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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Susan Lambert, VP of early literacy instruction at Amplify and the host of Science of Reading: The Podcast, shares her thoughts on key points in the reading education debate. She tackles questions like these: Does reading really matter that much now that we’re in the digital age? Can kids teach themselves to read if they have access to materials that really interest them? What new methodologies are there to help dyslexic learners overcome reading difficulties? How can educators make the most of mother-tongue literacy when teaching English learners to read in English?
Children are like sponges. They soak up news headlines and images of unrest on TV and social media. They may also be keenly attuned to conversations about current events happening at home. Parents and educators alike (and those of us now wearing both hats) should address questions about racism that arise and maintain an open dialogue with children. To help navigate the best way to do this, I asked Christiana Cobb-Dozier, a school counselor in Los Angeles, and Christian Robinson, a Sacramento-based author and illustrator of children’s books, about how to talk to children about racism. Here’s what they said.
Studies show that babies under one year old recognize differences in skin color. Just like for any other age group, it’s important that babies see people of color in their books. So how do we bring diverse titles to the littlest readers, when the characters in most board books are animals—if there are characters at all? These 50 books—many of which are by #OwnVoices creators—show Indigenous, Black, and people of color learning new skills, fighting for justice, and simply living their lives—and they’re all appropriate for ages 0–3. From simple images to more complex narratives, and classics to upcoming titles from Lin, Vashti Harrison, and Ibram X. Kendi, these titles can help grow your board book collection.
For many students, the coronavirus pandemic drained much of the joy from the last months of the 2019-20 academic year. Summer shouldn’t end up the same way, say organizers of programs devoted to offering enrichment during out-of-school time. This year, however, many organizations devoted to summer learning will have to figure out how to engage students in enrichment programs provided remotely—if they’re offering them at all. But drastically scaling back or cutting summer enrichment is likely to hurt the students whose learning has already been set back the most by the haphazard shift to remote schooling: students from low-income families who rely on free or low-cost enrichment options, said Aaron Dworkin, the chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association.
If literacy education is on track in a school, that building has an opportunity for everything else to go well. Success in literacy spills over into success in science, social studies, math, and anything else students are learning. It’s the key to everything schools do. To gain insights into this keystone academic skill, What Kids Are Reading, the largest annual survey of student reading habits, dives into data collected from the millions of students using myON and Accelerated Reader, with the ultimate goal of supporting teachers as they, in turn, support students in doing more reading. With a data set this large and comprehensive, our challenge is not data but what questions we should ask of it. This year, we decided to focus on the reading of nonfiction because, over the last few years, there has been a growing interest in the role of prior knowledge in reading comprehension. It has become increasingly clear through multiple studies that the amount of prior knowledge students have on a topic is a powerful predictor of how well they can read texts on that topic.
As protests over the killing of George Floyd (and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor) spill into a second week, many parents are wondering how to talk about the deaths and unrest with their children. But just as important in the long run, especially for nonblack parents, is how to keep the conversation about race and racism going when we’re not in a moment of national outrage, and to make sure all children see black people as heroes in a wide range of their own stories, and not just as victims of oppression. In addition to keeping an open dialogue about racism, make sure your home library has books with black people at the center of their stories. Christine Taylor-Butler, the prolific children’s author and writer of The Lost Tribes Series, said that she got into children’s literature because she wanted to see more stories of black joy. “I want stories about kids in a pumpkin patch, and kids in an art museum,” she said. “Not only do we want our kids to read, but we want white kids to see — we’re not the people you’re afraid of.”
Quick quiz: What share of black students graduate high school? By the most recent count, 4 out of 5 black students graduate in four years with a regular diploma, according to federal figures. But after watching coverage of test scores focused on racial achievement gaps between black and white students, people tend to think black students' graduation rates are much lower. The way the education media and policymakers frame education debates can have longer-term effects on how the public thinks about black students and the kinds of policies it will support to improve their learning.
As part of an effort to boost persistently low reading proficiency rates, Colorado education officials will soon require 25,000 K-3 teachers to have completed 45 hours of training on reading instruction. While there are several ways for teachers to comply with the new rule, which came out of a 2019 update of Colorado’s landmark reading law, the state is providing educators two free options. Both adhere to the state’s more than 50 criteria for teaching elementary reading, including direct and sequenced phonics instruction. The new teacher training requirement is among a raft of recent state changes meant to ensure teachers know and use approaches to reading instruction backed by science. Officials have also cracked down on teacher preparation programs to ensure their literacy courses adhere to state standards. And starting next year, the state will require schools to use reading curriculum backed by science in kindergarten through third grade.
