Summer Is Right Around the Corner. Is Your School Ready?

You’ve likely seen the research and read the reports about academic summer slide and how this contributes to the achievement gap. Coming from a principal who works in a Title I school, I’ll tell you this: It absolutely does. It also contributes to our country’s growing equity gap.

As the current principal of Forrest Elementary School in Hampton City Schools (VA), I knew I needed to look at what was happening with our students over the summer. In review of our end-of-year and beginning-of-year reading data, our students showed clear signs of reading backslide, from anywhere between 1 to 2 months based upon the DRA assessment. I knew I had to plan something to support our students this summer.

Where did I start?

I started with my data and shared it with the district leadership team. I did this to see if I could get a green light for even creating a proposal for their approval for summer 2016. I shared with leadership the research on summer backslide and I shared Forrest’s data so they could see this was a need for our community. When I got the green light I started to create a presentation to share with my leadership team. This led into all the other areas that you have to focus on to have a successful summer enrichment program.

The WHY, WHO, WHERE, WHEN and WHAT

With my leadership team we had to look at the data and come up with our rationale-our WHY. Why did Forrest ES need to provide programming during the summer and why did we need to provide students access to text over the summer. I had to ensure the staff understood and believed in the work that we needed to do. Programs are going to work best with what I refer to as the “coalition of the willing.” Those who understand the why, have the ability and the willingness to fully participate. I had to get the pulse on whether the staff would be willing to support this type of programming. So I brought the data to the leadership team, which includes the grade level chair from every grade, reading specialists, the math interventionist, the school counselor, and family engagement specialists. I knew I had the needed cross-section to get a good feel if this would work at Forrest for this summer.

Once I had the buy-in of the leadership team we had to think about the WHO. Would we focus on certain grade levels this summer? Would we focus on all grade levels? How many students should be included? How many students in each classroom? We decided because we already had a program for the rising first grade students that we would focus on rising 2nd-4th grade students. Rising kindergarteners and rising first graders were going to have opportunities over the summer to engage with their families around literacy using a different program – our Scholastic Literacy Events program. They were also receiving books through this program to ensure they have access to text over the summer. Knowing this allowed us to make the decision to focus on rising 2nd-4th grade students. This year, we will provide texts for 5th grade students to help curb summer backslide and those who qualify for the district’s summer school will attend summer school because it prepares them specifically for middle school. 

The WHERE might seem easy, but it’s not. Think about your school at the end of the year. The teachers’ complete close-out procedures. They box up everything, stack chairs and desks, cover all shelves and other materials, and shut down all technology. They have personal materials that they keep in their rooms. So, you have to really look and decide on the availability of classrooms early on in the process so that you’re not undoing work that teachers did straightening up their rooms. There are a lot of questions that might need to be answered related to location:

  • Are you keeping your library open? Are you keeping your computer room open?
  • Are you keeping your family engagement room open? 
  • What is going to be the access to space in your building while ensuring cleaning can be completed to start the school year?
  • Have you worked with the district custodial department to discuss this program and how it will impact cleaning of the building? 
  • Have you talked to food services if you are going to provide food for students? 
  • Have you discussed transportation with the transportation department? 

After deciding why, who and where, we had to think about the timeframe of the summer programming and access -- the WHEN. We had to decide when to start and end the program. For example, the staff said we need to stop the program at least two weeks prior to pre-service week for a few reasons. 1) The building needed to be cleaned and ready to go for the upcoming school year. 2) Teachers needed a break before coming back for the year and to prepare themselves for the school year. 3) Students needed time on their own to practice at home. So we decided to end three weeks prior to the pre-service week and provide fun reading and activities for the three weeks prior to school starting. They would have one week without specific resources. They will always have books to read or re-read.  They will have math games and resources they can replay.

Before we could fully lock in the WHEN, we also had to decided on the WHAT. What was the program going to feel like, sound like, look like? How was this program going to be different from tradition summer school? How were we going to frame this for students so they felt like they were chosen for something that was really awesome. Also, we knew we needed to work not just on the mind but also the heart. We needed to ensure the program includes academics as well as social and emotional intelligence. We wanted to focus on building strong character while having fun with reading and math.  The staff was great because they said we know all kids cannot come to the school and participate in the program, but can’t we provide books for all students to read over the summer? My answer was yes and there are models that have shown that providing access to text with ongoing contact via phone or mail will work for students.

