Read often. Mostly silently. Focus on knowledge.

"Read often. Mostly silently. Focus on knowledge."

This is researcher and reading expert Freddy Hiebert's mantra in this article she released through her TextProject group recently. In it she makes the case for a renewed focus on helping children build "reading stamina," and that a person's ability to read silently and proficiently for long stretches of time is the key threshold for becoming a successful reader.

Deliberate practice makes all the difference, she argues.

"For any given activity, whether it is highly demanding (e.g. performing brain surgery or playing a Rachmaninoff piano concerto) or prosaic (e.g. riding a bike or using a computer keyboard), it is absurd to think that we can become proficient without participating extensively in the activity."

The problem, she says, is stamina has been pushed aside with NCLB's emphasis on "phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension" and the Common Core's focus on close reading of complex texts.

"Instruction about critical reading strategies and content is important, but instruction does not necessarily ensure that students have the opportunities they need to become proficient independent readers. For this to happen, students also need to have an abundance of ... opportunities to read."

Teachers can do a lot to help students build silent reading stamina, and the article includes seven actions she recommends taking.

When there's only so much time in the school day, how do you help students build stamina?

Literacy through Culture: A focus on Cool Culture

This is the first post in a new Q&A series here on frizzle highlighting the important work of nonprofit and community organizations whose mission is aligned to ours at Scholastic—to ensure that all children have the opportunity to access and benefit from learning and literacy rich environments.

This week, I had the pleasure to speak with Candice Anderson, Executive Director of Cool Culture.

Q: What is Cool Culture?

A: Cool Culture exists to ensure that New York’s most diverse families with preschool-aged children have access to arts and culture as a way to increase literacy and learning in early childhood and to prepare children to succeed in school. Each year, we improve outcomes for children by: partnering with 90 premiere museums and cultural institutions; working with 400 early childhood programs and public schools; and providing over 50,000 low-income families with free, unlimited access to the city’s museums. Our three impact focus areas include Family Engagement; School Readiness through Community Networks; and Greater Diversity in the Museum Field.

Q: Can you tell me about one your main programs, Literacy through Culture (LTC)?

A: LTC is a partnership in Harlem between six early childhood centers, six cultural institutions, Bank Street College of Education and Cool Culture. Together we engage educators and families with making cultural institutions and visual inquiry (conversations about works of art, culture and nature) a part of their children’s learning experiences—in the classroom, at-home, and in the community. Our  goal is to introduce and connect both museums and NY pre-school programs to families. We do this by focusing on the unique learning opportunities that exist  between the home, school and community resources (like museums and art institutions).

Q: Why are families benefitting from the program?

Families are empowered and enjoy being able to help shape the program. The planning process fosters complementary leadership among families, teachers and museum staff. For example, they recently did a photo project focused on capturing the essence of their neighborhoods. Families and their young children were given cameras and then Studio Museum developed a special neighborhood exhibit, which included their photographs. Families shared reflections such as  “ I didn’t realize my child was so observant”. I didn’t realize my neighborhood was so beautiful.” 

Q: What else have families said about their experience with the program?

We continuously receive very encouraging feedback from all partners including families, teachers and the museum staff. Families have shared: “I learned the way to encourage my children to express their feelings and the way they see things. Teachers: “I always thought visual inquiry was just looking at art, but now I see it as a way to explore your thinking in a new way.” And museum educators: “We’ve achieved a level of familiarity and comfort with parents that is difficult to achieve in most partnerships.”

Q: In addition to some of the great anecdotal feedback, what other kinds of outcomes are you seeing?

A: Program evaluation to ensure that our programs are making a difference is critical.  Through our pre/post evaluations, we’ve been able to see that our programs are helping to support children’s enrichment at home and during out of school time. We are also effectively leveraging exhibits to engage families as learners.  More than 50 % of participating families have said they learned how to support their children’s learning through the arts. And, more than 80% of teachers said they saw an increase in critical thinking among participating children.

Free teaching resources for Black History Month

As we jump into February we know teachers and parents are looking for resources to use with kids for Black History Month. Scholastic has created a number of FREE resources that will help children learn about African American history not only in February but throughout the entire year.

