In 2012, my wife Barb and I were commiserating about the state of reading in the country—specifically what she, a 4th grade teacher, called ‘the dreaded summer slide’.
Far too many kids, particularly from families that struggle, head back into class every fall, with less opportunity than their peers. They are not as engaged. They struggle with review material. They hold back, as their enthusiastic and engaged classmates wave hands in the air and shout out answers.
This struggle is real. Poor children are historically woefully behind their well-off peers, and every summer, the opportunity gap widens. After failed initiatives, generational disadvantage, and Covid exacerbated opportunity disparities, 75% of poor children are not proficient in reading. Can you imagine not being able to read your textbooks in school?
Our education system is struggling, and with the recent upsets and extended breaks in learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more kids are struggling too.
Ten years ago, Kids Read Now was formed to eradicate the summer slide, which has been shown to cause 2/3 of the achievement gap between kids with opportunities and those who are at-risk and living in poverty. We just knew that a viable, successful, scalable summer literacy program could be developed and would give disadvantaged kids a real opportunity to become great readers and, in turn, give them the means to escape a life of poverty.
We have made tremendous progress. Our program has been refined and scaled. In 2022, we project that over 80,000 students in 31 states will each be gifted 9 books. Our team of educators selects popular and loved books that kids are most likely to want and to read and create a Wish List catalog of over 130 titles to choose from. By partnering with Penguin Random House and other top publishers, Kids Read Now is able to offer the best books for PreK-5 kids.
Whether we are serving a tiny remote community in Alaska or thousands of students in one of America’s largest school districts, Kids Read Now provides a turnkey approach to literacy success. We can’t wait to see what our next ten years can do for America’s future.
“I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you doing this for our kids. Some of the students in my room only read books at school because they have no books at home. So, thank you very much for helping them out… I know how much they love getting a book.” – Annie Groves, WV
If inclusion initiatives increase productivity and innovation in business,
imagine how they could do the same for your classroom/institution.
If inclusion initiatives increase employee satisfaction and retention in business,
imagine how they could increase the attention and literacy of students.
Tony Dungy, first Black NFL coach to win a Super Bowl says, “Inclusion initiatives need to have Emotional Intelligence (EI) as part of their foundation. EI is necessary for all groups to work well together. Self-Awareness and Social-Awareness are key elements of EI. They allow others to trust that you authentically care about their feelings.”
A vital part of Self-Awareness is acknowledging your own stereotypes and biases. Consider the ideas you absorbed from family, teachers, religion, and the media that don’t serve you or your students well today.
Noted author and speaker, Valerie Alexander, suggests these methods to practice eliminating biases in your work environment:
Make sure that access to persons of authority is equally and neutrally available to all students. Seek to identify and neutralize any access barriers to marginalized students/employees.
Amplify the contributions of those that are not being acknowledged, without repeating what the say, but by guiding the conversation back to them.
Ask yourself, ‘Who in this setting has to be perfect just to have a feeling of belonging here?’ Then ask yourself, ‘How can I help that person to feel like they belong?’
Tony Dungy also says that another word for Social-Awareness could be ‘empathy’. “Social Awareness/Empathy can be nurtured by investing in listening and learning to understand each individual, so that each employee/student can be comfortable to talk about their true self.”
Consider how you could restructure situations that leave any employee/student to feel unseen or unheard.
Consider the courage it takes to speak up. Marginalized people have been socially groomed to not speak up, therefore persons of authority need to recognize the seriousness of a marginalized person speaking up.
Be on guard for the tendency to see another’s point of view as ‘wrong’ just because its’ different than yours. Strive to see other perspectives as ‘another possible way.’
Develop a curiosity about how another might see things from a different perspective.
Educate yourself about people different from yourself. Use curiosity as a source of information and strength.
Being inclusive means challenging your biases and stereotypes, being curious, being humble, being empowering, and valuing the well-being of all.
Terry Boyd PhD., Professor at University of Southern Florida stresses, “Anyone pursuing inclusion initiatives as part of their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) efforts should keep in mind that DE&I is an ongoing journey rather than a sprint, or even a marathon. DE&I efforts need to be continuous.”
Where and when could you utilize strategies for Self-Awareness and Social-Awareness to improve your learning environment?
