share at the end of each chat, either a citation list of our quotes (it's always good to cite your references!) or a bibliography of research and further reading on the topic. For the #ILAchat about poetry, rap, and hip-hop, which will start at 8:00 p.m. ET on April 11 (which is tonight at the time of this writing), our guests provided me with so many poetry resources that it isn't feasible to share them all during the chat. Instead, I decided to put all the resources in this round-up post.
More of the nation's largest school districts are relying on alternative certification programs, partnerships with colleges, and grow-your-own programs to fill English-language-learner teaching vacancies, according to a new report from the Council of the Great City Schools. The report, "English Language Learners in America's Great City Schools," updates data collected for the council's 2013 study of English-language-learner programs. Based on a 2017 survey of member districts, the new version examines data on English-learner enrollment, linguistic diversity, student achievement, professional development, and staffing.
It’s almost too easy to write children’s books in which cats and dogs are the heroes and protagonists. By definition, our favorite pets are already amazing characters with distinct and hilarious personalities who loom large in our lives and imagination. But this spring brings a few standouts that young picture book listeners and readers will love.
Marianne Stewart teaches eighth grade English at Lexington Junior High near Anaheim, California. She recently asked her students to gather in groups to discuss books where characters face difficulties. Students could choose from 11 different books but in each group one student took on the role of “discussion director,” whose task was to create questions for the group to discuss together. Stewart created prompts to help them come up with questions that require deep reading. This process of questioning while reading is one of a number of “cognitive strategies” Stewart teaches her students. The strategies focus on what research has shown to be the thought processes of good readers. Others include planning and goal-setting, tapping prior knowledge, making connections, visualizing and forming interpretations. By mastering these strategies explicitly, students learn that reading is an active process, not one in which they simply sound out words in their heads.
We are halfway through this year’s National Library week, and celebrations continue to take place in and about libraries across the country. National Library Week is an annual celebration highlighting the role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and communities. These free, public spaces offer a wealth of knowledge and public space where communities can come together to learn and connect. First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries across the country each April. This year’s theme is “Libraries=Strong Communities.” Melinda Gates, philanthropist and wife of tech billionaire is the honorary chair of National Library Week, possibly due to the donations by the Gates’ Global Libraries initiative donations over the last 20 years which have totaled over $1 billion.
Contrary to other research, the socioeconomic achievement gap has remained unchanged over the past 50 years, according to a new study published by Education Next. The study examined test scores of 13- to 17-year-olds born in the United States between 1954 and 2001 acquired from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and the Program for International Student Assessment. The test scores were matched with data on parents' education and items in the home, such as books, cars, and computers, rather than income, to get a sense of families' socioeconomic status. The study findings run counter to other research, including some by Sean Reardon, of Stanford Graduate School of Education, which found that the socioeconomic achievement gap has grown significantly over the past three decades. Reardon used family income and student scores on standardized tests from other studies, including the National Education Longitudinal Study, for his research. To close the achievement gap, the education Next study advised policymakers to focus on teacher quality, as well as learning at the high school level.
Although there are numerous resources available to help educators find new tools and strategies to use in their classrooms, translating these resources into practice is not always easy. The editors of ILA’s Reading Research Quarterly (RRQ) recently created two platforms to make new information more accessible to educators. A new podcast, Bridge Research to Practice: Live With the Author, and Facebook group support ILA’s mission to deepen understandings in ways that impact research and practice. Another way to encourage discussion around these research findings is through the group’s new Facebook page, open to RRQ subscribers and nonsubscribers, where the editors highlight excerpts and takeaways from recent articles to help educators better digest the information and apply it to different contexts.
One theory for how to improve schools begins not with teachers in the classroom but with the principals who hire and oversee them. To that end, the Wallace Foundation spent $85 million on a five-year project to improve school principals in six cities and large urban counties, from New York to Denver, beginning in 2011. Now, an analysis the foundation commissioned has found that these wide-ranging reforms in training, hiring, mentoring and reviewing the performance of principals tended to boost student achievement. Reading achievement gains outpaced expectations in five of the six school districts that implemented the Wallace program. Math was better in three of the six districts.
In the not too distant past, children’s book publishers produced just one kind of nonfiction—survey books that provide a general introduction to a broad topic, such as gorillas or galaxies or weather. These titles, which are often published in large series, emphasize balance and breadth of coverage. They have an expository writing style that explains, describes, or informs, and they feature concise, straightforward language. Because covering a huge amount of information in a limited number of words constrains a nonfiction writer’s ability to craft rich text, these traditional nonfiction titles may seem less engaging than the other kinds of nonfiction books that have become increasingly popular in recent years: narrative nonfiction and expository literature.
On April 8 the American Library Association (ALA) released The State of America’s Libraries 2019, an annual summary of library trends released during National Library Week, April 7–13, that outlines statistics and issues affecting all types of libraries. The report finds that library workers are on the front lines addressing community challenges. Many serve as first responders who take on roles outside of traditional library service that support patrons’ needs and community development. Functioning at various times as career counselors, social workers, teachers, and technology instructors, library staffers give special care to adopt programs and services that support our most vulnerable and curious. Additional findings illustrate library workers’ efforts to safeguard library collections and the freedom to read.
