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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Shared reading between parents and very young children, including infants, is associated with stronger vocabulary skills for nearly all children by age 3, say physicians at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. According to research published in The Journal of Pediatrics, this is true also for children who genetically may be vulnerable to barriers in learning, attention and behavior development. “In a supportive environment, children who may be genetically at-risk, do just as well as their peers,” said Manuel Jimenez, a developmental pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics and family medicine and community health at the medical school, who is lead author of the study.
New results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a standardized test given every two years to measure fourth- and eighth-grade achievement in reading and math, show that Mississippi made more progress than any other state. There’s no way to know for sure what causes increases in test scores, but Mississippi has been doing something notable: making sure all of its teachers understand the science of reading. To understand what the science says, a good place to start is with something called the “simple view of reading.” The simple view says that reading comprehension is the product of two things: one is your ability to decode words and the other is your ability to understand spoken language. The simple view clearly shows that focusing only on decoding would be a mistake because that’s only half the equation. Reading instruction has to include language comprehension, too. This means lessons and activities that expand children’s oral vocabularies and knowledge, so they know the meaning of the words they can decode.
Many teachers likely did not learn the cognitive science behind reading in their teacher preparation programs. While decades of research have shown that teaching young students how to crack the code of written language through systematic phonics is the most reliable way to make sure that they learn how to read words, that approach to reading has not made its way into many preservice programs. Balanced literacy dominates the nation's colleges of education. In an Education Week Research Center survey of more than 530 professors of reading instruction, just 22 percent said their philosophy of teaching early reading centered on explicit, systematic phonics with comprehension as a separate focus. Many proponents of systematic phonics are hopeful that the tide is slowly turning—that as states pass legislation requiring teachers to be trained in the science of reading, and as school districts begin to consider teachers' knowledge of brain-based reading principles when hiring, colleges of education will be forced to get on board.
In the literacy world, there's a perennial concern that focusing on foundational skills will come at the expense of giving kids opportunities to practice language and enjoy stories. But researchers and educators say that it's not only possible to teach useful vocabulary and meaningful content knowledge to young children—it's necessary. A body of research has shown that once students can decode, their reading comprehension is largely dependent on their language comprehension—or the background and vocabulary knowledge that they bring to a text, and their ability to follow the structure of a story and think about it analytically. Before students can glean this kind of information from print, experts say, they can do it through oral language: by having conversations about the meaning of words, telling stories, and reading books aloud.
Want to know if it's time for phonics in Belinda Williams's kindergarten classroom? Stand in the hall and listen. "I love phonics because it's something that's so easy to make fun," Williams said. "We're always doing something very active and very musical." Williams said her Franklin Community Schools in Franklin, Ind., uses a 90-minute reading block each day, of which 55 minutes cover phonics instruction and practice. Yet she said she usually also dedicates her personal flex time later in the day to phonics, too, with different games everyday, using magnets and Slinkies, among other activities. There's something to be learned from teachers who end a lesson with singing and dancing students, especially when covering skills some bemoan as the most boring part of early literacy.
Virtually all teachers—including those who have embraced the overwhelming evidence supporting phonics—have been unaware that their approach to comprehension conflicts with scientific findings. They have been trained to see comprehension as a set of discrete skills, like “finding the main idea.” The most commonly used elementary literacy curricula also adopt this approach. But studies have shown that comprehension isn’t a matter of abstract skills. It’s primarily dependent on how much knowledge and vocabulary a reader has relating to the topic. In an effort to boost reading scores, many elementary and even middle schools have virtually eliminated social studies, science, and the arts to make more time for practicing “finding the main idea” on disconnected texts that don’t enable kids to acquire much knowledge. Ironically, the subjects schools have marginalized are the ones that hold the potential to boost kids’ knowledge of the world—and, ultimately, their reading comprehension.
Young children need consistent exposure to high-quality, play-based early learning experiences at home and at school for literacy and language to flourish. This is especially true for pre-K children who are dual language learners (DLLs), cultivating these fundamental skills while acquiring a second language. With particular interest in how young DLLs’ language and literacy skills develop over time, a new study compares children’s development in both English and their home language over the course of one pre-K year.