Tony Dungy, University of Southern Florida, College of Business on-line course: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace, Module 1
Valerie Alexander, USF, College of Business on-line course: DE&I in the Workplace, Module 2
Tony Dungy, SF, College of Business on-line course: DE&I in the Workplace, Module 1
Terry Boyd, PhD., USF, College of Business on-line course: DE&I in the Workplace, Module 4
There’s this widgetsmith on the opening screen of my iPhone that reads, “As long as we’re creating it’s not too late to change our story.”
People’s stories motivate and inspire but they also connect us, help us grow. Throughout my years of being an educator, tucking in beside my fellow professionals, really hearing their journey, it has been transforming. Listening, truly listening, opens my mind and eyes to perspectives, broadening a reality that I was otherwise unaware. Stories also shape and expand our teaching blueprint.
Growing up a small town girl in the northern United States gave me loads of opportunity to get lost in stories. From listening to my grandparents share stories to being mesmerized by great readings at the local library, life opened up for me.
Given my best friend’s father was the town’s librarian, many evenings and weekends were spent lounged across soft rugs with giant pillows traveling to far away places through the pages of a book. As I breezed through the letters on the page that made words into sentences and sentences into adventures that fed my imagination, I was quite aware that the very experiences I found solace within offered great pain and sometimes discomfort for my friend. Needless to say, I did a lot of reading aloud.
My friend loved to hear stories and it was an incredible treat when getting to view stories playing out live on a stage. You see, the process of reading caused her great angst. She is dyslexic. Take it to the classroom and the print on the page represented very different things for the two of us.
What I noticed as a young child was that just because our brains worked differently, a common experience such as reading text had contrasting outcomes for each of us. Someone very dear to me once shared, “Teachers can change the way they teach but dyslexics cannot change the way they learn.” What this evolves into for an instructional design perspective on the diverse needs of learners: the secret strength I found in teaching through a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens. In the case of how I learned reading and how my friend learned reading: presentation of materials, or provisions of multiple means of representation as well as action and expression, were key but equally important was engagement.
Let’s take my friend for example. Given learning derived from her mainly through auditory (hearing) or tactile (touching), she learned by hearing or touching and then that information would process through her auditory or tactile memories. When you compare that to my approach to learning being mainly visual (through my eyes), I could comprehend problems, solve them and commit the solution to my visual memory. For me, everything I would ‘read’, both real and symbolic, would link to my perception center. Recognizing a word and processing the word to meaning didn’t require actually hearing the word. For my friend, visual symbols were compromised causing her to compensate by relying on what she heard in her head to associate meaning.
Ready to leverage my childhood story to expand your teacher blueprint to be more inclusive? The following visual provides some examples of building provisions within your teaching and learning to offer students with dyslexia agency in learning. Oh, and don’t overlook this included audio file reading the visual, it’s called inclusive design.
There is a lot to learn from stories. But just like my childhood story, there are often missed opportunities of great significance in the unheard. Stories change our perspective, open our minds and eyes, broaden our reality and shape and expand our teaching blueprint. Learning to truly listen in on the narratives of our profession has proven to be my greatest teacher and perhaps it can do the same for you, too.
I recently caught up with a dear colleague. When I asked her what she saw as she worked closely with our teachers and teacher leaders, her immediate answer was “politics”.
The concept that everything is political started with Aristotle and is consistently restated today. Although I avoid them, I cannot deny that what I eat, what I wear, what I read (or don’t read) is a political act. Looking at the news or even local school board elections remind us how polarizing today’s environment is and how the inertia of our society calls for us to pick one side or the other. My desire for universality led me to wonder about concepts that are less political and valued by all. Literacy for everyone came to mind. The ability to read, write, think, listen, and speak are foundational skills people need to successfully live and participate in our lives and communities. The assertion that all children (and adults) have strong literacy skills is something we can all agree on. We call that a core belief.
Core beliefs can only be realized when our practices align with and support the initial conviction. Donalyn Miller shares that time, access, and choice are bricks with which to build a solid foundation. I am an excellent cook. I am masterful because I have an interest in food and I have cooked every day for over 30 years. In contrast, I am unlikely to become a great tennis player if I only watch it on TV. Children must have time to read things they enjoy or are interested in each day. If you are telling yourself, “Of course! That’s a given!” I challenge you to ask any child age 4-19 to track how much they read each day and how much they enjoy what they read. The data may surprise you.
