Dear Educators, Parents and Partners,
Racial injustice has plagued our country for centuries, and despite progress in many sectors, people of color are still overwhelmingly likely to be subject to tragic police brutality and fatal incidents. The sad incidents of the past few weeks, exacerbated by those who fan the fires of hatred and racial inequities will leave another layer of scars on all our children.
Black and Brown people in our nation are far more likely to be infected and die from the novel Corona Pandemic. The massive layoffs drag down a high percentage of Black and Brown families already struggling behind white neighbors.
The extended school shutdowns will leave children of color even further behind their peers, and more likely to be home without adequate supervision; much less access to high speed internet and full screen devices essential to leaning during this unprecedented crisis. These same children live in the scrublands of book deserts during the best of times. With summer schools and community programs cancelled or curtailed; the inequities grow starker every day.
The indisputable fact is that bias and systemic oppression of marginalized communities are deeply intertwined with many aspects of our culture and society. This is just one more form of intolerable racism that we all must work to recognize and overcome
We at Kids Read Now believe it is critical for the future of our country that we collectively and proactively engage in the difficult conversations to define equity and take action to create a more equitable system.
When I was younger, belligerent neighbors vandalized our home and a week later I was screaming in terror in the Audubon ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated. A few years later, I was tear gassed in Washington at a peaceful demonstration that turned ugly with aggressive police presence. Sadly, this year feels like the 1960’s all over again.
We can, we will, we MUST do better.
Speaking up for the oppressed, working for justice, helping the disadvantaged is what we all need to do. Today more than ever.
Mailing 350,000 books to families over this extended summer is one way we strive for equitable home-learning, and assuring we deliver books to boost literacy, delivered to homes, overcoming the Covid quarantine measures.
We appreciate that our community of partners, educators and parents are committed to making a real difference.
My hope is that, together, we can help, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “bend the arc of history toward justice.”
A University of Wisconsin-Madison study has found that the Kids Read Now program decreases or eliminates the reading losses associated with summer break
(TROY, Ohio) Sept. 10, 2019 — According to a new study of the program’s efficacy, Kids Read Now (KRN), a leading supplemental reading program designed to combat summer slide, completely negates summer reading losses for low-income students when fully implemented. Estimated at two months of learning each summer, those losses accumulate over time.
Designed for K–3 students, Kids Read Now allows students to create a list of nine books they want to read over the summer from a vast library of educator-approved titles. In the spring, participating schools host a Family Reading Night to encourage parental involvement. Each student receives three books from their list, with a new book to be delivered to their home throughout the summer each time they report completing a previous title. Each book comes with a set of questions to assist students with comprehension and help parents connect with their child’s reading. Students who complete all nine books receive a certificate of completion, a reward, and a celebration in the fall.
The new study, led by Geoffrey D. Borman, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that “when students and parents take advantage of the full complement of 9 books delivered by KRN, the results are…equivalent to approximately 2.5 months of learning, or nearly 28% of the learning that takes place over a typical school year.”
“Our results indicate that the impact of Kids Read Now can more than eradicate the entire two months of summer learning loss experienced by low-income students,” said Borman.
Other key findings of the report include the following:
- The average impact of KRN among all participating students is equivalent to 1.7 months of learning, or almost 20% of a full school year;
- With full implementation [reporting 9 books read] outcomes showing an impact of 0.18 standard deviations, KRN has “essentially the same” impact as more intensive and expensive school-based programs, which have an average impact of 0.19 standard deviations.
“At a cost of 50 cents per day, which can be fully reimbursable with title funds, KRN is 98% as effective as summer school reading programs,” said Leib Lurie, the CEO of Kids Read Now, “making it an economical and effective supplement to summer learning initiatives that is available to all students, augmenting targeted summer programs where significant RTI is required, and where transportation challenges impact those who cannot attend traditional summer programs.”
To read the full report, visit KidsReadNow.org. To attend a webinar on the results of the study, visit https://www.kidsreadnow.org/study.
