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.
Note: These links may expire after a week or so. Some websites require you to register first before seeing an article.
School librarians looking for ideas on how to mark Banned Books Week (Sept. 22–28) can do a quick search on Pinterest and come up with hundreds of examples of elaborate displays to catch a student’s eye. There are books covered in brown paper, “Wanted” posters for frequently challenged books such as The Diary of Anne Frank and the “Captain Underpants” series, along with lots and lots of flames, perhaps to hark back to the days of book burning or to convey a sense of danger surrounding these titles. But do these displays alone do enough to teach students about censorship? Also, how can librarians make sure the Banned Books message isn’t lost or misconstrued? “I think we always have to bring the idea back to our constitutional rights,” says Mary Keeling, president of the American Association of School Librarians. “What’s important about this isn’t the sensationalism of a banned book; the importance is our freedom in a democratic society to listen to and read and think the ideas we want to think. That concept is essential to democratic discourse.”
I’ve whined before about the disappearance of bookmobiles, those branch libraries on wheels that formerly parked in old two-room schoolhouse yards, at churches and community centers. Unfortunately, they’ve disappeared like thick, Sunday newspapers. There’s a substitute for the bookmobile for those who don’t want to buy everything they read. Todd H. Bol used an old garage door to build the first Little Free Library, a library on a stick, 10 years ago in Hudson, Wis. The concept has spread around the globe and there are now 90,000 of them. They’re put up by homeowners usually on the edges of their property. They advise “Take a book, share a book.” Around here, they’re like snowflakes: No two are alike.
A new study of achievement gaps and racial segregation in nearly every school in the United States finds that racial segregation is a very strong predictor of the gaps in academic achievement between white and black or Hispanic students, but it’s school poverty — not the student’s race — that accounts for these big gaps. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is larger, the achievement gaps between black and white students are larger. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is smaller, the achievement gaps are smaller. The two phenomena — racial segregation and economic inequality — are intertwined because students of color are concentrated in high-poverty schools.
They can be identified by their independent-bookstore tote bags, their “Book Lover” mugs, or—most reliably—by the bound, printed stacks of paper they flip through on their lap. They are, for lack of a more specific term, readers. Joining their tribe seems simple enough: Get a book, read it, and voilà! You’re a reader—no tote bag necessary. But behind that simple process is a question of motivation—of why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t. That why is consequential—leisure reading has been linked to a range of good academic and professional outcomes—as well as difficult to fully explain. But a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.
Authors Pamela Paul and Maria Russo are parents themselves, as well as editors of The New York Times Book Review, and they draw on their experience in both realms in writing this book. They argue: “School is where children learn that they have to read. Home is where kids learn to read because they want to. It’s where they learn to love to read.” In order to do that, however, parents need to follow some guidelines. Don’t fret about when your child learns to read by himself or herself. (”There is no ‘correct’ age for independent reading and no special formula for getting every child to read by, say, age 5½.”) Hold your tongue when it comes to your child’s reading choices. (”There may be some specific aspect of that book that is speaking to your child. Or maybe he just feels like reading something less obviously challenging at the moment.”) Above all, practice what you preach. (”If you want to raise a reader, be a reader.”) The authors encourage parents to get back to reading themselves if they’ve let that activity slide, and to foster a culture of reading in the home.
There’s bad news for parents who hope their toddler may learn something from a screen while also being entertained for just a few minutes: it’s unlikely to happen. New research shows young children may be fascinated by screens, but they are unable to learn from them even if someone on the screen actively engages with them. The recent research from Vanderbilt University’s Georgene Troseth, an associate professor of psychology, specifically looked at whether toddlers can learn from a video chat. The team found that children in both age groups were able to learn the name of the object and complete the task if someone was in-person and actively responding to the child. The 30 month olds were also able to learn the name even if the in-person adult did not engage with them. But all of the toddlers failed to learn the name or complete the task when, you guessed it, even the most engaging of speakers interacted with them in real time—but from behind a screen. They were also unable to learn from a video chat where the speaker did not engage with them. Troseth said toddlers often can’t learn from screens, even from an interactive video, because they are unable to understand that the person on the screen is real, relevant and represents an actual adult.
Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novelist who writes about the social travails and family dynamics of early adolescence. In her newest book, “Guts,” a series of events propels Raina, already struggling with the sometimes nerve-racking challenges of navigating fourth grade, into a full-blown anxiety disorder, which begins to take over her life. "Guts” captures with remarkable concision and accuracy, and without ever going outside of 10-year-old Raina’s perspective, some of the theoretical concepts and applied techniques that underlie treatment of anxiety. But what will reverberate in the trembling psyches of anxious kids is the recognition that they are not alone in their suffering. Watching Raina endure something like what they may be going through, and then partly triumph over it, provides solace and consolation and possibly hope.