To read each day, you have to have access to text. Access means that you can easily get your hands on something to read. In the positive column, we have a ton of portable digital content via phones and iPads or laptops. A quick survey of your friends and family about where and how they read, demonstrate we all have preferences. I like to read digitally but if it is non-fiction, I will want a paper book I can mark up. Recent research tells us that children need access to both digital and print. As they age, children should drive which they use for their specific purposes. Time and access are bricks that build mastery, choice excites and accelerates literacy.
Imagine you walk into a bookstore where they scan your brain and then directed you to graduate-level books because that is the level you read at. No magazines, cookbooks, or mysteries! Choice is the third brick in that solid wall of practice we should all agree on. I was so fortunate as a child because I not only had access to books, I had parents who encouraged us to read about the things we were interested in which amplified the time I was allowed to read. Visiting areas in which literacy levels are at their lowest inside and outside of schools, you see that there is little access to books, there is no choice about what to read, and time is spent on drills and isolated practice of skills-effectively killing a love of reading. Time, access, and choice in the construction of literacy is a political act we can all support.
A literacy environment should be cultivated by its curriculum. Learning how to read and develop literacy skills is a process that will benefit a child their entire life. It is the foundation for other subjects, and a manner in which students learn to communicate and learn about their world, near and far.
The process to teach the required skills necessary is complex, and varies depending on the needs of each learner. In my experience, literacy teaching and learning should be a “dream”. A dream in the sense of literacy learning being a priceless gift—and a dream in the sense of having curriculum and teaching practices which address Diversity, Relevance, Engagement, Access, Motivation (D.R.E.A.M.).
D.R.E.A.M. Literacy focuses on practices being implemented into instruction by educators, as well as encourages at-home support and partnerships in using diverse texts, popular culture and technology, and multimodal resources. D.R.E.A.M. represents several pieces necessary to address and provide quality and equitable literacy instruction for all. When planning literacy lessons, assignments, and making curriculum decisions educators and parents should consider the following elements:
Diversity brings about a wide spectrum of issues that educators can be faced with. Willingness to learn, accept, and apply the culture (VERY IMPORTANT: Culture does not just mean ethnicity or race) of students to instructional practices is key. Here are some ways to address diversity in literacy:
Inclusion and representation of various backgrounds (An array of genres, using texts and curriculum by authors of color)
Diversity of resources (types of texts, authentic sources)
Use of books and resources that have a balance of representation in protagonists
Students need to know how to apply the knowledge being taught, and how it applies to them. Students want to feel like they are included and are represented in a learning environment. Students want to know why it’s important, and how it is useful. Students need to know why they are developing literacy skills and where they will encounter them in their future. Making content relevant includes:
Connecting books to the interests of students
Fostering a culture of literacy being all around/environmental print (various types of text on signs, products, television, digital literacies)
Letting students explore non-fiction texts (real-world relevant texts, local and regional texts, etc.)
Exploring cross-curricular connections (Math, Science, History, Fine Arts)
Engagement starts with learning the interests of the students, merged with the academic knowledge needed. Engagement also involves educators utilizing multimodal approaches in their lessons and work with students. Some great multimodal literacy strategies include:
Interviewing or conferencing with students about what they read or write
Acting out texts
Creating visuals or artwork to accompany work
Ease of access to resources and empowering parents/guardians to help build literacy skills at home is necessary for growth. Not all students have the opportunity to have access to books in their home. If books and reading are left out of the home environment, is it really that important for a child and their family? Insight on how to continue a child’s learning outside of the classroom doors is crucial. The following ideas are recommended:
Collect donated books (bookstores, sales, retiring teachers, etc.) and hold regular “book swap” events with students and parents/guardians
Provide regularly updated virtual lists of digital literacy resources (games, apps, videos, activities, etc.)
As far as motivation, our role is to grow our students’ skills and learn what makes them excited to learn—this is very important with students who have so many unique needs that are changing as society changes daily. The main ingredient for motivation in a literacy classroom is choice.
