Don't forget to #thankateacher today!

Today, I want to thank my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Silverman, for always challenging me to ask "why?"

He was always tough on his students, pushing us to dig deeper, ask more questions, look at texts in different ways. He was hard! But he was passionate and excited about learning -- and that passion rubbed off on his students. At least it did on me!

I moved away from the Massachusetts town where I grew up after that fifth grade year, and Mr. Silverman was one of the friends I kept in touch with. It's been a lot of years now since I've heard from him, but I'll never forget that great year in his class.

It's Teacher Appreciation Day today. What better way to celebrate than to thank a teacher that made a difference in your life. Feel free to do so in the comments below, or on Twitter using the #thankateacher hashtag!

Here is a video featuring several of our Scholastic Top Teaching bloggers thanking their childhood teachers.

Meet the 2014 National Teacher of the Year

It seems only appropriate to kick off Teacher Appreciation Week by congratulating the newly named National Teacher of the Year, Sean McComb. 

An honor bestowed each year by the Council Chief State School Officers, Mr. McComb is the 64th National Teacher of the Year and hails from Maryland where he teaches English at Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts. In his video interview, you can see that teaching is a passion for him. He sees it not only as an opportunity to impart the skills students need, but a love of learning. Mr. McComb's video is particularly moving as you also learn that he gets to know his students on a personal level and therefore can also be a role model and a support system when needed. 

Meet Mr. McComb:

As we saw in the Primary Sources survey data of more than 20,000 teachers, 99% of teachers agree teaching is more than academics; it is also about reinforcing good citizenship, resilience and social skills. And to be a great teacher, you need the mastery of many skills and talents from managing the classroom and having high expectations to creating an environment where students feel safe to make mistakes and being interested in their lives. Mr. McComb has this in spades. Congratulations on being named National Teacher of the Year!

And to all amazing teachers in classrooms and in the hallways, thank you too! Everyone should remember to #thankateacher this week.

Different strokes: Allowing for creativity

According to Peter DeWitt and other educators, “learning styles” are a myth. No more distinguishing between auditory and visual learners. Children learn best, brain researchers say, when they can see and hear.

Dr. Marcia Tate, a former teacher, reading specialist and Executive Director of Professional Development for the DeKalb County School System in Decatur, Georgia, has synthesized the work of learning theorists into 20 strategies to help students acquire knowledge. Reciprocal teaching, role playing and using manipulatives are among Tate's recommended strategies.

Allowing kids time for free expression will serve them well "in the real world," Tate says, whether they want to become sculptors or engineers. Going a step further and encouraging students to draw images of what they're learning, she adds, will "put the visual-spatial intelligence to work." Without that prompting, “many students, particularly boys, are off task during class drawing superheroes, cars and people.”

For a writer, it seems, being “off task” is an occupational hazard. A colleague who writes magazine articles for young teens summed it up this way on Facebook: “I've always had a nagging worry that my bosses and/or coworkers think that I'm goofing off because of those long spells of either complete inactivity or what probably seems like aimless Web surfing or hallway wandering. But I don't really compose on paper (or keyboard). I work out many versions, many drafts, in my head, in long skeins—only partly consciously—then I have to shift them into full consciousness and race to get them down before I lose them and have to start over. A dangerous way to make a living.”

Another writer, who is a former colleague, had this to say on Facebook: “Worked VERY diligently all day on book due next Tuesday to very patient editor. Diligence made possible by lying in bed writing in magic pajamas. I think every office needs beds with lots of pillows, a laptop and magic pajamas.”

That would be a dream. But, like most people, writers have to adhere to some sort of normalcy, even though “the vocation, the obsession,” as Irish novelist Edna O’Brien told The Paris Review in 1984, “derives from an intensity of feeling which normal life cannot accommodate.”

When a college friend and I discovered O’Brien’s interview—and there is no better way for an aspiring writer to avoid writing than to read about how a great writer procrastinates—we were delighted to learn that O’Brien spent her ruminative time mopping. For daughters of women who were then called housewives, this seemed like a validation of our lives (although my own mother rarely lifted a mop). We later realized that O’Brien was actually "moping.” 

