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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Most everyone in our profession is aware that school librarian numbers have dipped, but we haven’t known the numbers or a time line for these losses. What has been happening to school librarianship? The well-accepted story in the field is that it has been shedding jobs, which is inarguable. But there has been too little overarching analysis to help describe the true state of the profession. To address that gap, it’s useful to illuminate when the job losses began, and at what rate, and to explore some of the factors impacting the national data.
My teaching days had left less time for me to practice writing myself. Then I had a transformative experience: I participated in the National Writing Project’s summer institute. The nonprofit's programs provide space for teachers to work on their own projects, with the philosophy that teachers of writing should write alongside their students. I started a novel during that summer and spent the next four years working on it. All the while, I slowly started to shift the way I taught writing. In the past, I would have merely talked to students about plot diagrams and story structure. But once I was more aware of my own process, I could talk with students openly about writing struggles and share excerpts of my work with them. I modified some of my old outlines and gave them to students to review. Instead of teaching writing, I began to view students as fellow writers. We became partners in the process. I’m not saying all writing teachers must sit down and write novels. What I am saying is that teachers are better equipped to teach writing when they know more about the process from the inside—and when they take beginning writers on a journey to navigate that process together. Here are three lessons from a writer-teacher about how to get the creative juices flowing.
April is National Poetry Month, when the genre becomes the focus of my middle school classroom’s writing workshop. Although pioneers of writing workshop pedagogy, such as Donald Murray, taught in an analog world, today’s writing is largely digital. Therefore, we align with Murray’s vision of students as authentic writers when we integrate digital tools and spaces for supporting—and inspiring—21st-century poets.
Not all models of literacy coaching are the same; “There are choices, and the choices matter,” according to ILA’s latest brief, Literacy Coaching for Change: Choices Matter. Drawing these meaningful distinctions can help teachers and coaches to make an informed decision on the most suitable model. With the ever-increasing emphasis on reading achievement in today’s schools, many districts are hiring literacy coaches to support teachers. The past two decades have given rise to a wave of major federal and state literacy initiatives that have significantly accelerated the expansion of coaching programs across the United States. The brief provides guidance on how to choose a coaching model that’s in line with the teacher’s ideological beliefs, context and goals.
Tasty snacks and conquering book-inspired obstacle courses may seem far from the traditional tasks of a book club, but Naperville’s Book and Cookie Club exemplifies exactly the kind of creative engagement one can expect from today’s successful book clubs for kids and teens. A book club, one of those bread-and-butter library services, is as adaptable as it is stalwart. It can be boisterous and active or quiet and small. It can grow and change, serving the same group from the pre-tween years through adolescence, or welcoming a different crop of readers each new school year. A good book club may run itself once it gets going, but starting and sustaining one through discouraging moments—a dismally attended first meeting or a poor book match—can be difficult. Persistence, flexibility, and above all, knowing and responding to your readers can make a book club work in any place and with any age group.
South Bronx Preparatory, a New York City district middle school is one of 20 sites using Family Playlists, a program developed by the educational nonprofit PowerMyLearning. Family Playlists are interactive homework assignments through which students practice a set of learning activities and then teach them to a family member, usually a parent, who then provides feedback to the teacher about the experience — like how well the child understood or explained the lesson, and how much the two enjoyed the mutual learning. Over the last seven years, PowerMyLearning has worked with more than 70 schools in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and the San Francisco Bay Area, providing tools and professional development services to strengthen the triangle of learning relationships that connects students, teachers and families. Among other results, its partner schools have experienced annual gains in math proficiency that outpace comparable schools by seven percentage points.
Girls and boys are equally interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, for short). Yet when it comes to preparedness for college courses in these subjects, girls continue to lag behind boys, according to a report released today by ACT. The nonprofit is known for tests designed to assess high school students' college readiness. The report revealed that just 18 percent of females, compared to 24 percent of males, earned a score of 26. While there are plenty of promising efforts to generate interest in STEM, including a Girl Scout program noted in the report that puts girls in contact with STEM professionals and college students, much more needs to be done, according to ACT's Chief Commercial Officer, Suzana Delanghe. "Encouraging young women to consider pursuing technically challenging careers must be on the top of educators' 'to do' lists," she said in a statement.
