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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Over the past year, Deprece Bonilla, a mother of five in Oakland, Calif., has gotten creative about helping her children thrive in a world largely mediated by screens. It all sometimes feels like too much to bear. Still, when her fifth-grade son’s public-school teacher told her he was years behind in reading, she was in disbelief. Ms. Bonilla’s experience illustrates a roiling debate in education, about how and even whether to measure the academic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s children — and how to describe learning gaps without stigmatizing or discouraging students and families. [Some] are pushing back against the concept of “learning loss,” especially on behalf of the Black, Hispanic and low-income children who, research shows, have fallen further behind over the past year. They fear that a focus on what’s been lost could incite a moral panic that paints an entire generation as broken, and say that relatively simple, common-sense solutions can help students get back up to speed.
In Transylvania, the district started training its elementary teachers in the science of reading in December. Since then, third-grade teacher Samantha Osteen says, she feels more hopeful. “It’s a relief for me to hear this and see this,” she said. “This is exactly what my kids need. I don’t have to guess. I can see, this is what they need if I need them to learn how to read, point blank. It’s not impossible. It’s manageable.” Transylvania County Schools plans more training. Already, teachers completed a one-day training with the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, and some received another four-day training through The Reading League. Plans to start training in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) are on hold, as the district waits to see what happens with proposed legislation that could impact future district-level training.
How do we teach very young learners to appreciate each person’s unique story and background—especially those who are traditionally underrepresented? At Germantown Friends School (GFS), author studies offer an engaging opportunity for students to take a deep dive into the works of one author or illustrator of color at a time to learn what their books reveal about different backgrounds, cultures, traditions, journeys, and families.
Rocks, even in kids’ books, such as William Steig’s “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” bode bad things: hopelessness, stuckness, imprisonment. But in this beautiful, spare, funny book by Jon Klassen — the Caldecott Medal-winning author of “I Want My Hat Back,” “This Is Not My Hat” and “We Found a Hat” — the rock signals something different: doom. Yay. With its muted, desolate landscapes, “The Rock From the Sky” is hilariously dark, especially about social relations. It features three main characters in five stories — a hat-wearing turtle whose favorite spot happens to be right where (unbeknown to him) a giant boulder is about to drop, a hat-wearing armadillo who’s worried about standing with the turtle in this spot and a beret-wearing snake who joins the armadillo.
Despite an estimated $18 billion spent annually on professional learning, there’s very little evidence that it’s effective. A new initiative is taking up the challenge of reviewing and rating professional learning in a more rigorous way, centered on the adoption and use of “high-quality instructional materials” (HQIM), and with the ambition of becoming something like the EdReports.org of professional learning. Louisiana-based Rivet Education has quietly published a “Professional Learning Partner Guide” aimed at increasing states’ use of high-quality instructional materials (HQIM) and aligned professional development for teachers.
Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable students, and this is especially true as coronavirus-safety measures have led to less classroom time and frequent closures. Parents of elementary school students with disabilities may be wondering how they can support their child’s special education at home. While schools continue to implement Individual Education Plans and mandated services regardless of the remote, hybrid, or at-school learning model, there are resources available to parents who would like to supplement learning at home. Here are the best resources to help with online learning for special education students.
“Sesame Street” is turning its attention to helping kids with autism cope with change. The venerable children’s show is introducing a new episode and a slate of online videos and activities featuring Julia, a 4-year-old muppet with autism. The collection of materials is designed to address challenges that families face adjusting to changes in routine and uncertainty generally, something that has become all too familiar during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It's been a year since teachers were handed an unprecedented request: Educate students in entirely new ways amid the backdrop of a pandemic. In this comic series, we'll illustrate one teacher's story each week from now until the end of the school year. Episode 2: Lori Chavez, a middle school social studies teacher in Kewa Pueblo, N.M., discusses the importance of staying connected to your community during lockdown.
