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!

Independent reading: nurturing students’ personal reading lives

Why make time for independent reading? It’s a question schools frequently wrestle with. The answer is simple. The more students read, the better readers they become.

Independent reading builds stamina, the ability to concentrate for at least thirty minutes. It also enlarges vocabulary, background knowledge, and provides the practice students need to become proficient and advanced readers. Equally important is that independent reading develops students’ personal reading lives and sets them on the path to becoming lifelong readers because it nurtures their heads and hearts.

When I return to area schools to teach during the winter months, I ask students this question: What do you think and feel while reading?  

The responses that follow are typical of students who avoid reading, and those who enjoy it.

  • Jerome, an eighth grade student, wrote 0 and added, nothing

  • Ricardo, a seventh grader, wrote: I learn good stuff about cars when I read. Sometimes I laugh and feel sad from books.

Jerome dislikes reading and explained why during a conference: “I hate it. Boring. Got better things to do.”

Students like Jerome feel disconnected and alienated from reading. Stories and informational texts don’t affect their heads or their hearts.

In contrast, Ricardo enjoys reading fiction and nonfiction. An independent reading book is always on his desk. “If I have time, it’s [the book] there,” he tells me.  “I like to keep three or four books in my locker. If I finish one, it’s easy to get another.”

More than 1500 years ago, Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, wrote: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

His words help explain why some students love to read and others dislike and avoid it: Unless reading affects mind and heart, students are merely decoders, saying the words on a page. That’s. Not. Reading.

To support students’ independent reading, first reflect on and evaluate your classroom culture and environment by asking yourself, Does my teaching show how much I value independent reading?

Create a Class Culture That Values Independent Reading

The class environment you create can encourage students, even those who struggle with reading, to enter the reading life. It’s important to have a rich classroom library with books on a wide range of reading levels and diverse topics that offers access to books for students. Display books on your desk, under the chalkboard, on windowsills, and advertise books that will motivate students to browse and choose one.

In addition, it’s important to:

  • Reserve time each week to present a brief booktalk on new arrivals and invite students to booktalk their favorites.

  • Set aside class time for students to self-select independent reading books and find a comfortable place to read for twenty to thirty minutes.

  • Share books you’re enjoying and read aloud every day.

  • Encourage students to share their favorite books on a class blog and/or a school website.

  • Invite the principal and other guests into your class to read aloud.

Remember: You’ll want to have books on a wide range of reading levels and topics so all students choose books they can read and understand—books that affect head and heart. In a class where the teacher values independent reading, students develop the motivation and engagement to read more and read widely.

Motivation and Engagement Matter

Motivation comes from within a student and is visible when you observe students choose to read for the pleasure the experience offers. Students' past reading experiences affect their motivation to read. If they struggle with texts used at school or find reading tasks such as completing worksheets boring, their motivation or desire to read diminishes.

In contrast, students who are voracious readers have positive and joyful past experiences with reading. Their motivation to read is consistently high because they’re always engaged with the books they choose and the reading experiences teachers offer. Motivated and engaged readers choose to read self-selected books at school and at home. 

A sixth grader put it this way: “If I’m into a book, the only thing that can get my attention is if my pants are on fire.”

Assessment: The Elephant in the Room

Avoid grading independent reading. Grading dioramas and nightly summaries of completed pages will turn students away from reading. Instead, have students write the title and author of completed or abandoned books on a book log form and choose a book to discuss with their group every six weeks. Encourage students to present short booktalks once a month. In a class with twenty-eight students who present monthly booktalks, students will be introduced to 280 books over ten months. Trust. Your. Students. To. Read.

Closing Thoughts

Share your passion for independent reading. Encourage students to keep a self-selected book on their desks, so they can read it when they complete a task early. Make sure the centerpiece of your homework is thirty minutes of reading each night.

If you make time for independent reading at school and celebrate books, then a transformation from “I hate reading,” to “Can we have more time to read?” surely will occur.


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

Update from Puerto Rico

Darlene Vazquez, Sales Director for Scholastic International―with a home base in Puerto Rico―joins edu@scholastic to share an update on what life has been like for educators, kids and families since Hurricane Maria struck the island in September. Darlene wrote this story in the first week of November.

