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.
Like developing anything important, building better students requires providing the right environment. This is an easier task when the children are in school. A school is filled with teachers, staff, and materials that serve the purpose of encouraging students to learn. Outside of the classroom, that encouragement is not always present. Those materials are not always available when they are at home. They do not need desks, whiteboards, or even computers to spend time learning at home. All they need are home libraries.
Having a library at home encourages students to spend time reading, and learning, outside of the classroom. Richard Allington, author of Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, states that a handful of self-selected books could have a dramatic impact on a child’s learning over time.
In a multi-year study, he discovered that just adding 12 self-selected books to a home every summer can have the same learning impact that summer school offers. When books are convenient, it is more likely those books will be used by the students and parents. It creates a home environment that shows that reading is encouraged, especially when there are books within easy reach at all times. Helping parents build home libraries have other benefits as well:
- Continuous access to books – It can be difficult for parents, especially those in low-income families, to take their children to a local library over the summer. By developing home libraries, students have easy access to books all summer long.
- Topics of their choosing – Everyone is more likely to read books about topics that pique their interest. Teachers and parents can work together to build a home library of books that will encourage children to read not only through the summer but during the school year.
- Familiarity with the material – Children enjoy things that are familiar. They love their favorite toys and clothes. That same love of the familiar can apply to books, especially a favorite character in a series. A beloved character can expose them to new vocabulary over the course of that series, elevating their understanding of the language.
- Builds family literacy – Reading can be contagious. Once one member develops a passion for reading, it can spread to siblings and other people in the home. This has a multiplying effect of bringing more books into the home, creating a virtuous cycle of overall improved literacy for the family.
- Improved academic performance – Research shows that, even when wealth and location are taken into account, more books in the home leads to greater academic performance. Owning 500 books can add 3.2 years of educational gains over time, according to Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Even the addition of one book can have an impact on educational gains.
Creating a friendly environment for students to read changes the environment for the whole family. Even in areas where there may not be a bookstore or community library available, home libraries offer a bridge to literacy. It extends a small part of the learning environment into every home.
Study after study shows the effect education can have on girls and young women in shaping their futures, raising their quality of life and protecting their children. Providing resources that improve women’s literacy ultimately makes the world a better place.
The benefits of an educated and literate society are undeniable. The benefits become evident when the spotlight focuses on the importance of educating women.
According to the United Nations, women make up a majority of illiterate adults in every region globally. They account for 479 million, or two-thirds, of the global adult illiterate population. The largest gaps are in South Asian areas where illiteracy rates are 23% for men, but 42% for women. In Northern Africa, it’s 17% male and 34% female. Sub-Saharan Africa sees a gap of 31% male vs. 47% female.
On a global scale, the opportunities for improvement are evident. This disparity, while not as extreme, exists in the United States. Our women also face an apparent gender-based literacy gap.
Illiteracy in women in America is reportedly 17% compared to a 10% rate for men. There’s just as much opportunity here to leveraging the closing of the gap toward furthering female empowerment.
The Council on Foreign Relations maintains that as efforts are made to improve girls’ education globally, the outcomes can positively affect economic growth, political participation, health and sustainable families.
The Council’s Center for Universal Education’s report details the benefits of making sure that children of all genders are part of an overall education effort. It specifically emphasizes the extra benefits that come from focusing on female education.
[bctt tweet=”In Norway, the presence of women in municipal councils led to direct increases in childcare coverage.”]
When women receive equal access and opportunity for education, GDP has been known to bloom. Research shows that countries with higher literacy rates have higher gross national products.
The Council on Foreign Relations references a study done in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa that found a possible causation that an equal education among men and women between 1960 and 1992 led to nearly higher annual per capita GDP growth.
According to the United Nations, literacy capacity gaps have contributed to the obstacles holding women back from assuming leadership roles in their local governments. As the gaps close, women become empowered to take on more leadership roles.