Figuring out how to manage IEP meetings from afar and agreeing on what services students are entitled to in an online learning environment emerged as one of the many challenges for families of special education students and the teachers who serve them. In response to requests for help from educators and parents, a group of U.S. Department of Education-backed organizations developed a six-step guide to hosting and participating in virtual IEP meetings, with the acknowledgement that conducting the meetings may happen more often now, even after students return to brick-and-mortar schools. Designed for a 60-minute meeting, the infographic provides a sample agenda and tips on how to keep meetings focused and on-schedule. To learn more about the project, Education Week interviewed Tessie Rose Bailey, the project director of the PROGRESS Center, one of the organizations that helped develop the guide.
A surprising number of school librarians still have no access to their building or school library. For those who do, however, it’s a valuable opportunity to offer summer checkout and get books into the hands of readers. It’s not too late! Here’s how I organized my checkout while ensuring safety for staff and families.
Best-selling YA author Jason Reynolds has grappled with racism personally and in his writing. The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature also recently co-authored a book for young people on fighting racism: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. We’ve asked Jason Reynolds to join Kojo For Kids to help us understand what has led to the tensions we’ve seen over the last week, and to talk about why racism persists and what we can do to build a less racist society.
A blog, no matter what its subject, no matter how large or small its reach, is a platform. You use it to make your thoughts and feelings known. What can a white librarian do to help, even a little, when injustice is so blatant? You can be an ally. You can work to actually actively fight racism when you hear it, see it, and you can acknowledge it. You can listen. Project Ready, a free online professional development curriculum by UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science (and that my library has been using to regularly educate its employees), created a rundown of what allyship entails. Yesterday, I was asked to create a booklist for my city’s patrons of some antiracist titles. I was immediately helped by about eight of my colleagues and, together, we created the following list of links. Please use this where it is most needed.
While remote learning has presented challenges in every subject and grade level, some teachers and researchers say that early reading instruction is especially problematic. Teaching young students how to read and write often requires hands-on activities, like manipulating letter tiles, or learning how to form their shapes. And before they can sound out words, children rely on read-alouds, interactive play, and conversations to learn vocabulary and build knowledge about the world. They can’t read a complex informational text on their own. Researchers say there isn’t much information about what kind of remote teaching works best for early reading.
Since their beginning in 1967, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards celebrate notable titles in children’s books, middle grade and young adult novels. The books are sorted into the categories of picture books, fiction and poetry and nonfiction, and then reviewed by a panel of three judges. This year, the judges were Sujei Lugo, Leo Landry and Julie Danielson. In its first-ever virtual ceremony, Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief of Horn Book, announced the award-winning titles and honor recipients in each category.
The picture of instruction that has emerged since the coronavirus forced students and teachers into remote learning is clear and troubling: There’s less of it, and the children with the greatest need are getting the least. These dynamics carry serious implications as schools plan to reopen in the fall. But even though the picture of diminished instruction is clear, it’s not simple. Pandemic learning is complex and contradictory. Some students are getting live video lessons for hours daily and staying in close contact with their teachers, while others get no real-time instruction and hear from their teachers perhaps once a week. Many teachers are pulling 12-hour days, while many others work less than they did a few months ago. Some parents push angrily for stronger academics during home-learning, while others demand relief, saying they can’t handle home-schooling along with their other obligations.
There is an inextricable, and yet largely untapped, link between information literacy and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), defined as “process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). We know that news is often designed to trigger an emotional response. And yet, teaching kids to recognize and manage those triggers isn’t always a component of news and information literacy protocols. While many schools are looking for ways to incorporate both news literacy and SEL right now, individually, we believe that the relationship between news and emotion creates an opportunity for them to be combined.
While teachers around the country are sending assignments in seconds with the click of a mouse, I rode the bus for 93 miles and six hours so my students at KIPP ENC in Halifax, North Carolina, could have instructional packets to continue their schoolwork. When I hear government officials talk about how successful remote learning is, I know they have never been to Halifax County. This COVID-19 is awful for our students, who do not have the same connectivity or resources that so many other children do. I know students at my school and in my community are struggling daily. Along the bus route, I would see students waiting in anticipation, waiting for us to come by. I wish I could say they were waiting only for our packets, but our delivery included food for their families, and that was the bigger draw.
