By | Categories Challenges | August 16, 2018

Reading and writing are skills that go hand in hand. As children develop, they learn to speak first. Reading follows, and then the ability to write in their language. Writing is a great way to reinforce the lessons they learn from reading. They start to mimic writing the words they see, much like they mimic hearing the words they hear on a daily basis. Introducing children to writing is a task that should occur early. It can start with items as simple as crayons and some paper.

Providing the opportunity to draw at an early age is one way of encouraging writing. Much like ancient cultures drew images that morphed into letters, the pictures that young children draw are their way of communicating. Getting them to put markers and crayons to paper is a way to encourage early writing skills. When they complete their drawings, you can have them tell you stories about them. As they get older, you can teach them that writing is very similar to drawing.

This playful approach to writing can be the perfect introduction to associating letters with sounds. Children can start practicing associating letterforms with sounds and words as early as the preschool years. During that time, they begin putting sounds together with the words they hear. They are starting to understand the connection between the letters they see and the sounds or ideas they represent. Picture books emphasize this connection as well, helping children to associate the images of the words with pictures.

As they become more familiar with what letters look like, those letters may start to emerge in their drawings. The letters will be random at first. Mostly they will be working on consonants and a few vowels. Each time they write down letters spend some time talking about them. What sounds do the letters make? What words are they part of? When the letterforms start to develop, they will eventually mimic the words they see in books. This is an opportune time to continue to teach them more about the words they are seeing as they begin to write them out.

Another way that young children are encouraged to write is by seeing their parents write. Children like to repeat what their parents are doing. Before computers became such powerful communication devices, there was more writing done at kitchen tables around the country. With fewer letters and checks written, it is essential to take time out of the day to show your children that you write. This is also a chance to teach them the importance of things like thank you letters, as well as their own creative works. When children tell stories about their drawings, write them down for them. Then have them read the stories back to you. They have created their own stories to share with your help!

Developing writing is a way to reinforce what they are learning when they read. They are learning the building blocks of reading, letters, and words, while they connect what a letter looks like to how it sounds. It starts with something as simple as drawing pictures, eventually turning those pictures into full-blown stories.


By | Categories Challenges | July 6, 2018

No longer required to be in a classroom for hours every day, students spend their summers relaxing and trying to pack all the fun in they can before fall. While they have certainly earned a break after nine months of school, taking a full summer off from learning is dangerous. It can lead to the summer slide and being a month behind their peers when classes resume. As tempting as it is to allow them to take the whole summer off, it is essential for parents to promote summer reading and learning.

Having children sit for an hour or so a day is not going to work. Too many other options beckon, from playing with friends in the neighborhood to playing video games. Integrating reading into summer activities is a fun way for them to learn while they still participate in their favorite pastimes. Parents don’t have to spend hours considering lesson plans or developing special activities. The activities children naturally gravitate to, with little extra planning, can be springboards into secret summer lessons.

Consider the following summer favorites for learning moments:

 

There are many other ideas to promote summer reading, like the 100 place challenge, coupons for the books a child reads, a summer reading bingo sheet, and others all around the web. With a little extra time, you can make what could be considered a homework assignment into a fun way to spend a summer. All it takes is imagination to have your child wanting to reach for a book instead of a game controller or remote!


By | Categories Challenges | June 1, 2018

Lisa Soricone is associate research director for the Building Economic Opportunity Group at Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States. Soricone works to help low-skilled adults advance to careers that can support families, while enabling employers to build and sustain a productive workforce.

Can you describe how the populations you work with end up without literacy or numeracy skills?

Soricone: A lot of them are people who dropped out of school and don’t have a GED, so they never got the education to become fully literate. We also work with immigrants whose education level could range from some primary school to college-level work, who are held back by literacy and/or a language barrier. There are also segments with undiagnosed learning disabilities.

Bridge to Opportunity SpiderBut, there are also folks who have made it through a K-12 system and gotten their high school diploma, but never actually became fully literate. What’s worse is that for many of these people, it’s been such a long time since they engaged in any real literacy activity that the skills they did gain during their education have now deteriorated. So, if they want to go back to community college or train for a technical certificate, they don’t have the skills to complete those programs—even if they have the credentials needed to enter them.