We have found a program called LitCamp that can help us with the literacy and character part of the program. We have found a program called MathKidz that can help us with math. Both programs are designed around enrichment and fun. However, we still had to plan for the materials needed in the classroom and outside of the classroom in students’ homes. For example, for the literacy program to be effective, students needed to have access to a classroom reading library. Teachers need access to additional read alouds and the library. Teachers needed access to additional math manipulatives to ensure all students had the math games at home along with at school.

The team created a proposal to our district leadership. We created a PowerPoint that included the why, who, where, when, and what.  We created a budget sheet that included all costs including staffing, transportation, food, materials for at school, materials for at home, and enrichment activity costs.

We are going to measure the success of the program by utilizing our end-of-year data and comparing to our start-of-year data.  Every program that funding is spent on needs an accountability measure. This helps in guiding decisions for adjustments that need to be made to the program, continued budget, and support for expansion so all children can gain access.

Is this summer slide happening at your school? Is there a need in your community to provide this for your students?  Where might you start? If summer academic slide is present, it is contributing to both you academic achievement gap and your equity gap. How can you address this for your students?

How a Classroom of 1st Graders Became Published Poets

I made a confession to Kwame Alexander, that when he originally asked me to share my thoughts on his work-in-progress titled, “Page-to-Stage”, I was secretly worried. How was I going to tell the Newbery winner that no one was going to buy this book? We (the teachers) had all had enough years of trying to get our students excited about poems, gluing them in journals, never to be looked at again. I had given up on poetry in the classroom and my colleagues had too. But still, (he’s a Newbery winner!) I agreed to read it.

He had me at the preface. Kwame was talking to me. I could hear his voice. He was sitting next to me, helping me through, holding my hand, as I confronted the painful subject of poetry. His approach was relaxed, yet bursting with information, and surprisingly, it was applicable to me. Page-to-Stage was about understanding the purpose of poetry, the power of poetry. Page-to-Stage would turn my first graders into poets. This I had to try.

I borrowed and adapted some of Kwame’s ideas to use with my students. I began my first impromptu poetry workshop with a Shel Silverstein poem. Then we dove right into a whole class List Poem titled, “Poetry Can.” This same poem ended up IN the Page-to-Stage book. It took very little prompting before everyone was calling out ideas in this spontaneous, free-flowing activity. It was beautiful. In case you didn’t know, “Poetry can give us energy.”

For days my students wrote their own list poems, and not because I made them. They were pleading to write them. So like any smart teacher would, I took advantage of their enthusiasm and introduced more styles of poetry. Nine kinds of poems and a few weeks later, I was implementing the entire program. We were on our way to publishing our own book! “Poetry can give us new ideas.”

Page-to-Stage suggests breaking your students into teams such as Editing and Marketing. I was sure I’d have to warn Kwame on this one. Six and seven-year-olds would never comprehend the duties of these jobs; much less remember the complicated team names. I was wrong. As I began meeting with each team, every member showed up ready to work. Editorial was looking through quotes to choose an epigraph, Proofreading was finding my typos, Production was interviewing everyone to write up bios, Marketing was planning the book launch party (maybe even over planning!), and Design was carefully choosing the perfect layout for our book. When we weren’t meeting, they were begging to meet. They did all the work and as one student later told Kwame, I “just did all the typing.” It’s the truth. “Poetry can make you smarter.”

As a writer myself, it has always been my favorite subject to teach. For years, my students have been allowed to think outside of the box, have original thoughts, self-publish stapled paper books, and share their work. They leave my room confident, practiced, writers. Knowing this, made it hard to admit that it wasn’t until Page-to-Stage that I realized something had been missing. Poetry.

Now, I designate time almost every day for poetry. When it happens, a change comes over my class. I can see it in their faces. Boys start using phrases such as, “my heart was crying” and “I was like a goldfish breathing underwater.” Deep thinkers write haikus, and my students struggling with the English language, dictate poems that could make you cry.

