Each weekday, Reading Rockets gathers interesting news headlines about reading and early education. Please note that Reading Rockets does not necessarily endorse these views or any others on these outside websites.
Note: These links may expire after a week or so. Some websites require you to register first before seeing an article.
Louisa Moats is frequently quoted for describing the teaching of reading as “rocket science.” Teaching children to read is complex work that requires knowledge of reading science and of the child as a reader. If teaching reading is rocket science, books are the rockets sending children to places we can often only dream of visiting. Librarians will always be needed to bring the world of books to life for children. They have skilled expertise to support children to apply their literacy skills while also developing a love of reading. As the field continues to make sense of the science of reading, we need school librarians to continue to expand the literary landscape available to children.
Teaching students the neuroscience of emotions helps normalize emotional responses while empowering young people with the science of why we have big feelings and how they happen in the brain. In biological terms, emotions are our brains’ response to stimuli or experiences. While some are certainly more pleasant than others, emotions aren’t good or bad. All emotions are information.
To help connect educational innovations with the learners who want and need them most, the America’s Languages Working Group is launching a first-of-its-kind online portal: Model Programs and Practices Advancing Access and Equity in US Language Education is a registry of programs that can be emulated and adapted by on-the-ground efforts across the country to introduce students from diverse populations to effective language instruction. The portal collects advances in pre-K–12, college and university, and community-based language education, specifically the advances that improve access for more of the nation’s neglected learners and languages.
One small town experiments with new messaging platform to reach families that don’t speak English at home. The requests for translation from families of Tussing Elementary School in Reynoldsburg, OH, ranged from simple reminders that parents needed to sign a form to helping cope with medical emergencies. But during the pandemic, when communication with families at home became even more difficult, the Pickerington Local School District decided to try something new: the TalkingPoints translation app.
Getting your little ones to read daily is just as important as what they read. Reading diverse and inclusive books offers a powerful opportunity to teach your child about empathy and the world around them. Utah Library Association President, Rita Baguio Christiansen, said representation is something that helps to form a child’s identity. “Books are mirrors, and windows and sliding doors. We want all children to be able to see themselves in books and experience other experiences, other cultures, and backgrounds,” she said.
When I think of the parents I’ve interviewed in the past two years, some of the most affected in the early days of the pandemic were those whose children have learning disabilities or differences. Remote school was hard for everyone, but it was particularly difficult for families whose children — 14 percent of all American public school students — needed additional support to learn. As the majority of students return to some semblance of normal, I decided to check back in with parents of kids with learning differences.
If, for some reason, you happen to find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious about matters personal, professional or geopolitical, a new hotline offers advice on how to deal with those big feelings. “If you’re nervous, go get your wallet and spend it on ice cream and shoes,” a distinctly young-sounding voice enthusiastically advises. At various points since it became operational late last month, about 9,000 people an hour were calling PepToc, a hotline dispensing the wit and wisdom of students at West Side School, a small primary school (enrollment: 147) in rural Healdsburg, Calif., about 70 miles north of San Francisco.
Rates of children’s physical inactivity, misbehavior, and unmet health needs shot up during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic alongside concerns about parental stress, according to a new analysis of federal data on child well-being. Meanwhile, the numbers of children diagnosed with depression and anxiety stayed on pre-pandemic trendlines, growing steadily between 2016 and 2020. In findings with significant implications for the work of schools, researchers at the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration examined a trove of parent-reported data collected between 2016 and 2020. They analyzed five-year trends and looked for statistically significant increases between 2019 and 2020 in an effort to identify problems that may have been worsened by the pandemic and the continuation of troubling patterns that predate the national crisis.
As researchers involved with early care and education, we should be pleased that President Biden’s first State of the Union address underscored his administration’s commitment to public universal preschool. His plan could provide access for millions of children and families. Yet, our excitement is tempered by concerns that children will not thrive if we put more “school” into preschool. We urge policymakers to move away from the belief that young children need two more years of “school” before kindergarten. Preschool experiences can help set the stage for children to flourish academically, but an overemphasis on teacher-led instruction of school-readiness skills may do just the opposite. The early childhood brain evolves to flourish not through rigorous schooling, in any traditional sense, but through exploration, interaction and conversation. Access is critical, but so is giving young children classrooms full of warmth, support and meaningful activities.