I think there’s starting to be a greater recognition of this problem. In recent years, we’ve seen tighter expectations around high school graduation and efforts to not let folks get promoted to the point where they have a high school credential but still can’t read. States like Massachusetts instituted testing programs to make sure kids are getting these basic literacy skills as they move through the education system.

One thing that’s clear is that the problem of low literacy among adults isn’t just going to go away. Periodic national and international assessments of adult literacy have shown no real change in adult literacy levels over the last ten years. That creates this bimodal economy where you have the well-off, highly-educated on one end, and then this other group of mostly poorer people who lack the reading and math skills they need to access the education and training that could help them get ahead.

What are the consequences you see for people with poor literacy skills?

Soricone: The number one problem is that it limits the kinds of jobs people can attain. Without literacy skills, people are stuck in low-end jobs, which limits the income they can achieve. That’s why such a high percentage of the populations we serve tend to be lower income.

But it hurts employers too. Many companies have trouble filling what we call middle-skills jobs—occupations that require specialized education and training, but not a four-year college degree. There’s a shortage of people with those skills in many areas. But that, in itself, isn’t so bad. I hear plenty of companies say, “We’ll teach the technical stuff. Give me somebody who’s ready to learn, who will show up and work hard.” But the problem is, without the baseline literacy and numeracy skills, adults simply can’t learn the technical skills required for these jobs, even if employers are willing to teach them.

You’ve talked about “contextualized literacy” as a solution to this issue. Can you explain it?

Soricone: The idea of contextualization is that instead of just teaching these abstract literacy skills in a vacuum, you do it in the context of a topic that’s meaningful for folks. That means folding literacy and math lessons into the training required for these middle-skills jobs.

So, if someone with literacy issues wants to train for credentials to become a hospital employee, we’d teach them math skills using health-related examples. We’d develop their language, reading, and critical-thinking skills using information that relates to healthcare. It makes the literacy lessons much more concrete, and lets students work toward their career goals at the same time.

This is nothing new. The state of Washington has had a lot of success using contextualized literacy to teach adult students through its I-BEST program for over ten years. They’ve found that students learning basic skills in the context of, say, an automotive program or a manufacturing program were more likely to earn college credits, obtain occupational certificates, and make basic skills gains than non-I-BEST students.

What’s the best way to deliver this contextualized literacy education?

Bridge to OpportunitySoricone: You need a bridge between adult education and occupational training and a big part of that bridge is already built in community colleges. That’s where adult education is already taking place in many states. It’s where Washington’s I-BEST program has thrived, and at Jobs for the Future we’ve brought their model to community colleges in states like Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana,  Arkansas, Mississippi, and Georgia with great results through an initiative called Accelerating Opportunity (AO).bIn the classroom itself, AO uses a two-teacher model. There’s a regular adult education teacher attending to literacy development, and a technical instructor who conveys the relevant content around the job skills being taught. The two teachers are able to frame things in a way that is really accessible to those adults, which helps them grasp that material much more quickly. And, at the same time, they’re building their reading, writing, and math skills in the context of that work.

It not only accelerates the process, but it also opens up access to higher education to people who may not have ever entered college because it might have taken them too long, or they would have been discouraged by the difficulty of the material. An integrated approach like that of AO makes college education more accessible.

You can check out the results so far in our implementation report, Accelerating Opportunity. In the seven states where we’ve implemented the model so far, 35 percent of the 10,000-plus students who have enrolled have earned 12 or more college credits, resulting in over 1,400 job placements.

What’s the role of employers in these programs?

Soricone: We need employers to partner with community colleges to infuse these programs with really relevant skills, and ensure that people are learning the skills companies actually need. That can be a challenge in community colleges. The needs of employers change quickly, so they need to communicate with community colleges and help them keep curriculums up to date. While not all AO student sub-groups experienced earnings gains, AO students recruited from adult education in Kentucky and from Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Kansas had strong and sustained positive earnings impacts.

