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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For nearly a century, the iconic Scripps National Spelling Bee has inspired a love of learning in students across the country and around the world. You may picture the annual television broadcast of the national finals or last year’s scholar-athlete champion, Zaila Avant-garde. You may even recall a moment when you competed in a classroom, school or regional spelling bee as a child. But did you know that the core of the Bee’s program takes place at the school level? Each year, millions of students participate in classroom- and school-level spelling bees, learning words and discovering interests that will shape the rest of their lives.
State superintendent Tony Thurmond announced the new initiative Tuesday, starting with a task force that will make program and funding recommendations to be considered by legislators. During the 2018-19 school year, only 51% of California students in grades three through 11 tested at grade level or above in English language arts on the state’s Smarter Balanced tests; only 48.5% of third graders tested at grade level or above in English language arts.
While American Sign Language (ASL) continues to soar in popularity, and hearing ASL interpreters are included in many online children’s literature platforms, d/Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deafblind (DHHDB) authors and illustrators remain scarce. Those published are mainly white, though Black American Sign Language (BASL) has also increased in visibility, if not yet broad acceptance. Still, there is good news. I’m seeing some diverse, up-and-coming DHHDB authors and receiving calls from families and readers about a spectrum of DHHDB stories. Let’s shine a spotlight on a few recent DHHDB titles during Deaf Awareness Month (September), and all throughout the year!
There is a significant reservoir of support for the purpose and practices featured in most SEL programs. The pandemic has brought into focus the importance of skills such as coping, decision making, goal setting, and relationship building. Most adults see the need for young people do develop civic, moral, and character aspects of themselves. However, failure to address areas of potential confusion and concern could seriously undermine and even imperil efforts related to SEL. In fact, without attention and effort now, SEL could become the next flash point in partisan political conflict. Let’s explore five aspects of SEL that deserve attention now if we hope to avoid having it become the next battle in the culture wars.
A pack of kids on scooters race along the tree-lined streets like it’s 1955. A boy whizzes by on a bike — wait, was that Henry Huggins? The sidewalks are sprinkled liberally with chalk art, rope swings and Little Free Libraries. This is Beverly Cleary’s Grant Park, the real-life northeast Portland neighborhood where the beloved author grew up and which was used as the setting for her classic children’s books. Before Portland was known for hipsters and foodies (and anarchists), it was where the fun-loving, irrepressible Ramona Quimby lived.
“Kaleidoscope,” Brian Selznick’s brilliant new book, is a collection of magical, weird and mysterious stories. The stories seem related to one another. There is always a first-person narrator; there is usually a boy named James; the narrator loves James. But they don’t fit into one narrative, or even one world. Sometimes James is dead; sometimes he is becoming king of the moon, “making sure the universe is safe for dreaming.” Each tale is accompanied by art, which, as we’ve come to expect from Selznick, is stunning. We get two pieces per tale — first a kaleidoscopic image of shapes broken into crystalline forms; then, on the next page, the scene that was being refracted: a ship, a dragon, a clock, vines, a castle.
While the pandemic made it harder for teachers everywhere to do their jobs, special education teachers in particular experienced a lack of training, support, and collaboration with their general education counterparts. That’s according to a new study released by the Center for Reinventing Public Education. Most of the special education teachers did not have their own classrooms, but provided special education to students in general education classrooms, according to Lane McKittrick, a research analyst for CRPE. Here are some of the difficulties special education teachers in particular have faced over the last 18 months. #1: Special education teachers didn’t collaborate with general education teachers.
When students use a questioning strategy to think about their own thinking, they can see how to transfer their learning to new situations. Educator and Metuchen administrator Rick Cohen and colleagues (authors of The Metacognitive Student) define metacognition as “thinking about and managing your thoughts, experiences, and what your senses are telling you.” They say that these are the questions students need to be asking to promote metacognition.
