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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An 11-year-old boy writing a fifth-grade book report on “The Cat in the Hat,” a book meant for kindergartners. A second-grade girl stuck at a preschool reading level. Students who break down in tears when asked to read aloud in class. While some might blame teachers or schools for such woeful reading skills, the attorneys who represented these children in the groundbreaking 2017 lawsuit known as the Ella T. case blamed the state of California. They argued that the state had long known of the literacy crisis, and its grim impact on the lives of children, but had done little to solve it, essentially denying these children their civil right to literacy under the state constitution. The state eventually agreed to a 2020 settlement that created $50 million in Early Literacy Support Block (ELSB) grants for 75 of the state’s lowest-performing schools, those with the lowest scores on Smarter Balanced tests administered in the spring of 2019. At some of these high-poverty California schools, fewer than 10% of the children were reading at grade level.
Reading teachers have started the school year already in a crunch, with students’ reading skills at a 20-year low. As educators look for ways to help students gain ground academically, research suggests refining traditional classroom reading groups could help. Special education professor Matthew Burns talked about how to improve the effectiveness of small-group instruction. Burns said effective small-group reading instruction can cut across different grades and subject areas, but students should be arranged based on the specific skills they need to hone in comprehension, fluency, phonics, and phonemic awareness—rather than overall reading levels.
A child’s ability to succeed in the classroom is powerfully influenced by their home environment. Giving parents the support they need could be key to fixing American education. Over the past two decades, government officials have made various attempts to improve the state of American education—ramping up standardized testing, expanding charter schools, and urging states to adopt uniform benchmarks for student achievement—to little avail. But less attention has been given to another profound influence on our educational system: our nation’s family policy. [The Atlantic] reporting suggests that many of the elements fostering children’s academic success have roots outside of school—and that if America wants to help teachers, it will have to do a better job of supporting parents.
Many people might think the main benefit of a high-quality preschool program is the academic boost it gives young children when they enter elementary school. But the strongest positive effects may show up years, and even decades, later and have little to do with test scores and grades. Researchers at Georgetown University have been studying the impact of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s program for two decades. In a new set of working papers, the researchers found long-term positive outcomes for children who were enrolled in preschool in 2005: Compared to their peers, the children who attended preschool were more likely to take advanced courses and graduate high school on time, more likely to enroll in a higher education program and more likely to vote in elections after turning 18.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama are arguably two of the most significant spiritual leaders of the last century. Both leaders have faced enormous strife — whether in apartheid in South Africa or in the Tibetan Uprising or the aftermath — and through it all, both have tirelessly worked towards peace. The two leaders met in 2015, and in a series of conversations, tried to answer a seemingly insurmountable question: "How do we find joy in the face of life's inevitable suffering?" These conversations became a guidebook for adults in 2016, and now they're adapted for a children's book. San Diego artist and muralist Rafael López's illustrations are as beautiful, captivating and empowering as the book's message.
A new charter school opening up in Grand Rapids next fall is focused on boosting low literacy rates in the southeast side of the city. Gerald Dawkins Academy, a K-5 school, will have an “intensive” focus on literacy instruction, particularly during early grade levels, with trained reading interventionists helping students who are falling behind. The goal is to have students reading at grade level by third grade.
Our bodies don’t come in neat, one-size-fits-all packages, so of course neither do our brains. Start to think outside the box with these titles for the tween and younger set that feature neurodivergent characters and celebrate the extensive ways our minds can come up with ideas, solve problems, and learn new things.
On Sundays from September to May we post an intriguing photograph without its caption and ask students to think critically about what they see. What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find? In this teachers’ guide, we walk you through how and why a variety of teachers across subjects use our “What’s Going On in This Picture?” feature with their students, and we help you get started using it in your own classroom.
Neurodiversity can be seen in every classroom, but not every teacher incorporates the needs of neurodiverse students into their pedagogy. Our neurodiverse students are often great at hiding how overwhelmed they are in the classroom. As a neurodivergent teacher who has worked with neurodivergent students for many years, I’ve found that the following strategies help make sure these students feel less anxious and help them stay engaged in class. All of these strategies can be used and modified for K–12 students.
Parents walking their young children into school for the first time may get excited at the books lining classroom walls – but those collections of books aren’t necessarily a guarantee their kids are going to learn to read them. According to cognitive scientist and reading expert Pamela Snow, parents may be surprised to learn that they are “buying a lottery ticket” when it comes to the kind of reading instruction their child will get at school. One major reason kids struggle is that many schools don’t teach in a way that’s supported by scientific evidence on how the brain learns to read. “Some will align strongly with the scientific evidence,” Snow wrote in a 2019 blog post. “Lucky you, if that’s the kind of school your child is attending. Others, however, use a mixed-bag of approaches.”
