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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This is my choice, but I’m starting to wish that it wasn’t. I don’t feel qualified. I’ve been a superintendent for 20 years, so I guess I should be used to making decisions, but I keep getting lost in my head. I’m worried. I’m worried about everything. Each possibility I come up with is a bad one. The governor has told us we have to open our schools to students on August 17th, or else we miss out on five percent of our funding. I run a high-needs district in middle-of-nowhere Arizona. We’re 90 percent Hispanic and more than 90 percent free-and-reduced lunch. These kids need every dollar we can get. But covid is spreading all over this area and hitting my staff, and now it feels like there’s a gun to my head. I already lost one teacher to this virus. Do I risk opening back up even if it’s going to cost us more lives? Or do we run school remotely and end up depriving these kids?
Many parents are worried that their children will fall behind in their reading abilities given the cancellation of library story hours and the increasing number of public schools that will move to online instruction in the fall. There is one activity that all parents and childcare providers can do to help address these concerns, and that is to read aloud to the children in their lives. The act of reading aloud to children plays a major role in helping children build their vocabularies and learn how language works. Another benefit to reading aloud to children is that it provides a safe structure for children and adults to talk about the stresses that children are experiencing during this pandemic. Sometimes it is easier for kids to talk about how the characters in a story respond to stress than it is for them to talk about their own scary feelings.
Though there is more we can do in the early grades, our larger problem is increasingly not with the beginning of our students’ journey of literacy acquisition. Our bigger problem is the later grades where reading growth flatlines. In these years, the number of skills drops substantially. We have less that we must directly teach to students, but there is much more that must be done with them. This is because “after one has learned the mechanics of reading, growth depends, more than anything, on our ability to build up students’ knowledge base and vocabulary” through wide reading. This is why the Common Core places so much emphasis on text quality and complexity, and also calls for us to “markedly increase the opportunity for regular independent reading of texts that appeal to students’ interests to develop both their knowledge and joy in reading”.
As school districts across the country are trying to determine how or if they can open their doors in the fall, a California coalition has come together - offering districts everything from curriculum to architecture advice to take their classrooms outside. The initiative is divided into 11 working groups. Consisting of educators, epidemiologists, landscape architects, city planners, the group is offering districts a "how-to manual" free of charge on everything from curriculum development to infrastructure planning.
Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) sent a letter to the chief executives of 20 internet service providers requesting they take decisive action to support educational access for hundreds of thousands of disproportionately Black and Latinx children. These children were unable to fully participate in their school curriculum this past spring due to the unaffordability of internet access and data services, lack of reliable internet in their community, lack of access to the technological devices to perform their work, or all of the above. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the new school year approaches, LDF calls on these providers to commit to ensuring that online learning is feasible and accessible for students of color throughout the country.
Across the nation, libraries are stepping up in a time of crisis. This summer, as communities continue to deal with COVID-19, both public libraries and school libraries are innovating new ways to provide services for communities that reach beyond physical books and buildings. One of libraries’ main goals has been to help children, many of whom have already missed out on a lot, stay engaged, reading and learning at a time when they can’t physically be in the building. School libraries have become tech hubs for educators teaching from home, while public libraries have worked to expand access to the internet, with many keeping their building’s WiFi on even when buildings were closed, so patrons can get internet access from the parking lot. Community events like story hours, maker spaces, and summer camps have moved online for easy access, and librarians are featuring themselves online, reading books and doing crafts, to stay connected.
If social media posts are any indication, Bitmoji classrooms are becoming a teacher obsession. Since so many teachers are planning to "return" only to online classrooms in the fall, they're building these colorful virtual environments for their students featuring avatar versions of themselves. In thousands of posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, teachers are sharing the classrooms they've built. Using the Bitmoji app to create their avatars, and other tools like Google or Canva to build the classroom backdrop, they're making welcoming spaces, complete with colorful rugs and posters, that can serve as a cozy home base for their classes. Students can move through the spaces virtually, clicking on a bookshelf image to get a reading assignment, for instance, or on a whiteboard to follow a link to read a science document.