Do you believe that young kids (say, from birth to age five or six) should be firmly rooted in the world of print? Or are you worried you're depriving children of a valuable opportunity if you deny them access to digital reading? Parents are torn. Studies from multiple English-speaking countries show the majority of parents continue to prefer print for their toddlers and preschoolers. Yet by nixing digital offerings, mothers and fathers worry their kids will be left behind—in enjoyment, learning, or preparation for primary school, where children might be handed a tablet their first day. As I thought about the dilemma and read conflicting research, I began asking myself, was the debate missing the point? Just as many adults choose print for some purposes and digital for others, were there solid arguments for when digital is appropriate for young children and when to stick with print?
Jason Reynolds is an award-winning author and National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. This hour, Jason speaks with Manoush about reaching kids through stories that let them feel understood. As ambassador, Reynolds visits schools all over the country to connect with kids over books and reading, as well as raise national awareness of the importance of young people's literature. He is featured in a YouTube series entitled "Write. Rite. Right." through the Library of Congress where he gives young writers creative prompts to stretch their imagination and to learn to write authentically.
Instructional practices are all about how we teach students. Recently, while perusing the pages of the International Literacy Association’s Instructional Practices online resource, I was struck by the expansiveness of the listed methods: project based learning, student engagement through classroom libraries, collaborations between schools and the communities, and many others. To these powerful “big picture” practices, however, I would add a number of small, hour-by-hour instructional techniques educators can use to produce greater gains in student learning, especially for those who struggle to read, write, and spell. Here are three.
When students get to make decisions about their learning, it can be powerfully motivating. Offering students choices—making it a regular dynamic in the school day—isn’t a recipe for chaos. It goes almost without saying: Rules and boundaries are a necessary element in schools and classrooms, essential in many ways for keeping kids and adults safe and productive throughout the school day. But by centering choice, educators signal openness to negotiating the middle ground and offer students scaffolded opportunities to practice decision-making, explore their academic identity, and connect their learning to interests and passions.
Classroom social and emotional learning (SEL) practices can help students learn to problem-solve, manage their emotions, and build relationships. Integrating SEL practices into school culture helps to ensure that students gain these critical life skills. Whatever this school year brings, teachers can consistently use these strategies to promote critical life skills.
While young readers editions of adult books have been around for a long time, this year’s release of Michelle Obama’s Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers shines a spotlight on this ever-evolving catalog of titles. Young readers editions (YREs) span mega-best-selling titles like Obama’s to riveting but lesser-known reads for tweens and teens. We’re in a moment of tremendous growth in YREs, evidenced by the number of available options over the last five years in WorldCat. But what are YREs, and what makes them different from their original publications? Where and how can they be used in schools and classrooms? And what elements make an adaptation irresistible to kids?
This playlist aims to promote well-being and belonging during this “new normal’ back-to-school time, with episodes about emotions, kindness, mindfulness, choices, bullying, homework, and being the new kid at school. The stories remind us that learning may not have looked like we wanted it to look last year. But it was not altogether a year lost; it was a year of learning anew.
Your child might not recognize that school has changed, or if they do, they might not know how to cope with it. Here’s how you can help. For starters, monitor your child’s progress a little more closely. Second, help your child learn self-discipline through practice in a supportive environment. For example, suppose that, for an hour each evening, your family gathers, each working quietly on their own activity. Kids will do homework, and parents might catch up on work themselves, write a letter or read.
After more than a year of significantly increased screen time and disrupted vision testing for many students, new research shows how learning could improve if schools help students identify and swiftly correct developing vision problems. Nearly 7 percent of U.S. children under 18 have a diagnosed vision problem, according to federal data. But school closures and social distancing in the last year have disrupted routine campus-based vision screenings in many districts.
The National Book Foundation announced its longlist for the 2021 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. The list includes two previous National Book Award honorees and showcases titles that address gender and sexual identity, race and politics, familial history and global events, and the magic woven into the fabric of communities. SLJ's reviews can be found in the linked article.
A new book by a Northwestern University neuroscientist makes a case for teaching music to improve learning in other subjects. In a September 2021 book Of Sound Mind (MIT Press), auditory neuroscientist Nina Kraus makes the case that budding musicians enjoy real brain gains that help them achieve beyond the school orchestra. The book covers a broad sweep of Kraus’s decades-long investigation into the hearing brain at her Brainvolts lab at Northwestern University, including two longitudinal studies of students in real world music classes who showed improved language and reading skills that tracked with changes in their brain functioning compared to control group students.
