By Leib Lurie | Categories Parents | August 26, 2018

When children first begin to explore reading, it is not a solitary activity. Parents spend time with their children teaching them to read.

The lessons can be as straightforward as sitting down and reading with your children or as subtle as getting them to read recipes or books about characters in other media. It can even be modeling the behavior, like reading after dinner or while on vacation.

Children absorb the actions of the people that are close to them. The more activities a parent or other family member can model for them, the better off they are when they begin school.

The involvement of parents in education is critical and often underestimated. The more involved parents are in the education of their children, the better their outcomes as students. When parents get involved, it lowers the barriers to where learning happens. Children start to see that discovering new information is an activity that can occur anywhere, from watching a teacher at a chalkboard to a parent reading with them at the kitchen table.

Lowering barriers is not only something to do for children. Encouraging parental interaction is essential. Many parents, especially ones from low-income families, do not have the best memories of their time at school. That makes them very reluctant to engage with teachers, even if it is in the best interest of their children. Teachers will always be intimidating to some parents, so building relationships with them are crucial.

Even parents that enjoyed their time at school may be hesitant to approach teachers. They want to make a good impression on their children’s teachers as well. Making sure they know the goals of any meetings or interactions allows them to prepare, putting them at greater ease.

Interactions between parents and teachers, like open houses or parent-teacher meetings, are occasional opportunities to exchange information. Offering a weekly email, Facebook page, or website where parents can see what their children are doing provides a much more constant stream of feedback. This open communications channel keeps parents informed about what their children do in school. This channel becomes an open invitation to interact. Information about classroom events, whether positive ones or warnings, school activities, and homework students bring home becomes part of the communication. Sharing events happening with the family, providing the teacher with the ability to prepare for possible behavioral issues or acting out.

Research consistently shows that two of the greatest indicators of student success involves the socioeconomic status of the parents and parental involvement with their education. Parents who offer support at home for students give them a better chance to succeed later in life. Teachers support this effort by helping parents understand what they can do at home to reinforce their lessons. Anything from showing how the lessons apply to the real world to go over the assigned homework. Involving the parents in education creates another layer that brings students that much closer to becoming lifelong learners.


By KRN Admin | Categories Educators | July 27, 2018

Richard L. Allington is a professor of education at the University of Tennessee and has served as the president of the International Reading Association, president of the National Reading Conference, and as a member of the International Reading Association Board of Directors. He is also a director of Kids Read Now. Anne McGill-Franzen is a professor and director of the Reading Center at the University of Tennessee.

The reading achievement of American elementary school students has been slowly but steadily rising for at least the past half-century. Virtually all children have benefited, but those who have benefited the least are children from low-income families—poor children.

The reading achievement gap between kids from families in the 10th and 90th percentiles of income widened from .90 to 1.25 standard deviations, an increase of 40 percent. At the same time, the reading achievement gap between black and white kids shrank from close to 1.25 to less than .75 standard deviations. American schools have been doing a better job of developing the reading proficiencies of minority children, thus narrowing the minority/majority reading-achievement gap while at the same time losing ground as poor children compared to wealthy children do even worse today than they did in 1970.

The rich/poor reading gap and summer reading loss

It’s tempting to explain away the reading gap between rich and poor children as simply a function of inadequate schools, but the problem is more complex than that. Barbara Heyns documented the rich/poor reading achievement gap in the Atlanta public schools nearly forty years ago. She reported that academic growth during the school year was roughly comparable for both groups of children. The big difference was that children from middle-class families generally gained more reading proficiency during the summer than children from low-income families. In fact, children from low-income families actually lost reading proficiency during the summer months. It was during the summer months that poor students lagged behind their financially- advantaged peers.

A 2007 study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University reached a similar conclusion. The researchers there found that the cumulative gains across the elementary school years in reading comprehension, as measured on the Reading Comprehension subtest of the California Achievement Test (CAT-R), was 191 points for children from low-income families and a very similar 187-point gain for children who were financially better off. Indeed, the poor kids actually gained more reading growth in the elementary school years than did their financially-better-off peers. The researchers noted that, “Such parity hardly accords with popular (and some professional) depictions of poor children’s schooling …” In other words, the identification of failing schools as the root cause of poor reading skills among low-income children, based on student reading achievement, is fundamentally wrong. The schools attended by most children from low-income families produce just as much growth in reading achievement each year, as do those award-winning suburban schools. These results mirror the achievement patterns reported by others.

