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.
Note: These links may expire after a week or so. Some websites require you to register first before seeing an article.
Coaching special education students on metacognitive strategies helps them stay motivated during the pandemic. I realized that a majority of my students with learning disabilities were showing signs of frustration, lack of focus, a decrease in motivation, and negative attitudes. These learners were getting burnt out. I decided to promote the idea of intentionality, a metacognitive strategy that would help students focus on those things they could control. The idea was to create strategies and opportunities for students with learning disabilities to monitor their actions and behaviors—and for students without learning disabilities, this would be a chance to reinforce their skills while picking up on some new strategies. Here are some practical strategies that can be implemented at all grade levels within a hybrid learning format.
New America analyzed the national landscape of educator micro-credentials (MCs) to determine how to best harness their potential to more successfully attract, develop, and retain great teachers. We find MCs to be a promising alternative to more traditional (and largely ineffective), compliance-focused teacher professional development, as well as an effective vehicle for defining and determining eligibility for some teacher roles. We summarize early best practices for ensuring quality MC offerings as well as lessons learned about the necessary conditions for teachers to succeed with MCs. As an added resource, New America has built a companion State Policy Guide with recommendations for policymakers looking to integrate MCs into their educator professional development, license renewal, and advancement systems.
President-elect Joe Biden has made reopening school buildings a top priority, but districts are going in the opposite direction, retreating into all-remote instruction as COVID-19 levels soar in their communities, according to new data set. A new analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which tracks how school districts are conducting instruction during the pandemic, found that between early November and late December, the share of school districts offering only remote instruction jumped 10 percentage points. The shift isn’t surprising, given the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases all over the country this fall and early winter. But it offers a sobering picture for the incoming president, who has included opening most K-8 schools for in-person instruction a top priority for his first 100 days in office.
UNICEF estimates that 93 million children have disabilities worldwide. Yet the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s most recent study found that only 126 out of the 4,034 children’s books they received from 2019 had a main character with a disability. There is an astonishing lack of children’s books with disabled main characters, especially #OwnVoices books. Unfortunately, these books also seem to lack the marketing funds publishers give to other books. However, that has begun to change in the last few years. Many of the books listed here are debut novels or picture books that have been published in the last two years. These books for the Read Harder Challenge show disabled children enjoying science, flying kites, playing baseball, and being the kids that they are. They’re fun, beautiful, and desperately needed books.
Recent articles and position statements have been calling for pediatricians to view literacy as a developmental domain and to participate in screening for future literacy concerns as early as preschool age.1-4 As a pediatrician, I agree wholeheartedly with one article’s statement that “The development of reading proficiency in childhood is a public health issue.” There is robust evidence linking lack of reading proficiency with school failure, negative impact on meaningful employment, increased risk of involvement in the criminal justice and welfare systems, as well as mental health consequences of reduced self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. As pediatricians we should be aware of and attempt to modify all of these negative outcomes by helping to identify risk factors for future reading disabilities and referring our struggling readers for further evaluation and remediation if available. Yet, is it really that simple? To help answer this question I would like to point out existing barriers that make executing these recent recommendations difficult if not near impossible.
One of the most powerful ways we can bring children together to experience a sense of community during this unprecedented time is through shared stories in the form of reading aloud. And nearly everyone enjoys it—in fact, the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report: 7th Edition™ shows that more than 80% of both kids and parents love or like read-aloud time because they consider it a special time together. The beauty of a read-aloud is that it can happen anywhere, any time, and with anyone. One of the largest read-aloud moments happens each year on World Read Aloud Day. This year, the celebration will take place on Feb. 3, 2021, and will call attention to the importance of sharing stories by challenging participants to grab a book or share a story of their own, find an audience, and read aloud.
Picture books are the perfect medium by which to introduce one of the more difficult and complicated of life’s challenges: grief. Authors such as Andrew Arnold and Matthew Cordell appreciate the unique privilege of creating safe spaces for our children to explore these multifaceted emotions. Their [new] books promote self-awareness and understanding. After they are closed, there may be hard conversations, and questions that have no answers, but we’re left with a comforting message: It will be OK if we are here for one another.