About a quarter of elementary and K-8 schools in the Jeffco school district have switched to a state-approved reading curriculum this year, a step toward complying with a 2019 state law requiring reading programs backed by science in kindergarten through third grade. This year, Jeffco’s 22 pilot schools are using the Into Reading curriculum, and in some cases, the Spanish version, ¡Arriba la Lectura! (Two additional Jeffco schools began using Into Reading in the last couple of years.) The program is among a dozen core reading programs approved by the state for use in kindergarten through third grade.
Technology opens up programs that allow students to drive their learning, while social-emotional learning influence lessons and teaching.
The three new book-length fairy tales gathered here are all made up of the most common ingredients: ogres and witches, princesses and woodcutters. Brothers searching for lost sisters and vice versa. Nothing exotic. But the combinations! These are the thumbprints of the bakers, and they lead to the most wonderful stories.
I started sharing lunch outside on the playground with my students when we returned to in-person learning last spring. We had the best conversations. It was an unexpected gift of the pandemic. One day one of my second graders asked me to share some important words. “You know, big ones, like esophagus or large intestine,” he said. The reason esophagus and large intestine came up in our lunch conversation was because of a unit in our English language arts curriculum focused on the driving question, “How does food nourish us?” Students began their study of food by building knowledge about digestion. The student who asked me to introduce some big words over lunch is learning multiple languages and was acquiring some seriously scientific language and background knowledge through our texts and writing tasks. These are words that students don’t use daily: esophagus, nutrients, digestive system. By the end of this unit, I wanted every student, including the multilingual students who needed extra support with academic vocabulary, to feel successful in their understanding of the digestive system and in reading complex texts.
Despite large investments to improve student outcomes over the last decade, reading proficiency rates have remained largely stagnant in North Carolina. Reporting from my EdNC colleague Rupen Fofaria pointed out inconsistencies with how reading has been taught in classrooms across the state. Teachers often lacked training on the science of reading, a body of research on how students learn to read. A new state law, passed this year, is aimed at changing that. In Fofaria’s latest on the state’s work to begin implementing the law, he writes that the statute “is premised on the belief that teacher knowledge will help kids better than any curriculum or program.” That’s why folks from across institutions are partnering to ground teacher preparation coursework and classroom experience in scientific research.
As children’s book publishers and authors, we are always thinking about the stories we tell, the children and adults we want to reach, and the change we want to help drive to make the industry more diverse, inclusive, and equitable for creators and publishing professionals alike. The loss of four beloved pioneers in children’s book publishing over the past few months—Arnold Adoff, Bernette Ford, Floyd Cooper, and Eloise Greenfield—has us thinking even more deeply about the long, difficult struggle to achieve and sustain the progress we have seen in the past few decades.
When Jaclyn Brown Wright took over as principal of Brewbaker Primary School in Montgomery, Alabama, she knew she needed to figure out a way to boost literacy rates. Brown Wright knew the stakes were high: In Alabama, students can be held back if they are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Brown Wright turned to something unconventional for help: an artificial intelligence avatar named Amira. Amira is the namesake of an AI reading program that aims to improve reading ability by giving kids a personal literacy assistant and tutor. The program listens to children as they read short stories aloud and tracks several literacy skills, including how well they recognize sight words, their ability to decode words and their vocabulary. Students are then given practice activities that target skills they need to work on.
When I was little, I used to love the books where you would connect the dots to make pictures. Some were very easy, you could tell what the picture was going to be even before you started, but some were very complex, and you had no idea what was going to emerge. The topic of Sept. 11, 2001 is very complex. On that day, when I was trying to comfort a classroom of terrified eighth graders — much less understand it myself — I couldn't see the dots that needed to be connected. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks ... And as I prepare to share that day, its causes, its meaning, and its repercussions with my children, I have to find a way to connect the dots — as I was not able to do for my eighth graders two decades ago. Books will be my pencil.