In closing, a literacy environment should thrive on partnership between the internal and external learning communities. Parents and educators are the essential component that provides students the opportunity to see literacy as a tool of advancement and an escape— teamwork makes the “dream” work.
Most students either really love to read and find joy in growing and sharpening their literacy skills, or they feel the opposite. Their experience depends on two things- the instructional decisions made and the environment in which they learn. Educators are often told to create a “literacy rich” or “print rich” classroom setting, but what does that really mean? R.I.C.H. should address four different aspects: Relevancy, Inclusiveness, Creativity, and Hands-On approaches.
Students, younger and older are often disconnected from the literacy skills and expectations that are required in standards-based instruction and assessment. This is because they don’t see the “bigger picture” of learning the skills and strategies that are often taught in isolation. The foundational stages of literacy involve building word sense, concepts of print, and lots of repetition and practice—but educators shouldn’t stop there. The students who often struggle lack the connectedness and relevancy of the materials shared. To gain sense of relevancy and what resonates with students, conversations, bookstack cultivation, and surveys should take place.
Relevancy and inclusiveness go hand in hand. Whether planning the instruction or the “look” of a space, students need to see themselves in the materials presented. Not only do students need to see themselves, but they need to see others who are not like them as well.
When thinking about inclusivity and literacy, one might think of diversity, and the representation of various racial and ethnic backgrounds and perspectives. This is crucial, but just a starting point. Representation can be present in literacy settings, and students still not understand the importance or value of a concept or idea. Therefore, it is important to know that in addition to representation, students need to be exposed to an environment that allows them to feel safe (with learning new skills and contributing), and take risks (with new strategies, with new resources), and be inclusive of families (inside and outside of the classroom).
Literacy learning is often repetitive and can be boring for some. The more creativity that is sparked within lessons—the better. Creative ideas for literacy learning involve using traditional skills and practical, everyday materials and happenings to get students to understand.
Example: Connecting technological and popular culture terms with academic literacy terms
We want students to read, but don’t give them enough opportunity to write (or see the correlation between the two). We ask students about other writers and authors’ ideas, but don’t challenge them to see themselves as authors. Writing centers, blogging opportunities, and spaces where students can critique and explore all facets of literacy (listening, speaking, reading, writing) is a climate that would provide hands-on learning in a “R.I.C.H.” classroom.
The literacy environment has evolved, just as education has changed. Teachers often create themes at the beginning of a school year, and it is to get students excited about being in their class. The literacy environment needs a R.I.C.H. environment that is tailored to the needs of the students who are being served, and the learning community as a whole.
How do you get kids excited about books? Over my 25 years of teaching, I’ve discovered many ways to spark excitement. Here are 10 to get you started:
Start an After-School Book Club
Invite a guest reader from the community to kick off the meetings. After the read-aloud, the kids spread out to read independently or with a friend. You can also invite a high school sport team or club to buddy read with the kids.
Be a “Book Fairy”
Use your points from Scholastic book clubs or grants to gift books to kids. Try to give every student a book by the end of the year. Kids love the surprise and owning their own book is more special than borrowing, so they treasure it.
Invite Guest Leaders as Readers
Leaders in schools and the community love to be a part of this and your students will be inspired to see what some of their role models read. Invite the football coach, the mayor, chief of police, a local veterinarian, and others to share a favorite book.
Encourage Kid-Created Contagious Book Reviews
When a student reads a book they love, have them create a book review to share with the class. You can do these live, or have kids create a video. You can even take the videos, create a QR code for them, and adhere the QR code inside the cover of the books!
Hold a Reading Marathon
The day of the “marathon,” have kids wear running gear, create paper running bibs, allow healthy snacks and water bottles, and read all day! Have kids read independently, in pairs, Zoom in guest readers and authors, and YOU should read aloud to them too.
Kick off the Year with a Book Tasting Event
Use tablecloths and place settings and serve a pile of books on plates. Provide wish lists for your students to jot down the books they are interested in reading that year. This is a great way to get kids familiar with your classroom library and excited about what they get to read! (Use their lists to get ideas for book fairy visits too!)
