How Principals Can Foster Independent Reading

To foster an environment of independent reading in a school, you have to love reading. I do. But it was not always that way.

As a child, I was an expert at avoiding reading. Every trick—from pretending to read a book to finding summaries of books—I was versed in them all. I was fortunate to have parents who supported and encouraged me to grow as a reader, and the encouragement worked. But the question to ask is, what about students who do not have families or teachers supporting their growth as readers? Many never develop a personal reading life. I have learned that in my school I can foster and create an environment to support independent reading. Knowing the avoidance tricks has guided my collaborations with staff, and helped me communicate what needs to be in place in a school to get everyone on board with independent reading.

As an adult, my personal and professional reading lives have sustained my desire to continually learn and to read for pleasure. I value the fact that I can choose what to read, reread passages that speak to me, and talk about books and articles to friends and colleagues. To foster an independent reading culture, the principal must help teachers feel comfortable setting aside time for independent reading at school. Also, the principal must model how much he or she values reading by enlarging classroom libraries and making the school library an inviting place with comfortable spaces for students to read.

Research supports the benefit of independent reading, and it remains important for educators to make decisions consistent with research and best practice. Through reading, students enlarge background knowledge and vocabulary. But more important, students derive pleasure from their reading—pleasure in entering and living life in different worlds and cultures, as well as in stepping into a character’s life. The pleasure students experience is obvious when I visit a class and observe independent reading. However, I often wonder if schools are embracing independent reading and making it an integral part of their school’s culture.

Along with my belief in research, I also believe in good old-fashioned common sense. To develop skill and expertise at anything in life, you need to practice. Any sport from golf to basketball requires purposeful practice, and purposeful practice improves performance. If students want to become better readers, it makes sense for purposeful practice to be part of the improvement equation. A combination of independent reading and well-planned, differentiated instructional reading can improve reading skills. Being an excellent reader and writer are necessary for college and career readiness. Also, it’s important to remember students reading below grade level need to read more than their peers who are proficient and advanced readers.  

I am a champion of independent reading. Are you? I believe the principal sets the tone through clearly communicated expectations and words of inspiration. Below are six ways a principal can encourage, promote, and foster independent reading for all, staff included!

  1. Do a spot check, if you are new to a school. Are all staff encouraging independent reading? Is it being communicated to students? Are students reading independently in school?

  2. Communicate the value of reading independently. I have known staff feel they might get in trouble with administration if students are reading independently.

  3. Invest in classroom libraries and your school library. Where we put our money communicates what we value. If we value books and reading, money from the school budget needs to be spent on enlarging classroom libraries and adding books to schools’ central libraries.

  4. Have students self-select books for independent reading.  Do students have opportunities to “practice” the strategies and skills they’ve rehearsed during instructional reading and apply them to materials on their own?  Self-selecting books gives students control of what they read which in turn develops self-confidence, literary taste, and a desire to repeat the enjoyable experience.

  5. Make sure independent reading is enjoyable! I have known staff new to my school shy away from promoting independent reading because they don’t know how to hold kids accountable. Some think I might view independent reading as a poor use of class time. Neither is correct.

  6. Model independent reading! Teachers who read in front of students send this powerful message to their students: as an adult, I place such a high value on reading that I read aloud to you every day.

Is your school making a concerted effort to promote independent reading?  I challenge you to work with your team to create a culture where all the students in your school are always carrying an independent reading book! By encouraging kids to read accessible books on topics they love and want to know more about, you develop their motivation to read.

Independent reading should take place in school and out of school. I suggest thirty minutes of independent reading a night, and that should be their main language arts homework assignment. During the school week, try to set aside two days a week for students to complete independent reading at school. Reading in a classroom is valuable because it builds students’ stamina, ability to concentrate and get lost in a book. The principal needs to communicate this!

Please remember: if staff focuses on how to hold students accountable for reading or how to punish students who do not read, your efforts will fail. Find different, creative, and motivating ways to increase reading. You can have students present a brief, monthly book talk and enter completed books on a reading log. If your staff is stuck in fixed mindsets of accountability for independent reading, work with them to find more positive solutions such vlogs, blogs, book trailers, or book talks.

I am asking for a commitment to reading. As a school leader, department chair, or classroom teacher, what you value, communicate, and prioritize is like a cold: catching. My challenge and the challenge facing all principals is to make sure students experience independent reading of self-selected books at school and home!