Richard Lederer celebrates National Library Week (April 7–13). This year’s theme is “Libraries = Strong Communities.” Decades ago, when I was teaching and writing in New Hampshire, I published a column tracing the history of American libraries. In response, Gertrude King Ramstrom, of Nashua, NH, sent me her luminous memories of childhood adventures in her village library. Two months ago, Mrs. Ramstrom passed away full of years at the age of 104 and one day. Her wingéd words live on. "our article about libraries whisked me back in time and place to the 1920s and the little village of Haydenville, Massachusetts, where I grew up. Its tiny library, which is still in use, was our only avenue of adventure to the wonders of the outside world, and my brothers and I, along with our friends, made good use of it."
Graphic novel publisher First Second Books is launching a line of History Comics, similar to its Science Comics and Maker Comics lines, but with a focus on American history. “The folks at First Second started off by creating a long list of inspirational figures and compelling events that helped define our country,” says series editor Dave Roman. “Then we narrowed in on topics I thought would adapt well to the visual medium of comics. I was glad that the publisher agreed with my request that we avoid too much focus on wars and battles. I prefer finding the humanity in history and felt the graphic novel format allows people to really connect with the people and events in ways traditional textbooks rarely do,” he says. For example, Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin explores the backstory of Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, which sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955–56.
April is National Autism Awareness Month. While one child learns to find his voice, another person is learning independence despite their disability. Naemon Humphries is much like any other elementary school student. He loves school and race cars, likes to give hugs and is a bundle of nerves and energy. Give him even a moment of freedom and he’ll start running around the room, mimicking a car engine as he goes. But Humphries, 11, is also different. Even when sitting down he’s not quite still, and he sometimes struggles to talk, running his words together or mumbling as he talks. Like a growing number of children in America, Humphries has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a type of mental disability that can create a range of challenges for people who have it, physically, mentally and socially. Effects of autism are so wide-ranging the disability is measured on a spectrum from mild to severe, with determinations made by how well a person functions.
The gray plastic crate in front of me just arrived in Tucson from Basel, Switzerland. Inside there are dozens of picture books from around the world. Kathy G. Short pulls out one with an orange and yellow cover. It’s from Egypt and there’s an image of a sun tucked into the Arabic title. The book will join more than 40,000 others in the collection housed on the fourth floor of the College of Education. It’s the largest collection of global children’s literature in the country and the second largest in the world. Global meaning most of the books are published in the U.S., but the stories focus on another country. “We’re trying to really highlight either books that have won awards or books that feature groups that have been misrepresented or underrepresented,” said Short, a professor at the College of Education and the founder and director of the collection.
Writing letters to authors has long been a practice in schools to create connections between children and the authors they admire. This activity allows children to see authors as real people and perhaps to imagine themselves as future authors. Although nothing can replace the tangible connection of exchanging handwritten letters, and emailing is also an option, I would like to suggest a third alternative: Tweeting to your favorite author. As a school librarian and doctoral student in digital literacies, I was interested in trying a “Tweet to Your Favorite Author” activity with elementary school students.
Children's book author Jenn Bailey wonders whether her middle son would have had an easier childhood if his classmates had a better understanding of autism spectrum disorder. "He was frequently labeled by his peers as, well, 'He's the weird kid,' 'He's the shy kid,'" she remembers. Bailey recently released a picture book called "A Friend for Henry," about a young boy who faced challenges similar to her son's. The character wants a friend, but that person must not be too loud and or get too close to him, among other things. Bailey wanted to write what she describes as a "mirror and window" book, meaning that children who are similar to Henry will see themselves in the character, and children who are not will learn to empathize with someone they perceive as similar to the character.
Truman State University held its annual Children’s Literature Festival Friday, bringing together young readers with the creators of diverse stories for their age groups. During the event, over 1,400 fourth, fifth and sixth grade students from northeast Missouri attended sessions with 11 visiting children’s authors and illustrators. Among them was New York Times bestselling author Geoff Rodkey. Rodkey is the author of numerous books for middle-grade readers, including the “Tapper Twins” and “Chronicles of Egg” series and, most recently, “We’re Not From Here,” a novel about a family of humans who immigrate to an alien planet after Earth is destroyed. He’s also written screenplays, including for the films “Daddy Day Care” and “Shaggy Dog.” During his presentation at the Children’s Literature Festival, Rodkey shared tips for how to become a successful fiction writer based on his own career. Here are five strategies Rodkey suggested for young aspiring writers.
Two mothers in the Tredyffrin/Easttown district in Pennsylvania have started a local group, Everyone Reads, that has been urging their district to overhaul its literacy program. While parents advocating on behalf of their kids isn't new, doing so with such a specific idea in mind of what instruction should look like is rarer. Jamie Lynch knew nothing about the "whole language" vs. phonics debate when her son started struggling to read. As she tried to figure out what to do to help, found a lifeline when she discovered research on dyslexic students. Kate Mayer, a former elementary education teacher, came to the district with two children who struggled with reading, including one who had received an individualized education program for dyslexia. (Whole language is an approach that emphasizes learning through context and picture clues, while phonics focuses on the explicit teaching of sound-letter correspondences.) The women's advocacy has been a bit of a thorn in the side of their district. They've written several open letters asking the district to rethink its curriculum and provide more classroom-level data on reading outcomes.
Countless picture books follow the same narrative structure, in which a character faces a challenge and then — at the end of approximately 500 words — overcomes that challenge, or doesn’t. We call this story. “Read me a story,” a child might beg, and so we do. But not all picture books are stories in the traditional sense, and often poetry is the tool that frees an author from the expectations of conflict and resolution. By trusting language, form, rhythm or sound to hold the reader’s focus, a poet is able to slow down or speed up, to observe or reflect. Picture books in verse can meditate or meander, imagine or reminisce, examine one small aspect of the world carefully, or elicit deep emotion.