Employers can also help by providing work-based learning opportunities, on-the-job training, internships, that kind of thing. Those programs get students into the career pathways that are already built, more quickly.

What about apprenticeship programs and the like for younger folks? Could high schools be doing more to prepare students to move directly into jobs?

Soricone: I think there’s a lot they could be doing. There are some schools that offer career exploration as early as middle school. I’m not saying every kid should have to go to vocational school, but they need to be exposed to different career choices and have an understanding of what adults do all day. These things wouldn’t be all that hard to put in more classrooms, especially with today’s technology. Things like virtual job shadowing could easily be built into the curriculum and still work toward the traditional education goals of high schools. So I think it would really be great to see this approach at schools across the board, so that kids everywhere can be college and career ready. But I don’t think we’ve figured out how to do that yet.

One simple part of that is helping kids understand, “What kinds of things am I interested in? What do I like to do? And, based on that, what are some different careers that could make sense for me? How are the lifestyles different for different careers?” And the next, more complicated question for educators is, “How is work going to change over the next 20 or 30 years?” We need to figure that out to get kids in the best possible position to succeed.

Excerpted from Reading for Life, published by Kids Read Now. Copyright © 2017 by each contributing author. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


By | Categories Challenges | May 24, 2018

In the mid-19th century, students did not see anything like the modern summer break. The rise of the summer break in schools is a product of a shift from rural to urban living. Early cities were hot and dirty. Parents who could leave the city to the cooler countryside did. This left schools half full and sweltering. With the rise of the summer heat also came the rise of diseases. Legislators saw that something had to be done about these two systems. The rural and urban calendars were blended together, with the urban need for a vacation in the summer becoming the dominant force in the schedule.

As the transition happened, questions were asked by those that studied education: what happens to student learning in those summer months? Many opinions emerged, but it was not until the 1990s when thorough research on the topic commenced. Harris Cooper and his colleagues published a paper called The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review. This was the first paper to scientifically identify what many teachers knew — taking a break over the summer did impact child development. The paper called it the “summer setback” or, as we know it, the “summer slide.”

The researchers discovered that, of all the subjects, reading was the most vulnerable to the loss of levels. But not all students were equally as vulnerable. Upper- and middle-class students did not see the same losses that lower-class students saw. Without help, students in lower-income brackets could lose up to a full year of reading skills by the end of fourth grade. One reason that many experts felt low-income families lose more than their peers is access to resources. There are usually fewer books in the homes of lower-income families. Parents are generally working longer hours or have multiple jobs. This demand on their time makes it more difficult for them to take their children to the library or to read with them.

The problems caused by the summer slide typically manifest as students transition from third to fourth grade. Up until third grade, reading lessons are geared to teach students the mechanics of reading. When students move on to fourth grade, reading helps them learn lessons in classes like history, science, and English. If they are behind by fourth grade, there are grim statistics that become apparent:

These statistics are just the beginning of the possible outcomes for students with low literacy.

Lower-income families can stop the summer slide with a very simple solution. The number of books children have in their home is the best predictor of success as they go through school.

One reason that our program stresses children reading so many books over the summer is that it builds that home library without the student leaving home. Kids Read Now delivers self-selected books that children want to read. Even small home libraries encourage students to pick up books instead of turning on televisions or picking up digital devices.

There is a debate on whether or not to make school a year-round activity. While it would eliminate many of the issues that come from three months without school, many districts do not have the staffing or the resources to make it work. As long as we have a break for the summer, we will do all we can to ensure that no one slides back when the first bell rings in August!

 


By | Categories Challenges | May 16, 2018

There are milestones that every family looks forward to in the development of their children. The first night they sleep all night. Their first steps. The first words they speak. The first day they attend school (and the last day). Starting that awkward trek from childhood to adulthood. All of these little steps go by quickly and are indicators of children who are developing. If any of these occurrences are delayed, people become concerned. Doctors are consulted, tests are run, and there are efforts made to discover the reason development has been delayed.