Most elementary schools teach reading with either a basal reading program, a teacher-developed curriculum, or a balanced literacy program like Fountas & Pinnell or Teachers College Units of Study. But the Council of Chief State School Officers, in calling for a national improvement in reading instruction, has called upon all state superintendents and commissioners to encourage schools and districts to adopt the high-quality materials that have been developed in the last few years to line up with both Common Core state standards and with the science of reading. In this podcast, experts Carol Jago and David Liben talk with Ed Trust’s director of practice Tanji Reed Marshall and writer-in-residence Karin Chenoweth about the difference using high-quality materials at both the elementary and secondary levels could make in helping students learn to read.
Drawing from brain science and research about learning, we must reinvent school in ways that center relationships, allow educators to deeply understand what children know and have experienced so they can build on it and draw connections to new learning; lead with social and emotional supports and skills, fully integrated with academic learning; and enable children to see their strengths and what they do know — to feel competent and confident that they can learn. We also need to support educators in recognizing the effects of trauma, accessing resources for children, and supporting their attachment and healing, rather than unwittingly exacerbating the effects of trauma by using curriculum and rules that alienate, rather than reattach students to school.
If you’re an educator, therapist, or caregiver, it’s important to understand why a child might struggle with handwriting, including the underlying skills that can impact functional handwriting legibility. Gross motor skills, fine motor skills, attention, sensory processing, and visual motor skills all play a role. Over time, strategies that are concrete and routine can build on the underlying component skills connected to the physiological and cognitive mechanics of handwriting.
According to the most recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP), two-thirds of K-12 students are not writing at levels expected for their grade level. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, writing had not received the same attention as math or reading. Now, as teachers struggle to manage a combination of remote and face-to-face instruction, it is difficult to imagine how students are being encouraged to write regularly. These unique times call for new approaches to writing instruction and assessment.
When the pandemic hit and public libraries closed, collection funds at many libraries diverted toward ebooks, including ebooks of board books and picture books. But are ebooks a good format for young children? The research is a mixed bag. A 2019 study showed that toddlers are less interested when reading tablet-based books with parents. A 2012 Joan Ganz Cooney Center report found that parents engaged more with children around story content when they used print or a straight ebook than when they used an enhanced ebook with animation, games, and other features. But some of these features, when smartly integrated, promoted children’s language and literacy skills—particularly dictionaries, text that highlights as narrators read, and interactive features that support comprehension.
It's been a year since teachers were handed an unprecedented request: educate students in entirely new ways amid the backdrop of a pandemic. In this comic series, we'll illustrate one teacher's story each week from now until the end of the school year. Maria Lemire, a preschool teacher in the East Village, New York City, on the challenges of early childhood education during the pandemic.
Children, animals and, yes, a piece of toast try on other identities, and learn not to judge books by their covers.
Judy Blume opened up about one of her regrets in life: never meeting beloved author Beverly Cleary, who died last week at age 104. Blume, 83, took to Twitter Saturday to pay homage to the late Cleary, writing, "Beverly Cleary! My inspiration. I wanted to write books like yours."
Beverly Cleary, whose death at 104 was announced Friday, first introduced Ramona as a minor character in a different children’s novel. But over the next 50 years and eight books, she became her own protagonist, a real girl suffering the real problems of childhood, in all of their smallness and their enormity.
Never mind that Beverly Cleary was beloved and popular, an icon. She was the kind of writer who answered her own phone.
Her funny stories about Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, the sisters Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and a motorcycling mouse named Ralph never talked down to readers.
The U.S. Department of Education is being asked to tell schools to direct significant funding from the recent COVID-19 relief law toward students with disabilities who have missed out on services they were entitled to during the pandemic. A broad coalition of parents, teachers unions and disability advocates filed an 80-page “petition for guidance” this week with the Education Department. The move comes as school districts are set to see a huge influx of cash from the new law known as the American Rescue Plan.
Four educators offer suggestions on helping students develop critical-thinking skills, including through the use of "evaluative praise."
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted school library budgets and spending this year, according to the results of the latest SLJ School Library Budget and Spending Survey. About 38 percent of librarians reported a decrease in their library budget from 2019–20. Many schools are looking for donations and other sources of funding to supplement their budget losses, while teachers are spending hundreds of dollars of their own money on items for the library and also searching for free and donated materials though sites such as DonorsChoose. The percentage of funding coming from book fairs decreased as well, from 17 percent in 2017-18 to 14 percent this year.
