Today’s Reading News
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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Jason Reynolds can do anything. From verse to prose or a superhero novel to a fusion of art and text, his moving examinations of modern society are captivating, innovative, and beloved. Reynolds is the recipient of the 2023 Margaret A. Edwards Award, given annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, and sponsored by SLJ, for his novels When I Was the Greatest, The Boy in the Black Suit, All American Boys, Ghost, and Long Way Down. In honoring Reynolds’s work, the committee noted that he “presents teens with authentic mirrors and windows to the world.”
With an all-out effort over the past decade to get all children to read by the end of third grade and by extensive reliance on research and metrics, Mississippi has shown that it is possible to raise standards even in a state ranked dead last in the country in child poverty and hunger and second highest in teen births. One pillar of Mississippi’s new strategy was increasing reliance on phonics and a broader approach to literacy called the science of reading, which has been gaining ground around the country; Mississippi was at the forefront of this movement. The Barksdale Reading Institute [in Mississippi] is developing a free online tool, Reading Universe, to make the state’s approach to reading available to all schools in America and around the world. The idea is that kids everywhere should have the same opportunities to learn and graduate as, say, students in high-poverty schools in the Delta.
New York is the latest large city to join a national push to change how children are taught to read. But principals and teachers may resist uprooting old practices. Principals will lose control over selecting reading programs at their schools, and their union has criticized the speed of change. And many educators still believe in “balanced literacy,” a popular approach that aims to foster a love of books through independent reading time but that experts and the chancellor say lacks enough focus on foundational skills.
Analogies help students remember new information by connecting it to frameworks or contexts they already know. The science of memory tells us that a novel stimulus is more easily remembered if it has an existing framework or assimilative context to which it can “connect.” The more established the framework, the more readily accessible that stimulus will subsequently be.
Play and pleasure reading topped the list of responses to the question: What summer homework should students be assigned? Teachers (of both young and older students) were more likely than the principals who responded to suggest that kids need a break in the summer. “For young children, specifically pre-K to grade 3, I feel that over the summer children need to have their summer break and be provided with the opportunity to explore, get plenty of physical activity, and play. Children learn from play. Play teaches children about problem-solving and social interactions,” said Tara Hughes, a pre-K inclusion teacher at the Nye Early Childhood Center in Santa Fe who was voted 2023 New Mexico State Teacher of the Year.
School districts around the country are pushing to help students bounce back from the pandemic’s profound academic damage: expanding literacy tutoring in Detroit, cutting class sizes in New York City, and buying science-backed reading curriculums in districts across Colorado. Chicago Public Schools has turned to academic interventionists — a cadre of hundreds mostly classroom teachers already on the district’s payroll, tapped this year to turbocharge the learning of struggling students one-on-one or in small groups.
Studies show that too much noise, particularly loud noise, can hurt a child's cognitive development, notably for language-based skills such as reading. That's because if noise is just, well, noise, it distracts developing brains and makes it more difficult for children to concentrate. But when their environment is quiet enough for them to pay attention to sounds that are important or particularly interesting to them, it is a powerful teaching tool. "[Young children's] brains are craving sound-to-meaning connections, so it's very important that the sounds around them be nourishing and meaningful," says Nina Kraus, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University.
Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said that while social media offered some benefits to younger people, including the ability to connect with communities, it also exposed them to potential harms, such as cyberbullying and content that promotes eating disorders, self-harm and other destructive behavior. Social media also hurts exercise, sleep and other activities, he said. What can parents do? One is to explore potential options to limit children’s screen time. Let’s go through them. Google’s and Apple’s mobile operating systems offer free tools that can be effective for restricting screen time on smartphones and tablets. These tools allow parents to monitor and set limits on their children’s devices.
In the last century and now again, we have gone in and out of debates about the best way to teach reading — as if there was a single best way for all children — with the arguments focusing on phonics, whole language and balanced literacy. We’re in another cycle: Just this week, New York City, the largest school district in the country, announced it would require all elementary schools to employ phonics programs in reading instruction. This post — written by David Reinking, Peter Smagorinsky, and David B. Yaden — looks at the debate on phonics in a different way than is most often voiced these days.
It wasn’t long ago that as the chief academic officer for Tennessee’s public schools, I was seeking a program that would ensure that every teacher is equipped with evidence-based knowledge that they could easily translate into classroom practice. My team and I wanted effective training that was also affordable, both in terms of financial outlay and teacher time. We chose to develop our own, homegrown training. Our program, Reading 360, pairs research and theory with a strong emphasis on classroom application. We believe it offers a compelling—and streamlined—model for supporting all teachers as they make the transition to practice based on the science of reading.