A typical American school day requires proximity: High school lab partners leaning over a vial. Kindergarten students sharing finger paints. Middle schoolers passing snacks around a cafeteria table. This year, nothing about school will be typical. Many of the nation’s largest districts plan to start the academic year online, and it is unclear when students and teachers will be back in classrooms. Others plan hybrid models, while some are determined to go five days a week. When school buildings do reopen, whether this fall or next year, buses, hallways, cafeterias and classrooms will need to look very different as long as the coronavirus remains a threat. Even teaching, which has evolved in recent decades to emphasize fewer lectures and more collaborative lessons, must change. There is still considerable uncertainty and debate over how easily children of different ages contract and spread the virus, and whether some of the recommended safety guidelines would help or are even necessary. As a result, schools are adopting a wide range of approaches for the pandemic era. But those recommendations largely agree on at least some adaptations, and they all come down to eliminating one factor: proximity.
Because of the abrupt switch to remote learning when COVID-19 swept the country, districts nationwide have struggled to follow through with the services students are required by law to receive. It was made even harder by the fact that individualized education programs, or IEPs, that determine services for each special education student were never meant to be delivered virtually. These services might range from extra tutoring or speech therapy to extensive, one-on-one assistance for students with severe and complex health needs. Survey results released in May showed that almost 40 percent of parents whose children typically receive individual support in school did not get those services during school closures. Those with IEPs were also twice as likely to be doing little to no remote learning, and were just as likely to say that distance learning was going poorly.
Many parents may be at home during this pandemic, but whether working from home or not, helping young children continue formal learning – especially learning to read – is a formidable task. Teachers can provide remote learning plans, but not every family has the same access and ease of use when it comes to high-speed internet and electronic devices. And no matter how quickly kids do learn, it is difficult to follow remote learning on their own. This is why the educational public television program Let’s Learn NYC! was created by The WNET Group and the NYC Department of Education (DOE). Every weekday, teaching professionals practice the sounds of letters, read story books, and more to reach children ages three to eight (grades 3-K to 2) via broadcast television and live streaming. Andrew Fletcher, NYC DOE’s Senior Executive Director of Early Literacy, participates in each episode. He explains how Let’s Learn NYC! answers a pressing need in this interview.
Though it wasn’t always easy to engage students via Zoom or Google Meet, most of our early childhood teachers had success with their regular storytimes. Even during a pandemic, it is comforting to have classroom favorites as well as new titles read by a teacher. As we prepare for the upcoming school year and a slow transition back to school, many of these virtual resources like ebooks can be utilized by teachers as they plan learning activities. I loved how educator and professional development trainer Claire Landrigan used Padlet to create a virtual classroom and school library. I am already thinking about how to host Zoom meetings to share booktalks and how to assess the books in the classroom library to determine what gaps exist and how to ensure that the titles represent the diverse students in the classroom. Until we can return to story time and book sharing in a more traditional manner, I appreciate the growing resources available to get books into the virtual hands of students.
In this episode, Glean Education spoke with Dr. Maryanne Wolf, Director of UCLA’s Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice on her mission to raise awareness that literacy is a basic human right.
Racial inequality is a defining feature of the pandemic, both in terms of its health impact and its economic effect. This is no less true when it comes to education. Children of color are more likely to fall behind the longer they stay home from school, partially because of limited access to virtual education. Parents of color are also more worried than white parents about losing the other benefits that schools provide, like social services and food, according to recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Only 9% of white parents are worried about their children having enough to eat at home if schools remain closed, compared to 44% of parents of color. Parents of color are also more worried about the health risks — to teachers, their children and their families — of reopening schools for in-person learning. They were significantly more likely than white parents to say that schools should reopen later rather than sooner, per KFF.
In May, the N.I.H. initiated a study to test thousands of children and their families over six months to see who gets the virus, whether it’s transmitted within the household and who develops Covid, while collecting information about participants’ recent activities. That’s the kind of detailed data collection needed to help determine under what conditions schools are likely to endure outbreaks or contribute to community spread. But none of that data will help us in time for the start of the school year. Instead, without the ability to consistently test students, get quick results and trace contacts, it will be impossible for schools to tell who has the virus and whether it’s circulating on campus; when students and staff inevitably get sick, individual schools will have to debate shutting down or staying open without any more useful information to guide them than they have now. To all of America’s failures in the Covid-19 crisis, we should surely add this one: the inability to get schools the tools and data they need to strike the best possible balance between education and health.
Public health officials say it’s inevitable that cases of COVID-19 will turn up in Colorado schools as the school year starts. But as they do, officials stress the use of cohorts as a key way to prevent uncontrolled outbreaks. Cohorts are groups of students and staff within a school building who interact mostly only with each other. The goal is to limit the number of people anyone is exposed to. As schools try to create smaller cohorts, they have to get creative with new schedules and alternating days. Here, we’ve answered some questions to help you understand the cohort model better.
