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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The 2018 Kids Count Data Book published by the Michigan League for Public Policy ranks Livingston County as the top county in Michigan for child well-being. Education is a key factor in a child's quality of life. WKAR Education Reporter Kevin Lavery visited schools in Livingston and Ingham counties to see how each is teaching literacy skills to some of their youngest learners.
When he lectured in the United States, Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget would invariably get what he called "the American question" from a member of the audience. After he had explained various developmental phases that young children go through in their understanding of concepts like length and volume, someone would raise their hand and ask, "How can we accelerate a child’s progress through the stages?" Baffled, Piaget would explain that there is absolutely no advantage to speeding up a child’s progression. The point of knowing the stages is to be aware of what stage a child is in, so that we can create the conditions and offer the guidance to help her move to the next one. It’s not a race. One of the most insidious results of the testing madness afflicting education has been an emphasis on speeding toward a particular outcome—a reading level, a cut score—without taking the time to ask what is sacrificed in that rush.
Thomas Woods-Tucker leads Princeton City School District in Cincinnati. The district encompasses 10 schools, each with a school library, along with a mobile media center that roams the community each summer. Inside are games, puppets, stuffed animals, maker space activities, and Chromebooks. To Woods-Tucker, libraries are the nexus for the cultural, digital, and literacy learning needs for all of his students. “There’s no other aspect of the school that rivals learning as a metaphor than the library,” he says. “How could a school exist without one?” He is among many visionary school leaders and superintendents who are reinventing school libraries, highlighting their key role in student learning and literacy. From restyling and rebranding facilities to making sure certified school librarians are on staff, these leaders are ensuring their libraries stay vital.
Many things that are beyond the scope of school can influence how children learn to read — their family situations, access to reading materials, nutrition. And in school, things can vary widely from district to district — choice of materials, type of teaching style and assessment, classroom atmosphere, even the level of recognition of the child and her individual differences. All this can influence the success a child has with reading. Because we know that reading is a multidimensional process, different for everyone. That is, it is a magnificent interaction between a child and her environment, the experiences and beliefs she brings, the depth and breadth of the reading material itself and the opportunities that children are afforded that make reading what it truly is. So, it would seem obvious that teaching reading without this process in mind — relying instead on strict workbook "drill and kill" and endless passage reading with five multiple-choice questions at the end — is totally inadequate. How can we expect children then to go beyond basic decoding and comprehension and apply, analyze and synthesize that which the material is offering? Unfortunately, this is the experience of many lower-income children.
Despite efforts to “leave no child behind” under President Bush and trying to “race to the top” under President Obama, reading scores in the United States have remained flat for 20 years. And the performance gap between low income kids and their affluent peers has stubbornly remained considerable. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine how teaching kids to read without teaching them the historical or scientific background behind what they are reading or exposing them to literature that resonates with their interests is a mistake. Reading for the sake of reading words without understanding the ideas behind them makes no sense to me. This is why I was such a flop with teaching fluency when the kids I was tutoring demonstrated little interest in or understanding of the passages they had to read.
After you feed, clothe, and shelter your kids, the next best thing you can do is read to them. Unless you’re opening up your toddlers to Infinite Jest, Being and Time, or presidential tweets, there’s almost no wrong way to do it. Still, if you can’t shake the anxiety, I’ve got a few concrete tips to help you feel confident (as a former first-grade teacher who spent 2.5 years as his own children’s primary caretaker). They’re the core of what I did while teaching my kids to read. They might help you and yours as well.
A new large study makes a compelling case that certain executive functioning difficulties can emerge as early as kindergarten and they dramatically increase the likelihood of serious academic problems in the first half of elementary school. Troubles with executive function can put these children on a low and sluggish learning curve that they are unlikely to break out of. The study by six researchers at Penn State and the University of California, Irvine, “Executive Functions Deficits in Kindergarten Predict Repeated Academic Difficulties Across Elementary School,” was presented earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New York. By separating out different aspects of executive function, the researchers could also see which ones mattered. Working memory problems proved to be the most worrisome.