Two years ago this month, schools closed their doors in 185 countries. According to UNESCO, roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren worldwide were out of school. It would soon be the biggest, longest interruption in schooling since formal education became the norm in wealthier countries in the late 19th century. At the time, I spoke with several experts in the field of research known as "education in emergencies." They gave their predictions for the long-term implications of school closures in the United States based on the research on previous school interruptions caused by war, refugee crises, natural disasters and previous epidemics. Two years on, schools are open and masks are coming off in most places, restoring a feeling of normalcy. So, how have these predictions played out? Let's take a look.
Less than three years ago, students at Minchinbury Public School were struggling to read and interpret even simple texts. Principal Rebecca Webster said she knew something had to change and the western Sydney school embarked on a new literacy program which focused on the explicit teaching of phonics. The final piece of the puzzle, Ms Webster said, was strategic support provided by the Education Department last year to improve comprehension and vocabulary. Initially, not all teachers were convinced, but Ms Webster said the results made it clear it worked.
"Blue" traces the color through time and around the world: from Afghanistan's lapis lazuli, made into jewelry, ground to create eye shadow and paint, to the indigo plant grown on plantations in India and Bangladesh, soaked in water and used to dye fabric. In Italy, Brew-Hammond writes "from the 13th century onward, some artists began reserving blue to paint the robes of Mary, the mother of Jesus." Blue was illustrated by Daniel Minter, who says he uses the color in most of his work. "It's my go-to color. A deep, deep blue," he says. "A lot of the people in my paintings have tones of blue within the skin. And I use that to show the depth of color within our skin. And that beautiful blue that goes straight all the way to black."
Halfway through the first school year using an overhauled literacy program, Richmond’s Nystrom Elementary is beginning to see some early signs of success. The 500-student Bay Area school obtained a waiver from West Contra Costa Unified that allowed it to discard the district’s previous reading curriculum, which has been criticized for not focusing enough on phonics. It replaced the program with one that has a greater emphasis on phonics, paired with research-based classroom practice in an attempt to bring every student to grade-level reading. Thus far, the school has seen “growth across the board” on students’ reading skills, said principal Jamie Allardice. And an increasing number of students are expected to end the year on track, he added.
A growing number of children’s book authors and literacy activists have been pushing for more bilingual books for kids, like “Para Todos.” That objective resonates with many bilingual households, particularly in California, where more than a quarter of residents speak Spanish as a first language. A number of academic studies in recent years have shown that bilingual books help improve literacy levels among immigrant families where English is not spoken at home, especially when the stories highlight diverse characters. “Having access to books where you feel represented or you feel heard and validated is a great thing to have at such a young age,” said Belen Delgado, education policy program associate at the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a grassroots activism hub with several chapters in California.
When Françoise Mouly’s children were learning to read, she schlepped a suitcase full of comic books from her native France to the United States to read to them. “With comic books, [children] get the pleasure. It’s not like a bit of medicine,” she says. The combination of engaging tales, funny pictures, and language children can grasp while learning to read is propelling a booming market for early readers. Comic and graphic novel formats are driving the popularity of these books for fledgling book enthusiasts.
TheCitywide Digital Library began in the summer of 2020 to create a collection of diverse and engaging digital books to support students and teachers navigating remote learning. By the end of 2021, NYC DOE students had borrowed more than one million ebooks and audiobooks. The digital collection includes more than 20,000 unique digital titles, including fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, and cookbooks, all in multiple languages. Those titles are accessible to every student grades K–12, who can log in with a single school credential through the Sora reading app on their computer, tablet, or smart phone. Not only does it make using the system simple, students can keep track of everything they read.
This year, I’ve worked hard to make my classroom a happy place for my students, who come to class looking for some sense of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic world. I ask myself the following questions: What are my students’ favorite activities? What draws the most engagement in the classroom? What can I do to make these occurrences more frequent? These are the places I have seen joy emerge, and providing more opportunities for this to happen helps me keep going and stay focused on the essential part of my job this year—creating a safe environment where students can find joy in learning even in challenging times.