University of Missouri researchers will train elementary teachers in Missouri's Jefferson City School District and Fulton Public Schools on strategies to improve communication with parents using funding from a four-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The effort is intended to alleviate tension and other roadblocks in engaging and collaborating with parents to ultimately improve interventions and achievement for at-risk students.
A park bench can be so much more than just a place to sit and wait. Perhaps it has a puzzle built into it, or weights that allow children to make measurements. As researchers who study the connections between play and development, we are interested in how reimagining public spaces can infuse playful learning opportunities into children’s time spent outside of school. In a July 2021 article we wrote for the peer-reviewed journal Trends in Cognitive Science, we outline how experts can help communities create fun public spaces where children can learn as they play. To support children’s learning, public play spaces need to be designed in line with the six principles of learning, which reflect how children absorb new information most effectively.
Embed student voices and perspectives into the classroom is one piece of advice educators offer in this third pandemic-affected school year.
From immigration and lucha libre to family high jinks and the first day of school, these stories illuminate the uniqueness and universality of the Latinx experience. Shine a light on them during Latinx Heritage Month, September 15–October 15, and beyond.
For many adults, the events of September 11, 2001, are etched into memory—everyone has a story to tell about where they were when they learned the towers fell. But for children and teens, 9/11 may feel far away and removed. As the 20th anniversary approaches, these works of fiction and nonfiction will help young people understand this devastating moment, from a novel about a Muslim teen encountering Islamophobia in the wake of the attacks to picture books that gently yet clearly lay out the events of the day.
Research shows that the body must first be interacting with the world to activate and open up the mind for learning.Some students will remain online this school year – due to health or other concerns – while others will return to in-person classrooms. I believe both models of school can better incorporate the body to support learning. The following tips are for educators designing remote or in-person classes, though parents and students can also encourage and help sustain an active classroom culture.
8 new picture books explore the many different paths to fall learning.
After years of research, neuroscientists have discovered a new pathway in the human brain that processes the sounds of language. The findings, reported last month in the journal Cell, suggest that auditory and speech processing occur in parallel, contradicting a long-held theory that the brain processes acoustic information then transforms it into linguistic information.
As most students return to in-person learning, school-based speech-language pathologists might encounter questions about student communication skill losses related to lack of in-person instruction and service delivery. While telepractice allowed many SLPs to continue providing services online throughout the pandemic, this approach may have been less beneficial than in-person sessions for some students. Use these steps to determine whether loss of communication skills is pandemic-related—and bring students back to pre-pandemic skill levels and beyond.
Shelve the fad methods. There’s one tried-and-true way, and it works for children of all races and classes. We have known how to teach Black children, including poor ones, how to read since the Johnson administration: the Direct Instruction method of phonics. In this case, Black children don’t need special materials; districts need incur no extra expenses in purchasing such things. I consider getting Direct Instruction to every Black child in the country a key plank of three in turning the corner on race in America (the other two are ending the War on Drugs and sharply increasing funding and cultural support to vocational education).
Today, what’s called “structured literacy” is instead being promoted by experts in fields like linguistics and neuroscience as an effective way to teach all students, beginning in kindergarten, and as a must for struggling readers. In structured literacy, phonemic awareness (that is, working with the sounds of spoken words) is developed as a pre-reading skill, and phonics is taught explicitly and systematically, with much less focus on memorization of sight words and using clues other than the letters themselves to figure out the words when reading. This is done alongside developing vocabulary and language comprehension—both very important aspects in learning to read. While the term “structured literacy” was new to me, the components certainly made sense, especially the more I found out about how the brain learns to read. In fact, it was a relief to understand why reading wasn’t clicking for some of my students—and to have concrete steps to follow to help ensure better results moving forward.
Author of Zoey Lyndon's Big Move to the Lou and Zoey Lyndon and the Sticky Finger Bandit, Micheal Anderson has been positively overwhelmed by how her stories have resonated with readers. The Amazon review pages for her books are flooded with kind words. STEM features heavily in the Zoey Lyndon books, and Anderson recalls a note from a teacher that said several girls in her class inquired about joining a science club after reading one of the books in class. Parents leave comments telling her their girls are reading the books, and one even sent photos of readers re-creating a science experiment that took place in the book.