About Kids Read Now
Kids Read Now (KRN) is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization on a mission to help all students become proficient readers as they enter fourth grade. KRN’s in-home summer reading program was pedagogically designed to prevent summer learning loss, which is responsible for 65% of the learning gap between economically disadvantaged students and their peers. The program has provided more than 800,000 books to 60,000 students in grades K–3 across the United States at no cost to the students or their families. To learn more, visit KidsReadNow.org.
I was ten years old when I found myself gazing with wonder at the brass chandeliers, marble floors, carved woodwork and dozens of stern portraits gazing down on us in the ornate and imposing hearing room in the U.S. Capitol.
It was the 1960s and my mother, Ellen Lurie, was testifying before a joint committee of Congress about her work in Harlem and the South Bronx, where she was bringing to life a learning program that started in a grungy basement with a handful of kids whose parents needed lower cost daycare so they could work. Over the course of five years, the program had grown to serve 5,000 preschool children in dozens of basements and community centers in low-income neighborhoods. The team had added curriculum elements, homemaking advice, clothing drives, food banks and training for caregivers.
The surroundings might have been awe-inspiring, but my mother, who was under enormous pressure to obtain funding for this vital but unproven program, appeared unperturbed as she coolly addressed the members of Congress in her Jackie Kennedy-era finery, with a pert hat, big brooch, and tweed suit. As we left, my uncle, who had driven us down to Washington, asked my mother where she got some of the statistics she had set forth.
“I made ‘em up,” my mother replied defiantly.
My uncle, a lawyer who would soon argue (and win) a flag-burning case before the Supreme Court, was shocked. “But Ellen, you were under oath!”
She turned to him, raised her right hand, and said, “David, I swear to God, we’ve seen the results, and by the time these guys figure it out, we will have the data.”
She must have been persuasive; Congress funded that program as part of a new initiative called Head Start. And yes, over time, the data came through. Early learning matters. Over the past 55 years, Head Start has helped millions of children get a better start to education.
This was where I made lifelong friends from all backgrounds. But it was also where I learned the harsh reality of the rich/poor gap. Too many of my 5th-grade classmates could barely read, rarely spoke in class, and almost never showed any evidence of having done homework assignments. Some of them stayed home on assembly days because only one brother in the family had the mandatory white shirt and tie. Many had already given up and were drifting through school, like the debris we could see from our bus stop, floating down the horribly-polluted Hudson River.
A year later, I was in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem listening to Malcom X decry racism and urge followers to read and learn. Although he dropped out in 8th grade when a teacher sneered at a Negro’s ambition to be a lawyer, Malcolm later preached, “My alma mater was books, a good library …. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” Books and reading were his solution for escaping oppression and poverty. Then three shots rang out, silencing his voice forever. The assassinations of the tumultuous 1960s continued. I was hustled out of the building by my mother, but the images were seared forever.
I left my New York City childhood behind, but years later these memories came flooding back. In 2010, my fast-growing-but-not-yet-profitable company was in trouble. We had hired a few dozen folks for what we could then barely afford. These were hard-working, dedicated people from blue-collar families in our small Ohio town. Most had no more than a high school diploma. And they were struggling as the responsibilities and technical skills required grew exponentially.
We needed more mental horsepower. Unfortunately, college graduates were hard to find in our local labor pool. Fewer than 25 percent of the adults in our county (and generally less than 32 percent nationally) had a post-secondary degree—this in a decade in which 70 percent of all new jobs required one. Counties like ours were heading for the kinds of disastrous economic declines seen in Detroit and other rust-belt cities. Even a donation to enable a nearby college to open a campus in our county couldn’t fix the problem. Our college program paid for dozens of employees to get degrees, earn more, and bring greater value to the enterprise and their community, but we couldn’t get the funding to scale it, or develop local talent fast enough.
Despite the skills shortage, the company grew to become the nation’s largest notification service, serving 40,000 organizations, including over 7,000 schools and school districts. We reached 55 million Americans every week with voice and text messages to protect children, inform parents and engage the community. But finding qualified workers continued to be a problem. In fact, we ended up moving two Ohio offices closer to colleges, where it was easier to hire better-educated people. All of this was an indictment of the rural education outcomes in many parts of Ohio.