Educator Doug wrote two books full of precise examples of great instruction. They became a publishing sensation: “Teach Like a Champion” and “Teach Like a Champion 2.0” have sold 1.3 million copies, and “TLAC 3.0” arrives this summer. The books allowed Lemov to create a team of teaching experts who have just produced one of the most useful books ever written for this new year. It describes the best kind of online lessons, and how to turn parts of the worldwide experiment in Zoom pedagogy into something that might enhance future instruction anywhere. The book is “Teaching in the Online Classroom: Surviving and Thriving in the New Normal.”
Our district’s one-to-one technology program has made a big difference for my students in our Title I school, as my early learners are equipped with iPads to use both in class and at home. Through these devices, I’m able to foster communication skills that support the language domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, as well as the academic standards that accompany them within the hybrid setting. Through videos and interactive online tasks, early elementary students can increase fluency and build vocabulary. Our technology allows me to collect evidence to keep track of my students’ continuous development and growth.
Five educators offer instructional strategies to use when teaching writing revision, including the power of an authentic audience.
Writing improves learning by consolidating information in long-term memory, researchers explain. Professor Steve Graham and his colleagues at Arizona State University’s Teachers College analyzed 56 studies looking at the benefits of writing in science, social studies, and math and found that writing “reliably enhanced learning” across all grade levels. While teachers commonly ask students to write about a topic in order to assess how well they understand the material, the process of writing also improves a student’s ability to recall information, make connections between different concepts, and synthesize information in new ways. In effect, writing isn’t just a tool to assess learning, it also promotes it. This article also includes five engaging writing activities to use in all subjects.
Since the beginning of this pandemic, experts and educators have feared that open schools would spread the coronavirus further, which is why so many classrooms remain closed. But a new, nationwide study suggests reopening schools may be safer than previously thought, at least in communities where the virus is not already spreading out of control. The study comes from REACH, the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice, at Tulane University. Lead research Douglas Harris says the public health risks posed by COVID-19 are tangible and have received considerable attention, but communities must also weigh them against the less obvious public health risks of not reopening schools — to kids' mental health, of child abuse going unreported, not to mention learning loss and caregivers having to drop out of the workforce and falling deeper into poverty. And because the facts vary so wildly from city to city, county to county, town to town, Harris says, this cannot be a one-size-fits-all national reckoning — but a local decision driven by local facts.
As schools continue to grapple with coronavirus outbreaks, displaced students and classroom reopening decisions, much of the focus has been on how educators can help students catch up academically after months of virtual learning and, in many cases, limited interactions with their teachers. But what about students’ social-emotional growth, which could be stunted after months of limited time with peers and stress over the pandemic, economic difficulties and racism? That question is at the center of work by psychologist Elizabeth Englander. The 74 spoke with Englander about how socialization looks different online, what teachers should know about trauma and cyberbullying, and how parents should set limits on screen time.
Science has never mattered more than it does today. From the devastating realities of COVID-19 in our communities to a climate crisis that now spans the globe to the paucity of scientifically based public policy, one thing is certain: Society benefits when scientific literacy informs civil discourse. For the adults of tomorrow, that literacy begins today, with high-quality, equitable science education for all students. Giving students the opportunity to learn science in elementary school, as with mathematics, provides a solid foundation for later learning. Middle and high school students are expected to learn complex scientific ideas, and in order to do that, they need exposure to high-quality science instruction in their elementary classrooms. Students learn to think critically about the world around them, noticing details and patterns, gathering data and forming sound explanations based on evidence.
Tennessee plans to invest $100 million of one-time federal funds in phonics-based reading programs in a sweeping attack on low student literacy rates that have bedeviled the state for decades. Calling it an “exciting moment,” Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn on Monday unveiled Reading 360, an array of programs to train teachers on reading instruction, provide more resources and mentoring networks to school districts, and support families to help their students read better. The goal is to reverse this year’s anticipated learning loss due to the coronavirus pandemic and then catapult third-grade reading proficiency rates from 37% to 62% by 2025 under a new campaign known as “25 by 25.” The state’s previous reading goal, set in 2016 by former Gov. Bill Haslam, was for 75% of third-graders to read on grade level by 2020.