Everything was normal last spring up until the minute it wasn’t, as the world seemed to stop on a dime and schools found themselves transitioning overnight to remote instruction. But while the great COVID pivot may have felt instantaneous, it took far longer to begin to grasp the consequences for students and families of these long-run closures. Here at The 74, we’ve chronicled those consequences over the past 12 months via our new PANDEMIC hub. Now looking back through the seasons at which stories were most shared and widely circulated, a few obvious trends emerge about the evolving reality for students and readers’ top concerns. Here are a dozen of the key lessons we’ve learned over the past 12 months about the students most impacted by the public health crisis.
Only 35 percent of America’s 4th graders read proficiently, and access to educational opportunity and literacy in the United States remains overwhelmingly defined by ZIP code, race, socioeconomics, and ethnicity. In failing to set so many students up for future success, we have not only cheated our children, but we have failed our teachers. They have been fighting a constant battle to help their students thrive in a system set up to fail them, generation after generation. Teaching remotely for many months has not lightened those stress loads nor revised the necessary objectives ahead. Here’s an urgent two-point plan to fix what’s been fundamentally broken for generations as we think about what classrooms should look like in the 2021-22 school year ahead and beyond.
Whether a part of online or in-person classes, videos are a teaching tool that can enable students to learn new concepts and skills and engage in practice activities, all at their own pace. What actually happens when students watch instructional videos in class, however, doesn’t always lead to the expected outcome. From my own experience in a classroom and through my interactions with these teachers, I’ve discovered some strategies to help students learn from videos, regardless of the educational setting. It turns out that I had missed a huge step in the learning process. I had never taught my students how to learn from a video. First, think about your objectives for the video.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and libraries last spring, nothing felt the same. But one thing that didn’t change was the curiosity of kids. Even as their lives were upended by the new virus, they wanted to know more about it, and more about the workers who kept the world spinning while the rest of us stayed home. Those who make books for kids felt the same curiosity. While many adults coped with the lockdown by taking up new hobbies or baking bread, some authors and illustrators found that leaning into the situation with creativity was a better fit. A year into the pandemic, those projects are beginning to hit bookshelves. They include everything from hopeful picture books and tributes to scientists and essential workers to historical perspectives on public health.
For many elementary school teachers, teaching students how to read is a central part of the job. But the majority of states don’t evaluate whether prospective teachers have the knowledge they’ll need to teach reading effectively before granting them certification, according to a new analysis from the National Council on Teacher Quality. According to NCTQ’s evaluation of state licensure tests for teachers, 20 states use assessments that fully measure candidates’ knowledge of the “science of reading,” referencing the body of research on the most effective methods for teaching young children how to decode text, read fluently, and understand what they’re reading. For special education teachers, a group that regularly works with students with reading difficulties, just 11 states’ certification tests meet this standard.
Digital picture books have been a godsend during the pandemic. With libraries shuttered and bookstores a nonessential trip, many parents have downloaded book after book on tablets and smartphones to keep their little ones reading. But when the pandemic is over, many parents will face a dilemma. Should they revert back to print or stick with e-books? Do kids absorb and learn to read more from one format versus the other? A new analysis of all the research on digital picture books, published in March 2021, helps to answer this question. The answer isn’t clear cut: paper generally has an edge over digital but there are exceptions. Digital books can be a better option with nonfiction texts and for building vocabulary. Some digital storybooks were better; researchers found that certain types of story-related extras seemed to boost a child’s comprehension but they were rare.
April has long been known as “Autism Awareness Month,” but advocates are pushing this time around for a federal designation of the month focused on acceptance instead. The Autism Society of America is spearheading an effort calling on local, state and federal leaders across the nation to name April “Autism Acceptance Month.” The group is seeking support from members of Congress and the White House for the designation. The Autism Society notes that advocates have been using the term “acceptance” over “awareness” for some time, but the government has been slow to adjust. Other groups including Easter Seals and the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities are supporting the effort. “It’s not enough to know that someone has autism, we need to accept and push for inclusion so that individuals can fully participate in our social fabric,” said Christopher Banks, president and CEO of the Autism Society.