The researchers go on to note that, “Poor children in Baltimore may be progressing in parallel with better-off children during the school year, but that does not mean they are performing at the same level at year’s end. To the contrary, at the end of elementary school they lag far behind, which we attribute to two sources: They start school already behind, a deficit that their good school-year gains do not erase; and during the summer, when they are cut off from the school’s resources, they lose ground relative to higher-SES children.”

So what was it about summer that caused such different outcomes? During those months of vacation, children were not attending school and had to rely on family and community resources in developing reading proficiencies. But as studies have shown, low-income families own few books and live in neighborhoods where few books are available. Worse, children from poor families also attend schools where the supply of books is both smaller and older. Since it is primarily poor children who experience summer reading setback or summer reading loss, it’s reasonable to ask if this summer reading setback results from the limited access that poor children have to books. That is, if you own few books, and if your neighborhood does not have a public library or a bookstore, one might ask: Where will poor kids locate books they might read during the summer months?

A strategy for eliminating summer reading loss

Our study was designed to ease poor children’s summer access to books by providing them with books they voluntarily selected. The children were completing first or second grade in the initial year of this study, and we provided book fairs for three consecutive summers. Three years later, at the end of third or fourth grade, we compared the reading achievement of both groups, using the scores from the state-mandated FCAT assessment, and found that the Books children scored almost a year higher in reading proficiency than the control-group children who had not received any summer books.

Our summer books intervention cost roughly $50 per child per year, well below the cost of providing a summer school program for these children, yet we eliminated summer reading loss! While this did not catch these children up to grade-level reading achievement, it did make the rich/poor gap substantially smaller.

The students in our 2010 study were primarily poor, urban, African-American children. We are currently replicating our earlier study with primarily rural, poor, white children from East Tennessee. The goal of this replication is to see whether we can obtain the same positive effects on reading achievement with a group of children who differ both racially and geographically. The Coalition for Evidence-Based Education Policies gave our earlier study a “near top-tier” rating and indicated that a successful replication with other poor children would move our summer books distribution program to the Top Tier rating, an endorsement that should result in an expansion of summer books programs in high-poverty communities.

Our work is the only longitudinal summer research that has been done with poor children. Others have reported on single-year free summer book studies and also have found positive effects on the reading achievement of poor children. Thus, it is our expectation that our current study will also l find positive effects on reading achievement.

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


By | Categories Challenges | July 6, 2018

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

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

Consider the following summer favorites for learning moments:

 

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


By Leib Lurie | Categories Educators | June 13, 2018

The summer slide is starting this week for most Ohio students.

But it’s not the slippery steel slope kids enjoy on the playground. It’s the downward slide of skills, especially reading skills, that affects all children when they stop learning.

They start sliding backward. Children can lose two to three months in reading skills over the summer. The drop is especially pernicious for  kids in K-3 grades who must learn to read so they are better prepared in fourth grade to read to learn.

The longer summer lasts, the more most children slide, and disadvantaged children are sentenced to the steepest downward slope, lacking the adult-led interactions and nontraditional, but effective learning opportunities that their well-off peers experience.

These opportunities include frequent reading with a parent, weekly trips to libraries, and the availability of dozens or hundreds of books in the home.

Thanks in large part to the summer slide, fewer than 40% of Ohio fourth graders are proficient in reading.

Sadly, the Ohio state legislature will soon debate a new bill designed to make the problem worse.

Introduced by a senator from Lorain County, the bill will greatly benefit Cedar Point and Kings Island amusement parks, which are dependent upon high school students for summer help. The bill will allow students still in high school to extend their availability to work beyond the end of summer. This will allow families to continue spending money at the parks into September.

Setting up the milk bottles at the arcade or hawking cotton candy might be a good summer gig. However, the ramifications of extending a student’s availability to work such a job — and extending the summer break which causes students to fall further behind in learning — may result in this being the only “career” that student can aspire to.

The introduction of this bill would only make the summer slide more closely resemble the steep drops at the Cedar Point roller coasters.

P.S. I’m visiting Germany and Austria this week, where reading skills are much higher. And summer break is only six weeks long.