Not all milestones in development are scrutinized and celebrated. There is one that normally goes by with little fanfare. It is the transition from third grade to fourth grade. This is a major step in the educational development of a student. Subjects become more involved in fourth grade, which means the texts that go with them become more complex. Students that had difficulty reading and understanding the lessons in third grade start to fall further behind. Falling behind their peers can lead to a variety of issues, from disruptive behavior to avoiding classroom activities.

Poor populations are much more at risk for this drop to occur. A report created by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Learning to Read, Reading to Learn, indicates that over 80% of students that come from low-income areas do not read proficiently by fourth grade. Not reading at grade level by fourth grade makes them four times as likely to drop out of school, impacting their future earning potential. They are also more likely to end up incarcerated at some point in their lives, further impacting their future. Students that drop out of school cost taxpayers roughly $260,000, further straining state and local budgets.

Why not hold them back? This obvious choice would expose them to the material longer and giving them the opportunity to truly learn to read before they make the next step. However, an article by Martin West published in 2012 (Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?) shows that keeping a child back at third grade could have a worse outcome. As children get older, the effect becomes even more pronounced. This effect can be mitigated by having a summer reading program available for those that are held back, similar to the one Florida passed in 2002. It is not only a risky proposition; it is an expensive one.

Building students up during their first years of school is the most affordable option. On average, holding a student back costs a district over $10,000 per student held back. These costs include lost time to the teachers in the year students were held back and the extra year they attend school. Summer reading programs can often be supported by independent grants as well as national Title I funding. These summer programs help prevent the dreaded summer slide, especially those from lower-income homes. Summer slide can cost the school district as well.

The effects of allowing students to fall behind grade reading are far-reaching. The impacts they have on the school and school district are measurable, but the effects on the student can be devastating, perhaps even life-changing for them. As you are getting ready to celebrate that first day of school, make sure you mark their first day of fourth grade on the calendar as well. It could be another milestone with a long-term impact.


By | Categories Challenges | May 7, 2018

Readers pick up books to be entertained by the stories they tell. Take Charlotte’s Web for example. It is the story of a girl, Fern, and a runt-of-the-litter pig named Wilbur. Wilbur learns that he is being fattened up for Christmas dinner, which rightfully saddens the pig. It is then that a spider named Charlotte vows to help him avoid becoming a winter meal. Through the course of the story, all of the characters have their ups and downs. Readers develop affinities for the various characters. They become real to the reader, which is critical to any story.

This is more than just good storytelling, according to a study done by Emory University. Emory researchers discovered that neural pathways in the brain stay active long after a person finishes a book. In some subjects, it was up to five days. Readers become charged by the emotions that were being felt by the characters.

Good fiction immerses the reader in the story. You feel the terror that Wilbur feels when he discovers he is going to be a meal, as well as the desperation the animals around him have to save him. But it is not always pigs and little girls on a farm where the reader feels a connection. There are many books out there that can help children develop social skills and empathy for fellow students.

The Newbery Medal-winning book Bud, Not Buddy, one of the books we offer on our Wish List, is the story of an orphan and his travels through Michigan to find his father. During the story, there are fantastic adventures and long, sad stretches for Bud. The story goes beyond something to entertain. It shows readers that there are people with different lives than they have. By feeling sad or happy for Ben, readers begin to develop empathy for him. Something that, through their new neural connections, can translate to the real world. These lessons can be extraordinarily powerful if the characters look like the student, or come from a similar background.

Books can also teach the importance of having friends. In the book My Friends by Taro Gomi, a girl recounts all of the lessons she learns from her friends. The experiences are all related to their abilities; horses teach running and birds teach singing. By showing students the power of interacting with others, this can encourage otherwise shy or socially uncomfortable students to interact with their peers. There can even be in-class exercises where students are encouraged to learn from the people around them.

Children can learn through reading the books. They can learn just as much be being read to at a young age. In a study published in April of 2018, researchers discovered that parents who started to read to their children from birth saw reductions in behavioral problems like aggression and short attention spans. This is even more important for children in low-income families where time spent with children may be scarce.

A wise grey spider teaches the whole farm, and the reader, some valuable lessons during her time with Wilbur and Fern. Lessons about friends, working together to overcome a challenge, and life on a farm are all themes that the book explores. Books teach more than the meaning of words, how they are strung together, and how they sound. They teach lessons about how to interact and empathize with people. Those are success skills that every classroom could use.


