Live Streaming Announced for National Family Engagement Symposium Starting Oct. 4

The Scholastic FACE Symposium, an annual gathering of family and community engagement leaders from across the country, kicks off October 4th in Miami. This year, we're excited to be able to open up the full list of keynotes to a wider audience on the web.

Keynote speakers will be broadcast live on the web here. And you'll find the schedule below.

The schedule includes talks by Dr. Karen Mapp of Harvard Graduate School of Education, Dr. Nell K. Duke of the University of Michigan, renowned literacy consultant and speaker Phyllis C. Hunter, and others.

We hope you'll tune in to hear from these thought leaders, and share your ideas using the #ScholasticFACE hashtag!

Arne Duncan's Bus Tour Uncovers a Rural Gem

This post first appeared on Scholastic Administr@tor magazine's website on September 21, 2015.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been doing back-to-school bus tours for six years, taking him from one end of the country to another. But it’s unlikely he ever got the question he faced when his bus pulled into Williamsfield, Illinois, last week.

“Did your bus clear the bridge?” Superintendent Tim Farquer asked him. Duncan’s trip to rural Williamsfield, population 600, might have involved the smallest town he’s ever visited. “This is a town I would normally not get to spend time in,” he admitted.

What brought Duncan and his Ready for Success bus to this rural corner of Illinois was nothing less than the future of education. Williamsfield, which boasts a one-story school that houses all 300 of the town’s students, from PreK to grade 12, has eschewed textbooks in favor of open educational resources.

The district started to make the switch two years ago when leaders considered buying a new math textbook. Instead, they decided to invest in Chromebooks and search for online resources. Initially, teachers struggled with bandwidth issues and finding reliable material. Illinois’s OER website helped by not only rating content but also by showing how it relates to state standards, and bandwidth issues have been resolved.

“This is remarkable to see a town of 600 literally leading the country where they need to go,” Duncan said. “This is a really big deal.”

At other stops on the trip, Duncan learned how Cedar Rapids, Iowa, teachers are taking on various leadership roles and creating an innovative teacher-coaching program. And in Des Moines, Duncan’s boss, President Obama, joined the secretary for a town hall meeting on college affordability. Taking questions for more than an hour at North High School, Obama said, “Higher education has never been more important, but it’s never been more expensive. No young person should be priced out of college.” He detailed the government’s new website,, which allows students and parents to compare the country’s 7,000 higher education institutions on factors such as cost, graduation rates, and average graduate salaries.

How I’m Rethinking Aspects of My Professional Practice This School Year

Without fail, my most invigorating professional experiences have been those that offered opportunities to work closely with colleagues. These were colleagues who were willing to stand at the edge of what they thought they knew about teaching and learning, questioning their assumptions—colleagues who continuously envisioned greater possibilities for their students, theorized, and pushed themselves out of their own comfort zone. In keeping with the spirit of these colleagues, I begin each school year rethinking aspects of my own practice through the lens of my current context, looking for opportunity to deepen and revise my understanding.

As I begin this school year, I’m immersed in a collaborative project focused on the design and implementation of STEAM teaching and learning at the elementary level. My teammates, Rob Corona, Jeralyn Johnson, and Sarah Trueblood, bring a range of disciplinary knowledge and process expertise to conversations that have us questioning what it means to be a STEAM school. We wrestle daily with the design of inquiry-based interdisciplinary STEAM units, the development of a STEAM mindset, and the pedagogies that support student success.

We’ve challenged ourselves to abandon past formats for curriculum design, and are instead using design thinking to structure the flow of our instructional units. Aligning the unit launch with the “ask” phase of design thinking—together with text sets to propel the thinking and talking—is especially invigorating. In Expanding Comprehension with Multigenre Texts (Scholastic, 2009), we explored a thoughtful progression of compelling texts to open lines of inquiry, realized the critical value of alternative perspectives to broaden and deepen thinking, and discussed the importance of varied media forms to help students think critically about digital messaging. Now, we’re incorporating the arts into the process of becoming STEAM, and supporting the shift from traditional science teaching to true inquiry. I marvel as artistic expressions, artifacts, science inquiry, and text sets work together to inspire wonder. Our efforts have led to a series of critical questions aimed at expanding our thinking about text sets, including:

  • How do we design and situate science inquiry experiences in concert with a text set to spark questions and deepen engagement with big ideas?
  • How do we support students in thinking and talking deeply about big ideas represented by artistic expressions and artifacts, and then among these “texts” and other texts in a text set? 
  • Will this process help students to recognize art as a means of communicating big ideas?  Will this understanding change the way students engage in opportunities to create art? 