Page-to-Stage taught us the reason for poetry, the rules for poetry. But Kwame showed us how to bend and even break them. I’d seen the program work with middle and high school students. I couldn’t believe how effective it was with my young ones, like it was written for them. Kwame’s lessons allowed my students to be themselves while reinventing themselves. I offer writing options, and they choose poetry. I offer time on the iPad, and instead of clicking on an interactive app, they write poems. I hear them give feedback to each other such as, “That really feels like a poem.” My first graders truly get it. “Poetry can teach us stuff.”

We did publish a book. The students chose the title “Finding the Truth, Feeling Your Heart – Our Journey Through Poems.” The day of our book launch party, I sat them down and we talked about the impact this book was going to have on the world. Lots of people were going to read our book. “You are going to be famous,” I told them. “You are published writers now.” One student was quick to ask, “Don’t you mean poets? We are poets now.” Then everyone cheered at the prospect of being famous and more importantly, eating as many cookies as they wanted at the book launch party. “Poetry can change the world.”

All Ideas Are Welcome

In a quick and funny 15 words, Roland Martin, the host and managing editor of News One Now, both explained and dismissed a long-simmering tension between educators and non-educators. Sitting on a panel at SXSWedu in Austin, Martin was debating the intersection of politics and education through the lens of the 2016 presidential election.

When one of his followers on Twitter sent the newsman a tweet saying that panel-mate journalist Jonathan Alter wasn’t qualified to talk about education because he wasn’t an educator, Martin exploded. “This idea that just because you’re in education, no one else can talk about education” is wrong, he said. As someone who is raising six nieces and constantly hiring people for his various TV and radio shows, Martin said of course he is both interested in education and qualified to comment on it. The same goes for Alter, he added.

In short, that was my experience during my initial visit to SXSWedu last month. There were plenty of people, in and “out” of education, talking about education. I’m fully on Martin’s side on this issue, I think the more discourse the better.

I know why this split in opinions exists though. The idea that business people can drop into an education debate and in five minutes pretend they’ve solved all the problems can be an infuriating experience. But to sit with AltSchool founder and CEO Max Ventilla and discuss his school’s mission for 45 minutes was an education in itself. Think what you want of the new, very expensive, private schools he has created in Silicon Valley and Brooklyn. But to say he doesn’t have a right to experiment with a small school that tries hard to personalize learning for each student because his background is in technology, is to miss the mark by a mile.

In fact, think back more than 100 years ago when John Dewey quit education after two years as a high school teacher. He succeeded in psychology and philosophy, but our public school system is richer because he took the knowledge from those two fields and brought it back to education. Many of his beliefs, including the student as active learner, remain tenets of education today. Chances are that Martin, Ventilla, or one of the hundreds of other speakers at SXSWedu will never attain Dewey’s influence, of course, but why would we want to silence them before we hear their ideas?

Five Questions with Scholastic Education's Chief Academic Officer

Earlier this week, Scholastic Education announced that Michael Haggen would be the organization's new Chief Academic Officer. Michael has more than 20 years of academic experience, having served as a teacher, principal, chief academic officer and direct report to superintendents in three school districts.

Prior to joining Scholastic, he served as Deputy Superintendent in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, driving significant change that included leading efforts which ultimately yielded increases in academic performance. In St. Louis Public Schools, he developed and implemented a turnaround model for 11 schools, which led to that system's first provisional accreditation in more than a decade. As Deputy Superintendent of New Orleans’ Recovery School District, Michael led the system-wide organization of an integrated learning supports program, designed to remove barriers to learning for students, including those returning home post-Hurricane Katrina. He also managed the district’s family and community engagement and extended day programs, as well as volunteer and donation initiatives.

Look for posts written by Michael here in the future!

1) What does Scholastic Education’s CAO do?

MH: My job is to ensure that Scholastic Education supports educators to the best of its ability and helps them improve student learning and instruction. We have a focus on instructional materials for literacy achievement, professional learning for teacher effectiveness, family and community engagement initiatives, and consulting services designed to strengthen integrated systems of learning supports – so my role is to act as a guide and lead advisor.

2) What’s your story behind how and why you became a teacher?

MH: As a small enterprise development agent with the United States Peace Corps I taught numeracy to Senagalese nationals in small villages. I got my degree in finance and economics, but teaching became a personal mission and calling to model for other inner city students that we could use education to accomplish our dreams and succeed despite the obstacles in front of us.

