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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Educators refer to teens like Alex as "twice exceptional." "I have a large degree of skill in almost every subject of learning," says Alex, who is 16. "But I also have autistic spectrum disorder." For Alex, this dual identity has meant both opportunity and frustration. He has skipped two grades so far, and began taking college math courses last year, when he was still 15. But when he was younger, Alex's underdeveloped social skills caused him a lot of grief. "I was constantly getting into fights and normally losing them," he says. At the end of each school year, Alex didn't know what to do. "I was always that one kid who was unhappy whenever summer vacation came around," he says. That changed when Alex's parents learned about the the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa's College of Education. Belin-Blank's mission is to identify and nurture young people who excel at math and science and the arts. And they have made a point of reaching out to, and accommodating, twice-exceptional kids.
When New York Public Library (NYPL) launched Nanny-Meetups, informal programs offering childcare providers early literacy information and ideas for playful enrichment, it forged a connection with a group that uses libraries every day. “I see more caregivers using the songs and fingerplays I’ve taught them, and increased storytime participation,” says Grace Zell, children’s librarian at NYPL’s 53rd Street Library. “I hope that this sort of behavior extends outside the library.” More libraries are offering initiatives to help a range of providers build early literacy teaching skills. That’s a boon for many of the 12.6 million children under six in childcare, where they spend an average of 33 hours weekly. By 2021, there will be an estimated 856,238 U.S. day care operators, though that number is only part of the story. Children can be found in myriad childcare settings, which makes library outreach complex—and rewarding.
Teachers with bachelor’s degrees. Diversity. Hands-on learning. Bilingual classrooms. These are some of the qualities parents dream about when looking for preschool programs. They’re also a few of the ingredients that can be found in the nation’s best Head Start centers, according to a recently released report. For years, researchers and academics have debated the success of federally-funded Head Start programs, with the only real consensus being that quality varies dramatically across centers. Here are some of those factors that she says contribute to the “secret sauce” of a successful program.
Are we teaching reading the wrong way? That is the daunting and uncomfortable question educators across the county are wrestling with in the light of renewed attention to the science of what supports young readers. There is a lot of evidence that something is amiss. Despite decades of intervention, reading national reading rates are flat. Closer to home, reading scores fell in Greenwich and Stamford last year. This lack of reading progress — particularly for the most vulnerable — has led to the rise of a national movement of frustrated parents of dyslexic students. In the past three years, these parents have stormed state capitals across the country demanding change to how students in need of reading interventions are treated. At the heart of this dilemma is public education’s 20-year love affair with “balanced literacy.” Balanced Literacy sounds great, but there is growing evidence that it does not work for a lot of kids. This charge has been brought most forcefully by Emily Hanford in three school-foundation shattering podcast documentaries over the past year.
It’s estimated that as many as 1 in 5 people around the world have dyslexia, a learning disorder that affects how one’s brain processes information about sounds and words. In the St. Louis region, some parents are pushing for more school resources and attention to dyslexia, and a Webster University seminar on the subject last week drew a sold-out crowd. St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Webster’s Paula Witkowski, a professor of literacy and speech-language pathologist in the School of Education, as well as local parents Sarah Bartley and Michelle Yepez, who each have a child with dyslexia. They discussed the importance of early intervention and how people with dyslexia can thrive. The conversation also included contributions from listeners who called in to the show to share their experiences.
A new study has found that children who had strong early reading skills in their native Spanish language when they entered kindergarten experienced greater growth in their ability to read English from kindergarten through fourth grade. Importantly, when the researchers factored in how well the students spoke English, it turned out that native language reading skills mattered more—even at kindergarten entry—to the students' growth across time. Plainly stated: children who had stronger Spanish reading skills upon entering kindergarten did better across time, even than their Spanish-speaking peers who were more fluent in speaking English but less proficient in reading Spanish.
