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.
In the wake of national unrest and a renewed demand for racial justice, and on the eve of a back-to-school season unlike any in memory, Emily Hanford new radio documentary -- “What the Words Say: Many kids struggle with reading—and children of color are far less likely to get the help they need" -- is timely because it travels upstream to remind us why these deep-seated inequalities among U.S. children continue to persist. On national reading tests, more than 80 percent of Black and Native American students score below proficient, and 77 percent of Hispanic students remain mired under that same threshold. Making matters worse, many parents don’t know how far behind their kids are until it’s too late. As inexcusable as this state of affairs may be, it’s unclear how things are supposed to improve in the time of Covid-19. If Hanford makes one thing palpable through her reporting, it’s that schools have a hard enough of a time teaching children how to read when the lessons are conducted in-person, let alone through the keyhole of Zoom. With many schools planning to remain physically shuttered through at least the first semester, if not longer, they would do well to leverage the wealth of resources available to bridge the gap. If they don’t, the Matthew Effect on reading comprehension will take hold and never let go.
Have you ever revisited something you wrote, only to discover that it omitted important information or assumed the reader just knew what you meant? This spring, not being in the physical classroom with my students highlighted that challenge for me. I wrote directions and created assignments that made sense in my teacher brain, but they sometimes left out important components and didn’t make much sense to my students. To address this, I started to test-run my students’ experiences to ensure that my materials and learning experiences were user-friendly and accessible for all of my learners. This practice was humbling but very valuable. As we begin a new year that will likely include distance learning in one way or another, it’s more important than ever to steer from the student end. Here are some methods I’ve found to make test-running students’ experiences both efficient and effective.
The value of mass tutoring initiatives, whether in-person or virtual, in addressing the academic problems posed by the Covid-19 pandemic remains untested. But experts say making tutors available to more kids — especially those least able to afford to hire one themselves — could be vital to combating learning losses that resulted when the coronavirus forced schools to shut down and transition to online-only instruction. The toll on students’ attainment and engagement has been dire; it will almost certainly be compounded by the usual slide in learning many kids experience over summer vacation — and made even worse for students in places like Southern California that face prospective fall closures. The challenges are bound to be especially pronounced among disadvantaged children.
The first time the High Museum of Art devoted an entire exhibit to the work of a children’s book illustrator, the show focused on Jerry Pinkney, a Caldecott winner whose watercolor fairytales drew comparisons to Winslow Homer. That was 2013. Seven years later, a new exhibit includes another Pinkney, Jerry’s son Brian, whose work will be part of “Picture The Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement through Children’s Books.” One of the underlying messages of the show, and of the ongoing teamwork with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, is that children’s books are not a frivolous pursuit and that the story of the civil rights movement can be taught to adults, as well as children, through this medium.
Four educators share how they are going to apply lessons they learned in the spring to this new school year, including by reaching out to students as well as to parents.
For one week in March, Patty Leitz watched her 7-year-old son, Michael, who has been diagnosed with severe autism and is nonverbal, not follow her directions or even respond when she’d try to teach him at home. Then everything changed. Michael’s special education teacher started sending her not only a video greeting for Michael and lesson plans and timing for everything every day, but also a five- to six-minute video for Ms. Leitz. In it, the teacher walked her through exactly how to teach her son. The daily lessons for both student and parent meant that Michael was keeping up with his skills. But they also empowered his mother, helping her realize that she can be an effective part of his education.
As schools have entered a new normal during the Covid-19 pandemic, the words “hybrid model” have become buzzwords in education. In the Estacada School District in Oregon where I teach, we have sought to better understand what a hybrid model looks like and how we can use it to best serve our students. This summer, we implemented a summer school program using the hybrid model to allow us to pilot this new way of teaching. During this hybrid-model summer school, we learned several valuable things about student engagement, building community, and peer-to-peer discourse.
Children enter kindergarten with a wide variety of previous education experiences: some have participated in pre-K programs, whether private, state-funded, or part of Head Start, while others have spent time in a family child care setting or in informal arrangements with family, friends, and neighbors. Regardless of the setting, this transition is fraught with stress and uncertainty for many children and their parents. It is up to the educators in both elementary school and pre-K settings to ease the transition into formal education. New America is exploring strategies that support the planning of a stable, well-connected transition between early education and kindergarten.