3) You’ve worn so many hats as an educator – from teacher to principal to deputy superintendent and beyond. What challenge are you most proud of overcoming?

MH: It was a great challenge teaching in Detroit in the mid-90s, especially while getting my masters in education. I’m most proud of being honored as a highly effective teacher in Detroit by my students.  My students taught me how to teach, how to listen to their language and to the strengths they brought to the classroom.

4) You were the deputy superintendent of the Recovery School District in New Orleans in the years after Katrina. How did that time shape you as a professional?

MH: The challenges facing the education system in New Orleans after Katrina were arguably the most intense in the history of education in the United States. The strength, tenacity and deep commitment of New Orleanians to rebuild against all odds and demand what was best for their children inspired me even more deeply to support those children with the highest needs. I knew it was critical that all children had access to quality books, and the ideal of education equity guides me now to meeting with districts and schools across the country to help them expose children to authentic text and teachers to rich educational practices. During my time in New Orleans, I learned from the students and families about the importance of putting learning supports in place and truly engaging families in the education journey. When moving on to St. Louis and Baton Rouge, I knew the importance of bringing the unions, teachers, administrators, families and, most importantly, students to the table. I took pride in spending each day in the classrooms as deputy superintendent, learning from students and teachers and sharing best practices.

5) In your role, you speak with school leaders across the country. What’s keeping them up at night?

MH: Superintendents and school leaders are focusing on building capacity (expertise) with their district and school coaches, teachers and principals around professional learning. Leaders are looking for ways to increase teacher effectiveness and student learning. Supporting English language learners with rich selections of materials and teachers with not only resources, but also the skills to teach them. Our great thought leaders are looking at ways to close the gaps of equity and access for students. When students have access to high quality books and highly effective teaching, the achievement gaps for traditionally low performing sub groups can truly begin to close.

Let's Make Summer Learning Experiences Joyful, Rich and Rewarding

Dear Friends,

These are momentous times. It is more important than ever before that our children become lifelong readers, writers and learners. The world is organized best for those who communicate well, who have the tools to seek out knowledge, who gain comfort from a good read, and who can relate well to others through powerful writing, speaking and listening skills. This summer we need to make the commitment that every child deserves: a summer where he or she can grow into a lifelong reader, writer, speaker and listener.

These are challenging times. Our children may become overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of information in the world and what they are expected to do. Yet they know it matters to read with stamina, fluency and comprehension. They know it matters to write well and to speak and listen in ways that connect them to a community. This summer we need to make the commitment that rigor can mean joy and that joy can mean rigor, and that with beautiful texts and great lessons, every child can become a super reader.

Too often summer school is a really hard place for a child to go, being indoors, feeling cut off from the fun of summer, trying to play “catch-up” or to do work that seems disconnected from the dreams in his or her mind.

We need to create an antidote to this idea of summer school. We need to infuse a powerful sense of joy and fun and learning into every child’s life so that the promise of 365 days of reading, writing, speaking and listening belongs to every child. It is what we should demand. It is what every child deserves.

  1. Life-changing: Every child -- of every reading level -- should have the opportunity to experience the transformation that happens when reading becomes integral to one’s life.
  2. Strength-building: Students need books that enhance the 7 Strengths that are deep within every child. We need to nourish these strengths and values and the social-emotional capacities of every child and their connections to learning, reading and writing. Belonging. Curiosity. Friendship. Kindness. Confidence. Courage. Hope.
  3. Literacy-developing: Summer reading should be carefully built and lovingly created in the spirit of authentic literature -- the great books that mean so much to children and help them discover and develop strong identities as learners while cultivating a deep and everlasting love of reading and writing. A well-structured and meticulously developed summer program should support all teachers in taking children through a literacy journey, a profoundly life-impacting journey.

This summer let’s make the learning experience joyful, rich and rewarding for student and teacher alike. Let’s turn an ordinary summer into an extraordinary one, turning every child into a super reader, super writer, super learner.

Sincerely,

Pam Allyn

Student Reporters Get Real World Experience on the Campaign Trail

Last month, the CBS Evening News ran a feature about Scholastic News Kid Reporters on the campaign trail. “There’s no democracy without journalism,” CBS anchor Scott Pelley said.