With a clear research base to back them up, leaders at Ohio's Mad River Local Schools have paired carefully structured phonics lessons in K-2 with related practices that are known to support good reading skills: helping students build content knowledge and strong vocabularies. As the project enters its fourth year, Mad River's leaders are hopeful. State test scores in English/language arts have risen sharply in the buildings where children have had the most exposure to the new approach, and principals notice that more students—even the struggling ones—are better at tackling tough reading passages. "The difference between now and five years ago, I wouldn't have believed it," said Cory Miller, the principal of Virginia Stevenson Elementary, which dove into phonics in 2013-14, four years before Mad River adopted its new phonics curriculum, Fundations. "[Students'] fluency is much better, and they're attacking words in systematic ways," he said. "They're not getting stuck on words."
There's a settled body of research on how best to teach early reading. But when it comes to the multitude of curriculum choices that schools have, it's often hard to parse whether well-marketed programs abide by the evidence. And making matters more complicated, there's no good way to peek into every elementary reading classroom to see what materials teachers are using. "It's kind of an understudied issue," said Mark Seidenberg, a cognitive scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can't, and What Can Be Done About It. "[These programs] are put out by large publishers that aren't very forthcoming. It's very hard for researchers to get a hold of very basic data about how widely they're used." Now, some data are available. In a nationally representative survey, the Education Week Research Center asked K-2 and special education teachers what curricula, programs, and textbooks they had used for early reading instruction in their classrooms.
One of the most challenging aspects of properly addressing the different brains of dyslexic children is recognizing them in the first place. Dyslexia occurs on a continuum and there is no “sharp dividing line” between having dyslexia and not having it. In the early years of elementary school, all children are learning to read, and all are developing their reading skills at different rates. Though dyslexia can take on many forms, two common areas where differences can be clearly seen and heard are slow reading and difficulty with handwriting and spelling. Also, in some cases, certain speech patterns can be an early indicator of dyslexia, like mispronouncing familiar words or using “baby talk.” For schools, teachers and parents, diagnosing dyslexia in English learners can present an extra set of hurdles.
The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe. And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. The disappointing results from the exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, were announced on Tuesday and follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers. About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old. There were some bright spots for the United States: Achievement gaps between native-born and immigrant students were smaller than such gaps in peer nations.
The Award for Innovative Literacy Promotion in Europe is presented at the European literacy conferences every other year The recipient this year was Invito alla Lettura - Rai Scuola for its aim of improving the professional development of teachers in Italy in the field of literacy. Invito alla Lettura is a distance learning program addressed to teachers of kindergarten, primary, and secondary school, and it includes three TV and web series of 30 episodes. Its main goals are improving the quality of teaching literacy and promoting good reading practices that can be replicated by classroom teachers. The program can reach a wide audience and those areas of the country where there is greater need for training, disseminating the new knowledge of literacy achieved today through international research.
The most notable picture books, middle grade and young adult books of the year, selected by The Times’s children’s books editor.
Four years ago, when the staff at Danville Primary School found out they were going to learn a new way to teach reading, Mary Levitski thought: Here we go again. The 2015 training was different. Inspired by a tutoring center for kids with dyslexia in nearby Bloomsburg, Danville adopted a new approach that involved training every teacher using a somewhat old-fashioned method. Instead of buying glossy texts, it made its own workbooks. And it worked. Danville’s method relies on new reading science. It has roots in an old way of teaching but is based on new cognitive neuroscience research that has revealed how brains process sounds and symbols. It borrows from linguistics, the study of language and its structure. Students do not memorize lists of words for spelling tests, yet the average Danville fourth grader is spelling at the sixth-grade level.
As you read this sentence, your brain is making a series of rapid choices. As it processes each word, it’s matching it to one of tens of thousands in most adults’ vocabularies — about 60,000 for a skilled reader. “When you hear a word, you somehow magically, instantly come up with the meaning of that word,” said Bob McMurray, a professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. All readers — and listeners — do this, McMurray said, even first-graders who typically are choosing from a mental word bank of just 3,000 to 5,000 words. Just how children learn to make such quick determinations while reading and hearing words is the focus of a new research study of McMurray’s called Growing Words.
Every year, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) throws a luncheon at its annual convention to announce the winners of two prestigious children’s book awards: the Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children and the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. Authors Kate and Jol Temple and illustrator Terri Rose Baynton were named winners of the 2020 Charlotte Huck Award for their novel Room on Our Rock), a story about sharing and compassion that can be read forward and backward, revealing two narratives. The Charlotte Huck Award was established in 2014 to promote and recognize fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder. Author Barry Wittenstein and illustrator Jerry Pinkney were named winners of the 2020 Orbis Pictus Award for their nonfiction book, A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation. The Orbis Pictus Award, established in 1989, is the oldest children’s book award for nonfiction.