In a massive bid to gauge reading skills following COVID-related learning disruptions, New York City’s education department is introducing literacy screening for its nearly 200,000 children in kindergarten through second grade. The success of the screening will hinge on how well schools use the information and the quality of the interventions they’re able to offer. That remains a big question mark, as officials have long struggled to provide rigorous literacy instruction. By third grade, close to half of students have already fallen behind grade level in reading, according to state tests.
It’s possible that a number of schools might be welcoming Afghan refugee students soon. How can teachers/schools/districts best support them?
These two titles focused on sight examine its principles as one of the five senses and the invention of glasses.
After months of classroom turmoil sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, up to 250,000 public school students now face new struggles triggered by Hurricane Ida.
It can be difficult for librarians working in schools where students face special challenges.However, the libraries that serve these students may not have the funding for the necessary resources. That’s where individual librarians can make a difference and help bridge the gap with personal attention and a focus on community.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, American educators have experienced unprecedented change and challenges. Yet teachers also gained new insights on themselves, their students and their practice. Now, as the Delta variant sparks ongoing worries about school building re-openings, five teachers share the unplanned lessons they will carry into the new school year and beyond.
As the new school year launches, NEA is unveiling its latest list of recommended children’s and YA books, as well as a 2021-2022 Read Across America digital calendar.
As summer break wanes, district leaders in Philadelphia are using billboards, open houses, a back-to-school bus tour, and social media ads to bring students back after a tumultuous year. The effort is especially urgent for Philadelphia’s youngest students, who opted out by the thousands last year. Experts worry that if those children don’t return, they could miss out on learning during a critical time in their development, exacerbating existing inequities.
An enrolled tribal member, Sadie Perry lives in the southeast corner of the Navajo Nation on a property with three buildings, two horses and 11 family members, including her six grandsons and one of her daughters, who is ailing. When the coronavirus began sweeping across the world last year, Perry quickly loaded up on pandemic supplies, including food to feed her family, diesel to power her generator and water to fill her tank. But there is one essential that has always been scarce in this part of the country and that she couldn’t stock up on: Broadband access.
When LaMonica Williams saw that students in a New York City kindergarten classroom were having trouble reading, she asked their teacher what the main challenge seemed to be. “They just keep reading words that aren’t on the page,” Williams recalled the teacher telling her. Williams, a reading coach, suggested a small change to help students better understand that each written word corresponds with one spoken word. Instead of teaching students to point with one finger under each word as they read, she suggested the teacher show students how to use two fingers to “frame” a word, with one finger at the beginning and one at the end of each word. “As soon as they did that one simple change, students understood,” Williams said.
Back to school season is here, and with it comes a lot of changes. Whether your child is just starting school or going back after summer vacation, it can be both exciting and stressful. At Life Kit, we're rooting for you and want to help keep that stress to a minimum. We've gathered some episodes that we think will help, from what to do about anxiety to how to have tough conversations that might come up because of school.
A vivid homage to the graffitied streets of the Boogie Down Bronx and an interstellar quest for the perfect natural hair style are part of a new wave of picture books celebrating Afro Latinx culture and characters, in an industry where these stories are still few and far between. "I want to show kids of diverse backgrounds that they can go on fantastical adventures, too," said New York-based illustrator and toy designer Yesenia Moises, author of "Stella's Stellar Hair." She noted that in children's media, stories featuring protagonists of color are often about overcoming struggle, or are "hyper-focused" on identity and race. "I want to step away from that for a moment to be able to show that ... their worlds can be vibrant and full of color."
Tens of millions of students may now be months or, in some cases, even a full year behind because they couldn’t attend school in person during the pandemic. Significant setbacks are especially likely for the most vulnerable students — kids with disabilities and those living in poverty, who didn’t have a computer, a reliable internet connection or a workspace to learn at home. Educators will have to do something different for the 2021-22 school year to make up for those losses. No catch-up strategy can possibly benefit all students. But studies do point toward which strategies are most effective, how they can best be implemented — and what approaches might be a waste of time and money. Here’s a rundown of the most relevant research.