Four out of 10 of the poorest U.S. students are accessing remote learning as little as once a week or less, according to a new survey from ParentsTogether, an advocacy group. By contrast, for families making more than $100,000 a year, 83% of kids are doing distance learning every day, with the majority engaged over two hours a day, the survey found. From the beginning, experts in distance learning warned that it can magnify inequities, with the most able and highly advantaged learners humming along while learners who need more support fall far behind.
The SLJ team is hard at work curating some of our top summer reading picks for a variety of age groups by type, genre, and subject area. Those lists will roll out starting after Memorial Day. In the meantime, here are some of our favorite lists from other organizations and libraries.
I’m a high school librarian with a background in teaching reading and English Language Arts, and I hope this ruling on behalf of Detroit Public Schools sets a strong precedent that every public school in America — in big cities such as Chicago, in poor rural communities and elsewhere — must have the resources to teach our children essential literacy skills. The ruling came to mind for me as I worked with my kindergarten-age son during this age of remote learning. He has been learning to read, and his suburban Chicago public school has the resources to do so. Every Chicago school child should get the same quality instruction and resources you’ll find at my kids’ suburban schools — veteran teachers and reading specialists, libraries and librarians.
For Tabatha Rosproy, the newly named Teacher of the Year, the importance of her work goes beyond her students’ achievements, even though those are impressive. Rosproy is a teacher at a preschool located within a seniors community in Winfield, Kansas; the impact of her and her 16 students can also be measured by the smiles and hugs delivered daily from a coterie of seniors. “It’s remarkable to spend time in her classroom,” said Randy Watson, the state commissioner of education. “You get to watch this intergenerational play between 4-year-olds and senior citizens that’s so beneficial to both. You pair that with a remarkable teacher, and you have magic.” Rosproy is the first preschool teacher to win the Council of Chief State School Officers’ top prize in its 68-year history. Winning this award will take Rosproy out of the classroom for a year, during which time she will promote the importance of preschool education and the value of teaching social-emotional skills to 4-year-olds.
All over the country, states, districts, and task forces of every sort are wrestling with the question of how to safely reopen schools. This scenario planning is daunting, as schools must navigate a minefield of health, safety, legal, and instructional issues, and do so blindfolded by our ever-changing yet imperfect understanding of the virus itself. The AEI “blueprint for back to school” does an excellent job spelling out the major considerations that leaders must take into account, but it stops short of providing specific advice. With the hope of moving the conversation forward a bit more, here’s my attempt to do that for elementary schools, informed by some of the country’s leading educators, lessons from “early re-openers” around the globe, and the newly released CDC guidance. I’ll consider how social distancing might look, how schedules might work, and other logistical questions currently keeping leaders up at night.
Former teachers are returning to education during the pandemic to help educate the 55.1 million public and private school students stuck at home. Motivated by a desire to contribute, former educators around the country are returning to the classroom, virtually. Many are volunteers who are eager to help bored kids and overwhelmed parents, while others are using teaching to pay the bills while their professional lives are uncertain.
In this episode of ExtraOrdinary Districts in Extraordinary Times, Threadgill, Assistant Superintendent of Academics Lakesha Brackins, and George Hall Elementary School Principal Melissa Mitchell, talk about the challenges of operating in the time of coronavirus — including what’s involved in holding in-person graduation ceremonies. Communicating with 54,000 students, their families, and 6,000 teachers and staff members was the biggest challenge, Threadgill says. To communicate clearly the district set up a website that provides information and textbooks and a hotline that provides technical assistance and homework help. Threadgill and Brackins are optimistic that the experience of closing school buildings will have the effect of bringing the district together and forcing improvement. “We completely transformed education in Mobile County,” says Brackins. “This is going to make our district better.”
As school closures were extended and more states announced the rest of the 2019–20 academic year would be conducted online, educators and literacy organizations started brainstorming the best ways to get books to kids for the spring and summer. The efforts have ranged in scope and helped kids in large and small districts across the country. The books—for students to keep at home and not have to return to a school or public library—are distributed to provide comfort, escape, a little normalcy, and hopefully lessen the exaggerated summer slide that is expected to hit after months of remote learning followed by summer break. Many book efforts around the country have been combined with food service programs, whether they are pickups at district locations or school buses that shuttle books with meals for closer-to-home deliveries.