As you read this, writers everywhere are moping, mopping or wandering aimlessly. I recently met a writer, Holly Hughes, who worked at Scholastic decades ago. Although I did not know Hughes, whenever I saw her name in print, I would think, “Now that’s a byline.” A colleague who remembers her from long ago gave me this description: “At Scholastic’s former offices at 730 Broadway, I often encountered a woman strolling the halls. She moved at a steady, relaxed pace, with her hands in the pockets of her suit jacket. The expression on her face was always pleasant, and often contemplative. I saw her this way so often that I once asked her about it. ‘That,’ she replied, ‘is how I write.’”

And that, I imagine, is how many children learn.

Honoring students for outstanding academic success

Through the work we do here at Scholastic, I am constantly reminded of the increasing number of obstacles to learning that many students face -- from learning disabilities to language barriers to poverty.

And every year at this time, when we name our READ 180 and System 44 All-Star Award winners, I'm reminded that it is never too late to catch up and become a successful student. With the help of their dedicated teachers, these students are truly all-stars!

Below are the READ 180 middle school and high school winners.  Visit On Our Minds, to view the System 44 and READ 180 elementary school winners.

Middle School

Lisette Cortes, Age 13 – Grade: 7 – Washington Middle School, Yakima, WA

When speaking with Lisette, you would never guess that two years ago she was a timid student who read on a first grade level. Today, Lisette reads on an 8th grade level and has become a leader at home by helping her siblings with schoolwork. Next year, Lisette will serve as a school mentor to incoming 6th-graders. When asked how READ 180 has impacted her life, Lisette said, “It has helped me read better. I used to read slowly and I use to get frustrated when I was reading, because I couldn’t read fast like the other kids.” Currently Lisette is earning all A’s and B’s. “With the success she has developed through READ180 her confidence is carrying over to her other classes,” said her teacher, Heather Harris.

Jose Feliciano, Age 13 – Grade: 7 – Spc. Rafael Hernando Middle School, El Paso, TX

A kind and generous “helper,” as his teacher describes him, Jose never hesitates to step up and help his fellow READ 180 students when they need assistance. Just a few months ago, he was a student whose reading scores were holding him back from succeeding in all his classes and dragging down his self-confidence. But all that has changed since the beginning of his seventh grade year. He has already gained the equivalent of two years in his reading skills in this school year. His newfound success has boosted his confidence, helped him become more self-reliant in class, and transformed him into a leader. “This program has given me the confidence needed to achieve better grades in both reading and writing,” Jose said. He says he wants to pursue a career where he can help others. Like his father, he says he wants to join the Army.

Robert Moser, Age 13 – Grade: 7 – Upper Merion Middle School, King of Prussia, PA

Robert is an honor student, a member of the student council and a voracious reader. His story inspires because of the obstacles he overcame to get where he is today. A student with autism, Robert was unable to speak until he was 4 years old. In three years since he started READ 180, his reading skills have soared, allowing him to read at a fifth-grade level with the goal of eventually achieving grade level fluency. “Robert has demonstrated remarkable growth socially due to the increase in his self-esteem and self-confidence as he’s found success in his academics,” said his teacher. Robert is a passionate Philadelphia sports fan and continues to read every day with dreams of one day becoming an animator.

High School

Manuel de Jesus Hernandez-Martinez, Age 16 – Grade: 10 – Thomas Dale High School, Chester, VA

Manuel immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was five years old. Coming from a household of Spanish speakers, Manuel had to learn English at school and translate for his family. At the start of his 8th grade year, Manuel was a beginning reader. Through the use of READ 180, this year he was able to pass all his Virginia Standards of Learning tests for the ninth grade. “One of the biggest ways READ 180 has helped me was when I needed to get my Social Security card,” Manuel explained. “I got the form and was able to read and fill it out all on my own. If it wasn’t for READ180, I never would have been able to understand he complicated forms.” In 2016, Manuel will be the first person in his family to earn a high school diploma.