When students can’t understand what they’re reading, it may be because they’re unfamiliar with the complex syntax of written sentences. Teaching them how to write complex sentences about what they’re learning can help. As reading researcher Timothy Shanahan has pointed out, there’s lots of research on how students learn to decipher individual written words, and lots on how they comprehend whole texts—but comparatively little on “the seemingly unloved sentence.” And yet, difficulty understanding the sentence can be a major obstacle to comprehension.
It was a good book, the student told the 14 others in the undergraduate seminar I was teaching, and it included a number of excellent illustrations, such as photographs of relevant Civil War manuscripts. But, he continued, those weren’t very helpful to him, because of course he couldn’t read cursive. Had I heard him correctly? Who else can’t read cursive? I asked the class. The answer: about two-thirds. And who can’t write it? Even more. All of us, not just students and scholars, will be affected by cursive’s loss. The inability to read handwriting deprives society of direct access to its own past. We will become reliant on a small group of trained translators and experts to report what history—including the documents and papers of our own families—was about.
After honoring International Literacy Day and its theme of changing literary spaces, we need to take a closer look at where and how we learned during the pandemic, and what we can do to improve literacy going forward. One way is to reimagine the places where reading happens, such as homes, schools and community spaces. We should also reimagine how we learn, by encouraging learning that isn’t one-size-fits-all, but gives support that is based on the needs of individuals — especially those who are most vulnerable to being left behind. Here are some examples of how educational innovation can make a real difference.
Behind the seemingly straightforward details of history in Kwame Alexander’s new novel-in-verse, “The Door of No Return” — the first book in a trilogy following a Ghanaian boy caught in the praxis of the Atlantic slave trade — there lurks complexity. The fact that the slave ship transporting Kofi flies the U.S. flag when the novel is set in September 1860, months before the outbreak of the American Civil War and decades after the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in the United States, speaks to the clandestine nature of the enterprise and its persistence despite the laws against it. In truth, these issues are never explored. Alexander understands how to select a suitable context for what could be viewed as a study in writing, publishing and marketing a popular work on slavery in our time for young readers.
Indiana high school students with disabilities who spent more time in general education classes scored higher on state reading and math assessments and were better prepared for college and career than their peers in less inclusive settings, a study from Indiana University found. The research builds on a 2020 study from IU that examined outcomes for Indiana students in grades 3-8 whose primary disabilities included cognitive, learning and emotional disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, blindness, and deafness. Findings from that study showed students in more inclusive settings — regardless of their disability category — achieved significantly higher on state assessments than students in more restrictive settings.
For 50 years, her books have educated, entertained and connected young readers. Whether you want to revisit a classic or inspire a new fan, here’s what to read.
If we know that shared knowledge is essential to language proficiency, and that reading comprehension cannot be reduced to an all-purpose suite of “skills and strategies,” then our reluctance to build knowledge in a systematic and coherent way is not merely a poor choice, it’s choosing to impose illiteracy on disadvantaged children. Initiatives like the Knowledge Map project being undertaken at Johns Hopkins, which evaluates the content knowledge that an English language arts or social studies curricula reinforces or omit, might offer a way forward to schools, districts, and states squeamish about answering the question of “whose knowledge” is to be taught.
Heejae Lim channeled her Korean immigrant upbringing in founding a communication app that aids multilingual and underserved families connect with teachers.
Teachers can promote cultural literacy in the classroom by honoring the contributions of people from a wide spectrum of traditions. Here are some ideas for celebrating diverse cultures through music, the arts, history and literature, and holidays and celebrations.
The National Book Foundation announced its longlist for the 2022 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. The 10 titles chosen this year include two previous honorees: Traci Chee was a finalist in 2020, and Anna-Marie McLemore was longlisted twice before in 2016 and 2021. Here are SLJ's reviews.
According to 2019 data, there are nearly 5.1 million English learners enrolled in public schools in this country, and that number has steadily increased in the past two decades. Many students are taken out of class and placed in separate ESL learning rooms. Often parents are faced with a choice that involves investing more in English language learning than their heritage language. It’s a common experience for recent immigrants to the U.S. or children of immigrants. But it does not come without a cost, and in the case of many people who haven’t been able to keep up with their heritage language, or who never learned their family language in the first place, it can have a significant impact on identity.
On Sept.1, the U.S. Department of Education released disastrous test results. Based on a sample of more than 7,000 9-year-olds around the country, two decades of academic progress in reading and math were erased from 2020 to 2022. But the scores also raised many questions. I will try to answer six of them here.