These three memories—my mother’s heroic efforts, the hatred of people who felt threatened, and the power of education to develop people who can drive business and community successes—drove me to dig deeper into the problem I saw: a widening achievement gap between rich and poor. I’m a terminally-aggressive problem solver and I believed there had to be a better solution.
With my wife Barb, a long-time elementary school reading and music teacher, I spent three years reviewing the literature and interviewing educators, experts, and parents to determine why poor kids and minorities couldn’t seem to get ahead. We visited a dozen cities and studied their programs and attempts to close the gap. Few were successful except for a handful of expensive programs that barely served a few hundred kids, and were similar to the college program my company funded: none could succeed across the board for a majority of children in a district.
We found that the primary culprit behind the achievement gap was the summer slide, that devastating and cumulative reading loss that many disadvantaged children slip into every summer. Their richer, whiter peers retreat to homes filled with books they can read and re-read all summer long. These wealthier children are more likely to discuss what they see, explore, and read with parents, who themselves read. They view books as portals into fantastic worlds of imagination, science, and history. They learn about different people and places, and they return to school in the fall with their skills intact, if not advanced.
The challenge was simple: Could we extend the benefits of Head Start type programs, which have served tens of millions of pre-school kids over the past five decades, into a viable, affordable, outcomes-driven program that could close the achievement gap by eliminating the summer reading slide? And could we do it for children of all colors, races, and incomes? We knew that if we succeeded, the impact could be staggering. If we could increase the number of college-educated adults, then companies could grow and thrive in our town—and in every American community. More workers would be able to support their families in dignity.
We raised a few million dollars to create Kids Read Now. We tried dozens of changes and different approaches—and kept getting better. More and more of our kids raised their reading scores over the summer. There are no magic bullets, just many small, connected steps that have led to a turnkey, in-home summer program that engages parents, excites children, and works.
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.
Information, once something that trickled into our lives through newspapers, radio, television, and encyclopedias, now pours into our lives at a staggering rate. We have generated as much information in the last two years as we have in the rest of human history. In one month in 2011 alone, the Library of Congress gathered 235 terabytes of data. That is enough data to hold approximately 79 million copies of War and Peace.
All of that information needs a filter. Fortunately, schools and communities have an incredible one: the library. Many people think that libraries are antiquated. They carry something called “books” that people can borrow. Some of the better ones may have a row of computers that still dial into the internet. In a pinch, you can even print there. If you need help, there is always a librarian there to help you work your way through the card catalog.
That is until you realize that over 250 libraries in the United States offer 3D printing services to their patrons. And have done so for several years now. Libraries are much more than storage spaces for information. They are dynamic spaces where groups of people come to learn, access resources, and build a life. Librarians are more than keepers of that information. Their wisdom can bring you to the right books, websites, and other materials that you could spend hours discovering on your own. They are informational tour guides.
Communities are built around and through libraries.
All of this is true for a school library as well. They could be even more important to this small, but diverse, population. With the increasing importance of test scores, investing in a school librarian is a no-brainer. Test scores in elementary schools with trained librarians increased by 35% in a Michigan study. Studies in other states, like Iowa, showed that an adequately funded and staffed library aided test scores as well.
Libraries provide another space for children to learn. They can help students navigate the internet, offer a quiet area for students to study, and encourage students to read. The staff, knowing what books a student enjoys, can help them choose books that are similar to their interests. Sometimes they are not even books the student knew they would like. Providing students books that interest them is another way to encourage students to read more. They dig into a new book they started to read in the library and end up not putting it down until they must. More reading, and reading books they choose, create better learners.
In some schools, the term “media center” has replaced “library” to describe this communal space. This shift reflects the ever-changing role of what the library can do within a school. Especially as learning becomes virtual, and students can access learning media anywhere they have an internet connection. Librarians show the students how to safely access and use school resources from home, or another space that has an internet connection.
