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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To improve literacy rates in the U.S., reading expert Timothy Shanahan says we need to stop looking for silver bullets and instead invest in teaching a much broader range of skills. He says we need to be doing the harder work of building reading programs focused on skills such as teaching students how to make sense of difficult texts, how to read effectively in the various disciplines they study in middle and high school, and how to use generative writing to deepen the knowledge they encounter in texts.
Morrisett co-founded the Sesame Workshop, originally the Children's Television Workshop, with Ganz Cooney in 1968. He served as a board member until his death. The impetus for Sesame Street, which first aired in 1969, was both the civil rights movement and the fact that children from disadvantaged backgrounds were entering school months behind grade level, Morrisett said in a 2019 interview with member station WBUR. "Without Lloyd Morrisett, there would be no Sesame Street," co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney wrote in Sesame Workshop's announcement. "It was he who first came up with the notion of using television to teach preschoolers basic skills, such as letters and numbers. He was a trusted partner and loyal friend to me for over fifty years, and he will be sorely missed."
Here are four main research takeaways for school districts as they assess the strength of their own writing program: reading and writing are intimately connected; writing matters even at the earliest grades, when students are learning to read; like reading, writing must be taught explicitly; and writing can help students learn content—and make sense of it.
New Jersey has become the first state to require information literacy curriculum standards for K–12 students—and the state’s school librarians played a major role in making that happen. The push to include information literacy in curricular standards in the state began years ago with a task force consisting of members of school, public, and academic library organizations.
If books can transport young readers to different places, transportation books show them the way. In today’s children’s picture book market, there are some exciting and unexpected rides for young vehicle-loving readers to check out—stories about family, how roads work, or how kids around the world get from one location to another.
Nonfiction is too often underrepresented in English/language arts classrooms, even though it’s “never been more vibrant or vital” for young people. That’s according to a new position statement by the National Council of Teachers of English that includes a list of recommendations to expand the use of nonfiction literature (which can include which can encompass memoirs, essays, informational texts, literary or narrative journalism, and more) in ELA instruction. The statement proposes a “paradigm shift” for reading and writing instruction, which often prioritizes fiction. .
3 years after a challenging shift to high-quality curriculum, students are more confident — and competent — than ever before. Jennifer Whalen, assistant principal for Battle Academy for Teaching and Learning in Hamilton County Schools says, "I believe our curriculum has helped to create that joy. Organized into four topical modules for each grade level, students and teachers have a full quarter to dive deeply into each topic, steadily building vocabulary, background knowledge and experiences that promote strong reading comprehension and literacy skills. Our students have found a real sense of pride in becoming experts as they move through the modules."
Award-winning Cuban-American author Meg Medina has today been announced as the Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Growing up in Queens, New York, Medina credits her Cuban mother, aunts, and grandmother with her early exposure to storytelling. She reflects how her childhood home did not have a lot of books, but her family would share stories via spoken word, “They just filled my mind with stories that had the double benefit of just helping them remember their stories and their lives and helping me understand my culture.”
“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” refuses explicit conclusions. That’s the source of its appeal. “It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” Alexander says, on the book’s penultimate page. “My mom says some days are like that.” His mother acknowledges his experience without endorsing (or rejecting) any specific interpretation. Maybe she’s decided to give Alexander some space to figure things out on his own.
In one sense, the national conversation about what it will take to make sure all children become strong readers has been wildly successful. In the middle of all that, though, the focus on the “science of reading” has elided its twin component in literacy instruction: writing. Writing is intrinsically important for all students to learn—after all, it is the primary way beyond speech that humans communicate. But more than that, research suggests that teaching students to write in an integrated fashion with reading is not only efficient, it’s effective.
Daniel Willingham is a University of Virginia psychologist who frequently engages in pop culture battles armed with academic research. He has made it a personal crusade to persuade teachers that the idea of learning styles is a myth. For years, he has complained that teachers aren’t heeding research about reading instruction, and that many educators are misguided when it comes to teaching critical thinking. Now, Willingham has shifted his focus from teachers to students. In his new book, “Outsmart Your Brain: Why Learning is Hard and How You Can Make it Easy,” he points out all the wrong ways that students do homework, take notes in class or study for tests.
Traditionally, accessibility features have been perceived as tools that only benefit specific learners. For example, if you have a student with dyslexia, you might help that student learn how to use the text-to-speech and speech-to-text features of their device when reading and writing. However, accessibility features (while essential for some learners) can also be beneficial to other learners. If we view accessibility features through the lens of Universal Design for Learning, then we realize that accessibility features are one way to promote access and minimize barriers for the wide variety of learners in our classrooms.