Talk is cheap – and priceless. Just ask Denise Murphy, a veteran Taylor Hicks Elementary School teacher in Prescott who is in her third year as director of the Arizona Reads Now (“Talk, Connect, Read!”) early childhood literacy project. With cheerleader-like enthusiasm, Murphy talks of how “magical” it is to use the $450,000 grant-funded initiative to empower parents and teachers to help young children become readers, beginning with from-the-heart talks, or conversation, between parents and their babies or toddlers. “Words are really powerful. Our brains are built for oral language. Children want to be spoken to, and they need to speak,” Murphy said. “The neuro-connections from conversation is what they use to read and write. Every sound and every sentence is logged in their brains, and builds pathways that they then draw on to decode words.” Through dinnertime chats, or conversation prompted by a bedtime story, Murphy said conversation with young children is what prepares them to read and write “and it’s free.”
An early-childhood education advocacy group has released a new report on how states are using the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, to leverage federal support for early learning. The report is the latest component of what the First Five Years Fund calls an ESSA resource toolkit. Entitled, "Early Learning In State ESSA Plans - Implementation Snapshot: How States Are Using the Law," it breaks down how each state plans to either launch new early-childhood initiatives or increase their current offerings. When ESSA was enacted in 2015, it authorized the first early-childhood education dedicated funding stream through the new Preschool Development Grants program, and states seem to be embracing it. The report stressed that these plans show how seriously state leaders are taking the issue since "few early-learning related provisions of ESSA are mandated."
A team of scientists from Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania is questioning whether the quantity of words matters much at all. A study they published last month in the journal Psychological Science found that young 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds who engaged in more conversation at home had more brain activity while they were listening to a story and processing language. “What we found is that the sheer amount of language, the number of adult words, was not related to brain activation or verbal skills,” said Rachel Romeo, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at a joint Harvard and MIT program. “But what was related, strongly related, was the amount of back-and-forth conversation between children and adults. We think this research finding suggests, instead of talking at or to your child, you really need to talk with your child to have meaningful brain development and language development.”
According to a national survey, only 42 percent of children ages 0 to 8 are being read aloud to every day; 30 percent are read aloud to for at least 15 minutes. “And one of the most surprising findings is in the older kids, ages 6 to 8, about two-thirds of parents were not reading to their children daily,” said Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Reading and Literacy Discovery Center. Hutton is the spokesman for Read Aloud 15 MINUTES, a national campaign with a mission to increase parent-child reading throughout the country — starting at birth. If reading to an infant sounds extreme, Hutton said it has its advantages. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that reading to a child in early infancy can boost vocabulary and reading skills before elementary school. Plus, it’s all about getting into the habit. As children get older, reading aloud becomes more of a back-and-forth process. The child becomes more engaged, points at pictures and repeats words.
Literacy has always been a primary focus of elementary education, but recent research has prompted greater urgency to ensure students are proficient by 3rd grade. According to a 2011 study, kids who aren’t reading by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. There’s a clear shift in curriculum between 3rd and 4th grade — instead of learning to read, students are expected to start reading to learn. Past this point, students who lack reading fluency tend to fall further behind because they don’t view themselves as readers. Here are a few strategies educators are using to ensure that every student emerges from 3rd grade as a reader.
In August 2011, the Ohio Department of Education found the Upper Arlington Schools in violation of the law when it came to promptly and properly identifying students with learning disabilities and finding them eligible for special education services. People with dyslexia have an especially hard time learning to read because their brains are wired in a way that makes understanding the relationship between sounds and letters difficult. Research shows that they learn to read better when they are explicitly taught the ways that sounds and letters correspond. And research shows that even students without dyslexia learn better this way. Upper Arlington had to retrain its teachers, who had, for the most part, learned whole language-based methods in their teacher-preparation programs. Now, students in Upper Arlington are taught to read using a phonics-based approach that explicitly and systematically teaches them how letters represent sounds to form words on the page.