And most exciting, we experience the power of real talk – talk that allows students to construct understandings over time as they draw from a range of perspectives – and investigate real, relevant issues through STEAM unit design. 

10 Sample Lesson Plans to Try This September (or Anytime)

At the start of a new school year, where do you look for lesson plans and engaging conversation-starters that will interest your students? Many teachers tell us that they go online for inspiration. Our website offers lesson plans, nonfiction book recommendations, videos, and more. If you'd like to get advice from our team of educators, you can do so here.

To help you in your mission to cultivate critical thinking and close-reading skills, while keeping the joy in learning, here are 10 lesson plans for students in grades K-12 that might be useful at the beginning of the school year—or anytime. You'll find topics that range from see-through frogs to the joys of candy.

Have a great year!


The ABC's of Apples

Introduce your students to the wonders of apples and apple trees through song and rhyme.


Mmm, Mmm, Apples!

This colorful lesson on apples features a popular song, flowchart, and pictograph. Students can practice looking for the main idea and details, while acquiring science and academic vocabulary.


Who Am I?

In this lesson, students learn about each other as they conduct interviews and create portraits and biographical posters. Includes a list of popular biographies.


No More Bullying!

An article about a girl who stood up to bullies is accompanied by a video and an interactive online game. Available in print and audio in both English and Spanish.


A See-Through Frog

How do scientists find new types of animals? In this sample lesson plan, students can learn about an exciting rainforest discovery and hone their close-reading skills.


How Candy Conquered America

Paired texts available in two Lexile versions examine when, how, and why candy became popular in the U.S. A bonus text features an interview with historian Samira Kawash, the author of Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure.


Poems That Pop

This lesson shows how pop music can help add snap and crackle to student writing.


Understanding September 11

A collection of more than 30 lesson plans, activities, news stories, videos, and book lists for students of all ages offer context for the tragic events of September 11, 2001.


Desperation at Sea

An article available in two Lexile versions explains the plight of thousands of people fleeing Europe to escape violence, poverty, or persecution in the Middle East and Africa. Photos, maps, and a video help tell the story.


10 Things You Need to Know About China, Part 1 of 2

A New York Times Upfront article about the rise of China, available in two Lexile versions, gives an overview of a country that is playing an increasingly pivotal role on the global stage. Includes a video, debate, and text-based questions.

My Back to School Promise: Books, Glorious Books!

If I had a plane, I would skywrite “Books, Glorious Books—and Time to Read Them!” for all to see. Knowing that voluminous reading is key to literacy development, this year I promise to intensify my district’s efforts to provide every student with daily access to vast amounts and varieties of appealing reading material and time to read. Specifically…

I promise to empower teachers and librarians to build stellar collections of irresistible books.

To boost “shelf-esteem,” administrators must provide time for teachers and librarians to explore books together—to pore over reviews, browse stacks, read, book-talk, compare notes, and develop orders for more books. In Mamaroneck, N.Y., where I serve as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, some of our favorite, reliable online resources include:

  • The Cooperative Children’s Book Center: CCBC librarians post and archive Books of the Week which inevitably include gems not reviewed elsewhere. The center’s compilation of awards and Best-of-the-Year lists is all-inclusive. CCBC’s Bibliographies and Booklists on myriad themes and topics not only help teachers choose specific titles, they also remind us of the breadth necessary to reach all readers.
  • The American Library Association: Our “mother ship” bestows a slew of book, print, and media awards each year. Ordering the top ten in as many categories as one’s budget permits is an efficient way to jumpstart a collection. In Mamaroneck, for example, we seek the Alex Award winners because ALA has vetted them as adult books widely read and enjoyed by teens.
  • The National Council for Social Studies: This organization releases Notable Trade Books for Young People each year in thematic strands. 2014 selections in Biography include Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, Jan Pinborough and Debby Atwell’s account of how Anne Carroll Moore first ensured that children were welcomed in libraries!
  • The National Science Teachers Association: The NSTA also selects Outstanding Trade Books each year. 2015 picks include Katherine Applegate’s Ivan: The True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, the author’s nonfiction follow-up to The One and Only Ivan which includes a tribute from the gorilla’s zookeeper and one of Ivan’s paintings signed with a thumbprint.
  • Indefatigable bloggers at the Nerdy Book Club: These writers, led by Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, Katherine Sokolowski, and Cindy Minnich, post a steady stream of lively and timely reviews--and they welcome contributions!
  • Houston, we have a solution: Texas librarian Teri Lesesne, aka the Goddess of YA, prolifically posts “pearls” and book recommendations on her blog and on Twitter @professornana.

This year, I will suggest that we energize the hunt for great books by timing faculty, department, and grade level meetings around the release dates for prestigious awards such as the National Book Award (November), the New York Times Notable Children’s Books (December), and the Caldecott and Newbery Medals (February).