We are especially proud of the reporting that our young journalists have done during the presidential race. They have gotten stories for their peers about covering the Iowa caucuses, going behind the scenes at a Republican debate, and talking with supporters at a Bernie Sanders rally. They’ve also posed tough questions of journalists.

Our reporters, who are between the ages of 10 and 14, have asked the candidates about issues that matter to kids. Their stories bring an immediacy to the campaign that readers of our news site relish.

Going into the fray at political events, in turn, offers young reporters a chance to cultivate invaluable skills. As Lilian Jochmann and Bobby Sena explain in this Scholastic Reads podcast episode, “Kids on the Campaign Trail,” covering a story takes resourcefulness, confidence, and background knowledge. Our reporters learn to listen carefully—not just to political candidates, but also to voters, journalists, and young people.

Most important, they love what they do. We hope that your students will follow the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps on the campaign trail to stay informed about issues that will shape their future.

My Story: From a Job Cut to Becoming School Librarian of the Year

Kristina Holzweiss of Bay Shore Middle School, Bay Shore, NY, was named School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year in August 2015. Be sure to check out blog posts from 2015 School Librarian of the Year finalists Sally Smollar and Lakisha Brinson!

Seven years ago I was excessed from a full-time school library teaching position, and last year I was on the cover of School Library Journal as the 2015 School Librarian of the Year. Many of my family and friends know my story, but very few of my colleagues do.

After teaching 7th grade English for nine years in my hometown, I wanted to make a difference by supporting students and teachers throughout an entire school. I couldn’t see myself as a principal, curriculum director, or a superintendent because teaching children was still my passion. So, I returned to graduate school and secured a position in a high-needs, diverse school district upon graduating from the LIU Palmer School of Library and Information Science. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to affect change beyond the four walls of my classroom.

Five years later, the recession hit. In 2009, my position was cut to part-time, the innovative hybrid company where my husband worked folded, and we were expecting our first son from South Korea. It was one of the lowest times in my life. Had I stayed in the classroom, I would never have lost my position. I was the senior English teacher of grades seven to 12 in my former district, and I risked that to become a school librarian. You see, in New York State, school librarians are certified to teach kindergarten through 12th grade, but elementary positions are not state-mandated. It is ironic that at such a crucial time in a child’s development when the joy of reading must be nurtured, school librarians are often lost due to excess and retirement. Even though my position was in the middle school, as they say “the last one in is the first one out.”

I was devastated. Winning awards and grants, writing articles, and presenting at conferences were the farthest things from my mind. I just wanted to pay my mortgage, put food on the table, and have health care benefits. After 14 years and two masters degrees with additional credits in educational technology and teaching, I was overqualified and overpriced. In my journey to become a better teacher and librarian, I had inadvertently “learned” myself out of many positions I had applied for during the most recent economic crisis in America. Worst of all, I couldn’t imagine being employed in a career where I wasn’t teaching children. I had marketable skills of researching, writing, and public speaking but I didn’t want to leave the teaching profession. After five years of developing a collection, creating new programs, and establishing relationships with students and staff I wasn’t ready to leave my first school librarian position.

As you already know, I lived “happily ever after.” But, had it not been for my present district that valued 21st century information literacy skills and certified school librarians, my story might have ended much differently. On my 40th birthday I not only signed my contract to become the librarian at Bay Shore Middle School in Bay Shore, NY, but I also became a mother to our first child, Tyler, from South Korea. As you can imagine, it was the happiest day of my life!

So, why am I telling you all this? Hopefully, you will be inspired to tell your story—how you make a difference in your students’ lives. Advocacy for your position as a certified school librarian takes place the second you put a book into a child’s hands, but it shouldn’t end there. 

  • Invite your parents, administrators, school board members, and community leaders to visit your library to see firsthand how you are helping your students develop 21st century learning skills. 
  • Become a member of the national library organizations AASL and ALA, but don’t overlook your state and local organizations. 
  • In addition to attending and presenting at library conferences, branch out to content specific conferences. 
  • Educators and administrators need to know how school librarians and library services support Common Core and other higher standards in all subject areas. To learn about the most current trends in technology, become a member of ISTE and attend their annual conference, or your state conference organized by your ISTE affiliate. Here you will meet like-minded educators if you consider yourself a techie or even a geek-in-training.
  • Download and share the 2016 edition of School Libraries Work!, a new research report providing evidence of the positive impact of school librarians and libraries on student learning.