During her decades-long career as a poet, novelist, journalist, and artist, Nikki Grimes has garnered numerous accolades, including the Coretta Scott King Award. Her work for young people is wide-ranging, from the picture book biographies Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, and Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice, to such young adult novels as Bronx Masquerade and the verse memoir Ordinary Hazards. As with Talkin’ About Bessie, her illustrated biography about African American pilot Bessie Coleman, Grimes’s work often counteracts the erasure of African American lives. Grimes spoke with PW about her latest work, Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance, her artistic mission and process, and breaking boundaries in representation.
Students who reluctantly revise often want to finish an assignment, receive a grade, and move on to the next task. When required, these reluctant writers might even go through the motions of revising a draft or peer-reviewing activities. How can teachers shift students from this grade-getting mindset to an intrinsic desire to want to revise their writing? Five educators make suggestions that might help students want to revise their writing, including by using "editing stations."
Parents have worried all year that arts education will be among the casualties claimed by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting pressures on local school budgets. Depending on how long districts are forced to cut programs, fire or reassign staff, and cope with remote learning, some advocates warn, little money or instructional time could be left over for activities outside of core academic subjects. Those concerns may grow louder following the release of research this fall that shows young students receiving measurable academic and social-emotional benefits from exposure to the arts. Even a few brief trips to cultural institutions can lift engagement, tolerance, course grades, and standardized test scores for participating students, the authors find. The study, circulated as a working paper by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute, offers the latest round of findings from the first-ever multi-visit experiment measuring the long-term effects of field trips.
Around the country, educators and local television stations have teamed up to help teachers make their broadcast debuts and engage children who are stuck in the doldrums of distance learning. The idea — in some ways a throwback to the early days of public television — has supplemented online lessons for some families, and serves a more critical role: reaching students who, without reliable internet access or a laptop at home, have been left behind. In some places, the programs air on weekends or after school. Elsewhere, districts have scheduled time to watch it during the school day. In New York, the program airs every weekday on a public television channel, part of a network of PBS stations working with school districts. Fox stations in several cities are airing teachers’ lessons as well.
Host Michel Martin speaks with Aaron Carapella of Tribal Nations Maps about children's books that address the history and experiences of Native Americans. Carapella is the creator of Tribal Nations Maps. That's a site dedicated to mapping the lands that Native Americans lived on prior to European settlement. And he's recently launched a section of the site to highlight children's books focused on characters and stories rooted in the Native American experience.
The shift to online learning has drastically widened existing equity gaps in U.S. education, driving drops in attendance, college applications and academic performance among the nation’s most vulnerable students: children who are low-income, Black or Hispanic, as well as those with learning disabilities and those whose first language is not English. All too often, homeless children — of whom there are 2.5 million every year in America — combine these factors. The shuttering of schools nationwide in March immediately shattered any semblance of stability for millions of homeless children who depend on schools for food, emotional support, or even just a warm, uncomplicated place to think. Trying to learn inside shelters for the past nine months, students have faced spotty WiFi, crowded rooms, high noise levels and harassment from some peers who deduce, over Zoom, that they lack a home.
2020 was — to borrow a phrase from a popular kid's book — a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. And for parents, one of the year's hardest jobs was trying to explain current events to young kids. "We are living in challenging times," says children's book author Matt de la Peña — and kids are taking a lot of it in. "While you and I read the news, watch the news, listen to the news — our young children are watching and reading us, and so they're not getting the whole picture," he says. De la Peña believes books can explore deep or difficult issues without hitting them head-on. "I don't think the job of a picture book is to answer questions," he says. "I think it's just to explore interesting topics." He offers several suggestions for books that can help young kids think about tough subjects.
No matter how districts respond to the COVID-19 pandemic—fully virtual, in person, or hybrid instruction—some families remain unsatisfied. Yet recent data collected in Forest Grove, Ore., demonstrate that relationship-focused communication between families and schools can mitigate some of the frustrations of pandemic-induced educational disruptions. In June, we surveyed approximately 1,500 parents in the Forest Grove district to learn which practices were most helpful during the first wave of distance learning. The parents who responded were primarily Latino (40 percent) and white (55 percent), which matches the student population. The responses sent a resounding message: Communication is key. Parents praised teachers who kept them informed about classwork and offered ways to supervise at-home learning.
