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
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!
In 1994, my 6-year-old son Nicholas failed first grade. Testing revealed he could read ten words, showed no strengths, and had a low IQ. The prognosis was dire, his future bleak. Finally, the diagnostician called him: “The worst child I’ve seen in twenty years of teaching.”
I had the option to remove my son from school for six short months. Teaching him myself, I began by using a recommended standardized set of books, titled Success for All. Their focus was on decoding of isolated words. They too, were an abject failure. Nicholas appeared to have no memory for letters, sounds, or words.
It was at this point, I was given some unforgettable advice from my mother-in-law: “Lois,” she said, “make learning fun.” Now I have no books and a son to teach. I felt totally responsible for his learning. Having a blank slate forced me to examine my son’s learning. What can he do? Does he have strengths? I recalled some previous successful learning activities. He can see patterns and he can rhyme words.
Poetry. Write a poem. But I don’t write. I, too, am dyslexic. Despite this being an enormous challenge for me, I felt pushed – no, driven to try something—anything.
Putting rhyming words together into a simple poem was easier than I imagined. The act of writing a poem transformed our little classroom, as I read the poem to him. Nicholas laughed. We found more rhyming words, illustrated the poem, and finally, he recited the poems from memory to his family.
Every day, I had a new poem waiting for Nicholas. He blossomed. Instead of panicking about learning, he recalled the words in the poems. Poetry provided a cocoon for letters and sounds. Illustrating the poems engaged us in multi-sensory activities and in reciting and performing words as we searched for deeper meanings.
But it was the poem to learn the oo sounds as in book, look, and cook which metamorphosed our learning. Instead of talking about cooking, I wrote about Captain James Cook, one of the last great explorers. Through poetry, we explored the changing map of the world to which Cook contributed greatly.
“Who came before Captain Cook?”
“Who came before Christopher Columbus?”
His questions stumped me. I could not answer many of them and I thought these were not the questions that come from a child with a “low IQ.” Using my son’s learning, I became a literacy specialist, teaching children who failed to learn to read in normal settings. I developed the knowledge and skills to turn around children’s lives.
What can parents do?
Turn fictional texts (books or short stories) into plays or dramas. Why? The child is connecting the text with actions. Book language varies from oral language. By re-writing the story, the child is now the “author” and can change the words in the text to use their words.
Read and recite poems. Poetry is the foundation for phonemic awareness. (Phonemic awareness is the ability to play with letters and sounds.) Building on rhyming poetry, the parent enables the student to hear the rhyming words and sounds.
Sing and enjoy songs, rhymes, & limericks. Use the beat and the words to engage the child with words and actions.
Show language as “dynamic.” Find, read, and tell jokes and riddles. Jokes and riddles often depend upon wordplay. Many students with learning disabilities see the world “concretely.” They struggle with the abstract nature of language. Enjoy the language and wordplay and teach children how to “look” for additional meanings.
Use audiobooks! Audiobooks or reading to a child is the most powerful way to engage the child in literature.
Above all, enjoy learning. Make it a game. Find time to enjoy learning together. When children “fall in love” with books and learning, it becomes an activity they want to do. That’s when learning happens.
How technology and district pressure are ringing the anxiety bell for teachers
COVID-19 has changed our education system in ways that very few people could have dreamed. Last spring, most schools in the United States closed their doors to thwart the spread of the deadly virus. This fall, some school systems opted for remote learning or a combination of remote and in school learning known as the hybrid model. Both approaches left teachers scrambling to become experts in technology and learning apps. I can say this, having been an educator for 31 years and a reading specialist for the past 22 years, teaching reading and writing skills remotely or through the hybrid model to emergent and transitional readers has been a monotonous task.
Though remote or hybrid, teachers know the goal of any lesson is to keep students interested and engaged, so learning will take place and outcomes can be measured. Unfortunately, fun, engaging reading lessons I prepared to target specific skills for my K-3 students have gone awry or been interrupted due to technological quirks. Incessant feedback from iPads, iPads going dead during lessons, iPads freezing, microphones unexpectedly muted or students dropped from the meeting have severely disrupted learning. That is truly no fun when teaching the Orten-Gillingham method which depends on fidelity. Oh, my goodness! Anxiety alert!