In learning to read, the brain performs an amazing feat: it creates a specialized circuit that’s just for reading, forging a new circuit by combining parts of the brain that were originally designed to serve other functions, such as retrieving names. This new “reading circuit” combines processes from different areas of the brain and then runs at a speed so fast it’s nearly automatic. But not all brains forge a flowing reading circuit easily. This is the case with dyslexia. Rather than being a disease or a medical condition (the common misperception), dyslexia is a different brain organization—one in which the brain’s reading circuit has been disrupted or re-routed in at least one way, and sometimes in two or three ways. This re-routing slows down critical parts of the reading process: attaching the right sound to a letter happens more slowly and forming words or sentences takes longer, then comprehending what was just read also takes longer. Dyslexia can additionally affect memory, especially working memory, making it harder for students to remember what they just read, or directions and learning sequences.
Research shows that children whose parents are involved in supporting their learning do better in school. For English-learners, educators think that parent involvement can be especially important for supporting successful language development. But a new U.S. Department of Education fact sheet shows that English-learner families—most of whom are Latino—are far less likely to volunteer or serve on school committees and attend school or class events, important opportunities to communicate about students' academic progress. Maria Estela Zarate, a professor in the department of educational leadership at California State University, Fullerton, has found that schools and Latino families have different perceptions of what constitutes good parental involvement. Zarate found that teachers and school administrators felt that traditional back-to-school nights, open houses, and parent-teacher conferences were important venues to communicate about students' academic progress. The Latino families that took part in the study didn't; they viewed educators as the experts and deferred the educational decisionmaking to them. With that in mind, here are five ideas to help schools better connect with English-learner families.
It can be hard to stay relevant in the ever-changing world of children's entertainment, but Highlights For Children magazine has lasted for generations by sticking to the formula of mixing fun with learning. As Emily Burkhalter's third grade class at Evening Street Elementary School in Worthington, Ohio, is enjoying a free reading period, a top choice among the students is Highlights. The kids are quick to list off their favorite parts of the magazine, from the articles to the puzzles. The most popular feature among the students is "Hidden Pictures," the visual puzzle that challenges kids to find small pictures inside a larger scene. "Part of its appeal to young children is its lack of ambiguity," says editor-in-chief French Cully. "I mean it's a little black and white. It's practice for the big, harder moral decisions that are going to come later."
A small, kindergarten-through-8th-grade district in rural Oklahoma, Lane was identified by Sean Reardon, Professor of Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University, as one of the few districts in the country that “grow” its students almost six academic years in five calendar years. Since he identified it, Lane has improved its absolute achievement considerably. When Karin Chenoweth visited she heard from teachers and administrators that its improvement process started when its former superintendent visited a nearby high-performing high-poverty district and realized that he hadn’t understood how important early learning and early reading instruction is. He began sending teachers to learn from nearby Cottonwood and they upped their reading instruction game. Today, years later, the two districts, both located in the Choctaw Nation, continue to learn from each other. Hear directly from teachers and administrators in both Lane and Cottonwood as they talk about what they have learned from each other and how improvement takes place.
Six-year-old Kaleb Gonzalez-Muniz carried his electronic reader to a visitor in his first-grade classroom at Walter Caldwell Elementary School and announced he was reading a book about the Loch Ness monster. “This woman thought she saw one, but what if she actually saw the last plesiosaurus?” he asked, pointing at the page of the Epic! digital library book. “I love this program because of that” enthusiasm, said his teacher, Jennifer Burnett. She was Caldwell’s 2017 teacher of the year and a finalist for the Polk County school district’s top teacher that same year. Burnett was one of nine Florida teachers chosen as a Master Teacher and brand ambassador for Epic!, a company that provides unlimited in-school access to a digital catalog of more than 40,000 books, audiobooks, quizzes and educational videos in a kid-friendly platform. Epic! for Educators is provided free of charge for elementary school teachers and school librarians.
Fourth-grader Lainey Rogers put in her coin and pushed the letters and numbers on the dial pad. What Lainey did get was a surprise – a book she had never read before, and one she could call her own. The machine, called Inchy, the Bookworm Vending Machine, is the only one of its kind in the Sioux Falls School District. The vending machine doesn't cost money, but it does take gold coins given to students for being "Hurricane Heroes," for exhibiting kindness and good behavior. "It's an amazing engagement tool we can use for kids. What's been really fun to watch unfold is the investment our kids have in not only wanting to meet those Hurricane behavior expectations, but also the way they're having conversations around books and authors."