By KRN Admin | Categories Challenges | June 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the role of employers in these programs?

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Leib Lurie | Categories Challenges | May 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


By Leib Lurie | Categories Challenges | May 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Leib Lurie | Categories Challenges | May 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By KRN Admin | Categories Educators | April 30, 2018

Anna Quindlen is a novelist and journalist whose work has appeared on fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists. She is the author of eight novels and several nonfiction books. While a columnist at the New York Times, she won the Pulitzer Prize. How Reading Changed My Life, from which this selection is excerpted, explores the importance of books in her life and their vital role in society.

There was always in me, even when I was very small, the sense that I ought to be somewhere else. And wander I did, although, in my everyday life, I had nowhere to go and no imaginable reason on earth why I should want to leave. The buses took to the interstate without me; the trains sped by. So I wandered the world through books.

I went to Victorian England in the pages of Middlemarch and A Little Princess, and to Saint Petersburg before the fall of the tsar with Anna Karenina. I went to Tara, and Manderley, and Thornfield Hall, all those great houses, with their high ceilings and high drama as I read Gone with the Wind, Rebecca and Jane Eyre.

When I was in eighth grade I took a scholarship test for a convent school and the essay question began with a quotation: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” Later, over a stiff and awkward lunch of tuna-fish salad, some of the other girls at my table were perplexed by the source of the quotation and what it meant, and I was certain, at that moment, weeks before my parents got the letter from the nuns, that the scholarship was mine. How many times had I gone up the steps to the guillotine with Sydney Carton as he went to that far, far better rest at the end of A Tale of Two Cities?

Like so many of the other books I read, it never seemed to me like a book, but like a place I had lived in, had visited and would visit again, just as all the people in them, every blessed one—Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Jay Gatsby, Elizabeth Bennet, Scarlett O’Hara, Dill and Scout, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot—were more real than the real people I knew. My home was in that pleasant place outside Philadelphia, but I really lived somewhere else. I lived within the covers of books and those books were more real to me than any other thing in my life. One poem committed to memory in grade school survives in my mined. It is by Emily Dickinson: “There is no Frigate like a Book/ To take us Lands away/Nor any coursers like a Page/ Of prancing Poetry.”

Perhaps only a truly discontented child can become as seduced by books as I was. Perhaps restlessness is a necessary corollary of devoted literacy. There was a club chair in our house, a big one, with curled arms and a square ottoman; it sat in one corner of the living room, catty-corner to the fireplace, with a barrel table next to it. In my mind I am always sprawled in it, reading with my skinny, scabby legs slung over one of its arms. “It’s a beautiful day,” my mother is saying; she said that always, often, autumn, spring, even when there was a fresh snowfall. “All your friends are outside.” It was true; they always were. Sometimes I went out with them, coaxed into the street, out into the fields, down by the creek, by the lure of what I knew intuitively was normal childhood, by the promise of being what I knew instinctively was a normal child, one who lived, raucous, in the world.

I have clear memories of that sort of life, of lifting the rocks in the creek that trickled through Naylor’s Run to search for crayfish, of laying pennies on the tracks of the trolley and running to fetch them, flattened, when the trolley had passed. But at base it was never any good. The best part of me was always home, within some book that had been laid flat on the table to mark my place, its imaginary people waiting for me to return and bring them to life. That was where the real people were, the trees that moved in the wind, the still, dark waters. I won a bookmark in a spelling bee during that time with these words of Montaigne upon it in gold: “When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, it seems to me to be alive and talking to me.” I found that bookmark not long ago, at the bottom of a box, when my father was moving.

In the years since those days in that club chair I have learned that I was not alone in this, although at the time I surely was, the only child I knew, or my parents knew, or my friends knew, who preferred reading to playing kick-the-can or ice-skating or just sitting on the curb breaking sticks and scuffing up dirt with a sneaker in summer. In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself. More powerfully and persuasively than from the “shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments, I learned the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. One of my favorite childhood books, A Wrinkle in Time, described that evil, that wrong, existing in a different dimension from our own. But I felt that I, too, existed much of the time in a different dimension from everyone else I knew. There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books, a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but was never really a stranger. My real, true world. My perfect island.

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


By Leib Lurie | Categories Results | April 12, 2018

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.