Michael Hurd, Age 17 – Grade: 12 – Dover High School, Dover, DE

At the beginning of his high school career, Michael had significant difficulties with reading because of his dyslexia and because the content at the high school level was simply too challenging for someone so far behind. Fast forward to today: Michael is an All-State football player who is getting ready to graduate and enroll at Delaware State University in the fall. “Big Red,” as he is known to his friends and teachers, gained the equivalent of almost 10 years in his reading ability since he started high school. Thanks to his hard work in READ 180 and his partnership with his teacher, Michael is now an honor roll student and is destined for success, whether on the football field, in the classroom, or in the career of his choice. “Football and my education are going to take me somewhere,” he said.

Afnan Khan, Age 16 – Grade: 10 – Minuteman Technical High School, Lexington, MA

Originally born and raised in Pakistan, Afnan and her family moved to the United States with hopes for a more stable lifestyle and a quality education. While she started far below grade level, Afnan adjusted to American culture and persevered in her reading goals despite language barriers. Today, she is on the fast track to becoming a proficient reader by the end of the school year. “Now with READ 180, I understand more of what I am reading. I feel confident with my answers,” said Afnan. “I am not nervous to read aloud in class.” Afnan’s determination and hard work have transformed her confidence, inspiring her to study Spanish and receive acceptance into her school’s Health Occupations program with the hope of one day becoming a pediatrician.

Darline Manfred, Age 15 – Grade: 11 – Westerly High School, Westerly, RI

Prior to moving to the United States, Darline never had any formal schooling in her birthplace, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, Darline arrived in Westerly, RI,reading far below grade level. But, because of her resilience and thirst for knowledge, she overcame the challenge of being an English language learner in a new country and excelled academically, improving her reading by the equivalent of five grade levels in two and a half years. “I decided to make a difference for myself by working hard every day and learning how to be successful in my READ 180 class,” explained Darline. Her academic confidence led her to playing on the school volleyball team, and she would like to one day return to her homeland to inspire other Haitian children to develop a similar passion for reading.

“Is this America?”

It's been 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared "unconditional war on poverty," and 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education held that racially segregated schools are unconstitutional.

Whether your paycheck is good, bad or indifferent, you know that inequality and de facto segregation live on in the United States. As James Dent says in this unsparing look at the resegregated school system in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, "It ain't going to get no better."

In April, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan's ban on the use of race as a factor in admissions to state universities. Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who argued before the Court, said that the ban "unfairly keeps students from asking universities to consider race as one factor in admissions, but allows consideration of factors like legacy status, athletic achievement and geography."

Rosenbaum's point about legacy admissions, for example, is borne out in a disquieting new statistic. Analyzing data from 30 top colleges, researcher Michael Hurwitz found that children of alumni had a 45 percent greater chance of admission. Because of legacy admissions, Evan J. Mandery observes in this New York Times column, "elite colleges look almost nothing like America."

And what of the legacy of the great civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who all but forced the Voting Rights Act on President Johnson at the Democratic National Convention of 1964?

"Is this America?" Hamer railed before the television cameras that summer. "The land of the free and the home of the brave?"

Fifty years later, Julian Bond, the former head of the NAACP, says that "the problem of discrimination in voting has not yet been eradicated."

Hamer risked her life so that black citizens like her would "be treated as human beings in our sick society." One can hear her words echoing through Atlantic City's old convention hall, where she fought in vain to win a seat: "I question America. Is this America?"

Listening to the teacher voice

This post first appeared on The Washington Post's "The Answer Sheet" blog. We have permission to cross-post it here.

If you’re reading this column, you probably know that America’s teachers are facing countless challenges in and out of the classroom. A new survey by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change, confirms this, reporting that 82 percent of teachers see “constantly changing demands” as a significant challenge. A host of changes—in leadership, policies, curriculum and more—are placing a strain on already limited time and resources.

Primary Sources lays bare the realities of a profession whose practitioners are rarely given a voice in the national conversation. While 69 percent of teachers say that their voices are heard in decision-making at the school level, very few report the same when it comes to district, state and national decisions—decisions that directly affect teachers and their students.