State laws vary considerably regarding the curricula that schools can use to teach reading. Only a dozen or so take an active role in prescribing how districts pick their core English language arts programs. There’s also appreciable variation in how states approach a slew of other components that affect reading instruction, including mandating phonics, implementing interventions, providing training, and—more recently—prohibiting three-cueing. Indeed, there are differing opinions on whether classroom practice can be improved at all from the lofty perch of statehouses, but emerging research points out how some laws work better than others.
School districts in many states are reacting to state laws that dictate the kinds of books school libraries can have. That’s led to a small number of districts temporarily or permanently removing dozens of books from school libraries. That’s according to an April 2023 analysis by PEN America, a free speech advocacy group that tracks book bans nationwide. For that report, PEN America tracked book bans for the last six months of 2022.
Seven brand-new and time-tested books about sleepaway camp. To lose yourself in a camp tale is to beam yourself out of the sweaty monotony of your actual summer and into the sun-kissed universe of “The Parent Trap.” The thrills are vicarious and the miseries are validating in an entry-level schadenfreude kind of way. Here are seven flashlight-under-the-blanket page-turners to get you started — four of them recently released and the other three tried and true.
The turnaround in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana has grabbed the attention of educators nationally, showing rapid progress is possible anywhere, even in areas that have struggled for decades with poverty and dismal literacy rates. Other states have passed laws adopting similar reforms that emphasize phonics and early screenings for struggling kids. As Mississippi climbed the rankings, the Barksdale Institute, an influential organization in literacy policy in the state, got phone calls from about two dozen states. The institute’s CEO, Kelly Butler, said she tells them there’s no secret to the strategy. “We know how to teach reading,” she said. “We just have to do it everywhere.”
A new study looking at absenteeism in kindergarten through 3rd grade in Delaware and the effect on students’ and schools’ academic performance calls for additional emphasis on ensuring consistent attendance in the early years. The negative academic impacts were not limited to students with large number of absences. The schoolwide effect in schools with higher-than-average absenteeism was sometimes up to 20 times the effect on an individual student’s performance
An outdoor approach to teaching preschool is gaining momentum nationwide. Long common in such countries as Denmark, Sweden and Germany, nature preschools and kindergartens have exploded in popularity in America over the past few years, growing from 250 in 2017 to more than 800 in 2022, based on a forthcoming report from the nonprofit Natural Start Alliance. In the past five years, five states have introduced legislation or established pilot programs to support outdoor learning as an alternative to traditional preschool and child care programs.
New research into child language acquisition has made strong links between cognitive skills and language learning, challenging long-term beliefs that children develop language skills independently of cognitive function relating to abilities such as spatial awareness. Results found that three main cognitive factors including: Verbal Cognition, Processing Speed and Memory – and additionally and Non-Verbal Cognition, contributed significantly to individual variation in language abilities.
In an evaluation of 26 public and private Ohio teacher training programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality released today, seven received A grades for instructing new educators in how to use the science of reading with young students, while six received Fs. The report offers some encouraging news for Governor DeWine who wants to ban other literacy approaches that have lost credibility: Colleges are teaching phonics — a key part of the science of reading — to teacher trainees. But just nine of the 26 programs fully covered all five parts of the science of reading — phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension, along with phonics. In addition, most did not give new teachers enough practice with students.
Because the LTEL label itself indicates these students are taking longer than their peers to achieve English proficiency, a series of undeserving, deficit-based characteristics such as “unmotivated,” “struggling reader,” and “disengaged” often come attached to the label. When teachers perceive these students through this deficit lens, they may not have high expectations for them. In order to focus on these students’ assets, we are choosing to refer to them as experienced multilinguals. This assets-based term highlights the fact that these students have gained valuable life experiences and that they already speak at least one other language that can be used to help understand content and express their ideas.
“You don’t have to be published to write a poem,” says award-winning author and poet Clint Smith. “Poetry is in all of us.” He said it’s important for educators to “make poetry feel like an invitation rather than intimidation.” Below, three poetry teachers from around the country shared how they expand the boundaries of poetry in the classroom.
As many as 15 to 20 percent of students show some symptoms of dyslexia, such as inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words, according to the International Dyslexia Association. In this webinar, hear from these two educators as they discuss how to recognize early warning signs of dyslexia; the key components of effective intervention; what schools designed for students with the disorder include, and what they purposefully omit; and more.
New York City students are struggling with reading, but principals are worried that the rollout of a new teaching method is happening too quickly.