This year, the fields of outdoor learning and green schoolyards reached a tipping point, as thousands of schools around the country took their chairs, desks and easels—and log stumps, straw bales, picnic blankets and Wi-Fi—outside, to study under leafy tree canopies and shady tents. Ten months into the pandemic, there are still too many students who don’t have access to devices and reliable broadband, and who live in home environments that are not conducive to virtual learning. For these students in particular, and all students in general, we’re asking school district and site leaders to consider using—or continue using—their outdoor spaces for learning, because the risk of virus transmission is roughly 20 times lower outdoors than indoors.
As 2020 comes to an end, let’s reflect on the year behind us—a year full of new experiences, of meeting and overcoming new challenges. Throughout the year, we published a variety of Literacy Now blog posts to help educators through these tough times. Here is a list of the top 10 most read Literacy Now blog posts of 2020. First up: “Observing Young Readers and Writers: A Tool for Informing Instruction” by Alessandra E. Ward, Nell K. Duke, and Rachel Klingelhofer examines the LTR-WWWP, or The Listening to Reading-Watching White Writing Protocol, a new tool educators can use to assess students’ reading and writing skills when listening to students read aloud and watching them write. The LTR-WWWP is thoroughly explained for readers in this post, along with access to the tool and resources on how to use the tool and what it looks like in action.
Any education journalist will remember 2020 as the year that all the planned student profiles, school spotlights and policy investigations got thrown out the window as we scrambled to capture and process the disorienting new normal of virtual classrooms. Here at The 74, our top stories from the past nine months were dominated by our reporting in this area, by features that framed the challenges and opportunities of distance learning, that surfaced solutions and innovations that were working for some districts, and that pointed to the bigger questions of how disrupted back-to-back school years may lead to long-term consequences for this generation of students. But with the first vaccines being administered this month, we’re seeing our first glimpse of a light at the end of this chaotic tunnel — hope that the virus will quickly dissipate, that schools will fully reopen, and that we’ll then find a way to help all of America’s 74 million children catch up. Here are our 20 most read and shared articles of the year.
With millions of kids still learning remotely, the learning losses are piling up. The pandemic is causing Black and Hispanic students in particular to fall further behind their white peers. Former Education Secretary John King Jr. thinks a national tutoring corps is one way to help make up for lost time. Older students and graduates could receive credit or be paid to tutor younger students. "We have decades of research showing that high intensity tutoring can help students make up lost ground academically very quickly," King tells Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered. King now heads the nonprofit The Education Trust, which works to close opportunity gaps in education. He talked about the challenges facing schools when they fully reopen. Here are excerpts of the interview.
More than two years after Cynthia Peitich Smith (Muscogee Creek Nation) decided she could help harness and hone the talents of Native writers for children, the first books in her Heartdrum imprint begin arriving on shelves this month. Leading Heartdrum, which she helms with HarperCollins vice president and editorial director Rosemary Brosnan, is the latest in a long list of accomplishments. She’s a New York Times bestselling author who’s written stories for ages that range from picture-book to young adult audiences, and in formats that include prose, poetry and graphic novels. Heartdrum’s books aim to fill a significant gap in the market: Only 1% of children’s books published in 2019 featured Native or indigenous characters, according to the most recent survey from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. By design, the books are also page-turning contemporary stories, Smith said.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought a host of new challenges to teaching the foundational skills of reading and writing. With masks, social distancing and millions of young children nationwide learning online at home—either several days a week or full-time—teachers say they have to find new ways to tackle literacy instruction, so students don’t miss a crucial window in kindergarten through second grade. “When kids are just starting out is when they really need a teacher who can see what’s going on day to day,” said Timothy Shanahan, a literacy expert and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois. “My heart goes out to every teacher trying to deal with this. I don’t know how I would teach a first-grader to read at a distance.” At P.S. 105 in the Bronx, teachers tackle literacy instruction in new ways amid coronavirus restrictions.
Authors Valentina Gonzalez & Melinda Miller answer questions about their book Reading & Writing with English Learners: A Framework for K-5.