Knowing such feelings of isolation from my own days in the classroom, I’m grateful that we’re finally hearing teachers’ voices loud and clear. What are they saying? First and foremost, that they are professionals who deserve our respect. They know better than anyone how to spark a love of learning in their students, and those students are their No. 1 priority.

Primary Sources is based on a blind online survey of more than 20,000 Pre-K through grade 12 public school teachers from all 50 states. It was conducted in July 2013 by the highly regarded Harrison Group, a YouGov Company, with respondents proportional to each state’s population, making the survey a representative sampling of America’s teachers.

By listening to teachers, we can learn how best to support them as they help to shape America’s future, one child at a time, often in overcrowded classrooms where children have a wide range of needs. Ninety-nine percent of teachers report having students with social, emotional or behavioral challenges. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) have seven different student populations in one classroom, including those with special needs, those who are gifted and those who are working two or more grades below grade level.

Imagine 27 patients arriving at a doctor’s office at the same time. Picture a lawyer with 20 clients waiting to see her, or a judge who is asked to rule on 30 cases simultaneously.

To reach each student in the classroom, a teacher must wear many hats and cultivate a variety of strategies. The report enumerates the skills that today’s professionals consider “extremely important” to being a great teacher, including:

  • creating an environment where students feel safe making mistakes (83 percent);
  • managing the classroom effectively (82 percent);
  • delivering content clearly to students (80 percent);
  • and maintaining high academic expectations for all students (79 percent).

Further, 99 percent of teachers agree that their role goes beyond academics. It also involves “reinforcing good citizenship, resilience and social skills.” Everyone would agree that such work is critical. But if we’re not listening to teachers, how can we properly support them?

Overwhelmingly, teachers are asking for more time and resources to do their jobs effectively. Seventy-one percent, for example, say that they need additional professional development to implement the Common Core State Standards successfully.

Teachers also need quality instructional materials. And while we know that they value collaboration, half of teachers (51 percent) cite a lack of time working with colleagues as a significant challenge. This has adverse implications, not only for teachers’ ability to do their jobs, but also for the quality of instruction their students receive.

Still, our nation’s teachers remain dedicated to their students. Eighty-nine percent say that they are satisfied or very satisfied in their profession, and an almost equal percentage (88 percent) agree that the rewards of their work outweigh the challenges. As one middle school teacher said, “When you get those mini victories, and you see that a child is learning and something positive is happening as a result of your time in the classroom, that’s a big deal.”

It is up to us to make more such moments possible. Teachers are telling us that in order to succeed in the classroom, their voices must be heard outside of it. We would do well to listen. In fact, our future depends on it.

Start listening by reading the Primary Sources report. It includes teachers’ views on a range of topics, including the rewards and challenges of teaching, the Common Core, teacher evaluations, and collaboration with peers and parents. The full report is available for download at

Differentiating instruction with Laura Robb

Last week, Laura Robb, Scholastic educational consultant and author of Unlocking Complex Texts, and XBOOKS™, was featured on Reading Today Online. In the article Laura discusses differentiating instruction. Below is an excerpt of her post: 

Accommodations...I’m in favor if they support developing the skill of all readers in a class. However, as I visit middle schools and talk to teachers around the country, I notice that in the era of the Common Core, dozens of districts have returned to one book for all. Since one book or one anthology won’t meet students’ range of instructional needs, teachers accommodate instruction to meet district requirements. They often read the text aloud to a group or the entire class.

The result is that developing readers who need to read to improve their skill aren’t reading during instructional time, while advanced readers aren’t challenged to read complex texts at their instructional levels. Moreover, many students don’t absorb information from teachers reading aloud because they aren’t listening. However, there is a teaching strategy that can meet the instructional reading needs of middle school students even if teachers have forty-two or forty-five minute classes: differentiating instruction.

Differentiation asks teachers to meet students’ instructional needs by providing texts at a variety of reading levels. Equally important, differentiation allows students to choose instructional and independent reading texts, and choice motivates and engages them. To facilitate differentiation, organize instructional reading units around a genre to meet your students’ reading needs. By looking at what happened in a seventh grade inclusion class, you can better understand how the teacher and I restructured instruction.