By | Categories Challenges | March 22, 2018

Written by Kelli Marie Cedo, an English/Language Arts Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Lead for Hampton City Schools in Hampton, VA. Previously, she was principal of Forrest Elementary School in Hampton. Cedo has also served as Title I coordinator, division contact for school improvement, literacy coach, academic coordinator and family engagement liaison in Virginia Beach, VA.

It was back in 2011, when I was Title I Coordinator at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, that I first understood just how serious the summer reading gap is—and first realized that a solution to this problem is within the grasp of our schools and our communities.

Researchers have long demonstrated that a lack of access to books over the summer months is academically devastating for lower-income students. The reading level of these students typically regresses by between 1 and 3 months over that period, while that of their high- and middle-income peers—even at the same school—stays constant or improves.

This outcome is not surprising, as the average low-income home contains between zero and three books, while a high-income home typically has 40 to 60 books. Higher-income children are also much more likely to participate in summer learning programs and visit public libraries while school is out. And, as research by the U.S. Department of Education has made clear, children will engage in more independent reading when they have greater access to books.

***

Our hope was that by providing texts for the home and working together with families to build a culture of reading, we would achieve real impact in closing the summer reading gap. To see if we had been successful, we undertook statistical analysis of K-5 students’ Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) across all 13 of our Title I schools in the fall of 2013.

The results were better than we’d dared to hope. In all, 73 percent of students did not backslide in the reading level over the summer, and 39 percent had actually improved their reading levels while out of school. Over the previous summer, before our program had built momentum in earnest, around 70 percent of K-5 students had regressed in their reading levels.

To complement this quantitative data, we also surveyed parents, teachers, and principals on their experience of the program. The feedback we gathered was a rich source of learning–and encouragement. For example, one parent reported, “Having this home library changed the way our family interacts with reading.”

Another said “Our children are so happy when they get a new book for their library. Each child keeps their library neat and organized and they do indeed use it to choose books and read. It is their space and their books. From the bottom of our hearts, we appreciate having the home library helping us further our children’s education. It is something that we could not have done without the school’s program.”

***

Even after the success of our 2013 summer program, we were anxious about whether we’d be able to keep up the momentum and achieve impact across a much larger group of students and families. But when they ran the analysis of the expanded program in the fall of 2014, the results were hugely encouraging. A total of 70 percent of students had not regressed in their reading levels–and 35 percent had improved in their reading assessment. Our community had really sustained the program. Again, this was a major improvement on previous years.

We gathered feedback once again, and were thrilled with the positive response from both parents and educators. One first grade teacher said:

“The summer reading program was great. I worked at quite a few of the sessions and it was wonderful to see the children excited about the books and activities; many of our students do not go to the public library and parents often have difficulty picking out books at their child’s reading level. We had many of the children who attended the sessions regularly and it helped keep them from losing their momentum over the summer. The librarians who came from the public library were great at engaging the children.”

One of our Title I principals emphasized, “Children take pride in things that belong to them. The summer reading program builds on that pride by placing books into the hands of children who take pride in reading to find out what is inside.” He reported that more than 30 families participated in his school’s program, attending weekly events at the school library throughout the summer which were supported by the local public library. “Although it seemed to be common sense that it would benefit the children participating,” he said, “I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the actual data, as measured by the DRA, also demonstrated the success of reducing the ‘summer slide.’”

***

The number one lesson is simple: Summer matters. The second lesson is a tougher one for decision-makers to accept: Mitigating the summer reading gap takes resources. Funds must be found for an ongoing supply of texts, community outreach, and summer programming–in a context where funding is finite.

All of us who care about literacy must go out and argue for resource investment with passion and confidence, pointing out that this investment creates proven returns for students in the short term, and increases economic prosperity for the country in the long term.

Excerpted from Reading for Life, published by Kids Read Now. Copyright © 2017 by each contributing author. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


By | Categories Challenges | March 22, 2018

As we are getting to the final months of the school year, it may become more of a challenge to keep students engaged in learning. This might be the perfect time of year to introduce some activities that will challenge your students to explore new books, or to spend more time reading and less time looking out the windows during sunny, warm days.