It’s been years since I was a Los Angeles middle school teacher, but I still remember my students as if they were in my classroom yesterday. Francisco was a big kid. He was bigger than most of the other sixth graders, since he was a year older. His personality was equally large. You always knew when Francisco had entered the classroom. Low literacy plagued Francisco back then, like it does most American middle and high schoolers today. We can change this by giving upper-grade teachers the reading-instruction training that they need, and which most, myself included, never got.
The importance of guaranteeing universal free, full-day kindergarten has perhaps never been more obvious. The pandemic exposed the dire consequences of isolating families from care communities: Parents’ mental health plummeted, kids fell worryingly behind, and mothers left the workforce in staggering numbers. Kindergarten enrollments dropped to levels not seen since the 2000s, and public kindergartens lost 340,000 students from 2019 to 2020. And the U.S. doesn’t have ground to lose; according to a 2020 UNICEF report, America ranks near the bottom of developed countries on child wellness, which includes socialization and achievement in math and reading.
Nontraditional books can help students make connections to content at the word level and deepen understanding by providing visual context. The visual nature of comics leads to both verbal/word-level vocabulary and meaning-making about the larger illustrated world, including inferencing with character expressions and between panels.
No matter what the emotions surrounding a new school year, one thing is for sure: No kid is alone in how he or she is feeling. This list of children’s books has been curated from both classic and contemporary literature to reflect a variety of school-related themes. Children’s book creators, who often make the books they wish they themselves had when they were kids, use a wealth of memories they’ve stored from their own school experiences to craft their stories. In doing so, they remind us of an essential life lesson: The most important part of school is discovering who you are, one grade at a time.
California state superintendent of public instruction Tony Thurmond has announced a new $27 million digital literacy partnership that will provide free bilingual early literacy assistance to California children and families through interactive e-books, songs, and games in English and Spanish. This digital literacy partnership is part of a statewide literacy campaign to help all California students come to school ready to learn and read proficiently by third grade.
For all the welcome attention being paid to the Science of Reading, and literacy in general, there has been little focus in public policy on how to address the learning needs of secondary students who, for whatever combination of reasons, have failed to learn to read in elementary school. Earlier this year, the “What Works Clearinghouse,” an arm of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES), made steps to elevate the narrative about secondary literacy when it issued a practice guide entitled, “Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades 4–9.”
While most kindergarten-aged children do attend some type of kindergarten, their experience depends on where they live. In some states, public school kindergarten is provided and funded in the same way as first grade. In other states, it is funded at a lower level and may only be offered for a few hours each day. This wide variation means children are getting uneven starts to their formal education. Every year there are states and local districts that consider expanding access to full-day kindergarten. This year Idaho, Utah, and California are worth looking at.
Two teachers seek help in communicating with ELL students and their families. The expert suggests that you use resources like ELL teachers or students to communicate with non-English speaking families, and to use district-approved technology to connect with students and parents.
Helping young learners negotiate the process of making choices can start with these engaging picture books and guided questions. As back-to-school classroom read-alouds, these books set the stage for classroom social and emotional discussions about strategies and resources for making personal and group decisions at school.
Many students with communication disorders were particularly affected by changes like virtual and hybrid learning that were implemented during the 2020–2021 school year due to the pandemic. As some of these children return to in-person instruction for the first time in more than a year, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends the following ways for families to help them prepare for a successful in-person school year and support recovery of communication, social, and learning skills.
It's here. And librarians and other educators, not to mention students and families, are in high gear for the 2022/23 school year. In challenging times, we could use support. So the editors tapped some stellar individuals for insight and inspiration: “School Librarians of the Year Offer Ideas, Inspiration.” Following suit, I asked some experts for their picks in resources to help expand both our knowledge and perspective to serve students and teachers this year.
Long-term trend data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that 9-year-old students scored, on average, five points lower in reading and seven points lower in math in 2022 than did their pre-pandemic peers in 2020. The declines represent the largest drops in decades. The results underscore the steep challenge ahead for schools as the 2022-23 year begins. But NAEP data are notoriously hard to interpret. Here are five key takeaways from the data release, how to make sense of the findings, and what NAEP can—and can’t—illuminate about the effects of the past two years.
Rick Surrency, superintendent of Putnam County School District in Florida, traveled to Finland with seven other U.S. educators as part of a Fulbright Finland Foundation cultural exchange program. During the trip, Surrency and his peers had the opportunity to tour schools across the Scandinavian nation, which regularly tops international education rankings. Surrency shared his takeaways on how Finland handles playtime, standardized testing pressure, teacher strikes, and recruitment and preparation — as well as how he’s putting lessons learned to work in his own 10,000-student district.