While students are typically the ones utilizing the resources the library has to offer, they can be a pillar of support to teachers. Well-trained librarians are expert researchers. They can provide teachers with research tools and educational resources they would otherwise miss. Librarians that work with teachers offer a way to complement lessons in the classroom with displays and other resources in the library. They can also provide curious students with more in-depth knowledge of the subject through school materials.
The school library, like any library, can be a hub of communal activity for the school. A well-trained library staff with the right resources can do everything from improving test scores to inspire students to take learning beyond the classroom. It is an often overlooked resource that can be a critical component of student success. Head to the library soon and have a conversation with the librarians there. They are the ones that can will, within the deluge of new information the internet offers, show you how to surf through it with confidence.
Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico of Native American and Mexican descent, Jimmy Santiago Baca was raised by his grandparents until the age of five, when he began a two-decade rotation through various institutions, beginning with the orphanage where his aunt surrendered him.
Baca spent six and a half years in Arizona State Prison on a drug charge, including three years in isolation. He also endured a stint housed with prisoners on death row after he announced his intention to become literate, an ambition he says the prison regarded as dangerous.
Baca followed through on this intention, teaching himself to read and write, and finding his voice as a poet. He published his first volume of poetry in 1979, the year he was released from prison, and earned his GED later that year. Baca went on to write numerous books of poetry and nonfiction and has been recognized with some of the country’s most prestigious literary awards, including the Pushcart Prize, the American Book Award, and the International Hispanic Heritage Award. His memoir, A Place to Stand, was made into a documentary film that was released in June 2016.
Baca has devoted his post-prison life to writing and teaching others who are overcoming hardship and has conducted hundreds of writing workshops in prisons, community centers, libraries, and universities. As part of that effort, he has distributed thousands of books to incarcerated adults and youth. In 2005, he created Cedar Tree, Inc., a foundation that works to give people from all walks of life access to education and the opportunity to improve their lives.
Recently Baca spoke with Kids Read Now about the profound effects of illiteracy in childhood and beyond.
How do you get basic information if you can’t read? An awful lot of daily tasks require at least some reading.
Baca: One of the disastrous consequences of not having language is that you get absolutely everything wrong. When you can’t read, you have no idea how the world works. You assume so much because you’re living in this isolation of illiteracy. For instance, when I was a kid living in the detention center, we just assumed that everybody who was not part of the juvenile system just got things for nothing–that they didn’t work for their cars, or the things they had.
Ultimately, you’re at the mercy of other people who know more. You take one step wrong, and they shame you. And everything you do is wrong. That’s what turns people; that’s what criminalizes them.
That’s why I believe in good literature for children. Good books can help socialize kids who don’t have any other role models. Books can show them about the rest of the world and show them that they’re not alone– that it’s okay to express your feelings.
You find out that, yes, you’re going to be lonely sometimes–that you may not always be happy, but that you can get through it.
How did you learn to read? Was there a class in prison?
Baca: I taught myself. It wasn’t hard. I mean, people think it is, but it’s not. I picked it up right away. And when I began to pick up words, man, it was like “Wow.” It was like being an infant. The first time you read a word, it’s like the first time you smell. It’s the first time you see colors. It’s the first time you hear sounds. Everything had a firstness to it, a new beginning to it, and that just drove me to stay awake 18 hours a day. It was a passion. The fact that I could read something and then attach it to a person was amazing. I learned how to write a sentence, and I could attach that sentence to the guy living next to me. Eventually, I started writing poems.
How did things change when you could read and write?
Baca: The prison administration saw literacy as a threat. They knew that if you can read and write, you can explain things. I could do an analysis of what had happened and determine that they were wrong. They tried to shut me down; they put me as far away from the population as they could. But I still had access to books through people who somehow found my address and sent them to me.
Plus, I read all the books that circulated in the prison. Sometimes I would go from reading Hemingway to reading a pornography book. And it was really cool. I went from Mary Baker Eddy to Che Guevara. And it was like, “Wow, what a world. We have these people, man, and they have all these ideas.”