One thing that many educators and researchers have found is that play helps students want to learn. Tell them they have to spend time reading every day and they may have a difficult time committing to it. Turn it into a game where readers get rewarded for the amount they read, or bring in surprises for certain milestones, and they will want to do the reading.

Stuck for ideas? We have looked around the internet and found a few thought starters for you:

 

Turning reading into a game, or some other challenge, can be a way to encourage students to get out of their reading comfort zone. Brief glimpses at new books could open up whole to worlds to the right student. Providing the spark in a safe, fun way allows the students to try something they may not have considered exploring themselves.

If you need suggestions for books, reaching out to involve the parents or speaking to the school librarian can help you find the right books to have your class read. Of course, asking the student can also provide a wealth of ideas for what they want to read. Now begins the challenge of creating the event for your class!


By | Categories Challenges | Parental Engagement | February 6, 2018

There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that claims “the strongest force in the universe is compound interest.”

No one knows when, or even if, he said it. But he would not have been wrong. There are many, many charts and articles on the internet that extol the virtues of saving early. The benefits of getting an early jump on saving is not new wisdom; even Aesop told a fable about the ants who collected food at the right time and the grasshopper that played. Investing early is a way to ensure better results in the long run.

The same goes for a child’s education. There may be just as many articles out there explaining that it is never too early to start teaching.

The first five years of a child’s life lays out the foundation for how they will learn. Vocabulary builds. Emotional understanding develops, and opinions toward many activities become established.

Reading with children, and encouraging them to read on their own, is critical at this stage in development. It shows them early on that reading is a pleasurable activity, not a burden only done when forced by a teacher.

Other rewards for starting your child reading early:

We can be skeptical about what Einstein said, but Warren Buffet had similar thoughts about reading: “Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest.”

Encouraging children to begin reading at an early age is investing in their future, as well as giving them something enjoyable to do in the present. The rewards for investing in education at an early age may not be immediately seen, but the compound effect of those extra reading years with shine through their entire life.


By | Categories Challenges | Educators | January 24, 2018

It’s no secret teachers work hard during the school year, but they enjoy their time off as much as the students do.

However, even in their off time, teachers spend time getting ready for the next year, brushing up on new skills and techniques, and staying abreast of any changes made in national policy. Researchers are discovering another way for teachers to prepare for the next school year; read more children’s books.

A 2011 study authored by Burgess, Sargent, Smith, Hill, and Morrison, discovered that teachers that read children’s books had a significant advantage. They engaged in industry-recognized best practices far more often than their peers. They have a better understanding of what is popular in children’s literature. This insight provides the ability to cater their lessons to address what students might be reading outside of the classroom.

Beyond the technical help educators can provide, their understanding of children’s literature allows them to pair the right student with the right book. That can be an important spark in getting a student to read for pleasure. We wrote recently about how giving the student a choice in what book to read is important for building new readers. Guiding them to the books they are likely to enjoy helps them find stories they may not have discovered on their own. Sharing the same information with their parents brings them into the process as well.

And the best reason of all? Some of the children’s literature out there is just amazing. Brain Pickings featured seven beautiful children’s books released in 2017 recently. They are not only visually stunning, the stories they tell rival any book for adults on the shelf. Many well-known authors of adult books have also written a book or two for younger readers. They bring the same attention to craft and detail to the work.

When teachers love to read, it shows, no matter the book’s target age group. This enthusiasm for reading can be infectious, and spreading that excitement is the best way to get a student to read. Giving a student a book about a subject they love is one thing; handing it to them with some hints about what lies within the story they are about to consume takes it to another level.

The late Maurice Sendak once said “I don’t write for children. I write. And somebody says, that’s for children.” There are beautiful stories for adults to discover in children’s books. When teachers begin to find those wondrous places, they can share them with their students. They can start their journey of finding more literature that they can share with the class. Showing their passion for reading to the classroom will help it spread like wildfire. It is a lesson that has to be experienced by the class, not taught.