SLJ asked librarians and educators to weigh in on which classics should remain on summer reading lists. Inspired by the most popular titles that emerged, SLJ editors and members of NCTE’s Build Your Stack® Committee have curated this year’s round of “Refreshing the Canon” suggestions. Additionally, we’ve put together multimodal lists of recommendations—including nonfiction, graphic novels, documentaries, paintings, and more—that educators can feature in classrooms and libraries alongside the exemplar texts.
Two very different new novels for young readers bear striking similarities. Both feature boys narrating their own tales of taking on heroic tasks as they work through the emotional devastation of losing parents. (These quests echo ancient myths — Greek in one case, Cherokee in the other.) Both involve the serious challenge of surviving middle school. And both spring from the imaginations of National Book Award finalists.
New York City’s elementary schools will be required to use one of three reading curriculums, a tectonic shift that education officials hope will improve literacy rates across the nation’s largest school system. Now, city officials will require one of three reading programs: Wit & Wisdom, from a company called Great Minds; Into Reading from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; or EL Education. The new mandate won support from the teachers union, whose leaders expressed faith in the city’s efforts to train thousands of teachers on new materials.
Originally published in 1986, Gary Paulsen’s Newbery Honor-winning Hatchet endures as a survival story with the power to capture young readers’ imaginations, putting them in the shoes of 13-year-old Brian Robeson as a plane taking him to stay with his father for the summer crash lands in the Canadian wilderness. The following 6 multimedia recommendations will enhance readers’ understanding of the text while offering them new stories of survival, both real and speculative.
Now that AI is shaping nearly every aspect of our lives and is expected to transform fields from medicine to agriculture to policing, what do students need to understand about AI to be prepared for the world of work? To be a smart consumer and a responsible citizen? Here’s how to begin developing AI literacy, according to experts and educators.
For generations, families have relied on friends, family members and neighbors to help care for young children during the day. Friend, family and neighbor (FFN) care is the most common form of non-parental child care in America. Child care provided by relatives or other informal caregivers can offer valuable benefits for children, such as consistency of care, support of native language and culture, flexibility and affordability. As states work to stabilize the child care industry in the wake of the pandemic, experts are calling for more support for all child care settings, including the informal, home-based care, where so many children spend their days.
Half of children in grades three to eight fail reading tests. The city’s schools chancellor, who has faulted the current approach, will begin rolling out new curriculums next year. The curriculums use evidence-supported practices, including phonics — which teaches children how to decode letter sounds — and avoid strategies many reading experts say are flawed, like teaching children to use picture clues to guess words.
What happens when kindergartners spend almost their entire school day outside, even through a harsh Canadian winter? When two teachers from Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School (PETES), in Gatineau, Quebec, dubbed a tiny park near their urban schoolyard “the magical forest” and started taking their small charges there daily, the learning adventures began. They say this approach has resulted in fewer distractions, better inclusion for all students, and more effective learning.
Friendship is probably the most recurrent theme in books for early readers. And the most successful friendships, these books suggest, are those between two friends, as Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” and James Marshall’s “George and Martha” demonstrate. Here are three new duos who bravely follow in their footsteps — Otis and Peanut, Panda and Squirrel, and Bear and Bird.
Award-winning author Jason Reynolds returns with a sequel to his young adult novel Miles Morales: Spider-Man. This one is called Miles Morales Suspended, and it continues the adventures of an "unassuming, everyday kid who just so happens to be Spider-Man." Reynolds' book is directed toward a wide audience — part poetry, part prose, with illustrations throughout. It grapples with huge themes though: censorship in schools, racism and fear. He spoke with Morning Edition's A Martinez about Morales' other teenage superpowers and obsessions: writing poetry, and exploring his feelings about family, teachers, and a girl he likes.
With a fifth of Hoosier third-graders reading below grade level, Indiana cannot afford not to implement evidence-based reading instruction in our classrooms. America is in the middle of a reading crisis, and if other states fail to act with urgency now, an entire generation will grow up struggling to read.. The science of reading, literacy coaches, stipends, and professional development for teachers anchor Indiana's response to this crisis.
National test scores released on Wednesday showed a marked drop in students’ knowledge of U.S. history and a modest decline in civics, a sign of the pandemic’s alarming reach, damaging student performance in nearly every academic area. The pandemic plunge in U.S. history accelerated a downward trend that began nearly a decade ago, hitting this recent low at a time when the subject itself has become increasingly politically divisive. A growing number of students are falling below even the basic standards set out on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a rigorous national exam administered by the Department of Education.