The typical children’s picture books featuring black characters focus on the degradation and endurance of our people. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate those kinds of books; our history deserves an airing with all children. Meanwhile, stories about the everyday beauty of being a little human being of color are scarce. They want to read books that engage with their everyday experiences, featuring characters who look like them. Just like any other child. White children, too, deserve — and need — to see black characters that revel in the same human experiences that they do. Real diversity would celebrate the mundane — like a little kid going out after a snowstorm — rather than the exceptional.
Twenty years ago, novelist Junot Díaz promised his goddaughters he would write a children’s book for them. Their request: to see people like themselves — Dominican girls living in the Bronx — in its pages. The girls are no longer girls but their book is finally here. On Tuesday, Díaz, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” will publish “Islandborn.” As promised, it is a picture book that features Dominican girls living in the Bronx. The story centers on a young girl named Lola who sets out to collect memories of the Dominican Republic she left as a baby.
It is harder now for high school students to focus on and make sense of long, complex texts, particularly the underserved students who were already struggling with reading. The 24-hour news and entertainment cycle, cellphones, work schedules and family problems are just a few of the pressures competing for teens’ attention. That means when teachers assign the reading of literature for homework and use class time for lectures and quizzes, they may not be providing the engagement necessary to compete with such distractions. One strong solution is to have teachers read aloud to their classes, then move into leading inquiry-based discussions about texts. In this shared-experience vision of reading aloud, students are following along, taking notes with old-school technology: a pencil.
Raising A Reader (RAR) is an eight-week program for parents that teaches them about the importance of early literacy skills and how they can help their children develop these skills so that they are ready to learn when they enter school. It’s a national, evidence-based program designed to help families of young children develop, practice, and strengthen a culture of reading at home, and to ensure that children have tools for school success. Families that get involved benefit from a series of 2-hour sessions, where the RAR literacy specialist shows parents how to engage their children in reading, and also teaches them ways of using music, movement, and play to help their children develop their language skills and prepare to enter Kindergarten. Parents are given a book bag every week filled with high-quality, age appropriate books so they can read at home together. At the final session each child receives their own book bag with five new books to build their home library. All family members are invited to participate in RAR activities.
Creative Readers, an arts education program co-sponsored by the Port Washington (NY) Public Library (PWPL), was already a huge hit with students and parents before winning the 2017 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in November. The award reaffirmed what the community already knew—that the five-year initiative has been remarkably effective in engaging and teaching young people of all abilities. Creative Readers was the brainchild of Elise May, a longtime teaching artist who had developed many programs and workshops for the Port Washington school district and library. May was asked by the local Special Education PTA to create a workshop that would include children who couldn’t attend schools in the district because of their disabilities.
I often hear teachers, parents, and students make implicit or explicit comments that reflect a bias against audiobooks. Some even argue that listening to books should not be confused with reading at all. Casually dismissing a reading platform that can build a student’s knowledge bank, appreciation of story, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and verbal fluency seems unwise. There is, in fact, a strong correlation between academic achievement and the amount of independent reading done outside of school. Some opponents of audiobooks claim that the time spent listening to them precludes decoding practice for struggling and dyslexic readers. But pitting reading instruction against audiobooks sets up a false choice. The two are not mutually exclusive. We should be encouraging students who are receiving decoding instruction to also read audiobooks that correspond with their interests, comprehension, and intellectual abilities to engage them.
The benefits of even high-quality preschool programs tend to fade over time, but extracurricular programs in early grades may help boost the good effects of early education after students start school, according to a new longitudinal study by the research firm MDRC. Low-income students who participated in both a math-focused preschool curriculum and extracurricular math clubs during their first year of school closed nearly 30 percent of the math achievement gap between themselves and their wealthier peers by the end of kindergarten, the study showed. As part of an ongoing evaluation partnership between MDRC and Robin Hood, a New York City-based antipoverty organization, researchers tracked students entering New York City public schools during the city's Making Pre-K Count initiative in 2013. Some of those students participated in Building Blocks, a 30-hour curriculum focused on helping students learn numbers, shapes, and basic geometry.