Yale researchers have found that prolonged school disruptions, such as those endured by so many children during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in a significant loss in reading abilities for disadvantaged children. This was particularly true for readers with weaker skills, children often found to have dyslexia, who account for about 20% of the population. The researchers also found, however, that intensive, evidence-based intervention can reverse these negative effects.
The kindergarten crisis of last year, when millions of 5-year-olds spent months outside of classrooms, has become this year’s reading emergency. As the pandemic enters its third year, a cluster of new studies now show that about a third of children in the youngest grades are missing reading benchmarks, up significantly from before the pandemic. In Virginia, one study found that early reading skills were at a 20-year low this fall, which the researchers described as “alarming.”
To give students an academic boost after two years of pandemic schooling, Denver Public Schools is spending federal and state coronavirus relief money on high-dose tutoring — three times a week for at least 30 minutes — for students in both math and literacy. Test score data shows Denver students have gaps in their learning. For instance, just 46% of Denver students in kindergarten through third grade were reading at grade level or above this fall, according to district test data presented to the school board in December. That’s down from 56% in fall 2020 and 53% in fall 2019, before the pandemic.
The teaching of grammar in primary schools in England (a key feature of England's national curriculum) does not appear to help children's narrative writing, although it may help them generate sentences, according to new research. The authors suggest the curriculum should focus more on what helps children to develop their writing skills at different points in development, such as focusing on teaching approaches such as sentence-combining, strategy instruction and emphasizing the processes of writing.
After two years of pandemic disruptions to students’ reading progress, schools nationwide are scrambling for ways to help them progress faster. Small-group instruction in reading is one of the most commonly used approaches to differentiate learning, but studies suggest that traditional ability-based classroom groups don’t always work and the structure of those groups can make a big difference in their effects, both on students’ reading achievement and their feelings of connection. Districts looking to use small reading groups can draw some lessons from other recent studies.
Educators looking for resources, lessons, and programming possibilities for Women's History Month and International Women's Day (March 8) can find plenty of free options online.
Costly independent evaluations have come to play an outsize role in the diagnosis and treatment of numerous disabilities, from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to autism to dyslexia. Depending on the scope, the evaluations can involve up to two days of testing, interviews and observation with up to a dozen doctors and experts. And that’s even for disabilities that are relatively common: An estimated 9% of American kids have ADHD. Dyslexia hinders a person’s ability to read words correctly and efficiently, with between 5% and 15% of the population likely affected. The costs can make it more complicated and expensive for whole swaths of Americans — particularly families with lower incomes and those living in rural areas — to access desperately-needed special education services.
Shirley Hughes, a British author and illustrator whose picture books about the quotidian dramas and escapades of children entertained and reassured generations of young readers and their parents, died on Friday at her home in West London. She was 94. She was perhaps best known for “Dogger” (1977), in which a boy named Dave loses his beloved stuffed toy when he’s distracted by a school fair and the prospect of an ice cream cone. Drama ensues, relayed in Ms. Hughes’s direct, prosaic sentences. After a couple of mild cliffhangers and an intervention by Dave’s older sister, Dave and Dogger are reunited. Ms. Hughes often expressed concern about the growing pressures on children. “They always have something to do,” Ms. Hughes said in an interview in The London Telegraph in 2017. “It is difficult to protect them from being overstimulated. My whole idea is to slow them down and get them to make a leisurely examination of a picture at their own pace.”
Shirley Hughes, the author and illustrator whose everyday stories of early childhood cast a happy glow across generations of family life, has died aged 94, her family has said. Over a career that spanned 70 years, Hughes illustrated and wrote some 60 books, winning BookTrust’s inaugural lifetime achievement award in 2015, and being voted the most popular winner in the first 50 years of the Kate Greenaway medal for illustration for her picture book Dogger, which told the story of a little boy who is left distraught when his beloved toy dog turns up at a jumble sale.