Here are just a few of the resources Scholastic.com offers:

●A Scholastic.com “Everything You Need” package for the classroom includes ideas for student activities, videos, teaching strategies for teachers, and articles about the iconic figures whose stories are part of the African American experience.

●A new unit plan that explores the life and times of Ruby Bridges, the courageous young girl who helped lead the journey towards integration. There are lesson plans, photo slideshows, book lists and more to help you teach about her important role in the civil rights movement.

●A package of lessons and activities offers insight into Rosa Parks’ life. Students can read about the famous day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, the successful boycott of the Montgomery, AL, city bus system, and the eventual Supreme Court ruling against segregation.

●Students will learn about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his nonviolent struggle for civil rights through photos and by creating a timeline. With the “Martin Luther King Jr. Timeline,” students can sequence the important events in the Civil Rights Movement and the life of Dr. King. 

●A classroom unit called “Integrating Central High: The Melba Pattillo Story” provides tools and activities to help students relive Melba's historic experience integrating Central High in Little Rock, AK. Students can even write about how they would feel in her situation and publish it on Scholastic.com.

●An Underground Railroad online activity follows a runaway slave as he takes a terrifying journey from slavery to freedom. Each of the four "stops" on this journey explores a different curriculum theme in American History.

Teaching ideas from Scholastic.com teacher blogger Ruth Manna explore the true story of Ruby Bridges, a hero of the civil rights movement. Six-year-old Ruby was the first black student to integrate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. Year after year, her story of courage inspires students of all ages.

●In a collection of videos and articles from the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, kid reporters conduct interviews with today’s African American leaders from government, business, sports and entertainment.

Growing up black in a white world

At age 5, Idris Brewster and his best friend, Seun Summers (shown here, left to right), were accepted at the Dalton School in New York City. One of the country's top private schools, Dalton is shorthand for "Ivy League farm team."

"Expecting great things," Idris's parents, Brooklyn filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, set out to chronicle the boys' intellectual, social and emotional journey from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Their documentary, American Promise, airs on PBS on February 3. In a little over two hours, the film conveys the complexities and rich texture of the boys' inner and outer lives.

It is hard not to fall in love with Idris and Seun (shay-on). When the film begins, they are wise, charming and unusually perceptive little boys, doing their best to fit into a predominately white private school. They make friends, play sports and learn French, while sagely analyzing their unique situation before an invisible camera.

The pressure that Brewster and Stephenson put on Idris seems relentless. But if you are white, as I am, you cannot pretend to walk in their shoes. One black parent at Dalton describes the "extra burden" his family and others bear because of the color of their skin.

When Idris encounters seemingly routine bumps in the road—trouble completing homework assignments, a lack of focus in the classroom, defeats on the basketball court—his parents rarely take the setbacks in stride.

Put in context, their anxieties are understandable. While high school graduation rates for black male students have improved in recent years, the discrepancy between black and white males is still 26 percentage points. And according to this projection, one in every three black males born today can expect to serve time in prison, compared with one in every 17 white males.

Seun and Idris quickly become attuned to the negative stereotypes such statistics engender. No wonder young Seun tries to brush the color out of his gums until they bleed, telling his mother that "they're black, they're brown, they're ugly."

No wonder Idris talks "reg—the way I usually talk" at school and "slangish" on the basketball court in Brooklyn, not wanting to be made fun of. No wonder he tells his parents, "I bet if I was white, I'd be better off."

As a teenager, Idris has trouble hailing a cab. Off camera, his mother reports, he has been stopped by police in their neighborhood (presumably for being black). On the Upper East Side near Dalton, white women sometimes ran from Idris, says Stephenson, out of fear that he would steal their purse.

The boys, who are now in college, did not follow the exact path their parents wanted, but they seem destined for great things. They are lucky to have grown up in homes where they were loved and nurtured.

Too many black children in America, for a variety of reasons, don't have that support. They are also living in a country with "an addiction to whiteness," as Dominican-born novelist Junot Díaz puts it. Watching the documentary, one is reminded what a tragedy that is.

Celebrating the 100th day of school!