Marianne Carus, the German-born, Sorbonne-educated founder of Cricket, the lively and erudite monthly magazine often called “The New Yorker for kids,” died on March 3 at her home in Peru, Ill. She was 92. Ms. Carus began Cricket in 1973 after years of dismay over what she considered the sorry state of children’s reading material, including the books that her own three children brought home from school. “Good literature is literature you cannot put down,” she explained.. “And children for some reason did not get the best literature in the schools or in their homes.”
The history of vaccines is a deserving addition to Don Brown’s Big Ideas That Changed the World graphic nonfiction series, and the arrival of “A Shot in the Arm!” couldn’t be more timely. Narrated by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), this fascinating and enlightening journey takes us around the world and introduces us to a range of scientific superstars of germ theory and vaccination development. One of the book’s shining moments is a clever infographic depiction of how vaccines help antigens more efficiently fight certain pathogens.
The right to be taught how to read is a birthright of all Americans, argues attorney Mark Rosenbaum. And schools have a responsibility to teach them, says reading expert Nell Duke. They are allies in a series of legal cases to try to establish the “right to read,” and they join podcast co-hosts Karin Chenoweth and Tanji Reed Marshall in this second installment of a series of podcasts about reading instruction. (The first was a conversation with reading researcher Alfred Tatum.) Among other things, they discussed the three legal cases Rosenbaum has brought.
After a dreary year spent largely at home in front of the computer, many U.S. children could be looking at summer school—and that’s just what many parents want. Although the last place most kids want to spend summer is in a classroom, experts say that after a year of interrupted study, it’s crucial to do at least some sort of learning over the break, even if it’s not in school and is incorporated into traditional camp offerings. Several governors, including in California, Kansas and Virginia, are pushing for more summer learning. And some states are considering extending their 2021-22 academic year or starting the fall semester early. Many cities, meanwhile, are talking about beefing up their summer school programs, including Los Angeles, Hartford, Connecticut and Atlanta—the latter of which considered making summer school compulsory before settling for strongly recommending that kids who are struggling take part.
As the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and at-home learning continues, there will be a need to help students, especially the nation’s most vulnerable students, complete unfinished learning for weeks, months, and even years to come. Research shows targeted intensive tutoring can help historically underserved students to catch-up to meet high standards. District leaders should follow the research and invest in evidence-based methods to support students to get back on track. Targeted intensive tutoring, often referred to as high-dosage tutoring, consists of having the same tutor to work over an extended period of time (e.g., all year, every school day) on academic skills, such as math or reading.
After making a major shift to remote learning at the beginning of the pandemic, some teachers had to adjust to another unfamiliar environment when their school buildings reopened: teaching students online and in-person at the same time. Engaging, monitoring and supporting two sets of students with very different needs is a complex juggling act that some teachers have described as their biggest challenge ever. From the beginning, it was clear that teachers needed support. The Learning Accelerator interviewed educators around the country in order to develop concrete guidance on the subject and capture and share specific strategies that have helped teachers and students succeed. Here are three pieces of advice from teachers at Personalized Learning Prearatory at Sam Houston Elementary School in Dallas.
For some students, executive functioning challenges are present in school every day, even when there is a consistent and predictable routine. Now imagine the challenges that students with executive functioning deficits encounter when navigating the ever-changing schedule of hybrid learning. The thoughts and frustrations can pile on with inconsistent days, variable schedules, and flexible routines, possibly leading to withdrawal, maladaptive behaviors, and an increased risk of school failure. However, there are solutions and accommodations to decrease undesired behaviors and disorganized thoughts associated with executive functioning challenges in the hybrid learning model.
Book fairs at Lake George (NY) Elementary School are the social event of the year. But after the COVID-19 pandemic moved schools online last March, the Lake George Elementary book fair—like many across the country—was canceled. When the district reopened for in-person learning in the fall, school library media specialist Bridget Crossman wanted to re-create that community engagement. The school library was off-limits to visitors, so Crossman held the book fair outside. During the past year, both Follett and Scholastic Book Fairs were forced to reimagine their models. With Follett’s eFair program, librarians receive curated lists and an array of tools, such as social media posts, email templates, and mailers. Books are sorted and bagged for each student to minimize work for the librarian. Scholastic’s virtual fairs include interactive author and video content. Follett and Scholastic also now ship books directly to families.