Here's a story you might know — it's a classic fairy tale — "Once upon a time, there was a little old woman and a little old man who lived together in a little old house. They were lonely, so the little old lady decided to make a man out of stinky cheese." It's Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's take on The Gingerbread Man, with one very important plot twist — the stinky cheese man is so stinky that no one wants to run, run, run after him, much less eat him. It's the title story of their 1992 children's book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
A more intentional focus on writing instruction is reaping big rewards for a Tennessee district. In Sumner County, a district serving about 29,000 students, school leaders in 2019 were looking for a new, more effective way to bolster students’ comprehension skills, starting in the early elementary grades. Sumner County began implementing a new English/language arts curriculum that incorporates writing as a main focus of students’ lessons, pushing them beyond memoirs and personal essays to build this background knowledge. While the bulk of the writing instruction happens in students’ ELA classes, other courses, like science and social studies, now also incorporate more writing projects linked to their lessons.
Subject-specific vocabulary goes hand-in-hand with a deep and meaningful knowledge of content. It allows us to engage with that subject, unlocks understanding, and promotes clear and precise communication. At the end of a topic or unit of work, I like to encourage my students to play with the words they’ve learned. I use five different word-association games that get students to recall, describe, explain, listen, and verbalize the subject-specific vocabulary from that topic or unit of work.
Many immigrants travel to new lands in hopes of a better life, but once they arrive they often feel small. Two new picture books show that the ways in which immigrants and people of color make themselves small — or are forced to minimize themselves — are myriad.
Author Meg Medina will be the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature for 2023-24, the Library of Congress (LOC) and Every Child a Reader announced. The 2019 Newbery Medal winner for Merci Suárez Changes Gears is Cuban-American and will become the first author of Latina heritage to serve in the role. Her platform will be "Cuéntame!: Let’s talk books," an idea inspired by the Spanish phrase that friends and families use when catching up with one another. The goal is to encourage connection through books that offer mirrors of the readers' lives as well as windows into new worlds and experiences.
Parents are influential in helping kids navigate the twists and turns that lead to literacy. I oﬀer ﬁve teaching tenets to carry with you. Don’t worry, there are no scripted sequences, rigid rules, or worksheets forthcoming. These are principles any parent can remember and apply with ease during long, busy days with young children. Some of the ﬁve you may know instinctually. Others may have never crossed your mind. All deserve to be hallmarks of the way we approach raising readers.
At Kegonsa Elementary School, teachers try to demystify how different styles of writing are structured, down to the sentence level. They work with students on mastering the building blocks of paragraphs and essays, and they introduce tools students use to craft their own writing. All the while, kids are writing about the texts that they’re reading—linking together these two core components of English/language arts instruction. These components are hallmarks of a specific approach to writing instruction, one that favors explicit instruction and lots of modeling.
As literacy experts strongly suggest, encoding is often underrepresented in early literacy instruction, even in programs that claim to be steeped in evidence-based practices. Education Week spoke to literacy experts, researchers, and educators to find out why and what students miss when their exposure to encoding is irregular or minimal. We also culled strategies from structured-literacy advocates on how to embed encoding into daily classroom instruction.
A recent book provides valuable information about what kinds of teaching strategies are likely to be effective, but many teachers will need more explicit guidance in how and when to implement them. The book, whose lead authors are Bryan Goodwin and Kristin Rouleau, is called The New Classroom Instruction That Works: The Best Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. As the title suggests, its purpose is to inform teachers about research on education and enable them to apply it in their classrooms.
A new study shows that adding parent support programs to regular well check visits at pediatricians’ offices can improve the health and well-being of children and their parents. The program Smart Beginnings “significantly promoted” parents engaging in cognitively stimulating activities with their children, leading to an increase in talking to children, reading with children and the use of rich language — deliberately exposing children to a broad vocabulary throughout their daily activities.
This is the final guest post by Jason Reynolds, who is concluding his third term as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. SEE YOU SOON. This is not the same as, See you later. I repeat, this is not the same as, See you later. “See you later” lacks urgency. It lacks seriousness and commitment. But my time as your National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature was certainly very serious to me and I was relentlessly committed. So to walk away from it, to bow out with a cavalier, See you later, is like throwing my hand up and waving goodbye while already turned away. Instead, I’ll say, See you soon. Because soon implies effort. That I’ll work to still be a light, partially to shine on the next ambassador, and always to shine on you.