It's about that time of year when schools everywhere are reaching or have just reached the 100th day of the school year. January and February can be tough months; especially if you live in an area with frigid weather as many of us do these days. But this moment in the classroom can be a reason to celebrate and reflect on the progress already made this year and the journey still in front of teachers and their students.

Here is a roundup of resources that can bring this moment to life for your students: 100th Day: Everything You Need


From great books to fun ways to play with the number 100, we hope you find these resources helpful!

Enjoy the day and all the accomplishments that go with it. If you have a minute, tell us what the 100th day is like in your school.

Turning your passions into powerful learning for your students

I recently came across a great article in Education Week that encourages educators to bring their passions and life experiences to the classroom to take their teaching to the next level. The author, teacher Nancy Barile, credits her classroom success to her punk rock past.

Ms. Barile explains how the punk rock community would challenge prejudice, and hatred of any kind. Today she uses those same principles to encourage her students to challenge conflicting data, complicated politics, and intense societal pressures.

 “I want to equip my kids with the skills necessary to understand perspectives and cultures, to comprehend and critique, and to demonstrate independence,” says Ms. Barile.

Whether its punk rock or football, hobbies or past life experiences, they can be catalysts to motivate students and teach them new things. 

In the article Ms. Barile offers five things to consider when incorporating your passion into the curriculum. One of them is this: Ensure your experience encourages your students to develop their own interests and hobbies in and outside of school.

A “R.E.A.L” need for mentors

Did you know that young people who participate in mentoring programs are more likely to pursue higher education than those who did not participate? It’s proven!

January is National Mentoring Month, but we believe children should have positive mentors year-round. Now more than ever children need positive role models in their life. As single parent households and adults working longer hours become increasingly common it is not unusual for many children to go home from school to an empty house.

Children need to be exposed to all walks of life and be able to relate with someone similar to them. Mentoring programs are an outlet where diversity and differences are celebrated and welcomed.   

Interested in starting a mentoring program? Check out Scholastic R.E.A.L.(Read. Excel, Achieve. Lead), a program devoted to giving school districts the tools needed to recruit, encourage and equip mentors to inspire students and build literacy skills. Through the Scholastic R.E.A.L. program schools welcome volunteers from the community who are willing to share their life experiences as they enjoy a book with students. R.E.A.L mentoring sessions have a long-lasting impact on students to think more deeply and make relevant connections to the world. In addition, mentoring programs strengthen community involvement and enrich school culture.

Was writing Holden a mistake?

Like many readers, I think about the fictional Holden Caulfield with fondness. When I first read The Catcher in the Rye I was about 12, which may explain why I got through the entire book thinking that Phoebe's name was pronounced phobe.

I have since read the novel several times, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. About 10 years ago, Jonathan Yardley, a book critic for The Washington Post, questioned the enduring fascination with Holden, calling him "callow" and "self-pitying." J.D. Salinger, Yardley went on, had "a tin ear."

I remember feeling the same way at some point. But Holden, his wool cap and his phony-this, phony-that still crack me up.

A new documentary has me revisiting the 1951 novel yet again. According to Shane Salerno's American Masters film, Salinger, the reclusive novelist was a train wreck of a guy, cruel to his family and others around him, his writings used by deranged individuals, most notably Mark David Chapman, to destroy yet more lives. Salinger himself said that "writing Holden was a mistake."

If you'd like to learn more about the writer, his life and the paradoxes his work presents, check out these links:

An interview with filmmaker Shane Salerno

  • Salerno spent 10 years working on Salinger. Why?

An educator's guide to Salinger's works

  • Includes a poster, activities for students, and an overview of the fictional Caulfield and Glass families

Film excerpt: Salinger's last story in Cosmopolitan

  • Editor, novelist, and playwright A.E. Hotchner talks about Salinger's "Blue Melody," published in 1948. Not a word of the story could be changed, Salinger warned. "Either as is or not at all."

More Holden to come

  • It was announced last fall that five new Salinger works are due out between 2015 and 2020, including The Last and Best of the Peter Pans, a short story that features, yes, Holden Caulfield. And it does sound ominous.

We're left to wonder: Would the world have been better off if Salinger had never picked up a pen?

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