A reading program for Philadelphia school kids is adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to help the students avoid the summer slide. David Oplacio hones and sharpens his reading skills every week through the Philadelphia Reading Coaches. The Reading Coaches is a program where kids from kindergarten through third grade are paired up with teens and older volunteers in an effort to make sure they are proficient in reading. Philly Reading Coaches executive director Johniece Foster said they've since been able to restart via Zoom, and it will run to the start of the school year. The program not only provides kids with an opportunity to read with a coach a few times a week, it also gives them more than two dozen books to help build their libraries.
Read-alouds remain a powerful way to engage young readers and support their long-term reading growth. They also bestow benefits far beyond primary school: Secondary students show reading proficiency gains from regular read-alouds. The International Reading Association emphasizes, “Effective read-alouds increase children’s vocabulary, listening comprehension, story schema, background knowledge, word recognition skills, and cognitive development.” When students encounter a wide variety of texts, voices, and experiences through read-alouds, their social comprehension increases, too. As you consider three read-aloud benefits, brainstorm ideas for working with families and colleagues to ensure all students experience read-alouds this year.
The logistics of reopening schools are daunting. Plans are full of details about which days kids will be eligible for, and pages and pages on preventing students and staffs from getting sick. What kind of limits will be placed on class sizes? What kind of cleaning? Will there be symptom checks or temperature screens? Masks for everyone or just adults? These plans are important and necessary. But there is an issue that we aren’t talking enough about: What happens when there is a Covid-19 case in a school? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first guidelines on this topic last week, a long-overdue step toward getting schools to take this question seriously. The instinct, I think, is to say we are working to make sure that doesn’t happen, and of course that is the goal. But that goal is unrealistic. Even if schools are successful at ensuring there is no Covid-19 spread in schools at all, there will still be cases arising from the community.
Recently I participated in a National Writing Project webinar called Beyond the Storytime Livestream, where elementary educators and picture book makers gathered to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the classroom and to brainstorm ways for picture book creators to connect meaningfully with elementary educators in this time of virtual learning. I wanted to see if it would be possible to pilot a small-scale project that would bring together picture book makers, educators, and library staff to support “staying the course.” Could we develop open-source writing and drawing prompts for elementary students that didn’t rely on access to the internet, or necessarily access to our books themselves? Staff at the East Flagstaff City-Coconino County Public Library in Arizona were willing to help us take up this challenge.
The coronavirus crisis offers an opportunity to reimagine elementary school education by moving it outdoors. Even before COVID-19, American children were sitting more and moving less, creating deficits in health and wellness, and affecting attention and self regulation, studies have shown. Learning outdoors gives us a chance to have children move more, improving their gross motor skills, strength, endurance, and coordination. Learning outdoors gives children a chance to learn through play, which is essential for appropriate child development. Learning outdoors offers sensory experiences to support improved self-regulation and opportunities to promote and expand executive functioning skills. In my experience as a school-based occupational therapist, I’ve seen how much more grounded, focused, and ready to learn children can be after intensive movement-based play. And because the coronavirus is less likely to spread outdoors, student movement and their social interactions can be far less restricted outside than in school buildings.
Thousands of after-school programs closed their doors months ago—and a majority now fear they may never reopen. Nearly 9 in 10 programs have long-term funding concerns because of school closures caused by COVID-19—and 6 in 10 are concerned that they may have to permanently shut their doors, a survey commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, reveals. The survey, the first in a series from the Afterschool Alliance, aims to gauge the health of an industry that served an estimated 10 million children before the pandemic struck. Now, heading into the fall, providers are bracing to serve only a fraction of that number.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread through the country, a common (socially distanced) conversation among friends and families compared how many hours of remote learning kids were getting. Preliminary results from a new survey of school districts confirm what many parents learned through the Zoom grapevine. The number of hours your kids got varied wildly depending on where you happen to live. But the amount of time was not the only difference, according to a recent survey: the type of instruction students received also diverged dramatically. Low-income schools spent considerably more time reviewing old content. Wealthier schools were more likely to teach new material. Learning materials — paper versus screens — were another chasm. Nearly half of low-income districts distributed paper packets of worksheets to families while more than three-fourths of wealthier school districts distributed everything digitally. This digital divide had enormous consequences for what instruction meant. Low-poverty districts offered far more live virtual classes, live one-on-one sessions with teachers and prerecorded classes for students to watch at their convenience. High-poverty districts were far less likely to offer any of these three things.