The strategy has been shown to contribute to increased academic performance and reduced chronic absenteeism. The information teachers glean on the visits can be used to incorporate students' interests and preferences into lessons. The main goal is to start the school year with positive home-school connections. Those positive connections can lead to increased parent involvement, higher student attendance rates, a reduction in implicit biases educators and families may have, and even a willingness to discuss more difficult topics like academic or behavioral concerns if those arise during the school year.
While measures such as masking and isolation mean temporary discomfort or inconvenience for most people, their consequences for still-developing young children are more mysterious, and possibly more significant and lasting. Children with speech or language disorders offer perhaps the clearest example of these murky trade-offs. Pandemic restrictions vary by state, county, and school district, but I spoke with parents in California, New York, Massachusetts, Washington, New Jersey, Iowa, and Maryland who said their children’s speech therapy has been disrupted—first by the loss of in-person therapy and then by masking requirements, in places that have them.
Teachers can make small changes to amplify language opportunities that create pathways toward success for English learners. The suggestions include: infuse instruction with peer-to-peer discussion and exploration; offer adapted or engineered texts when reading materials are dense; provide daily opportunities for written expression in all content areas with the use of scaffolds and accommodations; and utilize classroom resources.
President Joe Biden has a message to Americans: Consider becoming a tutor or serving as a mentor at your local school. “The American Rescue Plan gave schools money to hire teachers and help students make up for lost learning,” Biden said during the State of the Union address Tuesday. “I urge every parent to make sure your school does just that. They have the money. We can all play a part: sign up to be a tutor or a mentor.”
More than 1 in 3 children in kindergarten through grade 3 have little chance of reading on grade level by the end of the school year without major and systemic interventions. That’s according to a new study by the curriculum and assessment group Amplify, based on data from more than 400,000 students in kindergarten through 5th grades who participated in the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, which Amplify administers. The research shows that though students have begun to recover lost academic ground in the last year, big holes remain in students’ fundamental reading skills.
When Colorado’s kindergarten enrollment plummeted during the first year of the pandemic, people wondered: Where did the kids go and will they come back? A year later, many young students have returned to public schools. The rebound hasn’t restored statewide kindergarten enrollment to pre-pandemic levels, but the trend line is positive. At the same time, first-grade enrollment continues to decline — partly because more families opted for kindergarten even if their children were age-eligible for first grade.
We spoke with a handful of child development experts about what parents, teachers and other caregivers can do to help prepare and protect kids from all the scary news out there, whether it's fighting overseas, a school shooting, devastating wildfire or a global pandemic. Advice included: limit their exposure to breaking news; ask: "What have you heard and how are you feeling?"; give kids facts and context; "Look for the helpers"; and take positive action together.
More young elementary students are at-risk of falling behind in learning to read than two years ago, according to a report from Amplify that analyzed performance results from the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills assessment. The 2021-22 mid-school year assessment results show 47% of kindergartners and 48% of 1st graders were ready for core instruction in early literacy skills results, down from 55% of kindergartners and 58% of 1st graders in 2019-20.
For millions of parents who don’t speak English, navigating their child’s school system can be a behemoth undertaking. They are constantly getting important missives from school—from field trip permission slips to report cards to information about college applications or financial aid—that they may not understand. It’s a reality that Marifer Sager is working to change in the Portland, Ore., school district as the senior manager of the language-access-services and multicultural affairs department. Sager oversees translation services for the 47,000-student district, which is home to families that speak more than 130 languages. In that role, she makes sure that all districtwide written communications go out in the five most prominent non-English languages that are spoken at home—Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Somali, and Russian—and that those missives are clear and culturally appropriate.
We often teach the way we were taught. When I became a language specialist, I parroted the well-meaning intentions of my teachers by pulling multilingual learners (MLs) out of their classes to receive dedicated English instruction. But impact and intention are two different things. Pulling MLs out resulted in their being labeled as “other” by their classmates and receiving a watered-down curriculum. Now I have come to realize that co-teaching is a more equitable model, where MLs can remain in the class with their peers to receive grade-level instruction from both the content or homeroom teacher and the language specialist.
I was heartened to hear recently about New York City schools Chancellor David Banks’ plans to open a school specifically for students with dyslexia. A new school for kids with reading challenges and other learning disabilities is what many parent advocates have been waiting for. It is highly unlikely, however, that it will be available in time to help those of us who have suffered through an already broken system that has been further hobbled by the COVID crisis.