I used to feel isolated as the only librarian in my school, missing the time when I had been part of an academic team as an English teacher. Now, I have expanded my professional learning network through Twitter, Voxer, and Facebook. When I have a question or I need a recommendation, I know that I have other librarians whom I can count on for support. I don’t need to comb through thousands of websites and blogs on the Internet because the entire educational community is ready and willing to help.

Several librarians, teachers, and administrators have visited my library makerspace this year. They want to know how the program works, what resources our library has, and how the space is managed.  But those are only the specifics, the practical matters that we can quantify. Dr. Gary Stager is known for saying that “the best makerspace is the one between your ears.” Your library, whether or not you have a makerspace, is not just a place where books and technology are stored. Every library is a reflection of the librarian and his or her students. It’s where the learning magic happens. It’s a dynamic, living entity that grows each time you share it with others. You need to grow too.

Each morning I enter my library, I hope that I can rise to the expectations of the title School Librarian of the Year. Each afternoon I leave, I know that I have done my best to provide the learning experiences that my students deserve. But each night, I read about and see on social media all of the wonderful things that other school librarians are accomplishing. There are many others who deserve the title School Librarian of the Year. They are the librarians who connect children to books that will change their lives forever, who offer their students opportunities to communicate with others around the world, and who create environments where students can tinker and create innovative solutions to problems.

Years ago, a friend of mine told me that I was a “rockstar librarian.” She appreciated all of the hard work that I did, to serve my faculty and students. I believed her, and I never wanted to let her down.  She believed in me, and I believe in you.

Taking Guided Reading Instruction to the Next Level

In her last post, Next Step Guided Reading Assessment co-author Maria Walther shared her ideas about read-alouds with added instructional power. Now, Maria offers her take on using guided reading in the primary grades to move children into the complex texts.

How does guided reading help students read more complex texts?

The goal of guided reading is to nudge students toward independence, so that they can read and comprehend complex texts independently. Using the teaching context of guided reading as part of a comprehensive literacy framework, I can teach readers a particular skill or strategy in guided reading one day, and the next, I can introduce a more challenging text where readers then apply those strategies. Guided reading has always been about matching readers to texts. Teachers who know their students and are knowledgeable about books are able to ratchet up the challenge with various books, day by day.

Why do young readers need access to books they can read?

If a reader is struggling with multiple aspects of a text that is too hard, it’s too challenging for the teacher to prompt and scaffold at every point of need. The students simply shut down. In the primary grades, confidence reins. Young children—especially striving learners—have to believe that they are readers. When young readers encounter a text that is overwhelmingly hard, you can see the look in their eyes: fear and defeat. So, I know from experience that there is much faster progress when I give children a book they can read (with support), and then another book that they can read, and so on. Once I’ve hooked them, and they see themselves as readers, my job is easy! That is the goal of guiding readers—teaching readers how to solve problems on their own so that they can do it independently when reading more complex texts. Our role as primary grade teachers is to provide learners with a solid foundation. We’ve learned so much from Fountas and Pinnell’s work on how to prompt and scaffold a student at the point of difficulty. If we want children to be able to read complex texts independently, we have to provide them with the skills and strategies to do so.

How do you add another layer to guided reading?

In the era of higher standards, we can add another layer to our guided reading instruction. You could amplify comprehension conversations in the small guided-reading group. Let’s say you have a group of emerging readers. You’d scaffold, prompt, teach decoding strategies with an instructional-level text on Monday, and keep at it Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, you could reread a significantly more complex text that you’ve read to the whole class. After all, even emerging readers—especially ELLs—need to hear the language of more complex texts. In this small-group context, you can read a little bit of the text at a time, and talk about the concepts and vocabulary in the book with a very focused, intentional comprehension conversation. At K-2, in order to discuss texts with complex themes and ideas, you will sometimes HAVE to do the reading for them. So, in my opinion, a guided reading lesson could occasionally be reading aloud and guiding students in comprehending a text.