Over the next few months, Milwaukee residents washing clothes at laundromats will start to see something different: mini libraries. A new city office focused on early childhood education is installing reading nooks in places where children tend to have downtime. The goal is to meet families where they are to encourage early literacy. The first laundromat to participate in the initiative is Riverworks Coin Laundry, on Holton Street in Riverwest. On a recent Sunday afternoon at Riverworks, Clarice McGowan was washing clothes. Her 8-year-old daughter Gigi and Gigi's 11-year-old cousin Nikiya tagged along. McGowan made sure Gigi brought a backpack of Barbie dolls so the girls would have something to play with. But here, there was another option for them. The two girls were hanging out in a children's space next to a laundry-folding table. It has a small couch, a magnetic letter board, and most importantly, a shelf stocked with books. McGowan says she was happy to see the new space.
I like Squirrel Nutkin. Do not get me wrong. Sure I do. I do not want to hate on your Nutkin parade. Everyone is allowed to love the children’s books they love. If Nutkin’s your thing, then wave that little wacky red squirreled tail of yours proudly. I honestly do not care. But when you come around to my house, [criticizing] the state of children’s books today, that’s when the blood begins to boil. And I’m not just talking about this commenter alone. I’m talking about any adult who starts publicly mourning the current state of children’s literature in 2019. So what, precisely, is it that you wish was still around? In the end, folks, here is what you need to do when you don’t see the kind of children’s book you want to. You find an expert. Someone who knows the new books coming out very well. Say, a children’s librarian. And you tell them what it is you want. And they will help you. They will find you those books. Lots of them.
As a professor who specializes in children’s library services at the Information School at the University of Washington, Michelle Martin is still turning children into readers, and her mission has expanded to educating teachers and librarians about how to make students of all backgrounds eager to explore books. Martin’s day job is teaching graduate students, most of them future librarians, about children’s and young-adult literature. (Her professorship is named for the librarian turned beloved children’s-book author Beverly Cleary.) Martin’s philosophy is that all children can become lovers of books, but that it’s an educator’s job to help them find the stories in which they can see or imagine themselves. In 2017, a study by the ALA indicated that in the U.S., some 87 percent of librarians were white. The pool of American teachers, meanwhile, is about 80 percent white, and children’s literature as a genre is also overwhelmingly written by, and about, white people. Yet only half of American children are white—and Martin has taken note over the years of the ways in which the whiteness of school libraries and classroom book collections can alienate students of color, resulting in missed opportunities to foster a love of reading. So Martin co-founded Camp Read-a-Rama, a summer program that started in South Carolina and then moved with her when she relocated to Washington. She’s also a trusted resource for librarians, teaching them how to incorporate books by and about people of color into their libraries and story times.
The Fonz from "Happy Days," a defenseman with the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks and a construction contractor living in Bolingbrook all have one major thing in common: The way their brains work. Actor Henry Winkler, hockey pro Brent Sopel and carpenter Jeremy Bailey have dyslexia, a learning disorder that experts say affects as many as one in five people to some degree. They've all struggled with self-esteem, self-acceptance and everyday literacy, and they're all speaking out to encourage others to seek diagnosis and assistance during October, which is Dyslexia Awareness Month. Dyslexia isn't what many people think. It's not the simple flipping of letters or numbers. It's a diversity of brain function that causes difficulty recognizing word parts, sounding out words, spelling, reading and attaining language fluency. It is the most common neurocognitive disorder, affecting between 80% and 90% of people who have learning disabilities. The disorder is treatable with tutoring and the use of strategies to break words into chunks, identify them and connect them with meaning. But it never goes away. And it often hides.
This summer’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) responds to an increased for a better understanding of “implementation science”. Educators want to see why a program or technology works in one setting and not another. It’s not enough to know that something works in an idealized environment. They want to know if and how it can help their particular students—and what they can learn from their peers nationwide to make that happen. The agency kicked off a new research competition to better understand how technology programs that IES previously deemed effective can perform in specific but varied settings, from different geographic regions to different populations of learners, educators and schools. It will also look at how a program’s impact may differ based on intervention delivery, such as the particular rotations of students in a blended learning program or the balance of video versus face-to-face instruction.