The only problem was when you’re in prison, if you have language, you don’t really have a lot of people to talk to.
What was it like when you were released?
Baca: Well, one thing is, as powerful as literature is, you quickly learn that it’s not reality, it’s just what the author set up. Say he writes about a poet who comes out of prison, and gets married and has a family, and gets hired by a university. Well, then, you expect that. But when you come out, you meet other poets and they’re all on starvation diets. And they’re living in little tiny apartments with no electricity. So right away your standards are set really high, and when you can’t meet those standards you find yourself disappointed, mostly in yourself. Plus, when you teach yourself to read in prison, you end up mispronouncing a lot of words and people correct you.
I also learned that whatever an author or poet writes, the individual writer can be totally opposite to that. A writer can sit down and write an entire book about the danger of doing drugs, and be the biggest drug addict in the world. But the other side of that is that writing can allow you to get beyond those shortcomings. It’s both requiem and redemption. Requiem in that you’re always dying, but redemption because writing can save you. It saved me.
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.
Kids Read Now, a 501C(3) nonprofit, was founded in 2010 to expand summer learning and eliminate the summer reading slide. Since its creation, this summer reading program has made an impressive impact on the tens of thousands of children that have participated. They have received books that they choose weekly, encouraging them to read by giving them material that interests them. Impacts that large are difficult to hide, and people have been taking notice. The Clinton Global Initiative was one of the first to recognize the outcomes of this program, followed by South by Southwest (SXSW). We are pleased to announce that we have been recognized by another group and have formed a national partnership with the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to spread the program to a broader audience and help even more students become lifelong readers.
The NSLA, also a 501C(3) nonprofit, is no stranger to the achievement gap. They started working with students in Baltimore in 1992, helping disadvantaged students stay motivated to learn. In 2001 they expanded and became the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, and then the NSLA in 2009. Their mission is “to deliver high-quality summer learning opportunities to our nation’s children and youth that help close the achievement gap and support healthy development.” They collaborate with local programs to make them more efficient and more affordable to the communities they serve. Not only do they work hard at the grassroots level, but they build national awareness of the issue. This effort pushes more resources into school districts to help all students keep pace with their peers. Their focus includes monitoring policies that could impact funds directed to those that cannot afford the loss.
Our NSLA partnership’s goal is to make our program more affordable to school districts that serve rural and urban populations. These two groups see the most challenges when it comes to accessing quality learning opportunities over the summer. In addition to the partnership with the NSLA, Kids Read Now is also working with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation (GKCCF) on a multi-year, 1 million dollar research grant which will further help school districts afford our turnkey program. Our program is also eligible for any Title I funding received from the government. We are always looking for ways to bring the proven, data-driven results of our work to any school district in need. One of our most important partnerships is with the communities that benefit from having children that are passionate about reading and education.
As we see the costs to school districts fall, we witness the number of students helped dramatically increase. In 2017 alone, our dedicated staff distributed over 80,000 books to over 12,000 children in thirty-four school districts. By the time we get to 2019, with the help of the NSLA and GKCCF, we are anticipating serving over four times that number. We have started in three states, and with the help of our partners, are looking forward to expanding and aiding more of our neighbors in the near future. Kids Read Now is honored work with the NSLA to support their goal of building more successful students through summer learning.
In 2014, the state of Ohio instituted the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.
Created in 2012 by local state Senator Peggy Lehner, this program is designed to ensure that students are underperforming in reading receive resources to help.
Students in public and public charter schools need to pass their third-grade reading proficiency test with a 77% before they are allowed to move to fourth grade reading. Failing that test means they have to stay with third-grade reading, but can be promoted to fourth grade in other subjects. This effort came after a decade of stagnant test growth by fourth graders. While it may seem like this legislation was enacted to boost test scores, there are much more important reasons to push students to read well by third grade.