The most important thing schools can do is teach children how to read. If you can read, you can learn anything. If you can’t, almost everything in school is difficult. Word problems. Test directions. Biology homework. Everything comes back to reading. But a lot of schools aren’t teaching children how to read. It came as a shock to Corinne Adams. “Public school should be this sacred trust between the community and the school,” she told me. “I’m going to give you my child, and you’re going to teach him how to read. And that shattered for me. That was broken.”
National test results released on Thursday showed in stark terms the pandemic’s devastating effects on American schoolchildren, with the performance of 9-year-olds in math and reading dropping to the levels from two decades ago. This year, for the first time since the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests began tracking student achievement in the 1970s, 9-year-olds lost ground in math, and scores in reading fell by the largest margin in more than 30 years. The declines spanned almost all races and income levels and were markedly worse for the lowest-performing students.
Celebrated on September 8 each year, International Literacy Day (ILD) was created by UNESCO in 1967 to “remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.” The theme for ILD this year is Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces. This is a timely theme in the wake of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic that shut down schools and drastically shifted how many students across the globe accessed literacy education.
Our reviews teams scoured the lists for the best of new books to help children take on the first days of school.
Service learning and volunteering can be a powerful, transformative way to help children of all ages understand that they are valuable pieces of a broader community puzzle with the power to give back and improve the world around them. Schools should explore a range of opportunities to ensure that every participant reaps the benefits.
For decades, television shows have helped young children practice their ABCs and 1-2-3s. From “The Electric Company” to “Sesame Street” to “Between the Lions,” research has shown that educational programs can effectively teach kids the foundations of literacy and numeracy, like recognizing letters and sounds and how numbers represent quantity. Now, a new study finds that educational television can teach young children more complex reading skills, too—skills that could help set them up for greater success in a school setting. The show studied is a program on PBS called “Molly of Denali,” designed to teach children how to understand and use informational texts.
As elementary teachers return to school this fall, they will undoubtedly contend with one of education’s hottest topics: the “science of reading.” But getting the science right will require more than a workshop or a new program. It will take critical evaluation of curriculum and instruction informed by research on how children learn to read and how best to teach them.
Though best known for the crosshatched monsters in his 1963 classic, “Where the Wild Things Are,” Sendak experimented widely in style and genre over his six-decade career, creating picture books, comics, opera and ballet sets and more. He drew these styles from an ever-expanding “artistic genealogy,” as his friend and curator Jonathan Weinberg writes in WILD THINGS ARE HAPPENING: THE ART OF MAURICE SENDAK, including Mozart and William Blake, Titian and El Greco, Beatrix Potter, Herman Melville, John Keats. The book accompanies the first major retrospective of Sendak’s work since he died in 2012, at the Columbus Museum of Art.
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably noticed that comics are for kids again. But what graphic novels should your kids pick up when they’re ready to graduate from Dog Man (or perhaps aren’t even yet at that reading level?). Brooklyn comics bookseller Jason Mojica has some suggestions for parents of young readers.
The SoR movement and policy based upon it gets a lot right but it also underplays some key aspects of literacy improvement, such as the role of knowledge building in reading comprehension and the need for a systems’ approach to literacy reform. We in this field need to continue to put these two ideas out there. They do not contradict or undermine anything that the SoR emphasizes. If anything, they complement those ideas and make them more potent. If they are ignored, I worry that improvement will be minimal and reform efforts will be abandoned prematurely.
The veteran educator and leading voice for differentiated instruction offers five hopeful scenarios for classrooms this fall. There will be an abundance of collaboration, accomplishment, and adventure.
Documenting that a child is reading at home seems reasonable, particularly while they are an emerging reader, but once a child is on their way to reading independently, it’s an incomplete approach. It risks creating a situation in which a child feels like reading is a bit of a chore, rather than something they choose to do with their precious free time. How exactly do we support kids in developing a desire to dedicate time to reading? And how do we support them in reading extensively enough to achieve the volume of hours necessary to become proficient? It comes down to this: we’ve got to create a scenario in which the book is the draw—and that requires us to incorporate opportunities to learn about book choice and to build a reading community.
For the latest audio roundup, we turn to titles inspired by fairy tales and mythology, each published in 2022. Rewriting, adapting, subverting the familiar has long been a popular literary trope—who can argue with universal appeal? Cinderella, especially, continues to be an evergreen favorite, appearing in multiple stories, often in surprising permutations. Read (and listen) on!