About one-third of American 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool programs in 2017, a sharp increase from the 14 percent enrolled in 2002, though spending on those programs and their quality hasn’t necessarily kept pace, a new report finds. Enrollment is growing, but not fast enough, and it shouldn’t come at the expense of quality, said Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, which released its annual “State of Preschool” report Wednesday. Eleven states meet fewer than half of the institute’s 10 quality benchmarks, including factors like maximum class sizes and mandatory degrees and professional development for teachers. Those states include Texas, Florida, and California, which enroll some of the largest numbers of preschoolers.
Books — an essential part of any home, especially homes with kids. Having age-appropriate books available for kids at home has been shown to triple their interest in reading and is a predictor of higher reading scores in school. Beyond borrowing from the library, kids’ books for the home often are inaccessible, as one community member noted at the Community Book Swap earlier this month. As she swapped a few books her grandson had grown out of, this longtime resident noted that kids’ books can be expensive and sometimes hard to find in Santa Fe. She happily switched her old books for different titles to read with her grandson. The Reading Group, a collaborative working group supported by Opportunity Santa Fe, organized the Community Book Swap at the Santa Fe Place mall to make children’s and young adult books more accessible to families. With the support of AmeriCorps VISTA members, the group collected donations at schools across Santa Fe.
Helping high school students with only basic English improve their speaking, writing and listening skills requires that language be a focus of every content area. The ENLACE Academy at Lawrence High School in Massachusetts serves students who have been in the country only a few years and are just beginning to learn the language. English and content are the twin goals of every lesson. "Coaching is a big part of what we do here because our mission and our model is really about building language through content," said Allison Balter, principal of ENLACE Academy. "But what we find is that not a lot of teachers come with both of those skill sets." To continually improve their instruction, content area teachers meet once a week to get feedback from one another on upcoming lessons. Then Balter observes the lesson, video-records it, and meets with the teacher afterward to highlight strengths and ideas for improvement. Balter said learning together is part of the teaching culture within the academy, which is especially important since this style of teaching is new to many teachers.
In a new study out of the University of Virginia, The role of elementary school quality in the persistence of preschool effects, the authors find that the quality of the elementary school students matriculate into matters for whether pre-K gains persist. The study’s authors use the data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort of 1998 to estimate the extent to which the academic benefits of pre-K persist as a function of the quality of the elementary school children subsequently experience. They find that academic benefits of pre-K were largely sustained through the end of fifth grade when children subsequently attended a high-quality elementary school while less than one quarter of these benefits persisted when children attended a low-quality elementary school.
Dan Weiss was leafing through his local newspaper when he saw a story about a boy with autism being asked to leave a New Jersey library. “It’s the textbook, exact situation that you don’t want to read about,” says Weiss, director of the Fanwood (NJ) Memorial Library and co-founder of Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected. “When we started Libraries and Autism in 2008, part of the genesis of it was an incident exactly like this. It was the impetus for the need for awareness and customer service training on how to deal with situations involving folks on the spectrum.” Jacqueline Laurita, mother of eight-year-old Nicholas, who has autism, posted on Facebook and Twitter that her son was kicked out of the Franklin Lakes (NJ) Public Library for tapping on DVDs and humming. While April is Autism Awareness Month, this situation is a reminder that that despite greater growing recognition of autism, there is still a need for education and training.
Given the recent rise in podcast popularity, it’s no surprise that audio narratives are making their way into the classroom. They offer an engaging way for teachers to merge project-based learning with digital media analysis and production skills. That’s why we’re announcing our first-ever Student Podcast Contest, in which we invite students to submit original podcasts, five minutes long or less, inspired by one of our 1,000-plus writing prompts. The contest will run from April 26 to May 25, so stay tuned for our official contest announcement next week. In anticipation of that contest, the mini-unit below walks students through the process of analyzing the techniques that make for good storytelling, interviewing and podcasting. The activities culminate in students producing their own original podcasts.