Research on local councils in India found that in areas where females led councils, the number of drinking water projects in areas was 62 percent higher than in those areas where males oversaw the councils. In Norway, the presence of women in municipal councils led to direct increases in childcare coverage.
Health, Wellness, and Disease Prevention
Education serves a crucial role globally in preventing the spread of disease and lowering infant mortality rates. The Council on Foreign Affairs indicates their research shows an extra year of a woman’s education reduces the risk that her children will die in infancy by up to 10 percent.
Education also helps prevent the spread of AIDS among children through what the offers what the World Bank refers to as a “window of hope.” A recent study of a school-based AIDS education program in Uganda found a 75 percent reduction in the likelihood that children would be sexually active in their last year of primary school.
Literacy plays a huge role in achieving smaller and more sustainable families globally.
According to the United Nations, one in every three girls globally is married before reaching the age of 18. In regions where girls receive more than seven years of education, wedding dates become delayed by four years.
A study in Brazil showed that illiterate mothers have an average of six children, according to the Council on Foreign Affairs. Mothers who are literate choose to have fewer than three children. This education makes them better able to care for and invest in their children’s well-being.
When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life. – Kofi Annan
The Council on Foreign Affairs has set forth a list of goals and expectations to help close the literacy gap globally and start educating more women. Their research has shown that as these efforts become more common throughout regions globally, including those in the United States, societies will see the benefits. Studies like these show that the efforts of literacy programs like ours, and similar ones all over the country, have a decisive impact on the future. Particularly for the literate girls we are educating today.
Children absorb much more than we give them credit. And they start to absorb it far earlier than we think they do. Studies show that babies are taking in information as early as in the womb, and their development only accelerates from there. As early as four months your child was reacting to the sound of your voice. They were not processing the information, but they did understand the tone you were using. Speaking to your child introduces them to the phonetic components of the language, components they will spend time trying to reproduce. It is not a coincidence that many toddlers first word is “No.”
Reading out loud to babies, while they may not understand the story, benefits them in other ways. The pictures in the books give their young eyes an area to focus. Reading with inflection can introduce them to different emotions and ways to use the language, as well as speech patterns. Children that are read to, and spoken to, at a younger age often have a larger vocabulary. There is a positive association made with reading; it is a comfortable place and they spend time with daddy or mommy. At younger ages (up to one year), the material itself does not matter since they do not understand the words. You can catch up on your own reading as you read to your child!
I will defend the importance of bedtime stories to my last gasp. -JK Rowling
Taking the time to read with your child is an important step in reinforcing the benefits of reading. You do not have to have a great deal of time to get into this habit. A little bit a bedtime, a few pages after dinner, or maybe some time on the weekend while at a sibling’s special event can be all the time you need to start developing a love of reading. Even while shopping or cooking there are ways to incorporate reading into the activity! Make trips to the library a part of your weekly errands. Many libraries have programs to help young readers find books they will enjoy, and you can read the books together.
As they get older and want to read, the role of the parent shifts from reader to teacher. You can help them sound out words they do not understand, and explain the meanings of those words. After they are finished reading the story, ask them questions about what they just read to help them with reading comprehension. When you start to discover the books they enjoy reading, there is an opportunity to help them find similar authors. Websites like What Should I Read Next and Your Next Read can aid in finding books that are similar to the ones they enjoy. By selecting books that your child enjoys reading, it encourages them to read more.
One of the many benefits of Kids Read Now is the opportunity to find the books your child enjoys and reading it with them over the summer months. We know that book selection is critical in encouraging reading, and we send only the ones you choose. Those books are sent directly to your home on a regular basis, along with lessons to help you both get the most out of each book. They offer the ability to either read along with your child, or to allow them to read to you. Building the enjoyment of reading is something that is developed over time, by modelling the behavior early and reinforcing it as they grow. Before you know it, you will have another avid reader and lifelong learner in the house!