Colorado State University’s teacher preparation program won the state’s seal of approval Wednesday and a nod to recent changes in how the university trains future educators to teach young students how to read. The decision is the latest development in an ongoing state effort to hold Colorado’s teacher preparation programs accountable for how they train prospective teachers on reading instruction.
The education community has been abuzz with the rise of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence tool that can write anything with just a simple prompt. Most of the conversation has been centered on the extent to which students will use the chat bot—but ChatGPT could also fundamentally change the nature of teachers’ jobs. So far, teachers have used—or considered using—the chat bot to plan lessons, put together rubrics, offer students feedback on assignments, respond to parent emails, and write letters of recommendation, among other tasks. While some educators worry about the implications of automating these parts of teaching, others say that the tool can save them hours of work, freeing up time for student interactions or their personal life.
Murfreesboro City Schools prioritized high quality curriculum and professional learning. Over this past year, we’ve focused heavily on deepening our understanding around foundational skills instruction. The Tennessee Department of Education has led a statewide effort to provide all teachers with sounds-first instruction aligned with the science of reading, and 99% of our district’s primary teachers and academic interventionists have completed this training.
Students in New Mexico’s Title I schools, including those in tribally controlled areas, will have access to 1:1 online tutoring services through a nearly $3.3 million investment funded with federal COVID-19 Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds. Up to 20 hours of free and virtual tutoring services are available to students in grades pre-K through 8.
Elementary students need rich content knowledge to become better readers and to be able to engage in project-based learning (PBL). Within rigorous PBL, students need content knowledge development to effectively learn how to read, write, and talk. Without surface-level knowledge, students are unable to access deep and transfer learning within and across subjects. Studies have shown that skills don’t transfer without a rich content basis in which these skills can link.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a five-year $20 million grant to the University of Buffalo for the establishment of an artificial intelligence (AI) institute that will focus on the speech-language pathology needs of young children. The new AI Institute for Exceptional Education will aim to develop advanced AI technologies leading to new speech-language pathology assessments, interventions and services.
The skill sets of visual thinkers are essential to finding real-world solutions to society’s many problems. I am often invited to give talks at corporations and government agencies, and the first thing I tell managers is that they need a neurodiverse work force. Complementary skills are the key to successful teams. We need the people who can build our trains and planes and internet, and the people who can make them run. Studies have shown that diverse teams will outperform homogeneous teams.
For the past 25 years, U.S. policy has urged schools to keep students with disabilities in the same classrooms with their general education peers unless severe disabilities prevent it. But a recent international analysis of all the available research on special education inclusion found inconsistent results. Some children thrived while others did very badly in regular classrooms. Overall, students didn’t benefit academically, psychologically or socially from the practice. Analysis unable to disentangle which students benefit from being taught alongside general education peers.
Debbie Pettid and Pete Cowdin, owners of the now-closed children's bookstore Reading Reptile, set out to create a building and experience unlike any other in the world. A fully immersive space celebrating picture books by allowing kids to physically enter into them. Not a standard museum. Not an exploratorium. An “Explor-a-Storium.” The idea is that a child will enter “an immersive literary experience, both preserving and celebrating children’s literature,” says author Jon Scieszka, who serves on the governing board.
Economics lessons are all around us – at the grocery store, in the library, in the way you give gifts. And they're even in... picture books! To understand how children's literature like the Frog and Toad books and Where the Sidewalk Ends can foster future economists, host Erika Beras joined a third grade class as a guest reader. She and her eight and nine-year old students-for-the-day explored concepts like credible commitment, exponential growth bias, and the labor market matching process through a range of childrens' classics.
Missouri education leaders are pushing for a big change in the way children are taught to read. They’re leaning into something called the science of reading, a blanket term for research-backed teaching methods that have been gaining in popularity in recent years. Multiple new laws are part of this push, including one that takes effect this week. At the same time, the state is in the middle of an effort to train elementary English teachers to completely rethink their approach in the classroom.
Endpapers — the pages fixed to the insides of a book’s front and back covers — are an undersung glory of contemporary children’s publishing. What illustrator or designer worthy of the name can resist such a pair of prominent blank pages? Thus a once purely decorative form is now full of wit, surprise, even feeling. Here is a selection of recent favorites.
Picture books can help teach concepts and skills across grade levels and subject areas. Browse these diverse picture books for preschool through grade 3, including three nonfiction selections — you'll find a brief summary as well as a few suggestions for how you might use the book in your classroom.