An increasingly robust body of research supports the power of art to improve learning. Johns Hopkins University professor Mariale Hardiman published a 2019 paper in Trends in Neuroscience and Education describing the results of a randomized, controlled trial she conducted in fifth grade science classrooms. She and her team found that arts integration instruction led to long-term retention of science concepts at least as successfully as conventional science teaching. Arts integration was particularly helpful for students with the lowest reading scores.For teachers at Maya Lin Elementary, integrating art throughout the curriculum and the school day is about making learning fun, multi-disciplinary, connected and creative. It gives students a way to think about the world differently, to make connections, and to contemplate their place within it. Thinking like an artist helps them develop habits that they’ll use no matter what they go on to do, and it has helped inculcate an ethic of perseverance, challenge, and craft to everything students do.
Richard Jackson, an editor who published books by Judy Blume, Paula Fox, Virginia Hamilton and other award-winning authors that broadened the scope of children’s literature, then late in life became a children’s author himself, died on Oct. 2 in Towson, Md. He was 84. Mr. Jackson won acclaim in recent years as the author of “In Plain Sight” (2016) and other children’s books, but it was his work as an editor beginning in the 1960s that changed the landscape of literature for young people. At a time when many people still thought of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries as the height of sophistication for young readers, he published authors who wrote about bullying, race, sexuality and adolescent angst of all kinds. He often found himself defending the books he published against complaints from librarians, school boards and parents who deemed them too strong. Ms. Blume was a frequent target of such objections.
When Massachusetts passed a law last year requiring school districts to screen for dyslexia, Nadine Gaab, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was glad the state was taking a proactive approach to prevent early reading difficulties. She wanted to provide educators with a screening instrument children can administer themselves, and one that provides strategies to help children when they miss key early literacy milestones in areas such as vocabulary, oral listening comprehension and phonological awareness. The Boston Children’s Hospital Early Literacy Screening System is a 20-minute, game-based, adaptive app being piloted in 40 schools in nine states. The project also recently received a $50,000 prize as part of the Solve Challenge Finals, a competition for tech entrepreneurs held by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
As state mandates have come through requiring schools to identify students with dyslexia, educators have quickly realized that the mandates didn’t necessarily come with an instruction manual on how to support students once they were identified. If a student exhibits signs of having dyslexia, the educator’s role is to encourage parents to get a doctor’s diagnosis. If a diagnosis comes through positive, it’s an educator’s job to support this student through their journey, whether the educator is ready or not. Though the definition of dyslexia is clearer than ever, there are still lingering fears to address. Individuals coping with dyslexia need help to overcome their fear of speaking about their struggles so educators can provide them with the help they need. Educators, in turn, need knowledge and resources so they can help their students with dyslexia, rather than being afraid of what a positive diagnosis might require of them. Here are a few ways that educators, students, and parents can change their mindsets about dyslexia so that, together, they can confront it fearlessly.
New brain imaging research debunks a controversial theory about dyslexia that can impact how it is sometimes treated. The cerebellum, a brain structure traditionally considered to be involved in motor function, has been implicated in the reading disability, developmental dyslexia, however, this 'cerebellar deficit hypothesis' has always been controversial. The new research shows that the cerebellum is not engaged during reading in typical readers and does not differ in children who have dyslexia.
Here are the articles I have written as both a librarian and the mother of a child with dyslexia in which I share my personal journey of learning how to better understand, advocate for and help my child with dyslexia. Every day I’m learning more about how to better understand and help my child and children like her. I hope you will join me on this journey because if we want to raise readers, we need to understand that not everyone learns to read in the same way and at the same time. And if I could say one important thing to you it is this: never ever shame a person on their reading journey, no matter where they are at, what they are reading, or how it may differ from yours.