Pointing out these tech issues are in no way a slight to the dynamic, almost superhero job that my school’s ITC has performed keeping us all well-connected, but technology surely has been an issue that sets off the anxiety bell in teachers. Though these tech interruptions have lessened, ensuring that struggling readers are attaining the essential skills that will create future success in reading has been nerve wrecking to me.
The anxiety that many teachers feel may also be due in part to the demands placed upon us by school districts. I have spoken to teacher friends across the country who say that their districts seem not to take into account the technological challenges teachers face, having a shortened school day, students not always making themselves available for learning or attending class regularly plus the emotional distress factors that we are all facing as human beings because of the pandemic.
In my district, teachers are still expected to write student intervention plans, provide the interventions, do progress monitoring, and get the same results while managing under more time constraints. On top of that, we have to make sure that children are prepared to take upcoming standardized tests when some of them do not even cut on their microphones and cameras or participate in class. The anxiety bell rings louder!
A friend of mine who teaches in a nearby county told me the stress of preparing kids for high stakes testing is just unfair to teachers as well as to students. How is this going to go smoothly when there are kids whose parents have opted strictly for remote teaching? School districts need to recognize that things are different because of the pandemic and teachers are not superheroes nor magicians. We are trying our best to focus on social and emotional needs of students as well as teaching state standards but the added pressure of preparing students for standardized test while teaching remotely or hybrid is stress inducing. I hear Billy Joel’s 1980s hit song, “Pressure,” ringing in my ears!!!
Testing and knowing how children are performing in school is necessary. But in the age of Covid-19, calm down a bit please. Things are different and should be acknowledged and treated as such.
For more information about Kids Read Now’s K-3 Summer Reading Program, please contact us.
It’s not enough to say that home libraries are important. We need to take it a step further and ask why home libraries are important and how we can help build your student’s home library.
Why a home library?
Let’s start with this: “Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class,” 20-year research study in 27 countries. That’s a three-year academic head start! The study also found that the effect is greatest on economically disadvantaged students. The Annie E. Casey foundation reports that 79% of economically disadvantaged kids are below proficient in reading by fourth grade. Compare that to the number of books found in their homes, and we have a pretty good argument for a concerted effort to build home libraries among our most vulnerable population.
Kids love to collect. They collect to own, organize, and prioritize – skills that will pay lifelong benefits. The impact of a home library is far-reaching. In fact, elementary teacher Justin Minkel found through his project called The 1000 Book Project, students who built home libraries actually transformed the family literacy culture.
Summer Slide – “The way we’ve always done it.”
I have had hundreds of discussions with educators on the best way to build a summer reading program. I learned that school districts have employed the same four ideas for many years, yet the results remain the flat 65% of fourth graders are below proficiency. These practices include:
The Book Bus: Seats are removed from a bus to create a mobile library. These are generally short-lived for two reasons: 1) It’s very difficult to sustain the logistics involved and 2) the kids who need it don’t come.
The Bag-O-Books: A bag of books is sent home on the last day of school with instructions to read them. Often there is no follow-up or follow-through and the bag gets set aside and forgotten.
Encouraging Library Visits: Access to transportation and the limited number of libraries is a hurdle for many.
Summer School: Traditional summer intervention is the costliest solution. Summer school can cost up to $3000 per student (Wallace Foundation) and those that need it most often stay home.
Learning loss elimination through home libraries – BEST PRACTICE
Mailing books to kids every 10 to 14 days removes many of the hurdles mentioned above and builds anticipation while also building home libraries. Allowing kids to choose the titles in their library creates ownership. Kids Read Now provides weekly resources to parents; this makes it easy for them to engage with their kids and increase comprehension. It can be as simple as a Discovery Sheet with four questions specific to the book. These best practices are all supported in current research on mitigating learning loss like this one from The University of Wisconsin – Madison. The power of a home library cannot be understated. If you build it, they will read.