I promise to keep the stream of great books flowing across the year.

It’s vital to understand local budgeting procedures and timelines so that adequate money is allocated for books and every dollar is spent! Rather than giving teachers a lump sum, I will suggest that administrators divide book allocations across the year so that teachers may place orders as outstanding new titles are released. This will require good communication with the district business office to confirm that the earmarked money will be available across the year, and to guide independent booksellers onto our state’s approved vendor list so that we can do business with these local treasures who know our children.

This year I pledge to develop a more nimble means of acquiring hot new books. When social energy bubbles around a series and the latest one is released, how do we quickly borrow and/or purchase multiple copies to feed the viral interest? Finally, I will continue to encourage teachers and librarians to keep extensive “wish lists” so that if and when monies become available, they are poised to pounce.

I promise to support teachers and librarians in curating their collections.

It’s not enough to flood our classrooms and libraries with books; administrators need to provide time for teachers and librarians to weed and update. Just as produce managers remove bruised peaches and limp lettuce from the aisles, we need to review our collections regularly, replacing worn-out favorites and removing books that don’t circulate to make way for newly-published gems. Administrators need to bless the weeding process because most teachers hate to discard books! 

I promise to provide children with uninterrupted time to read during the school day.

Given the indisputable link between volume and reading development, a large, daily block of independent reading should be the centerpiece of our reading curriculum. In Mamaroneck, elementary students read extensively during reading workshop, and middle and high school students have sacred time at the outset of each English period. Time to read in school provides kids with a leg up, making them more likely to continue reading at home. In-class reading time also provides us with invaluable opportunities to confer with kids and to make sure that they are well-matched with their books.

Finally, I promise to trumpet the importance of independent reading to families, community members, and the Board of Education.

At parent coffees, community forums, and Board of Education meetings, I will assert the importance of voluminous reading. I will encourage teachers to showcase their classroom libraries at Back-to-School night, book talk, and share the research that supports high volume of independent reading. I will provide opportunities for teachers to share the upbeat letters they send home at the beginning of the year which explain that students will read in school every day and enlist parents’ support in prioritizing reading at home.

Once we’ve moved mountains to put captivating books into children’s hands—and we’ve made sure that they are engaged and really reading—then we need to step aside and let kids read! Great books have powerful work to do in the hearts and minds of readers.

Have a great school year!

Learning From—and After—Katrina

A version of this post first appeared on Scholastic's On Our Minds blog.

Scholastic News Kid Reporter Samuel Davis, 12, of Shreveport, La., is too young to remember Hurricane Katrina. Wanting to learn more about the storm and its aftermath, he recently sat down with Darlene Alexander and others who fled New Orleans a decade ago.

“I grabbed a bag of pictures and a couple of outfits,” Alexander told Samuel in an article for our student news site. The rest, of course, is history.

Weeks before the storm, Alexander had started teaching at a KIPP charter school in New Orleans. “We were flying the plane as we were building it,” she told me about her experiences there.

Alexander now teaches at Samuel’s middle school in Shreveport. She is “extremely thankful for the support” that she and her two sons, Austin and Justin, have gotten in their adopted city. But in a recent phone conversation, Alexander acknowledged that she knows what it means, as Billie Holiday sang, “to miss New Orleans.”

Still, Alexander feels lucky to have gotten out of New Orleans. Failing schools and a rise in violent crime before the storm, she said, troubled her deeply. She wanted a safe environment for her sons to grow up in.

Ten years after Katrina, a Louisiana State University report finds that the city’s African American residents “are far more skeptical” than whites about improvements to the economy, schools, and overall quality of life; 65 percent of black respondents believe that “people like them have had no say in the rebuilding process.”

Efforts to remake the failing schools of New Orleans, which began before Katrina struck, eventually resulted in the creation of independent public charter schools across the city and state. Are the unprecedented changes a cause for hope or despair?

In this post, NPR’s lead education blogger Anya Kamenetz looks at the varied views. As Kamenetz observes, “the divisions between those who champion the new New Orleans and those who deplore it are as wide and murky as the Mississippi itself.”

If you’d like to learn more about how public education has been reshaped in New Orleans, here are some recommendations:

The Uncounted

In post-Katrina New Orleans, writes Owen Davis in the International Business Times, many special needs students have been left out of the equation, while the number of African American teachers has dropped from more than 70 percent to roughly half.

The Re-Education of New Orleans

A decade ago, the state of Louisiana took control of most of the city’s schools, many of which had been declining for years. A series of articles in Education Week looks at the “profound changes to public schooling that have never before been seen in a single American city."