Selecting the year’s Best Books has always been a challenge. Sifting through the stellar titles that have graced our monthly Stars list. Meetings upon meetings of (sometimes heated) discussions about the merit of this work and the timeliness of that one. And of course, reading, reading, and more reading. Art can give us a language to interpret the chaos of this world. Most of all, we believe that the most important thing we can give the young people who will read these 108 titles is the message that there is still hope in these times of uncertainty. The following selections offer a way to share the message that rings through Tami Charles’s revelatory book: “You, dear child, matter.” We are supremely privileged to have had the great Bryan Collier, illustrator of Charles’s All Because You Matter, create our Best Books cover.
At the Education Development Center, where I work to support young children’s STEM literacy, we are seeing successful virtual instruction strategies and practices emerging in the preschool teaching community, particularly among Head Start educators. Best practices range from the “take care of yourself” mantra that we all hear so much these days (and need to hear) to suggestions for onscreen read-alouds. Here are some ideas that we hope will be useful to early childhood educators.
My hopes for next year are different ... they are quieter, simpler, more cautious, and I find I am surrounding myself with books that offer me a quiet hope and a profound story; books that lift me up when I am down, and books that speak to hardship and change, but where change and hardship are not the end of the story. Here are just a few of the most meaningful books my kids and I have shared this year, and a few we are really looking forward to.
For American families and their children, school is more than just a building. It's a social life and a community, an athletic center and a place to get meals that aren't available at home. The pandemic has disrupted — and continues to disrupt — the lives of U.S. students in profound ways. Many kids haven't set foot in their schools since March, when most in-person schooling shut down across the country. Teachers are working tirelessly to educate their students online, but they are growing increasingly anxious about the kids who aren't showing up at all. An estimated 3 million students may have dropped out of school learning since March, according to Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit that focuses on underserved youth. The group's study cited a lack of Internet access, housing insecurity, disabilities and language barriers as major obstacles to attending virtual classes during the pandemic.
The pandemic has driven the national education conversation to focus on getting kids back in schools and attempting to repair the widening gaps in students’ educations. As a former third grade teacher in Memphis, I’ve been thinking about how schools are going to handle this enormous task of addressing the academic challenges created by the pandemic. One thing I know from my teaching experience is that Tennessee schools already have a tool at their disposal: a program called Response to Intervention and Instruction. The program is state-mandated, so every school uses it. But it’s also severely underfunded relative to the enormous need. So despite teaching in a variety of schools and neighborhoods, I have never once seen a successful, thriving RTI² program. If done well, though, it could be exactly what students need. Here’s how it should work.
Michigan has spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars aimed at improving early literacy, yet roughly one in three Michigan fourth-graders don’t have basic reading skills, a figure that has hardly budged in two decades. Sen. Jim Runestad says he can help explain why: In the 50 years since he was an elementary schooler with dyslexia grappling with a “mishmash of letters” in English class, little has changed for people like him. Maeve Janssens, an 8-year-old from northern Michigan who was diagnosed with dyslexia this summer, knows the feeling of struggling to decode text on a page. “It just didn’t click in my brain,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t do anything.”
President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s education chief and a lifelong champion of public schools, to serve as education secretary. The selection delivers on Biden’s promise to nominate someone with experience working in public education. Cardona is a product of public schools, starting when he entered kindergarten unable to speak English. According to a source familiar with the President-Elect’s decision, Cardona was selected in part because of his experiences as a former public school teacher, an administrator, a public school parent and someone with the experience to do the job on his first day in office. The source said one of Cardona’s top priorities as education secretary will be to work with state and local officials to get kids back to school safely amid the pandemic, which Biden aims to achieve within the first 100 days of his presidency.
Alittle over a year ago, Miguel Cardona was an assistant superintendent of a 12-school district south of Hartford, Connecticut. Now that state’s education commissioner could be President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to lead the nation’s 131,000 public schools after months of closures that have left many children roughly more than a year behind in learning. A graduate of the Meriden Public Schools, as well as a former elementary teacher and principal in the district, the Hispanic leader, who began school speaking no English himself, is viewed by some observers to still be close enough to the classroom to understand educators’ concerns. A focus on reducing achievement gaps is what stands out to those who don’t know him personally.