What’s a librarian’s role in school when children can no longer go to the library? That’s a question many school librarians across the country had to grapple with when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools into remote learning in March 2020 and they had to figure out how to continue serving students and teachers as the K-12 landscape abruptly changed. Nowhere was that disruption more widespread than in the country’s largest school district, New York City, with its 1.1 million students. For Melissa Jacobs, the director of school library services in New York City, it was a golden opportunity to rethink how her staff supports instruction for students and teachers.
Young children learning to read — especially Black and Hispanic students — are in need of significant support nearly two years after the pandemic disrupted their transition into school, according to new assessment results. Mid-year data from Amplify, a curriculum and assessment provider, shows that while the so-called “COVID cohort” of students in kindergarten, first and second grade are making progress, they haven’t caught up to where students in those grade levels were performing before schools shut down in March 2020.
How many ways are there to tell a story? Infinite, right? Adam Rubin believes so. He writes children's books. Maybe you've spent your fair share of nights reading "Dragons Love Tacos" with your kids? That's his. His newest collection is six completely different stories, but they all have the same title, "The Ice Cream Machine." But Adam leaves room for a seventh story, one that hasn't been told yet. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Adam Rubin about his series of short stories all with the same title: The Ice Cream Machine. He's asking kids to write a story with that title and send them to him.
On February 1, NBC News reported that Texas parents, having “swarmed school board meetings to call for the removal of library books that deal with race, racism, sex, gender, and sexuality,” were challenging 50 specific books. On the list of 50, second from the top, was one of my children’s books: When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball. The book, a biography for young readers, recounts the early life of Wilma Rudolph, a Black woman who as a girl overcame poverty, great physical difficulties, and racism to bring Olympic glory to her country. What possible reason would merit its banning? According to NBC, a parent said my book was “opining prejudice based on race.” This, however, is not correct. My biography gives facts, not opinions. In other words, it tells truths, specifically that many White people in the United States acted with prejudice, sometimes extreme, against other people solely because of their skin color.
Researchers, educators, teachers, administrators, school board members, and advocates with expertise in literacy and the education of English learner/emergent bilingual students have come together to form the National Committee for Effective Literacy (NCEL), with the aim of improving research, policies, and practices to ensure that English learner/emergent bilingual students leave school as proficient readers and writers in English (and preferably another language), who thrive and succeed at school and in their communities.
Having ready access to better assessment information not only helps policymakers understand whether pre-K investments are paying off, but also gives teachers and parents the information they need to effectively support young children as they transition to kindergarten. States, however, face a range of challenges building these types of assessment systems. New America, MDRC, and the Alliance for Early Success recently convened state pre-K advocates and policymakers from a diverse set of states to discuss their experiences doing this work. Here are some of the lessons they shared:
The United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) launched its annual Outstanding International Books list to celebrate and elevate the most exemplary international titles that U.S. publishers and distributors bring in from the rest of the world each year. The 42 titles on the 2022 Outstanding International Books List (OIB) are significant for both their exceptional quality and globe-spanning origins. Access the downloadable pdf here.
A first-grade teacher describes how she changed her approach to teaching reading using research-based insights. Her instruction includes daily phonemic awareness, application and practice throughout the school day, more decodable books, and swapping sight word memorization for heart words.
When it comes to autism, intervening well before the start of school can make a big difference in a child’s academic progress and quality of life. That’s why legislators in Nebraska are considering making autism screening as much a requirement for the start of school as a physical exam or a vision test. If the bill is approved, Nebraska would become the first state to require autism assessment as part of pre-school health screening, though special education advocates have long fought for better and earlier screening.
Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson discuss how their book, 1619 Project's "Born on the Water", helps young Black children feel affirmed in where they come from. The book starts off with a young Black girl receiving a homework assignment where she is asked to trace her roots and draw a flag that represents her ancestral land. At first, the little girl feels ashamed. She doesn't know where her family came from. But her grandmother has answers for her and tells her the story of the Tuckers of Tidewater, Anthony and Isabella, enslaved together on a plantation. They married and had a son named William.