Does it actually help children to learn new words if those words are taught with their spelling patterns? Some time ago, Linnea Ehri and Lee Wilce published the finding that presenting beginning readers with spellings helped them to learn how to pronounce new words. But I was interested in whether this transferred to vocabulary learning more broadly, to the learning of not only new labels, but also what they mean. When we tested this idea, we found that children did indeed learn vocabulary items more readily when they were taught with their spelling patterns. We call this strategy “orthographic facilitation”, as having access to the orthography, or printed form, of a word seems to facilitate vocabulary learning. If we want to narrow the word gap at school entry, then drawing on early letter-sound knowledge (phonics) may well be an important strategy.
The dismissal bell rings at Latimer Middle School and sixth graders spring from their classrooms. We can all imagine the scene: crowded corridors, lockers flung open and shut, a skateboarder weaving past, kids gathering on benches outside, school buses lined up and a teacher at the door to “tell everyone what not to do.” At the corner a crossing guard waits in the same place every day. But in the very first lines of LOOK BOTH WAYS: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, Jason Reynolds’s inspired new novel for middle-grade readers — a National Book Award finalist — we’re reminded to take a closer look. “This story was going to begin … With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen. No one heard anything.” For young readers, the structure of this “tale told in 10 blocks” is bound to be deeply satisfying, a way to zoom in on the everyday mysteries of this neighborhood.
Some of the most important pre-literacy skills begin in infancy. This timeline shows examples of the milestones children meet on their path to fluent reading.
Homework is a hot-button issue for both parents and teachers. When we asked the MindShift audience about it, we got a wide range of thoughtful answers. And the results of our poll were pretty evenly split, although the “No’s” have it by a small margin. There was a pretty clear consensus among educators and parents that homework is not appropriate in elementary school. And research supports this perspective -- homework in the early years doesn’t do a lot to improve achievement. However, some argue that the goal of giving students some light assignments is to start building a habit around responsibly doing work at home. Many elementary teachers responded that reading at home should be the only homework. And research on reading supports this approach. When reading becomes a habit, kids are more likely to enjoy reading and that has all kinds of positive benefits.
The Every Student Succeeds Act aims to close opportunity gaps for English-language learners—but reaching that goal will require more collaboration between educators, scholars, and policymakers, a leading English-language-learner researcher argues. The groups must work together to ensure that English-proficiency standards are used in classrooms in a "conceptually sound and practically feasible manner," argues Okhee Lee, an education professor at New York University and a well-known expert on English-learners and science, in a new policy paper published in Educational Researcher. Lee writes that aligning English-proficiency standards with content standards, in English, mathematics, and science, has proved difficult because of a "lack of communication and collaboration" between researchers who focus on English-learners and those who specialize in those content areas. ESSA content standards call for all students, including English-learners, to engage in academically rigorous and language-intensive learning, such as arguing from evidence and constructing explanations.
Texts have tremendous power in our lives; they open realms, spark and extend interests, and add to our understanding of the world we live in. In order to tap into all of that information, get lost in those stories, explore the ideas of poets and dig deep into their curiosities, our kids must see themselves as readers. Very young children don’t pick up a book and think, “Oh, I should learn to read.” On the other hand, I don’t think they pick up a book and think, “Reading is hard/stupid/a waste of time.” As pre-readers, they grab a book because they have an interest in it—the cover, the memory of it being read to them, the pictures. In the case of some of the latest board books, children may simply be drawn to the textures added on each page. At that point, children are intrigued, curious, and wanting to explore. What happens, then, as the years go by and they come to believe that reading is a skill beyond their grasp or a challenge they may never conquer? With some kids, once their confidence gets rocked, it can be difficult to recover.