Host Book-Bartering Days
Kids bring in a book that they’re willing to part with in exchange for another book from someone in the classroom. Students give a 30 second pitch on what they loved about the book they’re offering. Arrange the books on tables and allow students to make their selections.
Get Your Own Little Free Library
As a class, write a grant for a Little Free Library for your school. Your class will love this service project and visit it often! To fill the library, send home a request for gently used books as a donation to the Little Free Library. You will be surprised at how many books come in!
Host Chat and Chews
Choose a book you have multiple copies of. You can make book marks with the dates for each meeting and what chapters need to be read each time. On assigned dates, enjoy your lunch and discuss the chapters of the book together!
Have an Author Visit!
I may be biased, since I’m a children’s book author who LOVES to do author visits, but I truly believe in their power. Kids love to meet authors in person and have a renewed passion for reading and writing afterward. From hearing the story behind the stories, or special secrets the author shares, it is a memorable experience.
When kids see you make reading a priority and a treat to be enjoyed, they are on their way to becoming life-long readers.
Is everyone really ready for all of the faces hiding behind the computers to return to the brick-and-mortar classroom?
Jose’s alarm rang. He rolled over and turned off the alarm on his cell phone. He was used to his new routine of rolling out of bed and opening his computer, as he sat up in bed. Who needed breakfast?
He rubbed his eyes as his day got started and he stared at 16 other black boxes with letters inside of them. It was the usual math lesson with his teacher doing most of the talking as she flipped through her Nearpod slides. Jose toyed with the idea: Do I stay in this class or roll over and drift back off to sleep?
Then his teacher shared that all students would need to return back to school next week. All Jose could think was: What? Am I ready?
The landscape of public education has undergone a seismic shift, as school systems scrambled to reinvent public education after Maryland schools closed on March 16, 2020. Some systems provided their first wave of support via paper copies that were shipped or picked up by families for about two months. No one believed that it would last beyond two months, and then it did.
The second wave lasted for the remainder of the school year and into the summer with the central office curriculum teams working around the clock to create online resources for students who were attending four synchronous instructional blocks with one asynchronous day, with four classes each day. Every Sunday, these curriculum resources were delivered (from the central office team) to teachers so that they could provide instruction as they figured out how to master their Google classrooms or Canvas online instructional platform.
The third wave lasted from the beginning of the school year, in September 2020 and lasted through March 2021. Many Maryland teachers struggled to develop daily lessons using all of the technology tools that were needed to make their lessons come alive for students. Tools like Nearpod, Pear Deck, Zoom, Screencastify, and Kahoot. Regardless, many teachers watched so many students become disengaged in instruction and there were so many phone calls home. Eventually, some parents stopped taking their calls.
When schools began to open again in March 2021, we moved students back into schools in phases with some grade levels beginning first: elementary school students and students in Special Education programs first and secondary students later. Even when students began to come back, schools had to figure out how to balance their classrooms to comply with social distancing guidelines and maintain buses at 50% capacity. It all worked out because over 60% of the students were kept home by their parents and continued to attend virtual school.
Over a year and a half later, the next leg of the journey will be all about how parents and schools will be able to navigate the learning journey to make sure that students can be accelerated towards grade level expectations in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and other curricular areas. Many districts are exploring various intervention programs. However, they are also exploring something new: expanding tutoring support for students to individualize instruction to get back on track.
Some of the recent research by Brown University emphasizes the benefits of establishing effective tutoring supports for students, emphasizing the importance of small groups (3-4 students), frequency (at least three times a week), focus (aligned to the grade level curriculum resources), and scheduling (tutoring during the day has been found to be more effective). Time will tell as school leaders, teachers, parents, and students figure out how to navigate the shifting world of teaching and learning, as more people are vaccinated and the learning space shifts back to a normal brick and mortar setting. Who knew that schooling could be reinvented after doing school, basically the same, for over 200 years!
Early Childhood Education is a vital foundation for children of tender age. Not only are they introduced to various experiences, but they are also taught how to form and maintain positive social relationships, a sense of belonging, and developing specific skills to reach their full potential.
We see regular acts of racism, sexism, and prejudice being displayed among people of all ages in society. The need for greater diversity, inclusion, and equity is becoming more evident, from videos we see on social media to news headlines.