This post is part of an ongoing series on independent reading. Read more:

Libraries as Learning Centers: Changing the Culture of Your Library

Alisha Wilson of Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida was named Maker Hero by School Library Journal and Scholastic in the 2017 School Librarian of the Year Awards. Below, she shares how she changed the culture of her library.

“But I thought you loved teaching,” whined Macy.

“I do,” I said.

“Then why are you not going to do it anymore? I wanted to be a teacher because of you.”

“Librarians are lame, Mrs. Wilson,” another student added.

The responses of my students on the day I announced that next year I would take over our school library really stung! They stung because as someone who spent her entire life wanting to be a teacher—an English teacher at that— I was conflicted. But the truth is that teaching isn’t what I really love. It’s learning. I love watching learning occur, seeing my students be creative and discover something new. I love watching students devour information, ask questions, come up with new ideas, think about the tough questions, and fall in love with a character in a book.

It was this realization of the importance of establishing a love for learning that prompted me to strive for a culture of creative inquiry in my library, and to use my students’ comments as catalysts for change when I became the school librarian in 2015. The changes we made increased our student visits from 9,000 to almost 24,000 in the first year. We started a Spark Lab, Creation Station, and a Writing Lab. We also began offering regular activities and events throughout the year. It definitely did not happen overnight, and required not only my own hard work, but also that of my army of students who agreed to help me make our library less “lame.” 

Gaining teacher and student buy-in

Having your student body and teachers on board with the changes to your library is crucial to running a successful program and changing the dynamic of your space. Below are a few things I did that helped me get started in meeting the needs of my students and teachers. 

Assess your school's needs

Take a poll. Ask your students and teachers what they would change, or what services would be helpful to have available. For me, this assessment was easy because I had been a teacher in my school for four years before becoming the librarian, so I simply had to brainstorm what resources would have helped me as a classroom teacher and what resources would help my students.

For example, I once had a student ask to borrow scissors and paper to take home after I assigned a creative Greek mythology project. This experience was eye-opening because I discovered that many of the students in my school do not have the resources they need at home. This realization prompted me to start a Spark Lab in my library, a resource room full of supplies donated from the community that students could use for projects. This initiative has since expanded to include circuity, robotics, 3D printing, and more, but it began as a room full of yarn, glue, googly eyes, stamps, paper, a sewing machine, and so forth. 

Libraries as learning centers

A great way to get your students and teachers excited about your space is to host learning events that correspond with what students are learning in their classrooms. For example, if all of your English teachers teach Shakespeare the last nine weeks, recruit your library assistants to help you host a Shakespeare Festival with a plethora of crafts, games, activities, and demos for students to participate in, and invite the English classes to come. Even better, have a few English classes come up with stations and run them for students in lower grade levels. My assistants and I collaborated most recently with our AP English teachers to host an event for the national #whyiwrite day with this exact format, and quickly decided it will be an annual event in our library because of the enthusiasm for learning it generated.

If students are studying roller coaster physics in science, have students build roller coasters using foam and marbles on your book shelves, or set out a K’Nex roller coaster kit, or host an hour of code event and invite teachers to bring their classes. You will never see more engagement in your library than when you make learning opportunities available that are engaging and exciting for students and teachers.

Even though hosting an event may sound like a daunting task and a lot of work, remember a few things:

  1. Start with your strengths. There is a reason I first hosted a Shakespeare Festival instead of a Pi Day event because English is my background and definitely my comfort zone. I was also most comfortable talking to the English teachers, so it made it a great first event to try. 

  2. Form connections with teachers in other departments. Send out slips or a survey and ask them to list upcoming units. 

  3. Give students ownership of the event. Have them brainstorm the activities and run the stations.

My students’ negative attitude toward our school library let me know a culture shift was a necessity for our school. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if this next generation views a place full of resources, books, and incredible stories as “lame” then we have to make some changes that get students to take charge of their learning. What better place to start this change than the library! 

The Five Most-Read Posts of 2017

Below are the five most-read posts of 2017:

5. Empower Students through Independent Reading Nicole Bosworth

4. Riveting Read-Alouds (How and Why to Read Aloud with Older Students)  Janet Allen

3. Independent reading: nurturing students’ personal reading lives Laura Robb

2. Three Reasons School Librarians Should Use Twitter Todd Burleson

...and the top post of the last year:

1. What is guided reading? James Cannon

 

Roundup: Four Big Education Stories in 2017

2017 is nearly a wrap—below are four big topics in education from the past twelve months, and stories about each that caught our eye.