Kindergarten should not merely establish a springboard for success in upper grades. It is also the developmental foundation for mastery of content that is the focus of elementary, middle and high school. More K-12 schools are emphasizing the noncognitive skills that students can access throughout their schooling and careers. There is good reason to make this investment. But just as recognition is growing that these skills matter, our youngest students are losing out on opportunities to practice and hone such skills. As the white paper “Taking Back Kindergarten: Rethinking Rigor for Young Learners” discusses, a rigorous approach to kindergarten does not have to be at odds with developmentally appropriate education. Fusing academic and social development can create a remarkably rich kindergarten classroom. Rather than rows of students working quietly on practice worksheets or listening to the teacher speak, developmentally appropriate kindergarten classrooms are filled with children engaged in activities that match with their learning content.
Finalists in five categories for the 2019 National Book Awards were announced today by the National Book Foundation. Find out the finalists in the Young People’s Literature category. The winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 20, at the 70th National Book Awards ceremony in New York City, hosted by LeVar Burton.
Research has shown that reading is not a natural process, and it’s not a guessing game. Written language is a code. Certain combinations of letters predictably represent certain sounds. And for the last few decades, the research has been clear: Teaching young kids how to crack the code—teaching systematic phonics—is the most reliable way to make sure that they learn how to read words. Of course, there is more to reading than seeing a word on a page and pronouncing it out loud. As such, there is more to teaching reading than just teaching phonics. Reading requires children to make meaning out of print. They need to know the different sounds in spoken language and be able to connect those sounds to written letters in order to decipher words. They need deep background and vocabulary knowledge so that they understand the words they read. Eventually, they need to be able to recognize most words automatically and read connected text fluently, attending to grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has just issued a report on what pediatricians can — and should — do to help “school-aged children who are not progressing academically.” Dr. Arthur Lavin, one of the lead authors of the report and the chairman of the A.A.P. committee on the psychosocial aspects of child and family health, said that pediatricians can play an important role in working with children who are struggling in school. He does so in his own practice in the Cleveland area and said it has emerged as a high priority among his patients because it is so common. What the report means, he said, is that the A.A.P. is setting a standard for the care of the child not doing well in school, and that the issue deserves the same attention as any other complex problem getting in a child’s way. The pediatrician should make sure the problem is properly investigated and the cause is found, though much of the specific testing and treatment will be done by others.
Georgia will have an additional $179.2 million to spend on improving reading in public schools over the next half decade after winning another literacy grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The federal Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant builds on prior awards to Georgia. In 2016, the state won $61.5 million. In 2011, Georgia won $25.7 million in what was then called the Striving Readers program. Some local educators have seen gains in literacy scores after using the money to buy reading-focused tests and curriculum for younger students. Early literacy has become a focus of the state’s top leaders. During the last legislation session, lawmakers mandated screening for dyslexia and pushed for changes in teacher literacy training.
In many preschool classrooms in the U.S., children are asked to do little more than identify shapes and letters and sit quietly on rugs during story time. But a growing body of research is overturning assumptions about what early education can look like. When children learn certain skills, such as the ability to focus attention—skills that emerge when teachers employ games and conversations that prompt kids to think about what they are doing—the children do better socially and academically for years afterward. A study published last year, which tracked kids for a decade starting in preschool, found some evidence that children with teachers trained to foster such abilities may get better grades compared with children who did not get this type of education.
Catherine Drennan describes herself as insatiably curious, a trait she credits to her parents. Drennan was excited when it came time to start school. But when she got to first grade, she hit a major stumbling block. Drennan couldn't make sense of the reading exercises the class was doing. She compares those pages full of words to a code that she couldn't figure out how to crack. Drennan was eventually placed in the lowest reading level in her grade, a designation that felt extremely embarrassing. "I was someone who was so in love with learning but learning was not in love with me," she says. Eventually, Drennan was diagnosed with dyslexia. At the time, in the 1970s, scientists and educators didn't know a lot about the diagnosis and there was little in the way of advice for kids like her on how to find other ways to decode the written word.