Raising a tolerant, accepting, fair and empathetic child should start from an early age. Incorporating equity and inclusion into the early childhood curriculum is one of the best ways to do this.
Equity is simply displaying the quality of being fair and impartial. On the other hand, inclusion is incorporating people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.
Educators incorporating equity and inclusion in the classroom will help them to combat prejudice and racial discord by supporting positive behaviors among students, fostering a sense of belonging for all students and their families, and teaching respect for everyone.
How Do Children Benefit from Incorporating Inclusion and Equity in Early Childhood Curriculum?
The benefits of inclusion and equity are numerous for all children. Schools including these vital lessons into their curriculum can help children to reach their developmental potential. We have compiled a list of some of the many benefits of successfully incorporating inclusion and equity.
Improved problem-solving skills
Develop positive self-image
Respect for others
Being accepting of differences
Being more understanding
May reduce bullying
Being able to recognize unfair and discriminatory scenarios
How Can your School Incorporate Inclusion and Equity in Early Childhood Curriculums?
It is no secret that children are more comfortable, grounded, and able to learn more when their school, classmates, and instructors respect their diversity.
Strategies that schools can use to successfully incorporate and promote inclusion and equity in early childhood curriculums include:
Use a multi-tiered system of support
Using this strategy involves Collaborating with early childhood special educators and other allied education and health professionals when needed. Facilitate each professional establishing a relationship with each child to maximize potential.
Provide high-quality early childhood learning resources that demonstrate a commitment to equitable outcomes for all children.
Schools can arrange budgets within their means to equitably meet the needs of children and staff. Recognize that high-quality programs will positively reflect the values, beliefs, and practices of specific children, families, and communities.
Develop opportunities for multiple voices with different perspectives to participate in decision-making.
Recognize that unspoken biases have often resulted in limited opportunities for members of marginalized groups.
Prepare current and prospective early childhood educators to provide equitable learning opportunities to all children.
Schools can ensure that educators understand the historical and systemic issues that have created structural inequities in society, including in early childhood education.
Involve children, families, and the community in the design and implementation of learning activities.
Involving children, families, and the community in learning activities will help children to embrace the idea of inclusion and equity. This will also help to build a sense of belonging with those involved.
Introducing and incorporating equity and inclusion into early childhood curriculums will benefit children and the instructors, family, and the wider community. This strategy will also help build a better future where people will practice more accepting and respectful lifestyles.
Every single day we are tasked with ensuring that our students are entering into our building safely, that they are to learn wholeheartedly, and that they get to experience a wide variety of knowledge along the way. In doing this, as educators one of the pivotal roles we play is to promote classroom conversations. These discussions, these special moments of discourse, are necessary to allow students the time to pull apart their own ideas, formulate their own opinions, and better understand others. We have seen the world swiftly change in the past year, more than we ever thought it would. We want to be sure to do our part to provide a forum of opportunity for our students to speak about real-world events. In doing this effectively, there are three main approaches that should be taken into account across grade and content levels:
Classroom rules and norms are a regularly occurrence, but we want to be sure we revisit them before conversations. Our students need safe community spaces to process information, so having set expectations for when students can speak, how they can address each other respectfully and mindfully, and how it can foster a positive classroom culture are all critical.
Role as a Facilitator
The classroom teacher needs to take ownership of the facilitator role. No matter what age your students are, it is easy to want to jump in and help a student clarify their own thought. But as a facilitator, as furthering this classroom conversation, it involves taking a big step back and not influencing or exerting an opinion or stance. Allow your young people to take the mic, to process their thoughts, and use their own words to inform you. This should be a big moment as they work through their own pieces of information, their own views, and find their footing.
As you wrap up these conversations, we want to be sure to tie back to those classroom norms and expectations. We are all growing, we are all learning, we are all evolving, from students to adults. Reassure them that while differences exist, it is the power of understanding one another and having respectful conversations that allows us to make change.
These necessary conversations establish and support the classroom community. They allow for relationships to thrive, for inspiration to occur, and for student engagement to be accelerated. It shows students that we know they are aware of what is going on in the world today, and we want to be there for them in any capacity that we can. It shows students we care.