Recently my daughter was searching for her sketchbook when she found her missing paintbrushes instead. Such is the recovery of lost belongings. You’re looking for one thing, you find something else. I’ve stumbled onto story ideas this way. I’m so sure I’m writing about a missing brother, when I discover I’m actually writing about empathy and self-acceptance. Most good mysteries strike a graceful balance between plot and character development. These three do just that, by inviting you to look and look again, to uncover the stories underneath.
When remote instruction started at my school last spring, I met with my students every morning at 10 to alternate math and reading lessons virtually. At first, my kindergartners thought it was fun, different, and exciting to have class through Zoom. But it wasn’t long before online learning stopped being quite so fun and exciting. For some of the kids, it was clearly becoming monotonous. There were lots of challenges for me in teaching virtually. The biggest was keeping the kids engaged. My teammates and I shared ideas, and I had varying amounts of success. The following are all strategies I used this past spring.
Students with special needs have been particularly hard hit by school closures in Chicago during the coronavirus pandemic. Vital services, many of which can only be done in person, disappeared for weeks when campuses shuttered in March — and some students weren’t able to access them for the rest of the school year. Some parents were hoping that the extended school year would give their child a chance to make up for lost time. But, they found programming riddled with the same issues as the spring: limited access to clinicians, difficulty navigating online applications, and not enough time with teachers and classroom assistants. The experiences of these two families — which show how difficult it has been for schools to serve children with special needs outside of the school building and just how wildly such services can vary by individual school — spotlight the challenges ahead as Chicago starts the year remotely.
There were―and still are―a lot of unknowns about the pandemic, but one thing was clear as soon as preventative measures took hold in the spring: Book signings couldn't happen for a long time. Well, it couldn't be done the traditional way. “We’ve got to innovate,” said “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” author and illustrator Jeff Kinney, who was determined to find a way to connect with kids over his April-turned-August release, Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure, the second book narrated by Wimpy Kid Greg Heffley’s best friend. His solution was driving an orange "Awesome Friendly Adventure” van to some Northeast states, where the coronavirus cases were under control, for an honest-to-goodness, in-person (with all pandemic precautions in place), 10-day book tour. “I owe it to the kids who are readers,” he said before the tour began.
Nearly every primary school “does” phonics to some degree and it is often seen as a necessary but dull chore, akin to trying to get children to eat some greens when they’d more naturally want to be eating ice cream. Doubts over whether it is the “right” thing for children to be doing still lurk in some quarters, too. This negative perception exists despite reading probably being the most widely researched subject in education and the evidence for the superiority of systematic phonics being overwhelming. Why is this evidence so poorly known among educators? The ignorance about the evidence matters because there are still instances of phonics being taught badly. For example, using levelled books rather than cumulative, decodable readers, in which all the words encountered matched the phonemes already taught. Doing the former fundamentally undermines systematic phonics.
In 2016, the Putnam County School District decided to try a more rigorous literacy curriculum, beginning in the elementary grades—one that included solid phonics instruction and also built the kind of knowledge students would need in order to understand material at upper grade levels. They opted for Core Knowledge Language Arts, or CKLA. At first, third-grade teacher Deloris Fowler had serious doubts about the new curriculum. CKLA didn’t explicitly teach comprehension skills, and it covered topics that seemed far too sophisticated for third graders, like the Vikings, ancient Rome, and astronomy. It seemed, she says, that this approach was “taking a big gamble on kids.” And, like many teachers, she didn’t relish the idea of teaching from what she saw as a script. But Fowler found that her third graders were not only able to understand the material; they also loved it. Eager to learn more, they would often read ahead in their student books. Fowler still tried to make time for students to read books of their choice, but she found they often wanted more books on the CKLA topics. When they clamored to learn more about Pompeii, Fowler appealed to the school librarian for additional books, bought some with her own money, and brought in a friend who had traveled there to do a show-and-tell. Fowler was also impressed by the improvement in students’ writing.
With COVID-19 cases spiking in states across the nation, the prospect of school in buildings is becoming unlikely for many more students. Yet some schools are prioritizing students with special education needs, such as students with disabilities and English-language learners, ushering them to the front of the line for in-person learning. Most students slogged through a spring of difficult, jarring distance learning thrust upon them by schools’ efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But there seems to be consensus that the stakes for a strong return to school and face-to-face instruction are especially high for certain groups of students. In states from California to Connecticut, educators and advocates fear the outbreak-related school closures had severe consequences for the combined 12 million students who are English-learners or who have IEPs, the carefully constructed documents developed to guide the provision of instructional supports for children who are eligible for special education services. Some schools were unable to deliver services, such as speech, occupational, and physical therapy, that were guaranteed in IEPs. English-learners, especially those from homes where English is not the primary language, lost access to teachers and classmates who helped foster understanding of the language.