How everyone is getting it wrong on New Orleans school reform

Douglas N. Harris, a professor at Tulane University, studied the developments in New Orleans schools for more than a year. “The lessons of school reform,” he writes in The Washington Post, “can’t be summed up in a headline.”

Makeover of New Orleans schools sows progress and recriminations

Reporter Andrew Vanacore of The New Orleans Advocate talks with principals, teachers, and students in the city’s charter schools, concluding that “not even the charter school movement’s biggest fans argue that better schools came without pitfalls or pain.”

Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children

In her 2014 book, Hope Against Hope, education reporter Sarah Carr writes about “the “radically altered public education system” that many families displaced by Hurricane Katrina found upon their return to New Orleans. The story is set against the complications that students faced outside the classroom, as families struggled to rebuild their homes and their lives.

How to Get Students Back into the Writing Zone

During the first week of school, I will often ask students if they did any writing over the summer. Almost universally, they will tell me “no.”

But I know this just isn’t the case. Most students write all the time; they just don’t know it!

Here’s a nice way to get students back into the writing zone, and help them shift into an academic mindset.

Step 1: Ask the question: Did you do any writing over the summer?

They’ll say they haven’t done any. But I’ll bet they’ve written thank you notes, or posted something on Twitter, or emailed a friend, or sent a text message! Students might not thinking of this as proper “writing,” but when a student writes a tweet, he or she is using many of the important writing skills we teach in the classroom. The student is organizing an idea in her head and explaining it. She’s thinking about her audience. She’s considering the proper format. This is what writers do, regardless of the task.

Step 2: Talk about the writing you (the teacher) did over the summer, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem: a list, a form, a lesson plan, a message online.

It’s important that students see YOU as a writer, just as they see themselves as writers!

Step 3: Here’s where you can introduce the shift to academic writing. “The writing you did over the summer is great practice for what we’ll be doing at school this year. Here at school we’ll be doing academic writing…”

Let them ease back into it. Remind them that they ARE writers already, and this year, they are going to get better and better at it.

Why We Need More Poetry in Schools

Below is an excerpt from an article I co-wrote with Chris Colderley, "Making Words Dance," in this month's Language Magazine, August 2015.

Northrop Frye (2002) claimed, “Poetry is the most direct and simple means of expressing oneself in words” (p. 58). Yet poetry is not given as much attention as it deserves. It is a genre that is neglected throughout elementary and high school, as well as in teacher-education courses (Certo, Apol, Wibbens, & Yoon, 2010). There are many reasons (and excuses) why more poetry is not in classrooms. Many teachers lack the confidence to teach poetry, because they lack the experience in and knowledge of the field. Reid (2006) says teachers “believe they have not been prepared to teach poetry. Lack of experience, lack of preparation, and lack of confidence quickly add up to lack of interest if not complete apathy” (p. 9). The disappearance of poetry from classrooms has generated a cycle of indifference among students (Parr & Campbell, 2006). Morag Styles, professor of children’s poetry at the University of Cambridge, suggests “the lack of confidence of generations of teachers in tackling poetry has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as pupils are not inspired to read it for pleasure” (2011).

During one of my very first author visits, I remember a high school English teacher warning me that her students may not be engaged in, or responsive to, my presentation, as many of them abhorred poetry. I asked her if she taught poetry, and she shared that she had taught it begrudgingly, as it was not her favorite either. I could relate.

When I was in high school, I was disinterested in the poetry we learned in AP English. It was inaccessible, unrelatable, and, quite frankly, boring. That is not to say that it was not valuable, because it was; these were the literary stalwarts of the canon, after all. True, we were learning, but our human souls weren’t being moved in some significant way. And if you want a student to be moved by poetry, if you want to be moved by poetry, then you must share poetry with which you connect on an emotional level.

So many of us have been immersed, since grade school, in so much staid and incomprehensible poetry that we feel disconnected from it, often scared by it. We’ve been taught that in order to understand a poem, we must first dissect it (we dissect frogs, not poetry), and so we’ve never felt what poetry feels like. We’ve never developed a sense of joy from reading between the lines. We’ve never smiled like the sun. We’ve never cried a river. I say poetry is a ladder, and we should carefully and intentionally take each step, and work our way up. This way, we are more apt to find our way to a higher appreciation of language and literature.

There are a plethora of good reasons for teaching poetry in schools. Faced with the demands of data-driven decision making and a cacophony of instructional practices, teachers have to discern the approaches that will have the greatest impact on student engagement and learning, as well as on growth (Holbrook, 2005). Poetry instruction offers a range of possibilities for improving reading and writing and increasing student motivation (Cecil, 1994; Routman, 2001). For the purposes of this article, we will focus on improved writing.

You can read the full Language Magazine article here.


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