John Chapman was born just before the start of the American Revolution in 1774. His father was a soldier as well as a farmer, passing his wisdom to his son. John was attracted to planting orchards and set off on his own to start planting orchards through the land. Partially because he loved to work the land, but he claimed a good deal of property as well. On the frontier, if you planted fifty apple trees, you could claim the area. John owned over 1,200 acres of land doing this through five states, earning him the nickname Johnny Appleseed. He patiently developed the land he claimed, selling most of it to settlers as they moved out west. The seeds Johnny planted and quietly cultivated gave Americans a hardy apple they could call their own. The seed was the key; had he used other methods, the final result may not have been as robust or enduring.
Spending time reading with your child builds more than just literacy; it builds a love of learning.
Like Johnny discovered, focusing on development in the early stages of the process helps to develop more balanced outputs. There has been a growing movement in the country to focus more resources on early education, learning from preschool through third grade. These years are considered some of the most critical in the development of young learners. In a study done at the Perry Preschool by HighScope, there were significant benefits shown to early education. Beginning a student’s educational journey as young as age three can help increase their chances to graduate college, earn more over the course of their life, and avoid trouble with the law.
There are no barriers for starting to teach children early. Playing educational games at home or just reading to children during the day can help with a child’s development. Even parents with busy schedules can find short periods of time to read with their children or incorporate learning into daily activities. A study done by Rhode Island Hospital saw that reading to children as young as eight months old can improve their vocabulary and love of reading. Spending time reading with your child builds more than just literacy; it encourages a love of learning.
Teachers that work with younger students observe other benefits from early education. It improves attention span and concentration, two skills that are critical in learning as we go through school. It relates learning to a pleasurable experience, which in turn makes school that much more alluring. It will give your child the confidence they need to acquire new lessons and explore for themselves. And children like to copy what their elders are doing. If they see parents and grandparents reading at home, it is more likely they will want to learn to read as well. Books also expose children to a wider vocabulary than most adults use with toddlers and kindergarteners.
If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people. – Confucius
Johnny Appleseed nurtured his orchards until they were ready to sell to fresh-faced settlers heading west. It was a combination of his efforts while the trees were young and the new owner’s efforts to maintain and improve the crop that gave us the apples we have today. Kids Read Now, through encouraging students to learn at home at a young age, offers parents a low maintenance way to help children develop essential learning skills. Skills that will create lifelong learners and help give them opportunities to thrive in their education.
As we head into the Labor Day holiday, we pause and look at the impact of the American worker. Appearing at the end of the 19th century, laborers have spent the first Monday in September enjoying a well-earned day of rest. Productivity has steadily increased since the Bureau of Labor Statistics first started measuring the data in the 1950’s. Manufacturing has been returning to the United States over the last few years, and minimum wages have been increasing around the country to help low-income workers earn a better salary. Add a reasonable 4.9% unemployment rate to the mix, and the job picture in the United States is a rosy one. Our highly skilled and well-educated labor force plays into those impressive statistics. Labor and literacy have a special bond, especially as our economy hums forward in the Digital Age.
The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker. -Helen Keller
Entering a workforce that increasingly uses data and technology can intimidate those with lower levels of literacy. Barriers workers have to scale to find a job start with reading the application. According to the Employment Policy Institute’s (EPI) 2010 data, over 27 million Americans do not have the reading skills needed to fill out an application. Computerized applications create another barrier to getting a job. Almost two-thirds of people at the two lowest levels of literacy are not familiar enough with a computer to input the necessary data.
The barriers are not just in the reading and comprehension of the application. The National Commission on Writing published a study titled “Writing: A Ticket to Work or a Ticket Out…”. Employers indicated that writing a weak resume or errors on an application was an instant rejection for many jobs. The study suggested that the stable, salaried jobs went to workers that proved they could read and write well. Hourly jobs required less reading and writing and went to lower-skilled employees. They are also much less stable. The unemployment rate for those with lower reading skills can be twice as high as those who can read.