Eighth graders’ scores in U.S. history and civics dropped on the test known as the “Nation’s Report Card”—a decline that brings student achievement in these subjects back down to 1990s levels. The new results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress mark the first time that 8th grade civics scores decreased significantly in the test’s nearly 25-year history, and a continuation of a yearslong downward trend in U.S. history performance. More students are now scoring at the lowest level in both subjects.
Re “‘Kids Can’t Read,’ and the Education Establishment Faces a Revolt” (news article, April 16): Congratulations to Sarah Mervosh for her article about reading instruction that gets beyond stale tropes and hackneyed “phonics vs. everything else” dichotomies. As she notes, there’s more to reading than “sounding out” words (a.k.a. phonics). Phonics is essential because it provides the link between oral speech and written language, without which literacy is impossible. But vocabulary, language and background knowledge make the link meaningful.
At least 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation over the past decade aimed at improving early reading instruction and student outcomes. But have these laws actually moved the needle on kids’ achievement? A new study from researchers at Michigan State University examines the question—and finds that the outcomes are mixed.
Record numbers of U.S. students severely struggle with math, but only a fraction of them receive screening and support targeting potential math disabilities. That’s why some researchers and educators are working to leverage what we know about the connections between dyscalculia and the much better-known dyslexia to identify new avenues to improve math learning for struggling students.
Officials in Georgia’s fourth-largest district are hoping an infusion of federal relief funds will change all that. Fulton County Schools has allocated roughly a third of its $262 million in pandemic aid to replace a patchy and uneven approach to reading with a solid, phonics-based curriculum. The initiative, which includes training teachers and administrators in how children learn to read and adding K-2 literacy coaches in all 60 elementary schools, is an attempt to give students an equal shot at staying on grade level, regardless of where they live.
Want to help students improve their oral communication skills? Start with listening. When thinking of speaking skills, we forget how powerful our listening skills need to be, and that they precede speaking ability. Listening while someone is speaking is key. It models patterns, intonation, prosody, accents, word order, co-locations, and conversational animation. It’s also a vehicle for acquiring information, and preparing to continue a conversation, whether with more information or questioning. Pointing out all of these concepts explicitly to students, regardless of language proficiency, will heighten metacognition and awareness of how language works.
A new collection of books was recently released, one designed for elementary school classrooms. Each bundle in this new Rising Voices series, while differing somewhat depending on grade level, contains books created by Latino authors and illustrators. Maria Armstrong, executive director of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, says that book publisher Scholastic pitched her on the idea for Rising Voices and invited her to be a mentor for the project’s development.
Sharing stories rooted in real events and experiences is a great way to encourage literacy and critical thinking in young readers.
A generation after the influential report, Margaret Spellings, Chester E. Finn and Morgan Polikoff reflect on the past 4 decades of school progress.
The National Commission on Excellence in Education’s release of a report titled “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 was a pivotal point in the history of American education. The report used dire language, lamenting that “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” As a scholar of education who specializes in standards-based reform and accountability, I believe important lessons can be learned about American education by examining what has taken place since the release of the report. Here are three.
When someone hears a concept or a person’s name for the first time, the most common way of learning this new word is to repeat it out loud. However, previous studies have found contradictory effects of this almost-simultaneous production on our capacity to learn new words. A new study, carried out by Spain’s Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language (BCBL), found that when learning new vocabulary repeating the words can have negative effects on learning, particularly when the repetition is immediate. Silently listening to the word or pausing between hearing and producing the word can be more effective ways to learn it.
This past December I got to fulfill a lifelong dream (well, a dream I’d had for a few years, anyway) of cohosting the annual Undies Awards with Travis Jonker and Carter Higgins. The Undies encourages readers of all ages to peel dust jackets off books and nominate which printed hardcovers—aka hardcases, case covers, or casewraps—have the best designs. Recognizing that this stellar form of secondary storytelling wasn’t just limited to casewraps, Travis, Carter, and I also launched the inaugural Endies Awards in 2022 to celebrate all the inventive endpapers illustrators are creating.
This month marks 20 years since Mo Willems published his first picture book, "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!" It has sold more than 6 million copies and received a Caldecott honor. But this past weekend, readers got to see and hear a brand-new side of the bossy bird. As NPR's Isabella Gomez Sarmiento reports, The Pigeon made his operatic debut at Washington's Kennedy Center. Willems and Renee Fleming presented the pigeon's story.