As President Biden pushes to get students back in schools, there's one crucial question: How much social distance is necessary in the classroom? The answer (to that question) has huge consequences for how many students can safely fit into classrooms. Public schools in particular are finding it difficult to accommodate a full return if 6 feet of social distancing is required — a key factor behind many schools offering hybrid schedules that bring students back to the classroom just a few days a week. The CDC's current guidance for schools recommends seating or desks be "at least 6 feet apart when feasible." But a new study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases suggests that 3 feet may be as safe as 6 feet, so long as everyone is masked. The authors compared infection rates at Massachusetts schools that required at least 3 feet of distancing with those that required at least 6 feet, and found no significant difference in the coronavirus case rates among students or staff in the two cohorts.
With the right support, students who cannot rely on natural speech to communicate can do well in integrated classrooms. Students who cannot rely on speech to be understood don’t have to be educated in segregated classrooms. And for educators who have students who require communication supports, training or preparation doesn’t have to be complex. With schools increasingly educating students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms, educators will likely come across people who need or use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in their classroom as part of a co-teaching model or with assistance from a paraprofessional. Here are four ways educators can prepare for students who need AAC.
In the U.S., an estimated 15 percent of children ages 3 to 17 have developmental delays or disabilities; in children’s first years, some of these delays may be evident in late acquisition of skills like crawling, walking and talking. Research shows that early help from experts in the form of speech, physical or occupational therapy and support from pediatric specialists can have profound results for children and often help them meet the same milestones as their peers. In some cases, infants and toddlers who get early support make so much progress they no longer need services or qualify for special education when they start school. Now, the pandemic has forced in-person therapies for infants and toddlers online and onto devices, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some experts say remote therapy for young children has returned early intervention to an important piece its original mission: training parents to be experts who can support their children’s development.
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
Children’s book creator LeUyen Pham remembers the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as a time of contrasts and confusion. Unanswerable questions swirled everywhere. So Pham did what authors do. She wrote. At first she wrote without a plan, observing what she saw in her neighborhood and in the world. Soon, a pattern emerged. A juxtaposition between what was happening outside and inside, both literally and figuratively. It was almost like a nursery rhyme, said Pham, who has illustrated more than 100 books and was a 2020 Caldecott honoree. Within months, she turned her jotted-down ideas into the text and art for Outside, Inside, a picture book published in January. The book never says words like “coronavirus” or “quarantine,” yet through digitally illustrated scenes of families, workers and neighborhoods pulled from real life in 2020, it’s a literary time capsule that can help kids and adults reflect on their experiences during the pandemic.
A study by researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) provides new evidence about the pandemic’s impact on learning among students in the earliest grades, showing distinct changes in the growth of basic reading skills during different time periods over the past year. Results from a reading assessment given to first- through fourth-graders nationwide show that the students’ development of oral reading fluency – the ability to quickly and accurately read aloud – largely stopped in spring 2020 after the abrupt school closures brought on by COVID-19. Gains in these skills were stronger in fall 2020, but not enough to recoup the loss students experienced in the spring.
Everyone is worried about the year of lost learning but there’s less consensus among politicians and policymakers on what to do about it. Proposals are circulating for summer school, afterschool, remedial instruction, giving students an extra year of school and a somewhat fuzzy concept of “acceleration.” Yet some of the strongest research evidence points to an intensive type of tutoring as a way to help children catch up. Education researchers call it “high-dosage” tutoring and it has produced big achievement gains for students in studies when the tutoring occurs every day or almost every day. In the research literature, the tutors are specially trained and coached, adhere to a detailed curriculum and work with one or two students at a time. The best results occur when the tutoring takes place at school during the ordinary school day.