I’ve always been able to create “pleasant contrast” by escaping through the magic of a great book. But what if you’re a second-grader living in a two-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of a housing project in Philadelphia with your mom, 2 siblings and another family of three. There’s a TV but mom’s boyfriend is in charge of that. You’ve got the basics: food (sort of), air, water, and shelter but where are the books? There ARE no books. Nothing to read or feed your imagination. Nothing for your mind to dream about. No “refuge, relief or pleasant contrast” to your current situation. You’re surviving in a Book Desert.
The Global Book Desert Map sponsored by Unite for Literacy is a grim depiction of our current situation. It also may offer an explanation as to why 79% of low income fourth graders are not proficient in reading. (Annie E. Casey Foundation – 2020) Seventy nine percent. Let that sink in. Whose fault is this, anyway? Let’s pass a law that requires kids to read by third grade. That’ll work, right? It hasn’t yet and this idea continues. Let’s encourage mom to take them to the library and give her a robust (and costly) summer school option; we’ll even send the book bus to the housing project on Thursdays from 9 to 10. Oh, wait… we’ve been doing all of this for decades and still: 79%.
Maybe it’s time to dig deeper into why our kids are struggling. Could access and opportunity possibly have anything to do with it? Mom is working two jobs and relies on public transportation. What if access and opportunity arrived in the mailbox every 10 days? Can a mailbox really be an oasis?
Kids Read Now is committed to making this a reality. Kids create “refuge and relief” by choosing the books that will arrive each week. Mom receives a text (in her native language) with four key comprehension questions to ask. Everyone wins. Join us as we focus on rain not blame. Let’s rain books on to these Book Deserts turning them into an oasis of opportunity and possibility for every child in America, not just the lucky ones.
What are the priorities in your school district? Although sometimes we get lost in athletics and safety, especially during this unprecedented time with the COVID-19 pandemic, improving reading skills across the district is the most important priority for the success of all students. Often money gets in the way of purchasing research-based programs that work, like Kids Read Now. Funding is available through millions of dollars in state, federal, local, and corporate grants. Let us examine some ideas to help you meet your goal of improving reading skills for students.
Title I Funding
Title I funding is typically the best source and where districts receive the majority of their grant money; however, it is not the only source, and can be combined with other federal and state grants. Although it’s not the only source, it’s the best place to begin due to the size of the dollar allocations. It is important to check data and make changes where this funding is not making an impact.
Are you continuing to do the same thing year after year and getting the same results?
Is your summer school providing data that shows reading improvement for students?
Are you providing summer help for all students to improve reading skills?
If not, stop now and reallocate this funding. Providing a turn-key solution that makes connections with families and extends the school year through the summer for K – 3 students has benefited many students through the Kids Read Now program. The results are proven through independent research.
Other Important Sources
Beyond Title I grants, there are many Federal, State and Local additional grants available and especially currently. These funding opportunities include Federal grants: IDEA to support students with disabilities, Title 3A to support Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, Title 4A to improve student academic achievement, and Title 5B for rural school districts. States also allocate funds to school districts through grants for the Coronavirus and Health and Wellness; these can be used to extend the school year and make up time lost in the spring of 2020 due to the shutdown of schools.
Community and local funds are additional funding sources. These include Rotary, Optimist, Kiwanis, United Way, PTA, PTO, Elks, Eagles, Moose, Veterans organizations, and local foundations and businesses. All of these are good sources to provide funding and volunteer assistance in literacy instruction; especially for Kids Read Now, a nonprofit organization. When organizations and community members know that Kids Read Now extends the school year to close the learning gap that exists for students living in poverty, engages parents and family with a result proven strategy, they are willing to give. It is usually as simple as asking and providing a budget or statistics; both of which are provided by Kids Read Now. It is a great choice with proven results through independent research!
There has never been a better time to engage students through the summer, while limiting in person contact, using summer downtime to provide literacy support that is turnkey, data-driven and offers real time student analytics.