Teachers who headed back to school in the past few weeks are determined to buck the trend and create young readers who perform at grade level. Their goals are laudable, but we have not prepared them well to do this herculean task. The science of learning—an amalgamation of psychology, education, linguistics, and neuroscience—has made enormous progress in our understanding of the factors that go into strong reading competence. Among these are not merely the learning of letter-to-sound correspondences, but also strong language skills that enable children to link the vocabulary they decode into the rich words that infuse the print with meaning. Imagine if all teachers knew about these links and appreciated the twin need to build up language while also helping children navigate code skills. That is, if teachers were equipped with the science, they would be better able to do their jobs of bringing all children into the literate society.
To continue celebrating the new school year, treat your students with humorous twists on these familiar characters and beloved series books -- the Pigeon series by Mo Willems and the Harold and Hog series by Dan Santat. Teaching ideas involve a breadth of topics, including breaking down series books, humor, dealing with anxiety, perceptions of school, reader's theater, and more.
In the average public elementary school, third graders spend nearly two hours a day on reading instruction, according to a recent federal survey. That far outstrips any other subject, with math coming in second at around 70 minutes a day, and science and social studies getting about half an hour a day each. Teachers may think this approach is the best way to improve students’ reading ability. But in her new book “The Knowledge Gap,” journalist Natalie Wexler argues against skimping on science and social studies and emphasizing specific reading skills. She says that this approach, paradoxically, hurts students’ ability to make sense of what they read. She builds her case with cognitive science that suggests that once students have learned to sound out words — “decode” — the key to understanding a text is having solid background knowledge on the subject.
It's a constant struggle for school districts across the country to find qualified special education teachers. An extra challenge: finding special educators of color to help meet the needs of a student population that can be disproportionately nonwhite. Just over 82 percent of special education teachers in public schools are white, according to 2011-12 federal data, the most recent available. Meanwhile, only about half of students receiving special education services are white, according to 2017-18 data. Yet teacher diversity matters: Decades of research has shown that students often perform better academically when they are taught by teachers of the same race. Jacqueline Rodriguez, the assistant vice president for programs and professional learning at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, is leading a networked improvement community with 10 teacher-preparation programs that have pledged to find ways to enroll more aspiring special educators and reduce the shortage of special education teachers by fall 2022. A priority is bringing people of color and people with disabilities into the special education teaching ranks.
Reading and riding a bike is not something you would usually do at the same time, but for students at one Pflugerville elementary school, it’s the norm. One librarian’s idea is helping students find the fun in reading. Her name is Jennifer Coleman. She had the idea to install reading desks with bicycle pedals on them. She applied for a school grant and that was enough to buy five desks and those desks are now giving students a whole new outlook on reading.This year, she gained statewide recognition for the idea and received a library innovation award because reading and riding comes with its benefits.
There are at least a few thousand preparation programs attempting to teach future teachers to teach reading. And yet, we have no evidence that any of those programs produce reading instructors who are better (or worse) than any others. If we don’t know the right way to train reading instructors, what if we reduced the regulatory barriers for people to become teachers and let the schools figure it out? In 2016, my Bellwether colleague Ashley LiBetti and I outlined a vision for what that might look like. It would impose fewer barriers to entry to become a teacher but would then rely more heavily on in-service evaluations and supports to boost reading instruction. Although the evidence on most types of teacher professional development continues to underwhelm, there’s a growing body of research suggesting that in-service coaching could be a more promising approach.
Amid today's advanced technologies, the humble text message is offering new promise for closing gaps in achievement among students — by targeting the behavior of their parents. Informed by science, several new texting programs have helped parents and caregivers develop habits at home that best help kids succeed. Well-timed, well-crafted text messages to parents have led to an uptick in reading to toddlers and an increase in Head Start enrollment and attendance, studies show. At the high school level, they've led to teens skipping fewer classes, completing more homework and earning higher grades. Last year, the Bezos Family Foundation created a way for parents to sign up for weekly texts that suggest free, on-the-spot activities to engage the minds of their young kids. The tips, based on the science of early learning, are available on a website and a free smartphone app. But usage increased much faster among low-income parents when the tips were sent via text, in part because they reached caregivers who didn't have Internet-enabled phones.