As a book lover, sociologist and someone who understood the power of books, I knew I wanted literature to be part of my daughter’s upbringing, and to have her learn about her heritage through the lens of other cultural experiences. As excited as I was to build my daughter’s library, I found myself extremely frustrated at what I saw. The small selection of books featuring Indian or South Asian characters on the market were developmentally inappropriate, culturally inaccurate or insensitive, and not what I wanted on my daughter’s bookshelf. It was in this moment I realized I must do something about this. This is how Mango & Marigold Press came to be. The work we do at Mango & Marigold Press helps to amplify the voices of diverse multiracial authors and illustrators.
Choosing instructional materials wisely is one of the most important jobs education leaders and teachers have, perhaps now more than ever. Unfinished academic instruction resulting from the COVID-19 crisis demands better ways to reignite student engagement and accelerate learning. At the same time, the disparate impact of the pandemic on students of color and growing efforts to quash discussions about systemic racism in schools reveals an urgent need to approach this work through a racial equity lens. This report argues that embracing high-quality instructional materials that are both rigorous and relevant is crucial to addressing these priorities.
As many students with disabilities return to school in person for the first time in over a year, federal education officials are spelling out what districts nationwide need to do to serve them. In a letter sent this week to state and local education agencies, the U.S. Department of Education is making clear that despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rights of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to a free appropriate public education, or FAPE, have not changed. That means that school-age students with disabilities should have individualized education programs in effect at the start of the school year and plans should be implemented for infants and toddlers with disabilities to receive the services they’re entitled to, the letter indicates.
It’s the third week of school at Remington Elementary in Colorado Springs and the first-grade teachers gathered in a small classroom say more students than usual are struggling with letter names and sounds — skills typically mastered in kindergarten. A bar chart projected on a television screen bears out these observations, showing that 40% of the school’s first-graders are behind in literacy, with most of those scoring in the lowest “red” category and the rest in the second-lowest “yellow” category on a common reading assessment. “Yeah, that’s scary,” said Principal Lisa Fillo, who’s led a reading instruction overhaul at the school over the past several years. Now, educators at Remington, like those across Colorado and the nation, are beginning to size up the challenge ahead, particularly in the early grades where the building blocks of successful reading are formed.
The pandemic forced educators across the globe to innovate and be creative — and social-emotional learning became a cornerstone of many virtual classrooms. Throughout this school year, educators, coaches, and school leaders have engaged in virtual professional development and one-on-one coaching sessions to hone their social-emotional learning skills and knowledge to meet the needs of all learners. The following are some of the most effective strategies all educators should take within them into next year.
When food banks work with schools to send children home with a backpack full of food over the weekend, they do better on reading and math tests, I found in a recent study. These effects are strongest for younger and low-performing students. Adoption of a BackPack Program appears to shrink the gap in test scores between economically disadvantaged and advantaged students by about 15%. We also show the program is more effective for the youngest students in our study – third graders – and for students with the lowest test scores.
Laura Bilbro-Berry stepped into her first classroom as a teacher in 1992. She realized both the weight and the depth of her responsibility almost immediately. About a third of her elementary school students struggled with reading, and the “whole language” instructional approach that her college taught her to use wasn’t working. “I realized pretty early on that I needed more information,” she said. “And so I found those things that I knew were really important. I didn’t have a name for that information. We didn’t call it the ‘science of reading.’ But I knew that’s what my kids needed in my classroom.” Nearly 30 years later, Bilbro-Berry leads the UNC System’s educator preparation program (EPP), which produces about 40% of the state’s teachers. Now, Bilbro-Berry is in position to make sure those future teachers get the information that she didn’t in college.
A new study by researchers at the Yale Child Study Center demonstrates that puppets can attract and hold the attention of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), raising the potential for developing more engaging therapies that strengthen social engagement and facilitate learning. The study, published in the journal Autism Research, is the first to test anecdotal evidence that children with ASD, like most youngsters, pay attention to puppets.