How does assessment help you know each of your reader’s strengths, struggles, and interests so you can make the best student-to-text match?

I think we are depending too much on individual assessments that are either too time-consuming or too narrow instead of giving multi-faceted assessments to the whole class and to individuals. For example, I give a reading-interest survey to my whole class at the beginning of the year. This allows me to quickly put books they want to read into their hands. You can also easily give a developmental word knowledge inventory to the whole class to better understand their grasp of phonics. With information about my learners’ stages of spelling development, I know which students I need to do a running record with right away to see if they are reading accurately and fluently, and to learn which decoding strategies they are or are not using. Of course, I’m also asking questions to assess their comprehension. With the results of these assessments in hand, I have a complete picture and can match both texts and instructional methods to my readers. For above-level readers, I might provide guidance in selecting texts and then monitor their progress with 1:1 conferences. Readers who are below-level will get a steady diet of instructional-level texts and lots of support during guided reading. They’ll also get an equal amount texts they can read independently so that they can increase their reading volume.

Small group guided reading lessons are just one thread in the complex web of primary-grade literacy instruction. Each year, we weave together a diverse group of young learners into a cohesive community of learners, writers, thinkers, and problem solvers, while at the same time teaching them the skills and strategies necessary to be passionate, thoughtful, and critical readers. Hmmm! No wonder I’m tired at the end of every day!

On Read Alouds: ‘Pull a Favorite Book, Stop What You Are Doing, and Read to Them’

The following essay was first printed as the closing comments in Lester Laminack (2009)"Unwrapping the Read Aloud: Making Every Read Aloud Experience Intentional and Instructional" NY: Scholastic, (pp.93-95), and on Lester Laminack's personal blog on January 29, 2016. It is reproduced here with his permission.

Reading aloud to the children in our lives seems like such a commonsense practice. Yet in recent years I have heard teachers remark that they simply don’t have time to read aloud. These same teachers comment on how much they enjoy reading to their students and share fond memories from their own school years when teachers read to them. It is as if we feel the need to justify the use of precious time to read aloud. We seem afraid to exercise our own good judgment to do what our professional knowledge tells us is right and good for children. Let me remind you that we are professionals. Somehow in the midst of all the demands for higher scores, the very real threats of school takeovers, and the infiltration of scripted programs, we have lost sense of this fact. We are professionals.

Remember that we have a specific knowledge base that sets us apart from the rest of the population. We have deep understandings and insights into human growth and development, language and literacy development, pedagogy, curriculum design, and instructional technique. We know things the general public simply doesn’t understand. Yet we continue to allow influences beyond our profession diminish our sense of self and steal our very professional identity from us, and in doing so we lose our professional integrity.

I urge you to renew that knowledge base. Revisit those books and articles that once sparked your professional knowledge and piqued your curiosity. Revisit those books and articles, conference proceedings, and videos that once excited you, invigorated you, and nudged you into new practices in your classroom. Revisit the last time you felt charged and in charge. Remember those days when you entered the profession, and remember the feelings and beliefs that brought you in.

I can’t know your reasons for becoming a teacher, but I am virtually certain that there is not one teacher breathing who chose this profession because he or she wanted to raise a test score or make adequate yearly progress goals for the school. Whatever the reason you had for becoming a teacher, I’m confident it had something to do with children and their welfare and their sense of self. I am fairly confident it had something to do with helping children reach their potential and realize their dreams. Let’s refocus our energies on the children. Let’s make each decision based on what we believe would be good for the specific children in our charge. Let’s make daily decisions with that in mind. Let’s trust our professional judgment to guide our decisions. Let’s teach with integrity and know that our students will do well if our attention is directed toward the child—the mathematician and scientist and artist and writer and musician and athlete and reader and social scientist and dreamer and inventor and visionary in each of them. Let’s teach children again. Let’s be reminded we are here to raise humans, not scores.