Nine months after the pandemic closed down Stedwick Elementary School, learning in suburban Montgomery County is still all remote. But while most students plug in on laptops from home, some are on campus, working from holiday-decorated classrooms. They are part of “equity hubs” that bring small groups of children together, so that parents who struggle financially have a safe, supervised place for their children to focus on online learning. The hubs are akin to the “pandemic pods” that more affluent families have created, often hiring tutors or teachers. Among those who participate, the average family income is less than $30,000 a year, and nearly all children qualify for free and reduced-price school meals. Families pay up to $50 a month per child. “This is an effort for equity for people who can’t afford to hire a teacher or do the things that other parts of the county can do,” said Byron Johns, co-founder of the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence, which advocated for the project.
Today’s education system resembles much of what you’d see in the early 1900s: rote memorization, a teacher speaking to dozens of pupils who must remain silent unless called upon, curriculum at scale. Coronavirus-related distance learning pushed that same operation online, and because of the severity of the crisis, educators and parents understandably yearn for getting back to normal. But for educator Gholdy Muhammad, normal hasn’t served all students well, especially in literacy education, and no amount of testing or data has changed that. Instead of continuing with this form of education, Muhammad developed a model of learning that strikes more deeply into who we are and what agency we have in the world. In her book “Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy,” Muhammad, a professor of education at Georgia State University, looks to 1830s-era literary societies as a highly engaged model for teaching and learning that can cultivate literacy, intellect and self-efficacy.
From “the father of the Underground Railroad” to the first woman vice president, these Black action figures are poetry in motion.
Six educators discuss strategies they've used to encourage students to revise their writing, such as demonstrating their own practice.
If you had asked one of Lisa Hepburn’s fifth-grade students to pronounce the word “pandemic” not too long ago, he’d try “pandora,” “pandemonium” or “just kind of guess whatever.” But more recently, Hepburn, a reading specialist at Randall Elementary School, watched that same student “who’s reading at a second-grade level as a fifth-grader chunk out words like ‘tranquility.’” She credits the “science of reading,” a literacy teaching method the Madison Metropolitan School District is shifting toward as it confronts low reading proficiency rates among its students. It’s a move away from the “balanced literacy” approach the district has had in the past, in which literacy is taught through a variety of readings and word studies, to a more phonics-focused format of teaching students how to read.
Cueing has, for decades now, been a staple of early reading instruction. The strategy—which is also known as three-cueing, or MSV—involves prompting students to draw on context and sentence structure, along with letters, to identify words. But it isn’t the most effective way for beginning readers to learn how to decode printed text. In 2019, an EdWeek Research Center survey found that 75 percent of K-2 and elementary special education teachers use the method to teach students how to read, and 65 percent of college of education professors teach it. Now, there are signs that cueing’s hold on reading instruction may be loosening. Recently, one of the most influential reading programs in the country took a step away from the method—raising questions about whether other publishers will follow suit, and whether changes to written materials will lead to shifts in classroom practice.
Photo essay: Remote learning is extra hard for millions of students who lack reliable internet at home. Wi-Fi buses are the solution in this Michigan community.
We are all dealing with high levels of stress right now. On top of normal pressures, current events are causing stress related to job and financial worries, health risks, and disruption to our normal routines. We need to find ways to effectively manage our stress—and practicing SEL activities can help. As an educator, you are in a unique position to provide stability and support to your students and their families during uncertain times. One of the best ways you can help students is by looking after their social-emotional health. Here are 10 SEL activities to help your students learn effective stress management.
For many school districts across the nation, this week is the last one before the holidays, and most large ones are only offering remote instruction. Biden has promised to safely and responsibly reopen the “majority” of schools for in person learning within his first 100 days. This would entail swinging open the physical doors on at least half of the nation’s 130,000-odd schools by the beginning of May. What this timeline portends, especially for the majority of large districts that have intermittently closed or remained physically shuttered, are more enervating stories ahead about learning loss and missing students, as well as harrowing accounts of child abuse, adolescent depression, and suicide. But it hasn’t been all gloom and doom. Indeed, there have been genuinely encouraging developments that provide some reason for Yuletide cheer in a year that’s been otherwise wanting for good news. Five trends in particular could pay dividends when the country finally kicks this godforsaken plague to the curb.