When a job does open up for someone with below average literacy, they begin to experience other setbacks. They earn weekly than their better-educated peers. According to the 2002 “National Center for Education Statistics: Adult Literacy in America” report, workers at the lowest levels of literacy make $110 less per week than even average readers, and up to $450 less per week than the highest performing readers. They are employed less during the year, working only nineteen weeks.
The low wages reflect their inability to scale the corporate ladder to better paying managerial jobs. Jobs that require more reading, writing, and reporting than a minimum wage, minimum skill job. With the push for a higher minimum wage, employers will hire the candidates with the highest skills, driving some of those jobs further out of reach. Many occupations we consider to be low skilled require the ability to work a computer or read data. We have to prepare a workforce for the challenges of the increasingly knowledge-based economy.
The unemployment rate for those with lower reading skills can be twice as high as those who can read.
Kids Read Now has been celebrating the labor our students put in this summer to improve their reading skills. Investments we are making in their education now will pay off for them while they are in school. Those same advantages will continue when they leave it to go into the workplace. Students that build their reading skills are laying the foundations to improve their future. Spend a little time on Labor Day relaxing with friends and family after all the work you have done for the year, put aside some time start that book you have wanted to read. You might find a child wants to sit down and read with you.
Rote teaching is bad. Experimentation is good.
Getting children to learn more, quicker, and at a younger age, has been a top priority among Parents and Policy Makers. This is great. However, the trouble is that a majority of people think that most learning is done in a school setting. Parents should then act like teachers while teachers and policy makers need to justify their investment in early childhood education. Creativity, playtime and imagination corners get replaced by standardized testing and rote teaching. Learning at home then becomes focused lessons to produce particular kinds of knowledge. But what about play as a learning tool? A way for children to make new discoveries through experimentation and observation?
We don’t want to produce a bunch of students that just know how to imitate but also know how to innovate.
Children have been learning and developing for thousands of years, before the invention of schools. Observation is one of the key components to a child’s ability to learn and think critically. “Experimental studies show that even the youngest children are naturally driven to imitate.” Multiple studies have been done where adults will manipulate a particular item while young children observe. Whether it be turning a light on in a box or performing various combinations on a toy to make music. Without any explicit instruction, the young children observed and created solutions to a problem. They did not just copy mindlessly but carefully observed which motions worked to make something operate. This is “active learning”. When kids play with new toys they act like scientists performing experiments. They want to know what will give them the best results and teach them about how the world works.
Teaching has its benefits, but explicit instruction can also be limiting. When a child recognizes he or she is being taught, they are more likely just to reproduce what has been shown instead of creating something new. The kind of teaching that comes with schools and parenting these days pushes children more towards imitation and away from innovation. This information age demands creativity, but we are limiting the creative outlets for children. We need to let them learn as much as we need to teach them.
“To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition.” – Albert Einstein
It’s important for kids to think and wonder. Which is why our copyrighted discovery sheets inside each book are designed to elicit comments, ideas, and exploration. To make books come alive as learning tools. Even before kids can read, they learn about physics, motion, sequencing, processes, emotions, storylines, and different behaviors. A child’s naturally evolved ability to learn is more suited to creatively solving a problem than the teaching methods over the last two centuries. We want to encourage learning, innovation, and creativity. By allowing them to come to their conclusions, they recognize that there can be more than one way to problem solve or even think.
Kids Read Now, and elementary reading programs are designed to get parents involved in a child’s learning while letting kids observe and learn on their own. We want to produce students that know more than how to imitate. We want them to discover how to innovate. The Discovery Sheets are guides for exploration, and there is no one right answer. Rote teaching has its place, but it does not teach everything. We need to stop limiting creative outlets for children and start letting them explore their minds. Let young children get into everything and let them actively learn.
WDTN reports on the Kids Read Now summer reading program. (video no longer available)
WHIO reports on the Kids Read Now summer reading program (video no longer available)