A study published in the American Educational Research Journal found young children’s exposure to informational text — knowing how to find information — through free, public education media can provide low-cost, scalable and equitable access to effective learning opportunities. The findings provide encouraging evidence that access to research-based content can support young children’s literacy development both at home and in school, said Naomi Hupert, co-author of the study and director of the Center for Children & Technology at the Education Development Center.
California fourth graders trail the nation in reading, and half of its third graders, including two-thirds of Black students and 61% of Latino students, do not read at grade level. Yet, California is not among the states — including Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, Connecticut, Colorado, Virginia and New York City — that have adopted comprehensive literacy plans to ensure that all children can read by third grade. And California has not set a timeline or given any indication it intends to create such a plan.
While students lost less ground academically on average in the 2021-22 school year compared to the first year of the pandemic, many students—especially those in remote learning for longer periods of time—still sustained serious losses, concludes a new report. The Center for Reinventing Public Education, a Seattle-based research organization, analyzed studies on students’ academic progress released since summer 2021 as part of a series of reports on the pandemic’s impact on student learning. The studies offer a snapshot of the various trajectories of students’ reading and math skills throughout the pandemic, though they are drawn from different states and populations.
August 26 is Women's Equality Day, commemorating the passing of the 19th Amendment, which gave white women the right to vote. Share these 12 books with young readers who want to learn more about women's suffrage.
While the pandemic caused widespread disruption to learning, one of the biggest concerns, for students of all ages, has been how it has affected their mental health. High numbers of teenagers have reported persistently feeling sad or hopeless, and the Biden Administration has tried to make student mental health a priority. For parents concerned about how their students are handling the new school year, here are five suggestions mental health experts say can help them monitor their child's mental health.
In a small shelter made of cinder block walls and a tin roof, Armando Hurtado Medina writes on a whiteboard the size of the TVs in many American homes. It's 6pm and lessons have just begun in this makeshift classroom found at the end of a bumpy dirt road that winds its way through a canyon in Tijuana, Mexico. Hurtado Medina is teaching basic English and about 10 students of various ages slowly recite the alphabet back to him. [This effort is] replicated across the border city as volunteers and grassroots organizations grapple with a transient population of migrant students and try their best to educate those who find themselves living in shelters while awaiting a better life beyond.
School librarian IdaMae Craddock and school counselor Ouida Powe discuss the power of their partnership and the bibliotherapy initiative they launched at Community Lab, a 6–12 public school in Charlottesville, VA. Craddock says, "There is much we librarians can do to partner with school counselors and promote student well-being through bibliotherapy. The counselor-librarian connection can and should be commonplace in schools."
Students have a natural inclination to tell stories but can freeze up when it comes to writing. These tips help them channel their ideas onto the page.
U.S. Department of Education data shows 2.5 million children nationwide attend schools in districts that lack school libraries. In these book deserts, a greater burden is placed upon educators to expand students’ access to books through classroom libraries. A new resource from First Book, a nonprofit network of educators who serve children in need, aims to help teachers improve these classroom spaces to better engage young readers. Developed in collaboration with Susan Neuman, a professor of teaching and learning at New York University specializing in childhood education and early literacy development, the Literacy Rich Classroom Library Checklist is designed to help educators look beyond simply having books present in classrooms.
In a recent piece about the state of standards-based reform, Dale Chu weighs the benefits and challenges of a district “relinquishment” versus “instructional coherence” approach to improving student learning. Districts that pursue a strategy of relinquishment turn schools over to educators, embrace parent choice, and hold schools accountable in order to drive academic improvement. And those that pursue instructional coherence focus on the alignment of curricula, educator professional development, student assessments, and accountability systems to high academic standards. As a former leader of both Louisiana’s Department of Education and its Recovery School District, I’ve seen firsthand that relinquishment and instructional coherence are not at odds with each other.
If teachers start from the premise that all students can make valuable contributions, that opens avenues to success. Four veteran educators share tips on supporting students with learning differences as they return to classrooms during this pandemic year, and much more in this collection of Education Week articles.
Indiana will spend $111 million to revamp its method of teaching reading to young students by prioritizing phonics, state leaders announced. The lion’s share of the funds will go to training teachers in the “science of reading” — a vast body of research on optimal early literacy techniques. The fund represents the state’s largest-ever investment in literacy, according to the Indiana Department of Education. It comes just a week after the state announced its most recent reading scores for third graders, which remained mostly unchanged from last year, except for drops among English-language learners. Concerns about the pandemic’s impact on literacy in general motivated the state to act.