After 48 days since Hurricane Maria stormed through the island, this week approximately 500 of 1,200 schools opened their doors to receive students. (Teachers have been back to work for two―and some for three―weeks now). This is amazing progress considering the obstacles we climbed over and under to meet with school principals and conduct our crisis intervention event, From Reading to Hope.

Below are pictures we took on our way to meet with the teachers from one of our local high schools.

We also worked with teachers to clear debris in schools: The first picture below shows one of the high school teachers, and in the bottom picture one of our staff members works shoulder-to-shoulder with a teacher.

We have also been working with parents and students at schools. Below are some of the powerful moments we shared with them.

We have also done follow-up work with some of the schools that have participated in From Reading to Hope Initiative. At one of our partner schools, Maria Vazquez de Umpierre, we had a second family and community follow-up event in partnership with Pillsbury, Apple & Eve juices, Burger King and #yonomequito foundation to provide continued support and prepare the school community to restart classes.

It was an inspirational event that shows how instrumental our support is in helping our school communities grow stronger by uniting for a common goal. Every child attending the event received a Scholastic bag with crayons, markers, snacks and an activity book provided by teachers from Farragut Intermediate School just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.

All in all we are doing well. Students are happy to be going back to school and (I suspect) so are their parents! The restart of the school year will be instrumental in helping our island recover allowing parents to go back to work, and students to start living some semblance of everyday routines.

Although our power authority reports it is generating electricity at 30%, this translates to more than 70% of the population living without power. Outside of the San Juan area it is a challenge to obtain drinking water on a daily basis. From our staff and office, I can report that one person from our office staff has recovered electricity, water and internet service! The best part is that she has opened up her home as a work station and is busy with our other office staff helping us stay current with documentation related to our different school projects funded by the Puerto Rico Department of Education with federal grants.

The rest of us are patiently and desperately waiting to recover electricity. Some of us have been without power for 60 days now, dating back to Hurricane Irma which struck the island on September 5th, two weeks before Hurricane Maria. Our office has no power or water.

We have lots of hope for a stronger Puerto Rico. One full of opportunities for all our people, with the best education for our students, and a society that works together for a better future.

What is Guided Reading?

It’s not unusual to hear the term guided reading used to describe small-group instruction. But does that term mean the same thing to everyone? Some teachers, any time they meet and read with small groups, call it guided reading regardless of the text they use, or the instructional focus of the lesson.

At Scholastic, we believe that teaching reading in small groups is just one part of the instructional practice known as guided reading.

In guided reading, the goal is to build independent readers who can read fluently with comprehension. A guided reading teacher plays the role of an expert reader who scaffolds—and, yes, guides—the lesson for less-experienced readers. Therefore, a guided reading teacher plans lessons and focuses instruction on the areas where students need support. By focusing instruction on these areas, a guided reading lesson prepares students to be able to read the next level of text complexity.

Of course, the devil is in the details. Just what should we expect to see in a guided reading lesson? Experts agree that small groups and leveled texts are necessary, and there is also consensus that teaching must be targeted and include progress monitoring.

Jan Richardson, in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading: An Assess-Decide-Guide Framework for Supporting Every Reader (2016), offers three essentials of guided reading:

  1. Small groups

  2. Instructional-leveled texts

  3. Targeted teaching

Let’s dig in to these important components of guided reading.

Flexible, Small-Group Instruction

How do we know that small-group instruction is not always guided reading?

Think about it this way: Back when I was in elementary school, I was in the “blue” reading group. I was with the same students in second grade, in third grade, and… well, you get the picture. Usually, there was a low group, a high group, and a few middle groups. Unfortunately, students often stayed in the groups to which they were assigned, year after year. Small-group instruction on its own is not enough.

Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and John Hattie have explained in Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12: Implementing the Practices That Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning (2016) that small-group learning has been shown to accelerate student learning, if two conditions are met:

  1. Guided reading must occur in flexible groups. A teacher moves a student out of a group as soon as there is sufficient evidence that a student's reading behaviors are appropriate, her word accuracy shows mastery and her comprehension is sufficient. And in order to know that a student has reached that level, the teacher must monitor student progress on an ongoing basis.