Many educators, and other experts in the field, recognize third grade as a critical time for students. This time in their education is when they switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”
In Ohio, many school districts end reading classes after the third grade, though some extend them to fourth grade. Students who are not reading at grade level by the third grade are more four times less likely to graduate from school. Poor students who cannot read at grade level by that time are thirteen times less likely to graduate, according to a 2011 study by the American Educational Research Association. These are some daunting numbers, but there is a silver lining. When schools invest in early education programs, they can drop those the number of students needing individual plans to catch up by thirty-two percent.
To help schools improve student scores, some of the state budget is earmarked to bring in resources to help. And help is needed. Many children that are in the lowest percentiles of learning have multiple challenges to overcome. Some of them are transient. They may start in one school district, and end up in another one by the end of that year. This can make it a challenge to bring up test scores, as not every school has the same reading standards. Students may read at first and second-grade levels when they get to third grade, increasing the challenge for teachers. Children that live in houses with lower incomes have additional obstacles to overcome, as we have discussed in other articles.
In spite of all these challenges, there have been some encouraging results. In the first few years, schools have seen a 94% success rate of improving student reading scores. This has been a product of the extra focus on reading and the additional resources provided to underperforming school districts. The Ohio Department of Education has created a guide to help school districts understand the program as well as find ways to fund it. It is possible to spend Title I funds on outside resources that move students closer to the Third Grade Reading Guarantee goals. The early successes of this program are giving school districts using its optimism for the future of their students.
The impetus for building student literacy is typically school-related. Teachers and administrators want them to be successful in school because they know the importance of early education on the child’s future.
There are also the state-mandated goals that measure student achievement and can affect the school district in many ways. Beyond those two significant incentives, there is a third one that is important to the student. Low levels of literacy have an impact on the student outside of the classroom. And not just their ability to get homework done.
Coming from a home where the parents struggled in school can inhibit the growth of a student. Parents with low levels of literacy tend to have lower incomes. With fewer resources, there is a higher probability of housing and food instability. Students without this stability concern themselves less with the grades they are getting and more with how will they provide the familiy their next meal. Possibly where they will be staying that evening.
Parents working hard to make ends meet do not have that extra time to spend speaking with their children or helping them with homework. One indicator of student success is their vocabulary as they come into school. In a study done by Hart and Risley, students in low-income families are exposed to just one-third of the words that students in professional families. And vocabulary is essential to student growth.
With time being at a premium in low literacy homes, the learning experiences children have there can also be limited. There are very few trips to bookstores, museums, libraries, or other areas students can have educational experiences outside of the school.
Those trips may be limited by geography; lower income houses are typically not located near these centers of learning. Another limitation is their connection to the community that can help them find these unique places.
Those with low literacy work hard to hide their lack of reading ability. They use isolation as a way to protect their secret, not being involved in their community or school. Staying separate from these resources may mean they miss valuable opportunities to help their students, or themselves, outside of school.
Staying healthy can also be a challenge. From reading labels on food to understanding the medicine a doctor prescribes, low literacy has an impact the general well being of a family. Even common health issues can be exacerbated when medication is not used correctly, causing the student to miss more time from class.
They are either ill themselves, or they may not be able to leave home because of a sick relative. Missing this time can put students further behind, adding to any frustrations they may be having in school.
Schools offer a unique opportunity to break this cycle of illiteracy. Building a love of learning in school may inspire the rest of the family to improve their literacy. Siblings may be drawn to mimic what their brother or sister is doing, and become interested in reading themselves.
They may become the readers in the house, helping parents interpret bills or introducing them to new places to go in the area. Getting a parent to build their skills, through inspiration from a child or working with them personally, is a mechanism that can stop that vicious cycle.
For many children, going to school is just one part of their daily ritual. They grumble get out of their comfortable bed, have breakfast, and are transported to school for a day of learning and spending time with friends. They receive their assignments for the day, then head home to complete them before they head to bed and get ready to complete the cycle the next day. That is the ideal: a stable base for children to build their education upon.