Many children’s authors create animal and plant characters who talk and think like humans. But if the author’s understanding of other species is superficial, the characters’ nonhuman features become little more than a means to deliver jokes. The authors of “The Eyes & the Impossible” and “Big Tree” have avoided this pitfall and created characters who, although they speak with a human tongue, embody the strange magic of other beings.
“Knowledge-building” has become a buzzword in reading instruction. It refers to English/language arts approaches that aim to systematically build students’ understanding of the world—rather than focusing solely or mainly on comprehension skills and strategies. Studies suggest that this approach can be effective at improving students’ reading ability. In a recent Education Week webinar, two researchers who study the role of content learning in reading comprehension talked about what this body of evidence says, and how schools can use the findings to inform the way they teach early reading.
For advocates of building children’s general knowledge, the new long-term study of a knowledge-rich curriculum is certainly positive news and an indication that this type of instruction may be beneficial. But from my perspective, it falls far short of convincing proof or vindication. For starters, the study took place at nine charter schools in Colorado, stretching from Denver to Fort Collins. It’s impossible from the study design to distinguish whether the Core Knowledge curriculum itself made the difference or if it could be attributed to other things that these charter schools were doing, such as teacher training or character education programs.
After decades of steadily disappointing scores in reading proficiency, the state turned to legislation to bar programs and practices rooted in whole language. Now, all across the state, educators are talking about how the brain learns to read and how to teach in simpatico with that science. Time will tell if it moves the needle – after all, there’s a long implementation journey ahead. But amid national criticism over the use of legislation to guide literacy instruction, many North Carolina education leaders and teachers say things already look and feel different.
As your child gets older, he’ll increasingly be expected to teach himself. High school seniors must read difficult books independently, commit information to memory, schedule their work, cope with test anxiety and much more. These demands build slowly across the grades, essentially forming a second, unnoticed curriculum: learning how to learn independently. For most American students, that curriculum goes untaught.
Listening is a key language skill and academic habit—it’s estimated people spend 45 percent of their communication time listening versus only 30 percent talking—yet students often get little explicit instruction on how to pay attention to each other. As schools work to help students recover academic habits that were disrupted during the pandemic, experts have called for more deliberate practice of listening and other communication skills. One new study suggests quick ways that teaching students to listen to their peers can build deeper academic discussions and counter racial and gender stereotypes in classes like math.
Michael missed most of first grade, the foundational year for learning to read. It was the first fall of the pandemic, and for months Atlanta only offered school online. Michael’s mom had just had a baby, and there was no quiet place to study in their small apartment. He missed a good part of second grade, too. So, like most of his classmates at his Atlanta school, he isn’t reading at the level expected for a third grader. And that poses an urgent problem. Third grade is the last chance for Michael’s class to master reading with help from teachers before they face more rigorous expectations.
During Autism Acceptance Month, transit systems in New York and other major cities are giving children with autism — many of whom are fascinated by trains — the opportunity to record the station announcements that riders hear.
STEM-based education is important for all learners, providing rich opportunities for developing 21st-century skills; it is focused on hands-on learning with real-world applications through a cross-curricular lens, meaning that students learn science and math while also developing creativity, collaboration and communication skills, executive functioning, and flexibility—skills that are transferable to every professional context. Yet it’s impossible to promote scientific literacy without also considering accessible reading and writing instruction.
These works of poetry will inspire children to fight climate change, prepare them for a new sibling, teach them to be courageous and compassionate, and make them think as well as laugh.
A growing group of experts and educators are trying to figure out what the relationship should be between digital technology and reading instruction. Both reading and digital tech are world-expanding human inventions, and laptops and smartphones have arguably given humans unending opportunities to read more; you can access pretty much anything in print within a few seconds. In terms of “raw words,” the cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham has said, kids read more now than they did a decade ago. But many reading experts suspect that the technology may also be changing how they read—that reading on a screen is fundamentally different from reading on the page.
On the 20th anniversary of ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!,’ Willems reflects on his beleaguered bird, bad ideas, and being part of a community of picture-book authors in Western Mass. His books deal with big feelings — frustration, anxiety, disappointment — that are baked into simple stories. But he often stresses that “simple and easy are opposites,” said Tracey Keevan, his editor for over a decade, noting that behind the books is “a tremendous amount of thinking.”
In “Straight Talk with Rick and Jal,” Harvard University’s Jal Mehta and I examine some of the reforms and enthusiasms that permeate education. Today’s topic is “evidence-based practice.” Jal says, "I like the idea of evidence-informed practice. That centers the notion that there is some evidence that educators should take into consideration but also the reality that there is much about any given situation that is context-specific and depends on the expertise of the local practitioner."
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