Media Literacy and Civics Education

Media literacy has been a huge news story in 2017, including in education reporting. In many schools, educators are working to ensure that students have the critical thinking skills necessary to discern fake news from real news. There has also been a renewed focus on civics education, focusing on not only the mechanics of our  government, but what it means to be a citizen and member of a community. 

Alia Wong wrote an incisive take on these issues for EWA; On Education Dive, Shalina Chatlani explored the urgency around civics ed, including the fact that to be effective, it must be engaging; Ed Dive also named media literacy their "obsession of the year."

Poverty in Schools

The Hechinger Report looked at poverty in schools through the lens of early childhood education. First, Jill Barshay looked at research exploring the "multi-generational effect" of Head Start, meaning whether "the offspring of preschooled children are living significantly better young-adult lives than the offspring of non-preschooled children." 

And Jackie Mader shared strategies from a Mississippi elementary school that is one of the highest-performing schools in the state. They attribute their success to supporting early literacy

Students Experiencing Trauma

Every day, students experience significant barriers to learning such as poverty and other trauma. This year the US experienced severe natural and other disasters, and schools were compelled to adapt and respond, and continue to support students. 

In The New York Times, Elizabeth Harris looked at the longterm impact  of homelessness on children's achievement in school, even after they are no longer homeless. 

Some schools were forced to grapple with whether and when to open in the aftermath of violence in the community. In The Atlantic, Alia Wong wrote about Clark County's decision to open schools after the Las Vegas shooting.

The New York Times also reported on how in Puerto Rico, schools opened after Hurricane Maria, making do without power. Lizette Alvarez writes, "The resumption of classes at the school on Tuesday was a joyous, achingly needed milestone on the plodding path back to normality in Puerto Rico’s newest era: After Maria."

And of course, the two hurricanes that tore through Florida and Texas had a detrimental impact on attendance, according to USA Today. One in six children in the US missed school due to the storms. 

NPR looked at attendance in terms of mental health: "Doctors say it should be treated with flexibility and therapy - not punishment."

ESSA Implementation & Measuring School Success

Speaking of attendance, states have been submitting their ESSA plans to the DOE this year, and addressing absenteeism has become an important measure for school success. Ed Week's Politics K-12 blog looks at the place of chronic absenteeism in how states are "looking beyond test scores."

Finally, this fascinating New York Times article explores ways of measuring school success based on metrics other than test scores (based on the important research by Sean Reardon of Stanford): "Educators have long debated whether it’s better to evaluate students and schools on proficiency levels or growth rates. Mr. Reardon’s data makes possible a national database of both." 

 

LINKS

 

Confessions of a District Literacy Coach

I have a secret… well, it’s not really a secret; anyone who knows me is acutely aware that I am obsessed with books! Picture books, young adult novels, adult novels, professional books… it doesn’t really matter. (Some people might say I have a problem. I am very aware of my obsession and work hard every day to control it.) 

When I was very young, my two older brothers would tell me that I read too much and reading was bad for me. The truth is, reading made me who I am today. What I remember most from my childhood is devouring books. I was a voracious reader and I read everywhere—in the car, at the beach, in the hockey rink, in my room, in my favorite corner on the stairs, and so forth. 

Of course I was a typical kid, I ran, swam, played with friends, spent hours baking with my Easy-Bake Oven, but I never went anywhere without a book. I still have some of those well loved books—they are yellowed, dog-eared and literally falling apart. After my human friends, Ramona, Beezus, Ellen Tebbits (Beverly Cleary), Peter, Fudge, Sally J, Freedman (Judy Blume), Pippi (Astrid Lindgren), Trixie Belden (Julie Campbell), and Encyclopedia Brown (Donald J. Sobol) were among my best friends. 

In college, Barnes and Noble was in the Boston University Bookstore. The only time I ever used my “emergency credit card” was to buy the picture books my favorite college professor recommended; I learned to love Kevin Henkes, Tomie DePaola, Patricia Polacco, Cynthia Rylant, and many others. When my dad got those bills, I’d get a phone call, “There was another emergency in the book department, Renee?” he would ask. I never had a good response, but honestly, I’m not sure he ever expected one.

As I entered the world of education and became a grade-four teacher, I already had a pretty extensive book collection. I worked in an inner-city, high-poverty district. My library became a lending library for my students, and I didn’t care if the books didn’t come back as long as someone was loving them. I shared my love of reading with my students and taught all of my social studies curriculum through read-alouds and literature.