The Oneida Indian Nation announced recently it will release a new Oneida language-learning children’s book, “The Legend of How the Bear Lost His Tail,” based on the Haudenosaunee legend that has been passed down for generations. “The Legend of How the Bear Lost His Tail” is made available through collaborative efforts and support from Madison-Oneida BOCES. In development for nearly a year and produced with original illustrations, the new book features both the Oneida text and the full English translation, as well as phonetics and pictures using a rebus format for the two main characters of the story, the bear and the fox. The rebus format allows any person to pick up the book and learn the words by the end of the story by using pictures, color and phonetics right in the middle of the sentences.
The Black Lives Matter protests aren’t just about police brutality. The movement asks all institutions, including schools, to take a hard look at themselves and identify policies that contribute to systemic racism—and then to reform them. Data is a crucial tool for teachers, administrators, and principals to begin this reflection process. But too often, racial blindness and deficit-based thinking can corrupt data analysis. When they do, school personnel may inadvertently arrive at conclusions that mischaracterize or harm students of color. This is where data equity comes into play. Having an equity approach to data analysis means maintaining an awareness of potential distortion and taking proactive steps to counteract it. We must adopt an equity mindset in the collection, interpretation, and use of education data. Collecting the right information is the first step of any data project. Racial equity analyses often seek to understand how or why school opportunities, outcomes, and environments differ along racial lines.
There’s one key difference between schooling in the spring and this fall: We should rely on teachers and counselors more. That’s not to say parents won’t have a major role to play as translators and messengers to teachers, who will not be able to develop as deep a relationship with our child through a screen as they would in a classroom setting. “Let the teacher be the instructor, but the parent can be the observer and the facilitator,” said Bibb Hubbard, founder and CEO of Learning Heroes, an organization that collects data and creates resources to improve the parent-teacher relationship. Here’s how to get more involved without spending all day monitoring classwork, hiring expensive tutors, or losing sleep while wracked with guilt that we are failing our children.
With less than a month before most schools in the country are scheduled to start, many teachers still don’t know how they will be conducting classes this fall. Each model brings its own challenges. Remote teachers will have to build class culture and routines with students they may never have met in person; teachers in school buildings will need to figure out how to adapt their instruction, shaped and constrained by the physical environment. Experts say there are some priorities for instruction this year that cut across environments. Frequent communication between students, teachers, and parents is essential to re-engaging students in school, especially if class is online in the fall. Challenging students with cognitively demanding work, and providing them supports where needed, is more important than ever as schools anticipate significant learning loss. We discuss these priorities and present ideas for adapting common classroom routines for remote or socially distanced settings.
When it comes to youth and children's books, no one is better equipped to make a recommendation than kids themselves. TODAY's favorite book lover, Jenna Bush Hager, asked three kids who've already made a name for themselves in the literary world to help her pick books for a special summer kids' edition of Read With Jenna. These bright young minds discuss the importance of representation in literature and share books that reflect different skin colors, cultures and beliefs.
Many kids struggle with reading – and children of color are far less likely to get the help they need. A false assumption about what it takes to be a skilled reader has created deep inequalities among U.S. children, putting many on a difficult path in life. America’s approach to reading instruction is having an especially devastating impact on Black, Hispanic and American Indian children. The downward spiral that can start with early reading problems is a source of profound inequality in our society. This could be prevented if more educators and policymakers understood what cognitive scientists have figured out over the past several decades about what’s going on when kids struggle with reading. In this new podcast, you'll also hear one mom's story about her own son and how she is now advocating for other kids to ensure they get the reading instruction and support they need.
The necessary pivot to online everything has been disappointing, as often virtual events fall short of in-person experiences. But, in some cases, the virtual option is making it possible for a larger audience to view or participate in events that normally require prohibitively costly travel, as well as taking days off. From book festivals to education conferences to awards ceremonies, here are just some of the 2020 events that have moved online.