“The American Dream is about equal opportunity for everyone who works hard. If we don’t give everyone the ability to simply read and write, then we aren’t giving everyone an equal chance to succeed.” —Barbara Bush. When former first lady Barbara Bush died on Tuesday, literacy lost a great champion. During her time in the White House, she created the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and also helped push for the National Literacy Act, which was passed by her husband, President George H.W. Bush, in 1991. Her daughter-in-law, former teacher and librarian and first lady Laura Bush, also made literacy one of her public causes.
Reading fluency is the ability to read with sufficient ease, accuracy, and expression, providing a bridge between word recognition and comprehension. To help students become more fluent, many educators assume that reading more is the key, and therefore require students to read silently for several minutes a day. The problem, however, is that silent reading is not proven to help build reading fluency in struggling readers. According to the National Reading Panel, “There is insufficient support from empirical research to suggest that independent, silent reading can be used to help students improve their fluency.” That being said, silent reading does have an important place in students’ lives. Once a student is a fluent reader, they should read anything and everything that is available at their level.
More young children are enrolled in state-funded early-childhood education programs across the country, the National Institute for Early Education Research says in its latest annual report, but only Alabama, Michigan, and Rhode Island meet all of the organization's new benchmarks for quality. This year's "State of Preschool Yearbook," which covers the 2016-17 school year, focuses on what the organization says are growing disparities in early-childhood education between states and even in communities within the same state. The report, released Wednesday, found that 10 states enrolled more than 50 percent of their 4-year-olds in state-funded preschool, while five states enrolled more than 70 percent. On average, states served more than a third of their 4-year-olds in these programs.
Having the confidence to speak in front of others is challenging for most people. For English Language Learners, this anxiety can be heightened because they are also speaking in a new language. We’ve found several benefits to incorporating opportunities for students to present to their peers in a positive and safe classroom environment. It helps them focus on pronunciation and clarity and also boosts their confidence. This type of practice is useful since students will surely have to make presentations in other classes, in college, and/or in their future jobs. However, what may be even more valuable is giving students the chance to take these risks in a collaborative, supportive environment. Presentations also offer students the opportunity to become the teacher—something we welcome and they enjoy!
It starts with a character for Erin Entrada Kelly. One character begets another and a novel is born. The 2018 Newbery Medal winner doesn’t find her creative process particularly inspired. In fact, that initial protagonist tends to come to life in her car. “It’s almost always when I’m driving,” Kelly says. “I wish I could say I had a dream and it was some kind of magic, but it’s not.” Nurturing a love of writing since elementary school, Kelly has been a reporter, magazine editor, and copyeditor while finding her way as a novelist. In 2012, she moved from Louisiana to Pennsylvania. She earned her MFA in creative writing in 2016 from Rosemont College, where she teaches Contemporary Issues in Children’s Literature. She loves writing, a lifelong passion turned profession that has led her here—navigating this new life as a Newbery winner. “It’s been incredible,” she says. “Especially the response from the Filipino community.” For the first time in Newbery history, the winner and all three honor books were written by authors of color.
Over the last two decades, federal grants for educating low-income students have shifted from overwhelmingly being targeted to only the individual low-income students in a building to mostly being used to support schoolwide programs on high-poverty campuses. A new nationwide study of the $15.8 billion Title I program suggests that, while the more holistic approach has allowed school and district leaders to support a broader array of staff and interventions for students in poverty, school leaders often do not receive the training and information needed to make the most of the grant's flexibility.
Students are often attuned to current events and world affairs. Debating topics relevant to the news can be a high-interest way to engage English language learners in academic discourse that matters to them while building language skills. Structured debate also gives students opportunities to disagree politely without attacking individuals for their opinions -- a useful life skill. "Our theme for this whole year is leadership," said Matt Clements, a ninth-grade teacher in the ENLACE Academy at Lawrence High School in Massachusetts. "So as students learn the listening, the reading, the writing and the speaking skills well enough, they transition into my leadership class where they can put all those skills together."