Community organization offers volunteer mentors in East St. Louis, neighboring districts the opportunity to become full-time, paid classroom aides.
As we enter into a new year, we remember those lost to us in 2022. So many of these creators’ books touched the minds and hearts of children everywhere. Their works will outlive us all. We celebrate their lives and works.
It’s been a big year for reading instruction. States have passed—or begun enacting—laws requiring evidence-based teaching for early learners. Hundreds of thousands of teachers have gone through new training. A popular curriculum program was re-released with changes designed to bring it more in line with reading research, to mixed reviews. These shifts all stem from the movement around the “science of reading”—an effort to align practice with methods that research shows are most effective for students. Read on for a guide to some of the biggest moments this year.
Cartoonist and children's book author Jerry Craft published the Newbery award-winning graphic novel New Kid in 2019. New Kid also won the Coretta Scott King Author Award and the Kirkus Prize. New Kid focuses on the experience of being Black and the "new kid" at a predominantly white school. It follows Jordan, a seventh grader and aspiring artist from Washington Heights, New York. Jordan's parents send him to a private school to invest in his academic future. As he navigates the differing environments in his neighborhood and his new school, he attempts to stay true to himself. The book has been challenged in some school districts including in Texas and Pennsylvania, citing the teaching of critical race theory.
Pre-K teachers Jairia Cathey and Lisa Patterson are part of a mobilization across Memphis-Shelby County Schools to get early childhood learning in the district back on track. The effort is focused on the classroom, but it’s also counting on community groups, advertising, family engagement specialists, and multiple offices within district headquarters, with the goal of getting more students enrolled in early childhood programs and making sure they are kindergarten-ready. The bigger objective: Containing the pandemic’s long-term impact on children and their education in Tennessee’s largest school district, where most students are Black and come from low-income families who were hit hardest by COVID-19.
In children’s publishing, the term “list book” refers to an expository literature title with a list text structure. The book’s main idea is presented at the beginning of the book, and then each subsequent spread offers one or more examples that support that idea. In many cases, a list book has a concluding spread that links back to the opening or offers a fun twist on the topic, leaving readers with a sense of satisfaction. A list text structure works well for books that focus on plant or animal characteristics, adaptations, or behaviors, but it can also be the perfect choice for some social studies topics.
For much of his life, Roderick, a high school junior, did not enjoy reading. As a boy, he trudged through picture books that his mother encouraged him to read. As a teenager, he has sometimes wrestled with complex texts at school. But recently, he said, he has made strides, in part because of an unusual and sweeping high school literacy curriculum in Memphis. The program focuses on expanding vocabulary and giving teenagers reading strategies — such as decoding words — that build upon fundamentals taught in elementary school. The curriculum is embedded not just in English, but also in math, science and social studies.
For years, the Fairfax County NAACP’s small education committee devoted itself mostly to fights over Confederate school names and acts of racism against individual students. By 2021, it had committed to its most ambitious goal yet: overhauling the way Fairfax County Public Schools teaches students to read and supports struggling readers. The gap in reading pass rates between Black and White students was nearly 20 percentage points — a discrepancy that has persisted since the district first made “minority achievement” a priority in 1984.
The federal spending package for fiscal 2023, passed this week by both houses of Congress, boasts increases in funding for high-need schools, students with disabilities, school meals, and civics education. But federal investment in many cases still falls well short of what schools and their supporters say they need. Federal spending on special education, through the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act, rose from $13 billion to $15.5 billion. And federal funds to support English- learners will grow from $802 million to $890 million.
Jennifer Piper, a longtime home-based child care provider in Loveland, is brimming with questions about how Colorado’s new universal preschool program will work when it launches next fall. She recently sent a bulleted list of 14 questions to local officials, including basic ones about teacher qualification and curriculum requirements. The state needs to win over providers like Piper to meet its ambitious goal of quickly building a preschool program capable of serving every 4-year-old in the state as well as some 3-year-olds.
In most children’s books, old people exist only in counterpoint to young ones. A twinkly-eyed grandma dispenses wisdom and soup. A grandfather shows up specifically to die, thereby offering character-building insights into grief and loss. So it’s refreshing to read a young adult graphic novel and a picture book that focus squarely on the old folks themselves.