It didn’t take long for me to decide which path was the perfect one for me; I decided to go back to school for my Master’s in Reading. Right around this time, I became an aunt for the first time. Now I had another reason to buy books! I shared my love of books and reading with my 6 nephews and my niece. They became the beneficiaries of my favorite picture books like Dear Zoo, Z is for Zamboni, Pinkalicious, The Great White Man-Eating Shark and Strega Nona.

Being a Reading Specialist allowed me to share my library with all of the teachers and students with whom I worked. My office was exploding with books (all organized by author or topic, naturally). I had books everywhere; in my house, at my parents’ house, at work… If anyone needed a book, they knew where to go.      

For the past 8 years, I have been the District Literacy Coach in Burlington, Massachusetts. I work with 7 reading specialists, 30 interventionists, and over 200 classroom teachers. I facilitate many meetings, courses, and study groups and my teachers know exactly how each one will begin: with a read-aloud. This is a routine, I also learned from my favorite college professor. Reading a great book to adults is exactly like reading to children; they immediately relax, settle in, and get that look on their faces. Do you know that look? It’s magic. 

I believe that one of my most important goals as a Literacy Coach is to inspire teachers to read more to their students in order to help create lifelong readers, like myself. I am proud to say that I know now that my brothers were wrong—reading was not bad for me. Reading has made me who I am today. Reading has given me the opportunity to change the lives of my teachers and students. 

Parents Need an Accurate Picture of Their Child’s Progress

As teachers issue the first report cards of the year, parents across the country are reacting to how their children performed during these initial months of school. As a mother of two teenage sons, I know the range of emotions well. And as founder and president of Learning Heroes, I am committed to helping parents partner in their child’s education.   

Learning Heroes’ recently released national survey Parents 2017: Unleashing Their Power and Potential shows that nine in ten K-8 parents report their child as at or above grade level in both reading and math, two in three consider their child “above average,” and three in five are confident their child will be prepared for success in college. But as most readers here know, national data tell a different story.  

2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data demonstrates that barely one-third of students perform at grade level, and only 37 percent of students are prepared for college. 

We believe at least part of this disconnect stems from the lack of understandable and actionable communications that parents receive about their child’s education. Parents take responsibility for their child’s education, and they have high aspirations, with 75 percent expecting their child to receive a 2- or 4-year college degree. But many lack information to give them an accurate picture of their child’s grade level performance.

Perhaps without realizing, the education community uses a language that parents simply don’t speak. Through more than 70 parent focus groups across the country, we’ve learned that education jargon such as “student growth,” “proficiency,” and “school climate and culture” mean something different to parents than their intended definition. For example, “student growth” often signals to parents that their child’s class size is increasing. School performance report cards are often nonexistent, hidden from parents, or too dense and confusing to understand.

As an example, 86 percent of parents rely on report cards to know how their child is doing, yet many report cards use this jargon or other language that creates a fuzzy picture of their child’s progress. Despite good-faith efforts to provide more data to parents, many, including myself, are left in the dark. End-of-year state assessment results are typically even worse, displaying terminology parents don’t use which can be confusing to interpret.

Further, very few states and districts translate report cards and state assessment results into Spanish, making it doubly difficult for Spanish-speaking parents to accurately interpret their child’s achievement.

Parents know their children best, they have high aspirations, they take responsibility for their child’s academic success and they can make a significant difference in their child’s educational outcomes. But it must start with clear, concise and actionable information that provides an accurate picture of their child’s progress. 

World Read Aloud Day Announcement & Educator Sweepstakes

Did you know 66% of kids ages 6–11 say that reading aloud together is fun! To celebrate the importance of reading aloud in classrooms and at home, we are excited to announce February 1, 2018 as this year’s World Read Aloud Day, a day that calls attention to the importance of sharing stories and reading aloud.

This year we’re starting the celebration early with a special Read Aloud Educator Sweepstakes!

To enter for a chance to win, share your favorite read aloud experience on either Twitter of Instagram. Your favorite experience might include your favorite book to read aloud or great reactions you’ve received from your students. Share your story and photos on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtags #WorldReadAloudDay and #Sweepstakes for a chance to win read aloud resources for you and your classroom. You must tag Scholastic Education on Twitter @Scholastic or @ScholasticTeach and/or Instagram (@ScholasticInc) to submit your entry. Entrants may enter Sweepstakes only once. See the complete legal rules here.