That is not the reality for may children. As of 2013, most students come to school from low-income households. They can leave for school malnourished and tired from sleepless nights in unstable homes. Heading to school can be dangerous as well, especially if their home is in a high crime neighborhood. School can add to the struggle when they cannot stay awake, are focused on their hunger instead of lessons, and have no time at home to complete assignments. Such a fragile base is difficult to build an education upon.
There are ways that the school itself can be a place to help students from low-income or unstable homes educate students in subjects beyond the three Rs.
One way was suggested over two decades ago by Dr. James Comer, a child psychologist from Yale University. He believed that “no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” He developed a process called the Comer Process, known by some as the School Development Program. It is a system that looks after the whole student, helping them develop social and life skills in school along with being educated. Teams are built to help students manage their lives inside and outside of the classroom.
It takes a major commitment to apply the Comer Process to a school. There are many other options for schools to ensure that students are being supported for the time they are there.
- Building Relationships – You do not need to treat students as friends, but you do need to give them respect. A trusting relationship is a big step in discovering what is happening outside the classroom that could affect them inside of it.
- Formal Communication – Unless the home is highly religious, formal speech is not often used in low-income families. Most tests over the years are written formally, which makes them harder to understand for these students. Building this form of vocabulary is incredibly important over the long haul.
- Understand their Resources – By understanding what support a student has, arrangements can often be made by the school to offer what they do not have. Time and tutoring are usually the two things most students in low-income families need most.
- How to be a Student – Being a student is a skill that is not inborn; it is learned. Asking questions, planning assignments, and preparing for tests may not be taught in the home. Especially if the parents struggled in school. But it can be taught with other lessons.
Low-income students offer schools the opportunity to be a haven from their day to day life. They can help them with life skills they may not find at home, adding stability to what can be a very unstable existence. A stability to help them become lifelong learners.
Language philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
Wittgenstein knew that his world was limited to the words he could use to describe it. This has been borne out through more methodical tests, like those performed by Johnson O’Conner. For over two decades he performed a variety of experiments to establish what factors turn a person into a success. The one factor that Johnson found to predict success, taking other variables into account, was vocabulary size. The larger the vocabulary, the better chances that the person would find their way into the C-Suite. The earlier children begin building vocabulary, the better their chances are for success in life.
Children start to understand words at 12-18 months, absorbing everything they hear. As they get older, they benefit from having their vocabulary expanded with more complicated words. By the time they are ready to start preschool and kindergarten, their vocabulary is advanced enough that they need to have discussions that improve their word knowledge. Kindergarten is the time when vocabulary differences become evident. A child from an affluent family will understand nearly twice the words that a child from a poor family. This is a gap that, if left unchecked, affects student learning.
Fortunately, many strategies are available to close that gap.
- Teach children words directly. Vocabulary lists belong in the classroom. Teaching students five to ten words a week, especially ones that are related to other lessons, vastly improves student vocabulary. This helps them build their language skills over time, up to 6,000 more words through graduation.
- Teach children words indirectly. Vocabulary lists help expose students to new words. Lists give a child a decent cushion, but they need more than that to succeed in higher education. Expand vocabulary to all lessons by using words with similar meanings through the day.
- Use words in context to make them interesting. Teaching vocabulary without context makes it difficult to understand their meaning. Putting vocabulary list words into sentences and other lessons provide examples to students how the word is used. This technique is another way to build their confidence in the words they are using.
- Repeat words over and over. Students require hearing the word over and over, up to fifteen times before they become comfortable using them. With all of the repetition of certain words during the day, their vocabulary will grow without them even knowing it.
- Encourage use of new vocabulary. Have students draw pictures of the new words. Play a game using the words as answers to questions. Activities that make students more comfortable with the vocabulary that is taught improves the chances they absorb and use those words.
These small but necessary steps build a foundation for reading. The more words a student has in their possession, the easier it is for them to grasp new concepts in class. Building vocabulary encourages them to explore new concepts, opening them up to new ideas, that expose them to new words. A virtuous learning circle develops, giving every student a chance at success through high school graduation and beyond.