  2. Guided reading instruction must match the needs of the learner.

So guided reading must be in small, flexible groups and the instructional focus must be based on student needs.

Teaching with Instructional-Leveled Text

Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell created an A-through-Z leveling system by examining and identifying the (many) characteristics of text that impact its difficulty. Since guided reading helps students read increasingly challenging texts, guided reading instruction provides students the reading behaviors they need as they encounter the various characteristics of each level.

Instructional-leveled text is a bit challenging, and requires students to use strategies as they read. So, it is important to determine at which level students are able to read with just the right amount of challenge. To do so, a teacher identifies the level at which a student can read with 90–97% word accuracy, and 70–89% comprehension.

Then the teacher, acting as the expert reader, scaffolds instruction by selecting appropriately challenging texts, preparing students before they read, then coaching them when they face challenges (Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, 2001). This is one reason why the text has to be at a student’s instructional level, and why the small groups must be flexible and based on students’ current reading levels.

Targeted Teaching

Guided reading teachers use a before, during and after model of reading instruction. 

  • Before students begin to read, the teacher prepares them by explaining the purpose, frontloading challenging terms or concepts, and activating students’ background knowledge.

  • During reading, teachers support students by offering feedback such as questions, prompts, and cues around the lessons’ instructional focus, comprehension, and the reader’s point of need.

  • After students finish reading, the teacher helps students synthesize what they have learned from the text, which helps students extend their thinking.

Guided reading is focused on reading. It is not a phonics lesson. The act of reading the text independently, with the support of the teacher, should be the centerpiece of a guided reading lesson. Fifty to sixty percent of reading instruction time should be spent on students reading. So, for example, in a 20-minute guided reading lesson, students should read for 10 to 12 minutes. 

Here is what doesn’t happen: round-robin or popcorn reading, or taking turns, whether in or out of order. As we all know, when students take turns reading, those waiting for their turn are practicing what they will read, and those who have finished reading just check out (Allington, 2013). So in guided reading, all students are reading, even if they’re whisper-reading or reading silently.

This Is Guided Reading

Successful guided reading classrooms are homes to small, flexible groups of students who are reading instructional-leveled text and employing strategies that allow them to read and comprehend. The teacher uses a before, during and after reading model as students independently read silently or whisper-read, and the groups change as students are able to read varying levels of text.

As Fountas and Pinnell have written, “Guided reading is a small group instructional context in which a teacher supports each reader’s development of a systems of strategic actions for processing new texts at increasingly challenging levels of difficulty.” (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017)

Bringing It All Together in Literacy Instruction

Guided reading is a critical component of high-quality literacy instruction that supports students as they progress toward independence and mastery of reading, writing and critical thinking.

Using a gradual release model and authentic literacy rotations, expert literacy instructors use research-based practices—such as interactive read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, integrated writing, and independent reading—to create purposeful, meaning-driven instruction every day. Each of these practices relies on the other to support students’ needs, learning styles and achievement.

Comprehensive literacy highlights teaching and learning and high-quality instruction. When instruction is focused on the whole child and is truly comprehensive, all core literacy instruction is aligned. This is a powerful illustration of evidence-based instructional promising practices working together to meet the needs of every child in a holistic way.

This article is the first in a series of posts about guided reading.


  • Allington, R. L. “What Really Matters When Working with Struggling Readers.” The Reading Teacher 66 (2013)  (520-530).

  • Fisher, D., Frey, N., and Hattie, J. Visible Learning for Literacy: Implementing Practices That Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin , 2016.

  • Fountas, I. C. and Pinnell, G. S. Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6: Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001.

  • Fountas, I.C. and Pinnell, G.S. Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2017. 

  • Richardson, Jan. The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading: An Assess-Decide-Guide Framework for Supporting Every Reader. New York: Scholastic, 2016.

5 Reasons School Librarians Should Use Social Media

Tamiko Brown of Ed White E-STEM Magnet School in El Lago, TX was named School Librarian of the Year by School Library Journal and Scholastic in the 2017 School Librarian of the Year Awards. Below, she shares reasons why school librarians should use social media.