Glynnis Fawkes’s graphic biography of Charlotte Brontë opens with the 20-year-old aspiring writer receiving a letter from the poet Robert Southey. He warns her, “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life.” Find yourself a husband, he says; write poems on the side if you must. But creative aspirations? Forget about it. Thankfully, today’s shelves are filled with stories about and by women who wouldn’t oblige. And, as everyone knows, extraordinary women start as girls — smart, determined and chafing against society’s notions of what they should be. So it seems fitting that two new graphic novels examine what happens just before the blockbuster moment where childhood makes way for nothing less than iconhood in the making.
On the heels of a troubling "report card" on reading and math skills among American students, a global test of adult skills suggests older generations may echo those problems. The 2017 results of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies finds that America's adult workforce is no more skillful in reading, math, or digital problem-solving than it was five years ago, even though more students are graduating from high school. Every three years, the PIAAC measures the literacy, numeracy, and digital problem-solving skills of "working age" adults, 16 to 65, in 38 countries, including 23 in 2011-12, and another nine in 2014-15. In both math and digital problem-solving skills, U.S. adults scored significantly below the international average:
It’s official—the book world can’t get enough of audiobooks. Like everyone else, I love listening to a good story while finishing household chores. But one time, I ticked off my to-do list too fast. So, I decided to fire up my Kindle Paperwhite to read along with the narrator. Guess what, it was a eureka moment for me. After weeks of doing this, I think it facilitated my reading comprehension and made me understand the story better.
We are enjoying the early stages of a surprising and encouraging curriculum moment in education marked by robust attention and interest in scientifically-sound reading instruction. Among veteran advocates for knowledge-rich curriculum, it feels like a long overdue and welcome change in the weather. If I may offer some unsolicited advice to my fellow disciples in the cause of research-based teaching and knowledge-rich curricula: widen your lens, embrace complexity, forget top-down initiatives, counsel patience, brace yourself for years of struggle, identify your allies doing the actual work, and prepare to protect their flank. In sum, abandon single-issue curriculum advocacy, which is naïve, unrealistic, and self-defeating. It paves the way for more of the wild, fad-prone gyrations that we see over and over in this field.
Any way you say it, the latest scores from the Nation’s Report Card were bad, with trends getting worse over time. In particular, America’s lowest-performing students, who also tend to be our lowest-income children, are faring particularly poorly, especially in eighth grade, and especially in reading, but pretty much all across the board. Meanwhile, our higher-achieving students are mostly holding steady or even making gains — cause for celebration, to be sure, but also a clue as to what might be happening in schools and beyond. What might explain all this? Let me dig into three hypotheses: It’s the economy, it’s the pixels, or it’s our shift in attention away from basic skills.
Mississippi is delivering, and its students are the beneficiaries.The state proved a bright spot on the most recent Nation’s Report Card. Mississippi’s gains came as students in many states did worse in 2019 than they did in 2017 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — to the disappointment of leaders, educators and parents across the United States. Mississippi’s progress in reading, at a time when many other states’ scores are stagnant or falling, is a prime example of how a state’s long-term commitment to its goals can pay off. In 2003, the state began requiring future K-6 teachers to take two early literacy courses in their teacher-preparation training. These courses ground all new Mississippi teachers in what it takes to teach young children to read. A decade later, the state’s 2013 Literacy-Based Promotion Act focused on K-3 literacy professional development for teachers and funded literacy coaches in schools with the most students performing at low levels on the state’s literacy assessment.
HarperCollins Children's Books will launch a Native-focused imprint, Heartdrum, in 2021. The imprint, which will be led by author Cynthia Leitich Smith and HarperCollins Children's Books vice president and editorial director Rosemary Brosnan, plans to bring "a wide range of innovative, unexpected, and heartfelt stories by Native creators, informed and inspired by lived experience, with an emphasis on the present and future of Indian Country and on the strength of young Native heroes" to young readers, according to the publisher's announcement. The launch list includes Ancestor Approved, an anthology edited by Smith, and The Sea in Winter by Christine Day.
A national report card finds reading proficiency for American fourth-grade and eighth-grade students is declining. We go behind the numbers to understand why, in this discussion with Liana Loewus, assistant managing editor for Education Week, Emily Hanford, senior producer and education correspondent for APM Reports, part of American Public Media, Kelly Butler, CEO of the Barksdale Reading Institute, and Nell Duke, professor at the University of Michigan School of Education focused on early literacy development.