In September, students in that class had instructional reading levels from 3.0 to 11.0. Required to deliver selections from the grade-level anthology, the teacher read the selections out loud to the majority of students. After debriefing with the teacher, we developed these accommodations.

  • the anthology became the anchor text, and the teacher and I used it to think aloud and model reading strategies in brief mini-lessons;
  • we raided the school, public, and classroom libraries to find enough books within the anchor text’s genreto offer all students choices;
  • we provided several books within each instructional level and students chose one;
  • instructional books and materials remained at school and students read, discussed, and wrote about these texts for 25 to 30 minutes three to four times a week; and
  • students completed independent reading once or twice a week, after finishing instructional reading tasks and at home.

Click here to read the full article.

Will you be attending IRA’s 59th Annual Conference, May 9-12, 2014, in New Orleans, Louisiana? Join Laura Robb as she co-presents with Ruth Culham on “Deep Reading & Deep Writing: Developing Literacy Skills Using Mentor Texts.”

We couldn't keep up without you, a salute to excellent journalism

Each and every day the first thing I do in the morning that requires my brain is to look at the daily headlines. All over the world things are happening and how would we know about them without journalists? Our first amendment and respect for the power of knowledge is something that keeps America precious. Over the past week, excellence in journalism has been honored through the Pulitzer Prize and for the education reporters of today, through the Education Writers Association (EWA).

A look at the list of winners from both organizations is not only to see examples of stellar work but it is also an interesting way to look at the past year in review. The Boston Globe Staff was recognized for their exemplary work during a tragedy as they covered the Boston Marathon bombings. In education, Philadelphia Public School Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks coverage of the local school closings received a first prize honor from EWA.

Congratulations to all of the dedicated professionals who were honored over the past week. Many of whom took extraordinary efforts to tell their story. A few other highlights are:

From the Pulitzer Prize list The Guardian US and Washington Post both were honored for their public service reporting on NSA surveillance, Chris Hamby of the Center for Public Integrity for investigative reporting, Eli Saslow of the Washington Post for explanatory reporting, Will Hobson and Michael LaForgia of the Tampa Bay Times for local reporting, David Philipps of The Gazette, Colorado Springs, CO, for national reporting, and Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters. Make sure to check out the full list which also includes photography, commentary and cartooning here.

First Prizes in the 2013 National Awards for Education Reporting from EWA, which separated newsrooms by size, include Sara Neufeld of the Hechinger Report; Alia Wong of the Honolulu Civil Beat; David DesRoches of the Darien Times; Jane Stancill of The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.; Vanessa de la Torre and Matthew Kauffman of The Hartford Courant; Liz Bowie of The Baltimore Sun; Denise-Marie Ordway of the Orlando Sentinel; and Dan Mihalopoulos of the Chicago Sun-Times. In broadcast, First Prizes went to John Merrow, Jane Renauf, David Wald and Jessica Windt of Learning Matters; Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio; and the full team behind “This American Life: Harper High School” hosted by Ira Glass, A full list can be found here.

Be sure to read, view or listen to these award-winning pieces.

Go-to articles and resources on the summer slide

The International Reading Association (IRA) held a fantastic Twitter chat last week on the topic of stopping the summer slide.

Below is a list of go-to links and resources that participants shared during the chat.

If summer reading is a topic of interest to you, Scholastic is holding a live Google+ Hangout TOMORROW at 8 p.m. EST featuring three educators who will share about summer reading initiatives in their communities. Pam Allyn, literacy expert and founder of LitWorld, will be moderating the hour-long session. RSVP and tune in on the event page here.

  1. Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen's Reading Today article on how reading books during the summer can help close the reading achievement gap between children from wealthy and from poor households.
  2. Kimberly Tyson's blog post offering 13 ideas to parents for motivating their children to read during the summer.
  3. A 2007 Reading Today article on the summer slide by Maryann Mraz and Tim Rasinski.
  4. IRA's "Stopping the Summer Slide" Pinterest board.
  5. Five summer reading tips from Pam Allyn in Scholastic Instructor magazine.

And we couldn't go without mentioning the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, our online reading program designed to motivate kids to read all summer long. Teachers can go to the site now and pre-register their students.


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