Critical and creative thinking for all

I find myself consistently in awe of the teachers and principals of schools that have rolled up their sleeves, taken the hard work of turning around their school head on and still have the energy and passion to share their successes – and lessons learned – with others. I often wonder how are they not sleeping instead?! I met one such principal this week when I sat in the Keysor Elementary School presentation during the 2014 Model Schools Conference. Principal Bryan Painter gave us a window into how this Missouri school tackled all sorts of challenges and while they find themselves still working, had plenty of productive experiences to share.

During conferences, ideas can be overwhelming as they are buzzing about everywhere and while my list of great insights is long from this conference, the piece of Principal Painter’s presentation that really got me to think was when he asked use about instilling critical and creative thinking for all in schools. He started with presenting his key action items on a slide:

  • Create, allow for, and nurture opportunities to problem solve and think critically about relevant ideas
  • Create, allow for, and nurture opportunities for playful thinking and creativity
  • Teach into creative thinking skills
  • Ensure conditions of trust – where risk-taking is the norm and creativity is valued
  • Advocate for physical spaces that inspire creativity, innovation, and new ways of thinking

With the simple list in front of us, he had us discuss them amongst ourselves for a few minutes from our own lens. Once we finished, he posed the group two questions. How many of you looked at this list from the perspective of your students in the classroom? All hands went up. Now he asked how many of you looked at this list from the perspectives of the teachers in your school? I don’t recall a hand going up but I reserve the right to have missed one while I had an a-ha moment.

That simple question was an eye-opening trick that I hope you all will think about. We are so invested – and rightly so – in the success of students. A crucial part of that conversation is always how do teachers and leaders come together to make it work – again, rightly so. But this simple idea of what we want to do for our students to foster learning is also what we can and want to do for our teachers is spot on. Just as we are creating the environment for our students to think differently, we need to do so for our teachers so they can tackle the changes they need to address. The "for all" in this post's title isn't just for all student but rather for all students and educators. 

American Academy of Pediatrics issues policy on early literacy

Educators, researchers and parents have long understood the importance of reading aloud to young children -- both to instill in them the importance of books and reading, but also to help stimulate brain development, vocabulary acquisition and the knowledge that comes from reading about the world.

Research dating back decades (See Hart & Risley) shows the stunning word gap between young children from low-income families and those from wealthier households. These vocabulary gaps start to open at a very early age, and they tend persist as children grow older, and become predictors of later success in school and beyond.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is taking a big step forward today by issuing a policy statement that promotes early literacy—beginning from an infant's very first days—as an essential component of primary care visits. Here's coverage from The New York Times this morning.

Today, at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America meeting in Denver, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a new collaborative effort of Too Small to Fail, AAP, Scholastic and Reach Out and Read to raise awareness among parents about early language development.

At Scholastic, we're excited to be making a 500,000-book donation to Reach Out and Read to jump start this initiative -- books that this wonderful organization will use to distribute to children in pediatric exam rooms nationwide.

This is an issue we care deeply about here at Scholastic; we've always advocated that parents begin reading to children at birth. The more children are exposed to books and rich language, the better off they’ll be!

Parents: When did you start reading to your kids?

How to run a great end-of-year literacy event

With the school year wrapping up for most students, what better way to celebrate than with a family literacy event? It is a great way to bring families together to continue to build your learning community. You can recognize the year’s achievements and kick off summer activities.

The top 5 things that make a great literacy event:

  1. GREAT BOOK: Start with a great book, one with exciting pictures or an intriguing story line.  Read it with passion and ask lots of questions. Follow the read aloud with a quick discussion to review the book and extend the learning.
  2. INTERACTIVE ACTIVITIES: Follow up the read aloud with fun interactive activities that spark everyone’s interests. Anything from writing to acting or drawing can keep the learning going.
  3. WORKING TOGETHER: Provide opportunities to share and work together. Everyone has something to offer and each of us have different experiences. Working together allows for everyone to play a part of the learning.
  4. GOOD COMMUNITY COLLABORATIONS: Partnering with other organizations and businesses in the community can help make the event stronger. Community partners can provide volunteers, activity space, educational resources or refreshments.
  5. OPPORTUNITY TO PRACTICE AT HOME: After families have had a great time at the literacy event, share resources or activities they can do together at home. Giving families the chance to do some of the same types of activities they just experienced allows them to work together.

New York City’s PS 7, the I Have a Dream Foundation – NY and the Scholastic FACE (Family and Community Engagement) group teamed up to host a Literacy Event to celebrate a great year. On an early Saturday morning in East Harlem about 30 students and their families showed up in the school library for literacy event. Students participated in a great read aloud of the book What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. After a quick book discussion the students and their families did three great activities in the cafeteria and then went home with three books and more activities for home.

Program Director Nancy Restrepo-Wilson summed it up when she said, "I loved the opportunity to make reading fun and accessible to families as they support their children. Indeed, we are grateful for this opportunity and look forward to more in the future.”