Teacher preparation programs at many universities do not provide a solid grounding in the science of reading. When I was pursuing my master’s degree, I didn’t receive much training in the science of reading and was instead prepared to teach students with a focus much closer to that of whole language. When I got into the classroom and started teaching, I found that the instruction I had been taught to provide was not helping my struggling students become proficient readers. This was incredibly distressing, and so I began to dig into the research, which is both compelling and extensive.
There are probably no tarot cards or crystal balls in the central office of North Carolina’s Union County school district. But you could be forgiven for thinking that someone there has a sixth sense about the future. The district went big on intensive tutoring years before it became the go-to strategy for helping students regain their academic footing after months of virtual schooling. It invested in mental health access before many other communities embraced it to help kids navigate through the emotional turbulence of the pandemic. It revamped its technology professional development right before teachers really needed a keen understanding of digital tools, helping the district avoid some of the scrambling that characterized many other districts’ transition to remote learning.
A new theme park designed to bring the iconic show “Sesame Street” to life will have a host of accommodations in place to welcome children with disabilities when it opens soon. Sesame Place San Diego will be designated a Certified Autism Center when it opens to the public next month, officials said. As a Certified Autism Center, Sesame Place San Diego will offer designated quiet spaces throughout. All staff will complete autism sensitivity and awareness training before opening and there will be a sensory guide available on the park’s website to help families prepare for their visit, officials said.
"Active nonfiction" describes a category of books “that help[s] kids make and do things.” It includes everything from craft books and cookbooks to field guides and books that come packaged with models or games. Gina, a fourth grader, has a clear and simple reason for enjoying active nonfiction: “It teaches you to do the things you want to do.” Jack, also a fourth grader, has a different reason for preferring these books. “You get to do things while you read,” he says. “That makes me feel calmer.”
Dale Farran has been studying early childhood education for half a century. Yet her most recent scientific publication has made her question everything she thought she knew. "It really has required a lot of soul-searching, a lot of reading of the literature to try to think of what were plausible reasons that might account for this." And by "this," she means the outcome of a study that lasted more than a decade. It included 2,990 low-income children in Tennessee who applied to free, public prekindergarten programs.
Robin Lake is the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which shortly after schools shut down, began tracking closures across 100 large districts. and has continued to collect data on school reopening, academic recovery efforts and other pandemic-related policies. In January, she talked with The 74 about equity, learning loss and the “unacceptable” status quo in education.
The award-winning children’s book author talks about stories that are like friends you can turn to—and the importance of featuring characters who ‘share a common thread of humanity.’
Librarians can use the audio storytelling in kidcasts to help young listeners explore the lives and issues of extraordinary, yet often unseen and unheard, women. Young, curious minds can build knowledge, grow empathy, and draw inspiration from these remarkable outliers that were often described as being "ahead of their time."
Ashley Bryan, an eclectic artist and children’s book illustrator who brought diversity to an often white-dominated genre by introducing generations of young readers to Black characters and African folk tales, died on Feb. 4 at the home of his niece Vanessa Robinson in Sugar Land, Texas, near Houston. He was 98. Mr. Bryan had already built a 20-year career as an artist when, in 1965, he read an article in Saturday Review bemoaning the lack of diversity in children’s books. Already a devotee of African traditions and stories, he saw a chance to use his talents to bring those tales to life on the page. He wrote down many of them himself, often in verse, injecting rhythm into tales that until then had usually been recounted in dry prose by anthropologists. He would then pair those stories with his art, sometimes painting, sometimes collage — whatever style felt right for moment.
A growing number of schools across the U.S. are creating so-called wellness centers (alternately called calming rooms) that give students a place to take a break when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Sound walls guide students to investigate phonemes and make informed choices when they’re unsure how to spell out a sound.
Education Week spoke with two teachers about how they’re using Wordle in the classroom and what their students are taking away from the game.
A book reading program at a Cave Creek animal rescue is helping rehabilitate - not just for the readers, but for the listeners, too. The Books in the Barn Program at Healing Hearts Horse Rescue involves school-aged children reading to a unique audience: horses. And they're all ears.