In Boston and countless other communities, Black and Latino families have a much harder time than their white peers accessing two key tools to literacy: an instructor trained in how best to teach struggling readers the connections between letters and sounds, or a private school focused on children with language disabilities. Nationally, these teachers and schools are scarce and coveted commodities, generally accessible only to those with time, money and experience navigating complicated, sometimes intransigent bureaucracies. In recent years, some dyslexia activists across the country have joined forces with Black and Latino leaders distraught over unequal access—jointly positioning “the right to read” as a revived civil rights movement.
Providing effective learning recovery requires a mix of instructional and managerial leadership—whether it’s adding a new tutoring program or adjusting the pacing of the curriculum—and some of it is brand new terrain for principals. But some districts and principals have found ways to carve out dedicated time on school days to help students recoup learning—or keep them from falling further behind. Here are ideas from three of them.
Boston is investing in an ambitious new initiative that promises every Boston Public School access to a school library program by 2026. It’s a major turnaround for the city, and a rare bright spot at a time when districts around the country are slashing library budgets and hemorrhaging staff. This year, BPS will see 25 new libraries along with 30 new librarians, with funding to ensure an opening day collection of new culturally sustaining books.
Will artificial intelligence, operating via “bots” and other non-human intermediaries, replace English composition and the need to teach and learn it? Why churn through those fussy, pesky precincts like grammar and spelling, especially when other technologies can fix it all up? Why take up good school time with this stuff, particularly considering how labor intensive it is for teachers and how irksome for many of their pupils? To me, three reasons are pretty compelling. First, writing helps you think better, more clearly, more cogently.
There are many ways schools can ensure a smooth transition for kindergartners and their families, experts say. That’s especially important for families whose children did not attend preschool or who are hesitant about enrolling their youngsters in kindergarten, perhaps due to fears over COVID-19, said Patricia Lozano, executive director of Early Edge California, which aims to expand high-quality early learning programs. The following six strategies can help smooth those transitions and set up kindergartners for the best results.
I reached out to a group of literacy experts and advocates to ask them what parents most need to know about early literacy given the national debate over how best to teach reading. What should parents do, especially if they notice their child is falling behind? I asked them all to answer this one question: If you could ensure that every parent in California knows one thing about how their child is being taught to read or what to look out for, what would it be? Here is their advice.
“People with learning differences are human,” wrote Deanna White, a neurodiversity advocate and parent learning coach in response to a question we posed on LinkedIn. “Unique individuals and wonderful humans that are better defined by their strengths. So stop focusing on the weakness.” We invited our social media followers across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to weigh in on the most effective way schools can better support students with learning differences. Responses ranged from shifting educators’ mindset—like highlighting student strengths—to more far-reaching changes that would require schoolwide or district support.
We can use rubrics before, during, and after a learning experience. When we utilize this common classroom tool more effectively and more extensively, the metacognitive strategy of planning, monitoring, and evaluating will become embedded in the learning process.
California’s efforts to help children with dyslexia come amid a national push to change how reading is being taught to all children, especially to the youngest learners. The efforts have repeatedly stalled over the past few years because of deep disagreements over the best way to teach reading. The California Teachers Association has been one of the strongest opponents of dyslexia screening, saying children learn to read at their own pace and flagging potential learning disorders could railroad some students, especially English learners, unnecessarily into special education.
Contentious rhetoric from a minority of people has put educators and experts on the defense about the long-established benefits of social-emotional learning. After months of political football on the topic, and with heightened national concern about student well-being and learning loss, it’s time to get back to the discussion about what states, districts and schools should do to ensure students are developing the competencies necessary to promote learning and development. Here are four actionable steps we believe are critical to ensuring efforts to implement SEL in schools are done with maximum benefit.
Last month, Education Week published an opinion essay in print and online by Lucy Calkins, the Richard Robinson Professor of Literacy at Teachers College and the founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. A lightning rod for controversy in the literacy field, Calkins defended her recent revisions to her Units of Study in Reading curriculum. But many readers were deeply skeptical and took to social media to share their thoughts. The criticisms of the essay and her approach were robust and prolific, as was the condemnation of Education Week for publishing her essay.
We asked and your pets answered. NPR poet-in-residence Kwame Alexander shares his latest community crowd sourced poem from pet owners around the country, from ages six to 86. We heard from over 700 of you, sharing the words of what your pets might be thinking about you, their next meals, their next adventures, their next cuddles and more. Read Alexander's poem, titled Dear Captor: You Talk, I Wonder.
A policy brief from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy finds that despite requirements under federal civil rights law to overcome language barriers, the country’s major early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs often fail to require collection of relevant data and/or adopt accountability measures that would allow them to ensure meaningful and equitable access to services for DLL children and their families.