We know more about the science of reading than the science of reading instruction. In other words, we know a lot more about what components are associated with improved outcomes for each stage of reading development (e.g., phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle are essential for beginning readers) than we do about how to teach all these components to a class of students with diverse learning needs. Similarly, we know more about interventions for students with mild to moderate reading difficulties than we do about students with severe reading difficulties. Students with very low reading skills—those at the bottom 10th percentile of word reading and lower—have been challenging to impact. Finally, in policy development, we have not capitalized on theory and science for effectively implementing new practices in schools. Still, there is much we do know that can support excellent instruction. Both here and in two online supplements, we offer guidance to prevent and address reading difficulties. The key to improved outcomes for the vast majority of struggling readers, including those with a reading disability, is enhanced core instruction—and that means enhanced curricula, assessments, pre-service and in-service professional development, and supports.
Children beginning their school careers during the pandemic are likely to need a lot more support than usual to build their foundational skills for reading. The most comprehensive study to date of pandemic-related learning loss in the earliest grades finds that some 40 percent of 1st graders have come to school this fall significantly behind in early literacy skills—particularly around phonics—and they will need intensive interventions to prevent them from ending the year reading below grade level. The study confirms that even the youngest students are experiencing the so-called “COVID slide,” and counters some recent studies that suggested there have been minimal losses in reading.
In a year of extraordinary hardship, children’s authors and illustrators have continued to do what they do best: to engage and entertain young readers and their families through stories. A number of picture books have directly addressed the challenges of the pandemic, while also paying tribute to the everyday heroes who have emerged in its wake. Looking ahead at 2021, LeUyen Pham’s forthcoming Outside, Inside reflects the solace she felt while going on daily walks in her Los Angeles neighborhood during quarantine. And next spring, from the opposite coast, Caldecott Medalist and longtime New Yorker Brian Floca will offer his picture book ode to the resilience of this city—and all cities—and to essential workers, Keeping the City Going. Floca, who has lived in New York for two decades, told PW that his new book originated in the form of everyday observations and drawings. “I started at the end of March or April, doing sketches of what I was seeing in New York, the city where I have lived for a long time but that suddenly felt like a new place. ... I began looking at vehicles: ambulances, trucks, and delivery people on bikes. It struck me that, while so many of us are hunkered down, these are the people who are still going to work.”
When school buildings closed last spring, author Steve Sheinkin watched as his peers mobilized to help educators and kids get through the difficult end to the school year with online read-alouds, free writing and drawing classes, and Zoom author visits. As summer was ending and it was clear that the coming school year clearly would not resemble anything close to normal, the children’s nonfiction author wanted to do something different for kids and teachers. Sheinkin came up with the idea of quizzing authors on their own books. Looking for a collaborator, he called Stacey Rattner—a “superlibrarian,” according to Sheinkin. “His initial idea was to have us ask the author questions to see how well they know their own book, and I suggested, What if we add a young fan?” says Rattner, school librarian at Castleton (NY) Elementary School. “We basically had the format after our first phone conversation.”
As new political leaders prepare to take office in Washington and around our country, schools continue to face an unprecedented scenario that will shape an entire generation of young people. It is incumbent upon the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, the new Congress, and local and state officials to prioritize education as a critical step in our nation’s recovery. Here are some clear actions our elected officials can take to ensure students are more prepared for the future. #3: Double down on the science of reading. We’ve known for decades—at least since the National Reading Panel report—that phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension are essential elements for building strong readers. Yet, for too long, many of America’s students have been denied this instruction. There are encouraging signs this is shifting, but we must not let the focus on quality literacy instruction slip as we address pandemic-related challenges.
Michaela Weeks, 7, just has to walk outside her front door in Hutto to get to school during the coronavirus pandemic. Once a week she steps onto a bus parked outside her house. The Hutto school district every week sends one of its buses to 20 special education students, including Weeks, to make sure they get a one-on-one lesson with a teacher. One recent morning, Weeks sat at a table on the bus with her teacher, Lou Quinlan, with both wearing masks. Quinlan read the 7-year-old a story and then asked her questions to see what she could remember about it. Michaela’s mother, Aunchelle Weeks, said her daughter is doing much better in school now that she gets a lesson once a week on the bus. “She goes in there and has the teacher’s undivided attention,” said Aunchelle Weeks. “She’s not feeling rushed by another student and it’s amazing what a huge difference it’s making.”