Written English is a code in which letters and groups of letters are used to stand for sounds, and to be able to read, children must learn to break it—literally, to de-code it. Although skilled reading involves many factors, decoding ability is the foundation on which it rests; after all, it is impossible to pay attention to meaning unless ones knows what the words say! The following list is intended to indicate some key warnings signs that may indicate a decoding problem. It is not, however, intended to be used a source for any particular diagnosis. Keep in mind that children learn to read at varying rates, and that some difficulties early on are normal and by no means indicative of a serious problem. That said, if your child or a child you know displays many of these behaviors while reading, we urge you to seek out quality, phonics-based intervention. Reading problems that are relatively straightforward to correct when a child is in elementary school can seriously hinder them from fulfilling their academic potential later on. The longer they remain unaddressed, the more challenging they become to remedy.
Cognitive scientists know a lot more than they did 25 years ago about the brain and how humans learn. And yet, a lot of the new research isn’t making its way into classrooms. There are a lot of reasons for that, according to the panelists, including teacher education programs that haven’t kept up with the research, intransigent institutions that are difficult to change, and human nature. Eric Kalenze, an English language arts teacher and curriculum leader at FIT Academy Charter School in Apple Valley, Minnesota, is also the U.S. ambassador for researchED, an international grassroots organization trying to bridge the divide between effective teaching research and the classroom, spoke about cognitive science and its implications for classroom instruction during a recent Education Writers Association seminar on adolescent learning and well-being.
Today, there are many publishers and imprints that seek to spotlight and promote diverse, inclusive stories and work by creators of color, but 30 years ago, that was not the case. Noting that lack of multicultural voices in children's literature, Thomas Low and Phillip Lee launched Lee & Low Books in 1991. This week, Low died of cancer, but he leaves behind a legacy of booklists, careers launched, and a publishing house to continue the mission. "He was proud each and every season we released a new list of books," his son Jason Low, publisher and co-owner of Lee & Low, wrote in an email. "We have heard from librarians who have recommended our titles; educators who use our books in their classrooms; authors and illustrators who have published with us; and agents who have brought manuscripts to Lee & Low for years. The common theme people tell us is that the work that we do is important, that diversity matters, and that even though they are sad to hear of Tom's passing, they are glad that his legacy will live on through us."
Kenneth S. Goodman, whose influential theories of reading dominated the teaching of reading in grade school classrooms in the 1980s and early 1990s, died in his Tucson, Ariz., home March 12. He was 92. Whole language instruction emphasized that students learn to read through immersion in books and eschewed traditional systematic teaching of phonics and spelling. During its heyday, it dominated U.S. teacher-preparation programs and curriculum guidelines alike. Goodman was not, as is often asserted, wholly dismissive of phonics. He believed readers did use knowledge of sound-letter systems when reading, but relied on them less as they grew more efficient. But he insisted that phonics should be taught only incidentally. The successive 50 years of literacy research following on the heels of Goodman’s early work, based on experimental studies and cognitive science research, has concluded that, contrary to Goodman’s ideas, skilled readers rely more heavily on knowledge of letter-sound correspondences than context clues when learning new words. For many students, that body of work notes, the alphabetic code must be explicitly taught, not incidentally discovered. Some of the ideas that Goodman fought passionately for are now broad staples of ELA classrooms, including the importance of children’s literature, immersing new readers in books, and creating print-rich environments for students. And the last few years of policy has resuscitated the importance of comprehension—not merely word identification—as a goal of reading programs, particularly in relationship to the background knowledge students need to understand what they read. Goodman’s insistence that writing is a powerful complement to reading rich texts lives on in both the Common Core State Standards, and is a key notion in the current interest in improving elementary and middle-school curricula programs.
In elementary schools, children got 30 minutes of remote instruction in English and math each day. Teachers were supposed to incorporate language skills into that work, but students missed out on 55 minutes of daily English language development they received before the virus struck. The rapid shift to remote learning forced by the COVID-19 crisis has left the nation’s roughly 5 million English language learners in a precarious position. Many have seen their language instruction shrink as districts balance competing priorities and struggle to connect with students attending school from their living rooms. Schools and districts have largely had to figure out how to meet the needs of English learners on their own.