With a $20 million gift from Charles Schwab, UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley have launched a two-campus multidisciplinary clinical and research alliance to deepen the understanding of dyslexia and other specific neurodevelopmental differences that impact learning. The new center, with clinical and research efforts at both Bay Area campuses, will break down barriers between disciplines such as medicine and education, and create and provide the best evidence-based interventions in the clinic, classroom, workplace, and home. Known as the UCSF-UC Berkeley Schwab Dyslexia and Cognitive Diversity Center, the new initiative will draw on the deep and diverse strengths of both campuses – in child and adolescent psychiatry, psychology, neurology, neuroscience, education and public health – to accelerate research; develop and implement better screening and assessment tools; test new interventions; and reduce the social stigma surrounding dyslexia and other learning disorders.
A quarter of all kids with ADHD also have dyslexia, which complicates and slows down the process of learning to read. If your child is frustrated by books, follow these tips to build up lagging skills and to make reading less work and more fun. Tip 1: Seek reading support sooner than later. If your child is lagging behind classmates in reading, DON’T WAIT. Early reading lags are highly predictive of future reading problems. If your child is one of the few who catches up within a few months, great! But most children with reading lags require school-based and private reading support to catch up.
Educators are using digital tools to boost student learning more than ever. But few believe there's good information available about which resources are going to be effective in the classroom. That's the takeaway from a survey released Sept. 11 by the NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit venture philanthropy firm that works with K-12 schools, and Gallup, a polling organization. The survey found that about two-thirds of teachers—65 percent—use digital tools every day and about 53 percent say they would like to use technology more often. (Those findings present something of a contrast with an Education Week survey conducted earlier this year, which found that only 29 percent of teachers felt strongly that ed tech supports innovation in their own classrooms.) Despite the enthusiasm for technology found in the NewSchools-Gallup survey, teachers and administrators also reported that they don't have as much information as they'd like about which digital tools actually help students master content.
When education philanthropy is discussed, the usual names come up: Bill Gates, Chan-Zuckerberg, Laurene Powell Jobs, the Walton Foundation. But one woman who’s rarely discussed has made a huge difference for pre-schoolers across the country and around the world, and that’s Dolly Parton. Her crowning achievement may well be the Imagination Library. The idea began simply enough. In 1995, she set out to send a free book every month to every child in Sevier County ages birth through five. In 2000, the program moved to expand across the country, and was quickly picked up by 27 affiliates in 11 states. In February of 2018, the Imagination Library presented its 100 millionth book to the Library of Congress.
White and Hispanic adults make up the largest percentage of U.S. adults with low levels of English literacy, according to the most recent results of a survey on adult skills. The National Center for Education Statistics released a new Data Point report today July 2, 2019, entitled “Adult Literacy in the United States.” This Data Point summarizes what data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) show about adult literacy in the United States. The findings include the following: forty-three million U.S adults possess low English literacy skills; U.S.-born adults make up 66 percent of adults with low levels of English literacy skills in the United States; non-U.S.-born adults comprise 34 percent of the population with low literacy skills; and white and Hispanic adults make 35 percent and 34 percent, respectively, of U.S. adults with low levels of English literacy.
In Part 1 of WBUR's special series "The 50 Year Fight: Solutions For Closing The Achievement Gap" the panelists discuss how the "achievement gap" has been defined historically, preferring the term "opportunity gap" to "achievement gap" (and what that says about the underlying problem), factors that influence the achievement gap, curriculum inequality in schools, and misconceptions about the achievement gap.
Wisconsin's young readers are falling behind as other states embrace the science of reading. The Madison Metropolitan School District said it's taking a big step toward a focus on phonics in an effort to help their students who are struggling. Currently, many school districts in the state, including MMSD, use cueing techniques to teach young readers. This means when a student comes to a word they don't know, they're often encouraged to guess the word, try to figure it out by looking at a picture, skip it or replace it. "There are different ways of figuring out the word, but only one of them is reading. And what we know about reading is skilled readers, beginning readers who go on to be skilled readers, use letters and sounds to figure out words," said Steve Dykstra, who is part of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition, a grassroots movement pushing for the state to embrace the science of reading. He said research in the '90s showed that children learn best when they are taught to match sounds to words, training their brains to develop that skill.
The International Literacy Association (ILA) released a new position statement today declaring that access to excellent literacy instruction is the right of every child, everywhere. The new position statement was crafted by a global team of educators, researchers, and advocates. The statement focuses on four tenets: the right to knowledgeable and qualified literacy educators; the right to integrated support systems; the right to supportive learning environments and high-quality resources; and the right to policies that ensure equitable literacy instruction.