School libraries are literacy and learning powerhouses that positively impact the lives of young patrons. But this cannot effectively occur unless librarians are able to communicate all we can do to support kids’ learning.

Bulletin boards and marquees are great, but these days it’s not enough to capture anyone’s attention. Social media can positively change the perception of the library and promote all that we do in the library. This is true everywhere, but especially in a school like mine, which has a STEM focus!

Below are five strategies for using social media to advertise and tell my library’s story.

1. Promote Programs

At the School Library Journal summit earlier this fall, Dr. Bill Chapman (Superintendent, Jarrell ISD) said, librarians need to “market the library and show teachers and administrators your skills.” This was inspiring to me because this approach helps me demonstrate how libraries are a part of education. We can start by sharing the library’s story online. When new books arrive, an author visits students, book clubs meet, a new book display is set up, makerspace is in session, and for all library programs, I take pictures to post on social media platforms.

My professional accounts on Twitter, Pinterest, Linked In, and Instagram are in my name or my professional blog’s name, Makerspace Library. (I don’t recommend using your school’s name in the account because you might not stay at same location for your entire career, and you want keep ownership of these accounts if you change locations. At my last school I had a library blog in the school’s name, and I lost the blog when I left.) I have a private account on Facebook, so if I need to post something on Facebook for my school, I use the Ed White E-STEM PTA page. I also cross-post Twitter information on our Ed White E-STEM Twitter page to ensure the entire school community sees library news and information.

By sharing library programs on social media it empowers, advertises, and makes them a part of the library’s story. To save time, think about cross-posting or using a social media management tool such as StatusBrew or Hootsuite. This is a great way to see all of your accounts on one page, schedule posts, and run analytics on your accounts. Some social media management tools offer free accounts. If you Google “social media management tools” you can discover a list of social media management options.

2. Encourage Student Voice and Innovation

Sharing student projects and innovations on social media will empower students’ voices. Knowing their work is published online via social media is a confidence-builder for students. Taking pictures during makerspace sessions is an ideal time to snap a shot of student innovation or student voice in action. This can be done by simply taking a picture of a student’s work without the student’s name listed, which protects their privacy.

Empower student voice and innovation on Instagram by snapping a picture of their latest makerspace project, book review, book club meeting, or #bookface interpretation. I recently created a professional Instagram page. This platform will allow me to empower student voice, share innovations, and network.

3. Network

Social media is a great way to connect with other librarians and educators around the world. Join an education chat on Twitter by using the group’s hashtag, and connect with other librarians and educators at a scheduled time. Search “education chat” on Google to see a list of scheduled chats around the world. Click (ctrl) (f) and type in a location or topic to narrow the search. This list is continually updated, so new chats can be added. Join the Future Ready Librarians page on Facebook to receive endless opportunities to share, learn, and connect. LinkedIn makes it possible to build a network of professional connections, endorsements, and take free professional development classes. They even have a course on using social media as a beginner or from an intermediate level.

4. Provide Limitless Access

This year I promoted my Scholastic Book Fair online by tweeting the information and posting it on Facebook.

Scholastic has made it easy by offering a webpage for my book fair and pre-scripted messages for Facebook and Twitter. Social media is a great tool to publicize library hours, library club information, library resources, and more. Share library programs and promotions online, and it will give everyone limitless access to library information.

5. Build a Brand 

When we say “brand” these days, what we mean is simply a “reputation.” Social media gives us a chance to be our own publicist, and set the tone of the library brand we create. Mark Moran co-founder of Sweet Search states librarians should be enthusiastic marketers of themselves, the library, and its programs and promotions. Instead of putting your lesson plans in a binder, try pinning some on Pinterest. This will brand your library as a place of curricular collaboration and student engagement.  

Is your library an integral part of the school? Is it the place where innovation happens? What’s special about your library? You have the power to create your library brand online using social media. Social media offers librarians a platform to positively brand the library, empower patron voice, and share the library’s story. Remember to keep post positive and protect your patrons’ privacy before you upload.