Stay tuned for more on World Read Aloud Day 2018 including information and resources around the day, plus a kit to host your own read aloud event!

Using ESSA accountability and school attendance to help students get across the finish line

ESSA Accountability and Chronic Absenteeism

With the complete rollout of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) this school year, states have been presented with the task of  submitting  accountability plans to the U.S Department of Education that must include four academic indicators and a fifth that measures school quality or student success. 

According to a report from Future Ed at Georgetown University, “36 states and the District of Columbia are using some form of chronic absenteeism in their accountability formulas.”

As a school social worker, this was great news for me seeing that I spent a large amount of my time addressing the issues that keep students from coming to school. It just always seemed like common sense to me that school attendance had to be a top priority before focusing on student achievement and success. After all, nothing happens until they show up.

Even the most qualified teachers, engaging instructional practices, and welcoming school climate cannot benefit the student who is not consistently in school. The challenge has been that there was little accountability connected to school attendance so it was often overlooked as unimportant. Since we have been held accountable for academics and test scores, this is where most of the emphasis has gone.

But for those who don’t consider school attendance to be vitally important, consider these research facts from Attendance Works:

  • Pre-kindergarten students who are chronically absent are less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade
  • By sixth grade chronic absenteeism is one of three early warning indicators that influence whether a student will graduate from high school
  • By ninth grade, attendance is a better predictor of graduation than eighth grade test scores

Making school attendance an option as an ESSA accountability measure is definitely a step in the right direction. However, now we must go a little deeper to ensure we are providing students with the adequate support they need to make it across the finish line.

Overcoming Barriers to Getting To School

This may surprise many, but chronic absenteeism is not the real issue we are facing. Attendance is only a symptom of a deeper issue. And until you take the time to discover what these “root issues” are that your students are dealing with, you will continue to have attendance issues. Absences simply let you know that a problem exists, but they don’t tell you why. It is incumbent that we not only identify the students who are missing school, we must also identify the barriers that are keeping them from getting to school.

From the inception of their school journey in pre-K to crossing the stage graduation night, your students will undoubtedly encounter a host of barriers and challenges that if not addressed could often prevent them from achieving in school. Some of those barriers include poverty, homelessness, abuse, bullying, lack of motivation, low reading levels, or a bad relationship with a teacher.

The challenge for many school districts is that they have absolutely no clue that their students are experiencing these challenges. In case you didn’t know, students aren’t always eager to volunteer information about the problems they may be experiencing. Sometimes the only clue you will get is that a student has missed 15 days of school and it’s not even the end of the first quarter. That is when we must put our investigator hat on and start searching for clues.

The painful reality is that millions of students drop out of school each year because no one knew that they were silently suffering every day.

If we expect to get students across the finish line to graduation, we must find ways to:

  1. Quickly identify student barriers encountered in K -12

  2. Provide timely supports and interventions that help address and remove these barriers

  3. Build meaningful and trusting relationship with students

Getting to the Root of the Matter

Before doctors prescribe medication, they must first try to accurately diagnose the problem. We must take the same approach where helping our students is concerned. 

If I encounter three students who all have excessive absences, do I address them all the same? Of course not! It would depend upon the root cause. For example, one student may be homeless, another may be getting bullied at school, and the third may just enjoy skipping with friends. Without discovering the root causes to these students’ reasons for missing school, I may take actions that could prove more harmful than helpful. The student missing school due to being bullied needs something totally different than the one who is missing school simply because he or she enjoys skipping with friends.

The point is, a student could be experiencing any number of barriers that cause them to miss school. Not only must we give attention to providing an academic educational experience to our students, we must also identify, address, and ultimately remove the barriers that interfere with them getting that education and making it across the finish line. School attendance has been and always will be one of the best indicators that something is not right with our students. Now that it is officially on the radar, we most transition our conversation from simply identifying who is missing school to understanding why they are missing school and deciding what to do about it.

Once we do this, we will be in the best position to provide our students the support they need to overcome any barrier and make it across the finish line.   

 

Read our series on Chronic Absenteeism, including an interview with Hedy Chang of Attendance Works:

Instruction alone is not enough to help all students succeed

Perhaps the greatest victory of the recently, much-maligned era of standards-based reform in US schools is that this new form of accountability made instruction matter. It was no longer acceptable to simply deliver instruction—and either the students got it, or they didn’t—and then regardless, the teacher just moved on.