Critical thinking is all the rage in education. Schools brag that they teach it on their websites and in open houses to impress parents. Some argue that critical thinking should be the primary purpose of education and one of the most important skills to have in the 21st century, with advanced machines and algorithms replacing manual and repetitive labor. But a fascinating review of the scientific research on how to teach critical thinking concludes that teaching generic critical thinking skills, such as logical reasoning, might be a big waste of time. Critical thinking exercises and games haven’t produced long-lasting improvements for students. And the research literature shows that it’s very difficult for students to apply critical thinking skills learned in one subject to another, even between different fields of science. “Wanting students to be able to ‘analyse, synthesise and evaluate’ information sounds like a reasonable goal,” writes Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “But analysis, synthesis, and evaluation mean different things in different disciplines.”
When we think of literacy, we tend to think of reading. Schools, literary nonprofits and philanthropists often focus on encouraging students to be strong readers with solid comprehension skills. While those skills are crucial, many experts say critical and creative writing skills are equally important, and are too often overlooked. Writing is active, encouraging students to be independent thinkers, take ownership over their own stories and ideas and communicate them clearly to others, said Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, executive director of the National Writing Project, which offers resources for teachers who want to encourage students to write. Rebecca Wallace-Segall, executive director of a New York City writing center, Writopia Lab said, “Writing impacts your ability to read. Over 90% of our kids who come in as reluctant writers, parents have reported they become more engaged readers as they've fallen in love with the writing process.”
Over three decades, Ms. Frizzle and the students on the Magic School Bus have visited the dinosaurs, dived inside the human body, gotten lost in the solar system, traveled inside a beehive, and explored the senses, among other adventures. Now, creators Joanna Cole and Bruce Degan say that the eccentric and lovable elementary school teacher and her class are about to take their “longest class trip ever” — back billions of years to understand the origin of life. “The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution,” written by Cole, and illustrated by Degan, will be published in July 2020. The PBS NewsHour caught up with them to talk about how some people could find it controversial, and why it’s more important than ever to tackle the subject now.
New research on language skills development suggests that all children can benefit from exposure to more speech from their caregivers. The study is the first to extend research about the relationship between caregiver speech and infant language development from typically developing children to those with autism. University of Texas at Dallas researchers believe their findings could inform guidelines for earlier action in cases of developmental difficulties. Dr. Meghan Swanson said the investigation is the first to extend research about the relationship between caregiver speech and infant language development from typically developing children to those with autism.
This school year, The New York Times is launching a new series called Mentor Texts, resources to help teach young people how to write. In general each edition in the series will 91) spotlight an excellent piece of writing published in The New York Times, whether on the front page or from sections like Opinion, Arts, Science, Sports, Business, Food, Travel or Style; (2) try to demystify for students the effective craft moves writers make, then provide exercises that invite them to try those same moves in their own work; and (3) show students how the writing genres they study in school can be used in real-world contexts.
Even young children know what typical dogs and fish look like, and they apply that knowledge when they hear new words, reports a team from the Princeton Baby Lab, where researchers study how babies learn to see, talk, and understand the world. In a series of experiments with children three to five years old reported in the current issue of the Journal of Child Language, the researchers found that when children are learning new nouns, they use what they know about these objects—how typical or unusual they are for their categories (such as fish, dog, bird, or flower)—to help them figure out what these words mean. This type of sophisticated reasoning was thought to only develop later.
One million free children’s books have been mailed to D.C. families since the city partnered with famed country singer Dolly Parton three-and-a-half years ago on her national initiative to promote early literacy. The D.C. Library’s “Books From Birth” program—which sends enrolled kids a free book every month until their fifth birthday—hit the milestone in August, prompting Parton to call it a “remarkable achievement to celebrate” in a letter to city officials. Almost 35,000 children across the city are currently registered to receive books through the program, which kicked off in early 2016. The program is part of Parton’s Imagination Library, which she launched in 1995 to promote reading among children. While it originally only served kids in her home of Sevier County, Tennessee, it has since expanded to dozens of counties and states across the U.S. as well as programs in the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, and Canada.
Some city parents were so desperate to get their dyslexic children the reading instruction they couldn’t find in the public school system that they rewrote the script by founding their own school. Bridge Preparatory Charter School on Staten Island will open its doors to 90 first- and second-graders on Thursday, as the only public school in the state that caters to students with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia. The school’s debut marks the climax of a yearslong battle for parents, advocates and elected officials eager to create an environment with small classes, intensive phonics-based instruction and other supports. The charter school opens against the backdrop of a public school system that educators and experts contend has no systematic approach to teaching thousands of students with learning disabilities how to read, despite no shortage of methods proven to work.