In 2020, we caught up with some of our favorite stars-turned-children's authors, including Natalie Portman for “Natalie Portman’s Fables,” Joanna Gaines for “The World Needs Who You Were Meant to Be,” Alyssa Milano for “Project Class President,” Misty Copeland for “Bunheads,” Neil Patrick Harris for “The Magic Misfits” and Gabrielle Union for “Welcome to the Party." Judy Blume also caught up with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager for the 50th anniversary of “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret,” and "Baby-Sitters Club" author Ann M. Martin told Jenna where she thought her characters would be now, after the success of the new Netflix series. There were so many more children's books we loved in 2020, at a time when parents and kids were unable to browse in bookstores. Here are 25 of our favorite children’s books of 2020.
As rural schools in my home state of Vermont planned for the start of school this academic year, many education professionals here anticipated that a return to in-person schooling was likely due to the relatively few cases of Covid statewide. In the case of my K–6 school, the Albert Bridge School, we were able to turn some things that were previously considered challenges into advantages, including small class sizes. Our class sizes range from eight to 12 students, making social distancing easier. Some factors we’ve invested in over the last few years include a half-time coordinator on staff who supports place-based outdoor education; and we had a strong school and community identity centered around what we loosely call “The Mountain Curriculum.” With these pieces already in place, we could expand our approach to educating students outdoors while fostering connections within our community.
Each reader walks into a text with motivations, knowledge and experiences. They interact with the text for different purposes and extend what is read through responses. By exploring any reader’s authentic, self-directed responses, teachers and librarians can gain insight into students’ identity and their reading development, as well as their personal interests and goals. Unfortunately, for many students, the reading response activities traditionally assigned and encouraged at school—such as book reports, comprehension tests, cookie-cutter projects, and other performative reading activities—center knowledge about a specific text and don’t include the reader. Looking at samples of reading response activities online, most offerings are worksheets with generic comprehension prompts or book report templates. It is difficult to see how such assignments help students become more proficient readers (and writers) or joyful ones.
I like fiction. I even know some talented people who make money composing it. But as a nonfiction writer, when I go into schools, I am sad that the books students choose to read are almost always fiction. A child thinks: Nonfiction? You mean textbooks. Ugh. That’s supposed to be changing. The Common Core State Standards, which have had a marked effect on teaching lately, say nonfiction is essential. Children need a steady diet of it to accumulate the background knowledge that will allow them to recognize more words as they learn to read.
Many of us discover as children that books can be like secret doorways. They might be at the back of a wardrobe or in the side of a giant tree, but wherever the doors lead, once we step through, time will cease to matter and our everyday worries will disappear. Things might get dicey, as there are bound to be stormy nights, impenetrable forests, monsters and witches, but in the end, and this is most important, everything will be all right. I’m almost 50 and both of my daughters are nearly grown, so it is rare that I pick up a children’s book anymore. What a delightful surprise, then, to be handed three new books that so perfectly evoke that childhood sensation of falling in love with reading. At a library or bookstore, these would be shelved in the “young reader” section, but I believe in 2020 we all might find a little solace in stories about kindness and bravery, about winter giving way to spring and suffering to joy.
San Antonio teacher Celina Quintanilla has names for the two groups of 5th-graders she is simultaneously teaching — those in her classroom are the “roomers” and those on Zoom are the “zoomers.” It’s an arrangement that has sparked resistance from teacher’s unions across the country as teachers say they feel stretched too thin to be effective. The entire class started remotely in August, and slowly the school has brought back those whose parents agreed to send them. The first invitations went out to children with special needs, no internet connection, or economic hardships that made learning difficult. Teachers also reached out to students who simply were not engaging over Zoom. Those are the students who drew Quintanilla into teaching. “The louder students who speak up more, you can see that they are struggling.” But her heart goes out to the kids like her who are shier, who don’t speak up. That’s the kind of kid she was, as she struggled with a learning disability.
After a year being cooped up in houses, why not delight young readers this holiday season with stories about the joy and wonder of flight? They can learn how the 747 was built, enjoy backyard star-gazing, and follow a little moth who hopes to land on the moon. Our selection includes titles for all ages, from new readers to teens.