Under the standards regime, it actually mattered if the students learned the material. And if they didn’t, we, as teachers, would have to try to teach it again in a more effective manner. In other words, standards-based school reform cut to the core of education, what Harvard’s Public Education Leadership Program has called the instructional core: the transaction between teacher, student and content. So many reforms of the past have avoided or simply bypassed the instructional core, but this time the reforms came straight at the central work: teaching and learning. This was a good thing.

This long-overdue shift in focus, away from topics like governance, structure and finance, was not always received with a warm embrace in a field that previously had only minimal accountability. Critics resisted the imposition of standards from the state level, while there was widespread resistance to measuring achievement and progress through testing. Many opposed accountability consequences for schools, educators and students. On the other hand, proponents of these reforms were sometimes transported by their own rhetoric, arguing that not only had instruction been overlooked as the most important part of the education equation, but that instruction was truly the only thing that mattered. Everything should be about and support high quality instruction.

The zealots asserted that in the spirit of the old real estate adage, “location, location, location,” education reform, must be all—and only—about improving instruction.

While no one would argue against the improvement of instruction as a central strategy for improving education, I would argue that it’s not the only thing we need to be doing. Just as a strong principal must be a great deal more than simply an effective instructional leader, so, too, must school improvement also focus on a variety of matters that may appear to be remote from the instructional core. (An obvious example is that polls regularly show that at the top of most parents’ lists of what they want from school are characteristics like “safety and order.”)

We must also pay urgent attention to the student part of the learning equation. Remember the three elements of the core: teacher, student and content. We have spent most of our considerable reform energy and resources on reforms affecting the teacher and the content. The field embraced countless strategies addressing the recruitment, training, pedagogy and evaluation of teachers. At the same time,  we have focused on content by debating and then  detailing ever more perfect standards, well-aligned curricula and classroom lessons to make sure all students were learning the right stuff, all the time.

However, we have spent much less time focused on the student, and in particular how to ensure that each and every student, in this era of gross income and opportunity inequality, comes to school ready to learn. Our current school system follows a one-size-fits-all model that does not account for differences in backgrounds, assets or opportunities. And so we tend to overlook strategies that are responsive to the differentiated characteristics of families, communities and schools. My concern is that an exclusively instructional focus optimizes teaching and content, but if the students aren’t present and able to concentrate then we’ll never be able to truly support all children on their path to realizing their full academic potential, which is the aspirational goal of education reform.  In other words, instruction alone is not enough to help all students succeed.

At the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Education Redesign Lab, we believe that for schools to be successful in educating all students to high levels, we need a personalized system of child development and education that meets all children where they are in early childhood, and gives them what they need—inside and outside of school—so that each student can be successful.

In other words, communities, not schools by themselves, must build personalized systems of support and opportunity that attack the impediments to student success. At the same time, these systems must level the playing field with regard to student access to critical out-of-school learning opportunities, including preschool, after school, and summer enrichment.. This is a tall order, an ambitious, but achievable goal, as mayors and their Children’s Cabinets in our By All Means initiative are proving every day.

In a society characterized by growing inequality and diminishing social mobility, human capital (skills and knowledge) are more important than ever before. Social capital (norms, learning opportunities, relationships/networks) is the gateway to human capital. If disadvantaged children are to compete with their more affluent peers, then our system of education has to compensate with health, mental health and other supports, coupled with preschool, after school and summer learning opportunities. Instructional improvement is a must for improving the quality of our schools, but until we attend to children’s whole lives by providing quality supports and enrichment, then we have no hope of succeeding in our aspiration to educate all of our students so that they may succeed in college and career.

Helping kids discover the real story

Last week we published three articles about engaging kids in civics education at every level: from the early grades, through elementary, into middle school and high school

In Civics for middle and high school students, editors Mary Kate Frank and Ian Zack emphasized the need for effective instruction around media literacy and fake news. In fact, the ability to read critically, to assess and evaluate information and opinions, and to consider source and context, is a deeply important skill set for kids to master as they prepare to become engaged citizens.

This week is Thanksgiving, and a few articles have popped up that pertain to helping kids read and think critically.

As we continually refine our strategies for teaching American history, many educators are helping students understand that the nuances of our shared experience is best viewed through a critical lens.

Below are two examples of how some folks are approaching the topic:

And finally, to bring us into the holiday, an inspiring (unrelated) story about a school principal who's doing great work :

Happy holidays!

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