Save the date: Teacher Week @ Scholastic

No matter how talented, how experienced and how well-trained we are at something, there's always room for improvement! To help you recharge and gear up for next school year, we are excited to invite you to Scholastic for a free, four day event featuring 15 professional development seminars (and exclusive teacher discounts in the Scholastic Store!). 

Teachers, if you are in the NYC area August 18-21, mark your calendars and register for Teacher Week @ Scholastic at (Be sure to include an email address you'll have access to this summer so we can send you updates!)

We are still putting final touches on things and building the full schedule, but we know this year’s seminars will include:

Tailoring Reading Instruction to Your Students By Dr. Julie Washington, Professor, Georgia State University, Communication Disorders Program, Educational Psychology and Special Education

Number Talks By Sherry Parrish, Assistant Professor for The University of Alabama at Birmingham

Writing Evidence-Based Arguments By Dr. Ruth Culham, President of the Culham Writing Company

Putting Students on a Path to Greatness By Bryon V. Garrett, Chairman, National Family Engagement Alliance; Former CEO, National PTA

Supporting Bilingual Students By Dr. Cynthia Weill, Teachers College, Columbia University

New teachers, don’t worry we’ve added special seminars just for you!

Classroom Management and Organization Made Easy By Genia Connell, Master Teacher

Integrating Technology into the Reading/Writing Classroom By Alycia Zimmerman, Master Teacher

7 Strategies for Surviving—and Thriving—in Your First Year of Teaching By: Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic Inc.

Life, death and the stories in between

Books teach us about life and its corollary, death. We try to make sense of the splendor and the ruin around us by turning to great works of literature. Often, those works were written by someone we don't know, even someone from another era altogether.

As you look for reading material for your students, especially your reluctant readers in middle and high school, why not start with an obituary? A good obituary, reporter Marilyn Johnson observed in The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, is a "tight little coil of biography" that "reminds us of a poem" and "contains the most creative writing in journalism." It can also reignite our interest in a life's work.

Consider this obituary of Maya Angelou, whom I best knew as the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir about growing up in the Jim Crow South, and “On the Pulse of Morning,” a poem she delivered at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Here are just a few of the things I hadn't realized — or hadn't remembered — about Angelou:

  • She sang calypso.
  • She spoke at least six languages.
  • Although she never went to college, she had more than 30 honorary degrees.
  • She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973.

Most significant, perhaps, Angelou took a huge risk in publishing her first memoir, something we now take for granted.

“All of the writers of my generation must honor the ground broken by Dr. Maya Angelou,” author Tayari A. Jones posted on her Facebook page after Angelou's death on May 28. “She told a story that wasn’t allowed to be told. Now, people tell all sorts of things in memoir, but when she told the truth, she challenged a taboo — not for shock value, but to heal us all.”

If your students want to delve into the life and work of Angelou, check out these links:

These obituaries and appreciations of other writers may also be of interest:

Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)— The Guardian
"Few writers have produced novels that are acknowledged as masterpieces not only in their own countries but all around the world. Fewer still can be said to have written books that have changed the whole course of literature in their language. But the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez . . . achieved just that."

E. B. White (1899-1985): Recollections by His Stepson — The New Yorker

"White’s gift to writers is clarity, which he demonstrates so easily in setting down the daily details of his farm chores: the need to pack the sides of his woodshed with sprucebrush against winter; counterweighting the cold-frame windows, for easier operation; the way the wind is ruffling the surface of the hens’ water fountain."

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Author of Splendid Nightmares — The New York Times

"As portrayed by Mr. Sendak, the wild things are deliciously grotesque: huge, snaggletoothed, exquisitely hirsute and glowering maniacally. He always maintained he was drawing his relatives — who, in his memory at least, had hovered like a pack of middle-aged gargoyles above the childhood sickbed to which he was often confined."

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007), Author of the Classic A Wrinkle in Time The New York Times

"She once described herself as a French peasant cook who drops a carrot in one pot, a piece of potato in another and an onion and a piece of meat in another. 'At dinnertime, you look and see which pot smells best and pull it forward,' she was quoted as saying in a 2001 book, Madeleine L’Engle (Herself): Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase. 'The same is true with writing,' she continued. 'There are several pots on my backburners.'"

Dwayne McDuffie (1962-2011), Comic-Book Writer — The New York Times

“'You only had two types of characters available for children,' Mr. McDuffie told The New York Times in 1993. 'You had the stupid angry brute and the he’s-smart-but-he’s-black characters. And they were all colored either this Hershey-bar shade of brown, a sickly looking gray or purple. I’ve never seen anyone that’s gray or purple before in my life. There was no diversity and almost no accuracy among the characters of color at all.'”

Roald Dahl (1916-1990): The Story of the Storyteller — NPR

"[Dahl] had an extraordinary confidence about his ability to see into a child's mind and to see the world the way a child saw it."

Barbara Park (1947-2013), Author of Junie B. Jones Children's Stories — Daily News

"Park remembered herself as a troublemaker who knew well the path to the principal's office."

Louisa May Alcott (1832 - 1888) — The New York Times

"There was probably no writer among women better loved by the young than she."

 Adapted from our Editor's Corner


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