Many authors and illustrators have provided access to their work and engaged with children remotely, allowing deeper connections to form between creator and mentor, child and text. Through recorded read-alouds, students can listen to authors read their own texts. Through virtual visits to schools and recorded interviews, authors and illustrators give students an opportunity to ask questions about the texts they are studying, writerly processes, and craft moves. With growing access to texts and their creators across multiple platforms, mentor texts can be selected with responsiveness to students and their communities.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday, includes billions in funding for public education, libraries, early childhood programs, and internet connectivity resources. There is nearly $130 for K-12 schools, much of it earmarked for helping to safely open school buildings. The bill also allocates more than $1 billion for summer enrichment and after school programs, as well as $3 billion for education technology. Child Care and Development Block Grants and Stabilization Fund will receive $39 billion and Head Start programs $1 billion, both of which present partnership opportunities for libraries.
Most school leaders expect the 2021-22 school year will be largely in person. Now they’re planning supports for students to make up for the harmful academic and social impacts of the last year. Among the ideas: increasing summer learning opportunities and other ways of extending learning time. In theory, school districts nationwide will have much more funding than they usually do to spend on these efforts. The Biden Administration’s COVID-19 recovery bill directs more than $122 billion to states and school districts. Districts must spend at least a fifth of their share to address learning loss. The law specifically name-checks summer learning, extended-day programs, comprehensive after-school programs, and extended school-year programs as evidence-based approaches to try—even as mounting research suggests that it’s a fifth strategy, sustained tutoring programs integrated into the regular school day, that seems to produce the largest results.
[Video] Though it can seem daunting, getting students outdoors for even 30 minutes offers many benefits, during the pandemic and beyond. This checklist can help get you started.
Shelby County Schools officials are moving forward with a plan to hold back for a year second grade students who are behind in reading. The district will put the policy in place just before a new state law mandates retention of third graders lagging in reading. The school board approved the policy in 2019 to begin this fall and set the stage by tracking students’ reading skills throughout the school year and improving reading instruction. Educators consider third grade a critical year. Students who aren’t proficient by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, research says. The Memphis district is trying to boost struggling students before they reach that year.
The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation announced the winners of the 2021 Ezra Jack Keats Awards this week. The winner of the writer award is Tricia Elam Walker for Nana Akua Goes to School. Heidi Woodward Sheffield won the award for illustrator for Brick by Brick, which she also wrote. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the awards, given to early-career creators whose work depicts the multicultural world in the spirit of Keats, the author and illustrator of the Caldecott-winning The Snowy Day.
Norton Juster, who wrote one of children’s literature’s most beloved and enduring books, “The Phantom Tollbooth,” died on Monday at his home in Northampton, Mass. He was 91. “The Phantom Tollbooth,” first published in 1961, is the story of a bored boy named Milo who, when a tollbooth inexplicably appears in his room, passes through it into a land of whimsy, wordplay and imagination. The book was illustrated by the man Mr. Juster shared a duplex with at the time, Jules Feiffer, who was early in his renowned career as a cartoonist and author. It has sold almost five million copies, has been reissued multiple times and was turned into an animated film and a stage musical.
A former special education teacher shares how to identify and support struggling readers in middle and high school — even in a remote learning environment. The reasons that students remain struggling readers in middle and high school are frequently based on myths and misconceptions. The first big myth, based on reading assessment measures, is that comprehension is the problem. The majority of reading assessments and standardized tests for older students focus on reading comprehension measures without determining gaps in the essential components that lead to comprehension: decoding, fluency, and vocabulary. A low comprehension score doesn’t tell teachers what they need to know to intervene, yet the proposed solution is often more reading “strategies.” This is generally unsuccessful because, as stated by Dr. Anita Archer, “There is no reading strategy powerful enough to compensate for the fact that you can’t read the words.”
Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word and then be able to write, often considered to be the highest form of critical thinking. The Reading Group, a collaborative working group of Opportunity Santa Fe, an initiative of the Santa Fe Community Foundation, is guided by the phrase “learning to read, reading to learn." Made up of people from multiple educational organizations within the city and state, one of this year’s projects is dedicated to developing home libraries. This fall, we were awarded a Molina Foundation “Families Learning Together” grant of 55,000 books and magazines for children and young people valued at more than $400,000.