Civics for Middle and High school Students

At Scholastic Classroom Magazines, we want young people to become engaged and empathetic citizens. This blog post is the final in a series of three from the Classroom Magazines editorial team about how we tackle civics by grade level. Mary Kate Frank is the Deputy Editor of Junior Scholastic, and Ian Zack is the Executive Editor of The New York Times Upfront. 

With everything that’s going on in Washington and around the world, interest in civics seems to be at an all-time high. At Junior Scholastic and The New York Times Upfront, one of our main goals has always been to help students understand how our government works—and to encourage them to become informed, engaged citizens.

Seeing our democracy in action is an important part of civics education. That’s why we regularly cover topics like the Electoral College, primaries and caucuses, and the Supreme Court—all in digestible, student-friendly formats.

For example, Junior Scholastic’s popular 5-Minute Guide series breaks down complex topics like the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights in short, easy-to-understand text boxes and graphics. In Upfront, we dig a little deeper for our high-school-age audience, previewing the Supreme Court’s new term each October by featuring cases that will grab the attention of teens, such as whether the police can search our cellphones without a warrant. 

But civics is more than just learning about the three branches of government or the U.S. Constitution, though we cover those things, too. (In fact, we created an entire civics website curated with the best articles and videos from our magazines.) Learning about civics is also about figuring out how to be a responsible global citizen.

With that in mind, we routinely profile kids who are making a difference in their communities or around the world, from a 15-year-old who developed an app to combat cyberbullying to teens who are actually running for elected office in their communities.

Another perfect example: A recent story from Junior Scholastic about a group of middle school students fighting for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The girls were outraged to learn that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly protect women’s rights. So they decided to do something about it.

During last year’s election, Upfront profiled teens who were volunteering for the campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. As they explained their motivations for getting involved, our readers got a sense of what it’s like to take action based on your beliefs—even if you’re not old enough yet to vote. 

Teaching young people to be responsible consumers is another major part of our civics mission. Our recent feature on the dark side of fast fashion, for example, exposed kids to the reality of how their clothes are made—while letting them know what they can do to help reverse the trend. 

This year, our civics coverage has focused extensively on media literacy and fake news—topics many teachers told us they desperately needed. Recent stories have included how-to guides on spotting made-up stories, identifying celebrity-endorsed ads on social media, and the importance of vetting sources. In today’s digital world, learning how to separate fact from fiction is more important than ever before—especially for tech-obsessed teens.

As you can see, a major goal of our team is to help students make sense of the world—and their place in it. We want young people to know that they have a voice and a role to play—and that getting involved in their communities is the responsibility of a good citizen. With these stories, we’re routinely reminded that just because some of our readers are too young to vote, they’re not too young to make a difference.

To read part one in this series, about teaching civics in early-grade magazines, click here.

To read part two, about teaching civics in upper-elementary grades, click here

Making Time for Independent Reading at School

Independent reading can ramp up students’ reading achievement and help them become proficient and advanced readers. As a middle school principal, I want students to find independent reading so enjoyable that they choose to read at school and at home!

The big question administrators face is, What can we do to support independent reading and improve the reading stamina of all students? 

First, I recommend you meet with your English department or ELA teams and review the three layers of reading:

  1. The interactive read aloud asks teachers to think aloud while reading a text that’s the same genre as students’ unit of study. The teacher makes visible how he or she infers and/or reacts to a text;

  2. Instructional reading happens at school so teachers observe students and support those needing help.

  3. Independent reading of self-selected books happens at school and at home.

Many administrators might be thinking that their school does not have time to add independent reading to the instructional piece. While reading this blog, I’m asking you to suspend that belief. Let me be your guide and help you make independent reading an integral part of your school’s curriculum.

I have wrestled with the challenges of finding more time for independent reading. Soon after I adopted the goal of creating a school-wide culture that values this type of reading, I reached out to staff and collaborated with them to find solutions.

To create a culture of readers, it is helpful to understand the current role of independent reading in your school. To assist you and your staff, I pose five questions, share my thoughts for each one, and close by providing suggestions for finding the time.