How are Title I funds spent in your school district? This is a question that should be revisited and examined each year. Often educators are overwhelmed with the many requirements of spending Title I funds and the never-ending sales pitches for programs that can best utilize the money. The easiest decision is to continue to spend the grant money the same way that it has been spent in the past.
When revisiting the purpose of Title I, Part A – Improving basic Programs, the money is provided as supplemental funding to state and Local Education Agencies (LEA’s). The funding specifically provides resources to LEAs and schools with high percentages of students from low-income families. Title I resources are intended to improve education quality and help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards with a focus on students that are most at risk of failing.
If you continue to spend Title I funds the same each year, please stop and reflect on these questions: Is there research to support that decision? Are there results or improvements in student’s literacy skills that are documented with data? Are students better prepared to succeed in high school and beyond? It’s also the year that you should ask if a change in spending Title I funds should occur due to the many changes that have taken place in educating students during the pandemic.
Title I funding offers substantial assistance in providing best practices in literacy instruction and improvement. Educators know that improvement of students’ reading skills is at the core of reaching the desired outcomes and improvements for at risk students. Teacher and student days are packed full, especially with remote and hybrid learning options that educators are now facing with the pandemic.
A proven way to gain time is to engage students throughout the summer. Kids Read Now extends the school year to close the learning gap that exists for students living in poverty, engages parents and family with a result proven strategy. Kids Read Now is eligible for use of Title I funds. In fact, it’s a great choice with proven results through independent research. Now is the perfect time to engage students through the summer, while limiting in person contact, using summer downtime to provide literacy support that is turnkey, data-driven and offers real time student analytics.
We call it the “achievement gap” – but isn’t it really an opportunity gap? A closer look at socioeconomic reading disparities — and how we can help your child to close the gap
For decades, efforts to reduce the racial divide on test scores has relied on federal funding to supplement efforts to boost scores among minority students, and this has seen results.
However, regardless of race, the fact is that rich and poor Americans are living, learning, and raising children in increasingly separate and unequal worlds. The income gap is huge, has not narrowed in 50 years, and leads to a large gap in test scores. For high school children, this gap averages four years between students from the highest 10% and lowest 10% income levels.
Students in poverty generally have fewer opportunities to succeed. They are less likely to have two parents at home; their parents are less likely to have a higher education. Children living in poverty generally attend schools with less experienced teachers, are less likely to have books in the home, and are more likely to have food insecurity and home life disruptions. Every one of these opportunity gaps have been shown to hurt learning progress and outcomes.
Two other situations slow down learning progress.
Ubiquitous learning loss experienced by low-income students over the summer
Recent analysis of reading tests given to most low-income students finds that learning loss over the summer varies dramatically. Our experience at Kids Read Now confirms this. Kids, regardless of race, income, or English language proficiency at home, can and do achieve markedly higher learning gains over the summer when parents are engaged, ensure kids read the books that they choose and we provide, and set time to discuss those books.
Talking about books, using the Discovery Sheets inside every book we mail boosts skills significantly. Each Discovery Sheet has questions and activities specifically written for the book. They ask kids to compare what they read with other knowledge they have and different characters they know (text-to-text and text-to-world), to discuss their feelings and experiences (text-to-self), and to go beyond the covers to write and draw stories that spring from the book to the world beyond (imagination/creativity).
Independent research shows that for less than 10 cents a day, kids in our program increase reading scores by 1-2 months over summer. The COVID-19 extended out-of-school time and difficulties with remote learning make this type of mailed reading intervention even more critical.
Rapidly growing dependency on screen time replacing reading time
Tweens spend 5-6 hours a day on screens and teens 7 hours or more on screens. We endorse a simple helper here: #ClickCaptionsON! is a great way for students in 4th grade and beyond to continue reading via captions while absorbing screen content. A dozen studies have shown this will build their reading abilities. Watching a show with captions on for just 30 minutes is the equivalent of reading 30 pages of a 5th grade book.
Closing the opportunity gap begins by having schools using parents as viable, valuable learning resources. Building and focusing on parental engagement processes are proven to work. These “parent training interventions” cost far less than traditional intervention programs that have not narrowed the gap in 50 years.