Preschool participation has fallen by half during the pandemic, according to new data from the National Institute for Early Education Research. And even with early educators’ efforts to connect with students remotely, few families have remained consistently involved. This “massive reduction in preschool attendance,” the report shows, affected all families regardless of race or ethnicity, parents’ educational level or income. But the “devastating loss of learning time,” the authors write, was more severe for children whose parents have less education. Based on a survey of almost 1,000 families, researchers found that most programs attempted to provide some academic support, such as sending home learning materials and contacting parents and students directly. But more than half of the families reported participating in activities such as listening to a story, video chatting with classmates, or doing a science activity less than once a week.
The United States Census reported that the Hispanic population accounted for almost 20 percent of the U.S. population in 2020. According to an infographic released in 2019 by Sarah Park Dahlen, an associate professor of MLIS at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN, and illustrator David Huyck, only five percent of children’s books feature Latinx characters or subjects. And out of that small selection, many of these titles often examine the same subjects or historical figures over and over again. Thankfully, more picture book biographies are being published about groundbreaking Latinx luminaries every year. Here are some must-add choices for your collections.
Few schools in the United States will get through the 2020-21 academic year without some form of remote learning, for some portion of the student body, for some period of time. Education Week interviewed more than five dozen educators and experts, and examined numerous districts’ reopening plans as well as guidance from organizations that support remote and technology-enabled learning. In the fourth installment of How We Go Back to School, we offer tips, checklists, best practices, and expert advice on how to make teaching and learning at home engaging, productive, and equitable.
The Nashville, Tenn., schools made the decision this month to stick to full-time remote learning when the 2020-21 school year begins. In Bennington, Neb., the school district is planning to open schools for all students five days a week. And the New York City public school district is designing a hybrid model in which students would be in school a few days a week and learning remotely the other days. The choice many schools appear to be leaning toward is the hybrid model, at least for now, because they are concerned about the health of students and staff members if buildings reopen, and about the learning loss that can happen in fully remote environments. Here’s what experts and educators say an effective hybrid model should emphasize.
Vanessa Ince's daughter, Alexis, has a rare chromosomal abnormality and autism. Alexis has thrived at her public school in Wailuku, Hawaii, and loves spending time with her classmates. Ince says when the COVID-19 pandemic closed her school in Wailuku, the effect on her daughter's well-being was "devastating." Ince and her husband have filed a lawsuit seeking to get Hawaii's Department of Education to pay for the services Alexis needs in a facility where she can see other children. They are part of a growing number of parents around the country who are suing schools and state education departments over this issue. The Ince's attorney, Keith Peck, has also filed a suit seeking class action status for all families in the state who argue their students' Individualized Education Plans have been breached during the pandemic.
There's an experiment Sonia Livingstone had always dreamed of doing. She's a social psychologist at the London School of Economics who researches children and media. And her dream experiment was this: "Let's turn off the outside world and see how it is if you've only got the technology."nNow that we're all living through this experiment, this was a great time to sit down with Livingstone and her coauthor Alicia Blum Ross and talk to them about their new book, Parenting for a Digital Future. It's based on several years of research with a diverse group of families in the UK.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a near-total shutdown of the U.S. school system, forcing more than 55 million students to transition to home-based remote learning practically overnight. In most cases, that meant logging in to online classes and accessing lessons and assignments through a home internet connection. Sadly, that was not an option for children in one out of three Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households. Nationwide, across all racial and ethnic groups, 16.9 million children remain logged out from instruction because their families lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning, a phenomenon known as the “homework gap.” According to an analysis of data from the 2018 American Community Survey conducted for the Alliance for Excellent Education, National Urban League, UnidosUS, and the National Indian Education Association, millions of households with children under the age of 18 years lack two essential elements for online learning: (1) high-speed home internet service and (2) a computer.
This is the seventh in a series of invited responses to some of the big, unanswered questions facing America’s schools as they prepare to reopen in the fall. The Center on Reinventing Public Education, in partnership with The 74, fielded responses from a diverse roster of educators and policymakers in order to promote creative thinking and debate about how we can collectively meet student needs in an extraordinarily challenging school year, and beyond. Sonja Santelises, the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, says that acceleration and individualization — not remediation — are necessary. Bárbara Rivera Batista, director of Vimenti School, an initiative of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico and the first public charter school on the island, says that we need to help families support all students to make the most of learning at home.