Bobby is a sixth grader at North Brookfield Elementary School in western Massachusetts. He's crazy about the Loch Ness monster. He's into math and Minecraft. And he likes online learning. "It's a lot easier to focus," he says. "I can be in my room and be a lot more comfortable doing stuff." President Biden has said that his goal is to have the majority of K-8 schools operating in-person by the end of his first 100 days in office. That's a welcome goal for the many parents who worry about their children falling behind while learning virtually during the coronavirus pandemic. But some are realizing that their children do better in online school. By most accounts, it's the case for students who focus better when they are not around classmates.
It started with the closure of a single high school in Washington state on Feb. 27, 2020. A school employee’s relative had gotten sick and tested positive for the coronavirus. The school underwent a deep cleaning and reopened two days later. One month later, nearly every school building in the United States was shut down, an unfathomable moment. Schools scrambled to stand up a remote learning program—some virtual, some by passing out packets of learning materials. Now, one year in, most of America’s schoolchildren still are not back in classrooms full-time, learning from teachers standing in front of them. From the arrival of the coronavirus in the U.S. to the growing wave of teachers receiving their first doses of a vaccine, here’s a look at how a full year of living and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded.
One year after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered classrooms around the country and the world, U.S. parents are guardedly optimistic about the academic and social development of their children, an NPR/Ipsos poll finds. But 62% of parents say their child's education has been disrupted. And more than 4 out of 5 would like to see schools provide targeted extra services to help their kids catch up. This includes just over half of parents who support the idea of summer school. Fully 29% of parents told us they were likely to stick with remote learning indefinitely. That included about half of the parents who are currently enrolled in remote learning. Perhaps in response to this interest, many schools, states and districts are looking at continuing to offer a remote public school option, districtwide or even statewide to make it more efficient.
As educators, how do we build literacy-rich environments to grow happy readers? After years of achievement roadblocks, Yorkville Grade School, a Title 1 elementary school in a consolidated unit district 50 miles west of Chicago, made a shared decision to place growing happy readers at the top of the priority list. We refocused on books, and students rediscovered book joy. This unified centering on books, choice, and voice can transform the way a school lives and breathes. Here are some tips that can help you and your school grow happy readers.
How might we truly personalize instruction and blow up the whole notion of “grade levels” so that elementary students can learn at their own pace, and get what they need as they recover from the pandemic? So that, every single day, every single pupil experiences just the right amount of challenge without feeling either bored on the one hand or overwhelmed on the other? And in a way that ensures that the farthest-behind kids don’t stay that way, but make it back to grade level within a reasonable amount of time? These are great questions, but there are no easy answers. If there were, every school in America would be doing personalized learning already. But for elementary-age children especially, it’s really quite hard to figure out how to let them “move at their own pace.”
Because English learners are far from monolithic, it’s dangerous to paint them with one brush, especially when it comes to teaching reading. It is critical that we consider students first, before considering content. It’s also important that language acquisition be addressed in balance with reading instruction. All states have language standards to support linguistic development. ELs may not have had the same opportunities with English as native English speakers, but they have other experiences with language, including speaking and hearing another language since birth. And in addition to language, students enter classrooms with backgrounds and experiences that influence their ability to read. Additional factors come into play when teaching reading to English learners. If a child has already “cracked the code” in their first language (L1)—so that they understand the connections between sounds and symbols—reading instruction will differ from that of a child who has not yet cracked the code in their L1.
In the fall of 2020, amid the pandemic, I held weekly virtual writers workshops with two small groups of young authors (6- to 8-year-olds and 9- to 12-year-olds) from all over the U.S. and across Canada. Participating students spoke English, Spanish, and French in the home, presented neurotypically and with neurodiversities, and varied in their motivation to write. The time we spent together was not about teaching any prescriptive form of writing or preparing for standardized writing assessments. Instead, I hoped to cultivate authoring joy while connecting virtually across country and state lines. This remote learning workshop shone a light on the need for writing circles. Time spent in writing circles facilitates strong communities, gives students a lift, and reinforces the need for authentic communication. An online writing group—which could be adapted for in person learning—builds confidence in students’ ability to express their ideas.