Even in schools offering face-to-face instruction this fall, one “class” of students likely won’t be the coherent unit that it was in past years. Within one 5th grade class, for example, students may be split in a hybrid schedule—half in-person two or three days, online the rest. Some may have opted for fully remote instruction while their classmates are in school buildings. The same teacher might be responsible for all of these students at once, or all 5th grade teachers might team up, each instructing in a different modality. With so many moving parts, how can teachers make sure all students have a coherent learning experience? Don’t try to plan two completely different courses, experts say. Instead, think about goals for the class: What is it that you want students to know and be able to do by the end? Those goals should guide instruction across environments, even if you’re using different techniques to achieve them online and in-person. Education Week spoke with educators, online learning experts, and curriculum providers for concrete advice on how to keep instruction and materials coherent when students are in and out of the school building. Here’s what they recommend:
Ayo Heinegg’s son, a rising sixth-grader in the District with dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is typically a high-performing student. But he struggled to keep up with his coursework on multiple online platforms and lost his confidence in the classroom. And in Loudoun County, 8-year-old Theo Duran, who is autistic, struggles more to walk up the stairs or hold a crayon to write — all tasks he was making progress on before the coronavirus pandemic hit and shut down his school. Parents across the country who have students with special education needs say the stakes are high if schools do not reopen soon. They say their children are not just falling behind academically but are missing developmental milestones and losing key skills necessary for an independent life.
Baltimore City Public Schools teachers are part of a growing group of educators who have shifted away from the traditional ELA reading curriculum, which tends to expose students to unfamiliar subjects and teaches skills like “finding the main idea” and “summarizing.” According to the Baltimore district and other school systems, this skills-based approach to reading instruction has done little to improve reading proficiency for many students and ignores growing research that emphasizes the crucial role of background knowledge in comprehending what you read.
The coronavirus pandemic’s disruption to our lives and schools brings endless waves of risk and unpredictability. Best laid plans can be upended by a single positive case. As the nation’s K-12 educators, you are making high-stakes decisions and choices that impact the health, safety, and well-being of students, families, and yourselves. You’ve got many questions. EdWeek wants to help you find the answers. Below are questions that you have posed to us, organized into topical themes. Our newsroom responds to those questions with links to reporting that provides fuller answers.
With a growing number of fantastic Native-centered books being published and available today, I am hopeful that we are headed toward a renaissance of Native writers’ works being used as a matter of course in schools, from kindergarten through college. Certainly, with increasing awareness of social and racial justice, many librarians and teachers are using Native-centered books in their instruction, and not just for cultural learning or social studies. Native authors, writing about their own cultures, bring an accuracy and authenticity to their work that is hard for outsiders to replicate. With that in mind, the following books are all written by Native authors, about their own tribal nations. Suggested instructional uses assume that teachers and media specialists, prior to or upon the first reading, have set the scene for context, and will return to the book as mentor texts to teach targeted instructional goals.
If past upheavals are any indication, when this one stabilizes, the challenges we endured will shape the world that follows. As we return to classrooms, they are likely to look different as a result. We hope that our nation will approach education with a new sense of purpose and a shared commitment to ensuring that our schools truly work for every child. Whether or not that happens will depend on our resolve and our actions in the coming months. We have the proof points and know-how to transform learning, bolster instruction, and meet the needs of our most disadvantaged students. What has changed is the urgency for doing so at scale. Our starting place must be a vision of equal opportunity, and from there we must create the conditions that can actually ensure it .... We need to reimagine the systems that shape student learning and put the communities whose circumstances we most need to elevate at the center of that process. We need to recognize that we will not improve student outcomes without building the capacity of the adults who work with them, supporting them with high-quality resources and meaningful opportunities for collaboration and professional growth. We need to promote stronger connections between K–12, higher education, and the world of work so that all students are prepared for lifelong success.
The simple truth is that remote and hybrid learning will be with us for the foreseeable future, as we continue to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. In that context, denying students access to broadband is tantamount to denying them access to education. We—as a former U.S. secretary of education and a current member of the Federal Communications Commission—believe this year’s summer assignment is clear and urgent: We must make sure that every student has the home connectivity and devices they need to make the most of learning during the coming school year.
In a rural sliver of northeast Indiana, Jessica Downey co-owns the only child care licensed in her small county to offer the state’s pre-kindergarten vouchers for low-income families. But last year, only one child signed up for On My Way Pre-K. Other children filled the rest of the spaces in Downey’s pre-K class. “I honestly think if everybody knew about On My Way Pre-K, and there were providers offering it, there would be more people interested in it — people who want to get their kids in preschool, but they can’t afford it,” Downey said. After several years of building up its pre-K program, Indiana is now poised to evaluate the success of On My Way Pre-K. The upcoming year holds the potential for expanding what has so far been a small-scale opportunity, but the coronavirus could foil future progress.