Let me remind you that literature in all its many forms has such potential to expand the horizons of every child—regardless of background or baggage, privilege or poverty. When we read aloud to them, we offer them new vistas and new visions. We offer them new ways of coping with life’s issues and pleasures. We offer them new opportunities to grow their language and their understandings. We help them realize how much there is to learn. When we read aloud, we show them how we gain a little knowledge to ask better questions, and that asking better questions drives us to read even more. When we read aloud, we introduce them to people just like them and like no one they have ever imagined. We help them realize their homes are only a small sample of the dwellings of all humanity. We help them realize their families are one of many ways families can be formed. We help them realize that the sound of their language is one note in the music of the many languages on the globe. When we read aloud, we help them realize what they value and cherish as worthy and worthwhile and holy is only one way of assigning importance in this great big world. When we read aloud, we help them realize that no matter who we are, no matter where we live, no matter what we value, no matter how we sound, we are more alike as human beings from the inside out than we are different from the outside in. But perhaps the most important message that comes from our reading aloud to them is one that says you are worth the time this will take. You are the focus of what I do as a teacher. When I read to you, I give you that same undivided attention you once had snuggling in the lap of a caregiver who read to you. When a teacher reads aloud, it is a bonding between the teacher, the children, the books, and the act of reading. That in itself is worthy.

Friends, I urge you to reconnect to those stirrings that brought you into this profession. I urge you to refocus your attention to the children in your care. There is no more precious treasure on this globe than the children of its people. Nothing holds greater potential for good, for truth, for justice than the children on this Earth. We cannot afford to contaminate that precious resource with notions of worth connected to the number on a test. We cannot afford to lead our children to the belief that our school’s success, our success, their success, and, by association, their worth, is invested in adequate yearly progress. For a child to believe that he or she has responsibility for the success of a school, a community, a state, and the nation is ludicrous at best and immoral at worst.

Take some time now to search through your books, to carefully and critically examine your schedule, to revisit your vision about why this matters. Pull a favorite book, stop what you are doing, and read to them.

In all things, be kind and truthful. Let nothing you do take from a child his or her dignity as a human being, his or her integrity as a learner, his or her identity as one who is capable. Cause no intentional harm.

Peace be with you,
Lester

A Q & A About Writing, Reading and Storytelling with Author Carmen Agra Deedy

Award-winning children's book author Carmen Agra Deedy is scheduled to deliver the opening keynote at Scholastic Education's 2016 Reading Summit on February 14th. In anticipation of that event, we asked her a few questions about her stories, her writing, and what she's reading right now!

Carmen Agra Deedy is best known for her beloved children’s books, which include The Library Dragon, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach and the New York Times Bestseller, 14 Cows for America. An award-winning author and storyteller, Deedy is also an accomplished lecturer, having been a guest speaker for the TED Conference, the Library of Congress, and Columbia University. She is also the host of the four-time Emmy-winning children’s program Love That Book! Most importantly, Deedy spends much of the year traveling across North America and the Caribbean performing for children. They remain, unapologetically, her favorite audiences.

What kinds of stories bring you the most joy?

I love stories about people on the edges of things -- villages, families, their own minds. And I love when these border-dwellers find their way back again -- to their villages, their families, their own minds. When I can help a character get home again, that brings me joy.

I began my childhood as a refugee; I no longer fight the fact that themes of home and family will likely always wend their sneaky way into my plots.

What do you hope people will take away from your work?

I hope readers enjoy the time they spent with one of my stories. And if they are left with a sense of the world being a little bigger, a mite kinder, a trifle funnier––I am a happy writer indeed.

What are you reading now?

Exploration Fawcett: Journey to the Lost City of Z by Col. Percy Fawcett

One of a handful of books found on Ernest Hemingway's desk after his death. Fawcett has been credited as the real man behind the legendary Indian Jones. His son published his papers some years after Fawcett disappeared on a final, fateful, expedition to the Lost City of Z.

The Woman in Battle by Loreta Janeta Velazques

A book published by a Cuban woman dressed as a Confederate soldier in order to follow her Southern husband into battle. She claimed, among other things, to have fought at Bull Run. She wrote this book to tell of her many exploits.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for outrageous true stories.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read. Read everything that falls into your hands that even remotely interests you.

It will come in handy one day.

Learn. 

Learn anything anyone wants to teach you that has merit. Learn to change the oil, knit, shoe a horse, write code, make a souffle.

It will come in handy one day.

Live.

Live your life -- don't just exist. Live it fully and don't miss a nano-second.

It'll all come in handy one day.

The day you decide to become a writer.

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