Since the culture and scheduling needs of each school are unique, your responses and reactions will vary. However, I’m confident that you will figure out how to build a school community that values independent reading.

Question 1: Do you see an independent reading book on students’ desks when you visit classes or complete a walkthrough?

Students should always have an independent reading book on their desks so when they complete class work, they can read. In fact, I encourage you to have students check out two to three independent reading books and keep these in a cubby or locker. This way, when they finish one, another is at their fingertips.

Access to books is a pathway to independent reading. All teachers including those who teach social studies, science, and math, should have class libraries. Having books available in class can make a difference. Find funds to provide starter class libraries: 400 books for ELA teachers the first year and another 400 books the next school year; 100 books for content teachers the first year and 100 books the next year. Continue adding new books on a range of topics, genres, and reading levels that match the needs of your student population. 

Making the time: Having books readily available diminishes the time students need to visit the library to find new books. Class libraries also provide opportunities for teachers to feature and introduce authors and genres bi-monthly. Time gained can transfer to more choice reading at school.

Question 2: Do all ELA teachers promote independent reading?

The goal is to get all teachers of reading and English promoting independent reading.  If staff that teaches reading celebrates and honors independent reading, then students feel their message and recognize the high value they place on choice reading.

Making the time: Set aside time to build teachers’ understanding of how independent reading supports achievement. Develop a unified voice among teachers, and they will find the time for independent reading. Do this by sharing with teachers the research on independent reading. Post articles on Google Docs for teachers to read, comment on, and share with colleagues. Discuss the research at faculty and team meetings. Encourage teachers to write a letter to parents explaining the importance of independent reading to their child’s literacy growth. Invite teachers to have students read thirty minutes a night at home.

Question 3: Are teachers reserving time for students to choose an independent reading book and read it at school?

Encourage teachers to set-aside twenty to thirty minutes of a reading class twice week for independent reading. When students read at school, the message they hear is that independent reading is truly important. If schedules don’t allow for this, then consider studying them and making changes that support independent reading.

Making the time: Some principals take a few minutes off each period or block and create a daily mini-period dedicated to independent reading. This is a great strategy for it guarantees independent reading.

Question 4: Is reading only part of the ELA classroom?

Reading is not something that’s just done in English class. Students read in all subjects and they need to learn, through teacher modeling, how to read and think in each subject. If all teachers set aside some time for independent reading related to their subject, just imagine the message it would send to students and parents!

Making the time: An excellent way to help all teachers find time for independent reading is to have those doing it send an email to the entire staff explaining their schedule adjustments. However, revisit independent reading frequently at team, department, and faculty meetings to ensure it’s alive and thriving.

Question 5: What are you doing as an administrator to encourage independent thinking?

Here are questions I urge you to tape to your desk so you see them and reflect on them frequently.

  • Do my teachers know how I feel about independent reading?

  • Have I clearly communicated my vision of all English teachers supporting and celebrating independent reading?

  • Is independent reading a priority at my school? 

  • Have I helped teachers understand that students don’t need to write a summary, essay, or complete a project on each book?

Making the time: Like me, your challenge is to champion change. One way is to plan with a teacher and find the time for you to read silently with a class. You can also reserve the first ten to twelve minutes of meetings for you and a few teachers to share a favorite book.

Closing Thoughts

Show teachers the benefits of making time during the school day for independent reading. Educate staff and families about reading, and find funds to bring more books into the school library and classrooms! When you have developed among students and staff an “I love to read!” mindset, you’ll know that your entire school values independent reading. Remember. Continue. Promoting. Independent. Reading. 


This post is the first in an ongoing series about independent reading.

Twitter Chat Recap: Striving Readers with Adria Klein

Last night @ScholasticEd hosted a Twitter chat all about striving readers with literacy expert Adria Klein, Ph.D. We asked Adria all about striving readers, from what it means to be a striving readers, to behaviors to look for and strategies to address the needs of all readers. We were joined by teachers, literacy coaches, academics and others, all of whom were passionate about literacy! 

We created a Storify with some of the highlights, below. Follow @ScholasticEd to find out about our next chat!

[View the story "#StrivingReaders " on Storify]


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