Quote: Pay attention to the details

Many Common Core discussions center on how students should read a text. No wonder. The gauntlet is thrown down in the first line of the first Anchor Standard for Reading: "Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it."

What types of text? With the Core's emphasis on "informational" reading, might we drown kids in a sea of legalise and lifeless prose?

The ability to digest and synthesize reams of data is critical in today's world. We would do students a disservice by not preparing them for what lies ahead. How many of us actually understand, for example, the online user agreements we routinely "accept" at our peril?

It would be immoral, however, to rob young people of the fictional works we were nurtured on. What teen wouldn't thrill at the sight of a kindred spirit in The Outsiders, a stunning coming-of-age novel that was written by a teen?

Despite the Core's prescribed fiction-nonfiction percentages, we will likely arrive at a productive split through trial and error. For now, look to CCRA.R.1. Have students plumb the depths of whatever they read—a poem, a Supreme Court decision, or a memoir—and consider the meaning and intent within "the four corners of the text."

Whether kids are reading War and Peace or a picture book, the same principle holds. As Sue Pimentel, a lead writer of the ELA Standards, told us, “The observation skills that it takes to look at a picture and to find out what’s going on in it are some of the same skills we’re asking students to do in close reading. We’re asking them to pay attention to the details as you would in a picture, and also for students to be able to express what’s going on.”

“Pay attention.” It sounds simple. But it’s not. That’s why I heard the phrase 3 million times when I was a kid. Invariably, it was followed by an exclamation mark.


What are an educator's indispensable tech tools?

A couple of recent blog posts I’ve read have me thinking: What are an educator's indispensable tech tools?

Peter DeWitt writes here about how Twitter has become such a valuable tool for networking and bonding with other educators. And Glenn Wiebe blogged about the essential tech in his “travel bag” and what he says are tools a social studies teacher can’t live without. The list includes services like Dropbox and Facebook, sources of content like the Library of Congress’ website, and a texting service for messaging students and parents.

For me, many things are a given (laptop, smartphone for remote access to email and social tools, Microsoft Word and Excel, and others). In addition, I’d have a hard time doing my job without an RSS reader. I currently use Feedly (now that Google Reader is gone) to stay on top of the news and conversations about education, teaching and learning. Tweetdeck is also indispensable for me since I keep an eye on several Scholastic Twitter accounts.

For the educators or school administrators out there: What are YOUR indispensable tech tools? Essential devices? Sources of incredible content for your students? Is there a tool you use in your classroom that you simply couldn’t do without?

What's the difference between Otolaryngology and Education?

Otolaryngology is easily my favorite medical discipline. Or at least my favorite one to say. You non-medical geeks out there might know otolaryngology by its more common name, the "ear, nose and throat" field.

So what's the difference between this esteemed medical discipline -- or any medical discipline for that matter -- and education? One thing that jumps out is the speed with which research and evidence can swiftly and effectively change practice.

Let me elaborate. In the medical world, research translates very quickly into changes in practice. If a pioneering otolarnygologist develops a new technique that shows great effectiveness in correcting the scourge of pollen allergies, that study would be published in the New England Journal of Medicine, read by other otolarnygologists around the country, and (if truly effective) would be adopted over a 2-3 year period into mainstream medicine.

Let's contrast that with education. There is plenty of significant research (and more coming every day) clearly documenting "what works" in moving the needle on student achievement and improving school performance. Yet the rate at which these insights translate into mainstream education practice is much slower than in other professional fields such as medicine, law, or accounting.

I recently spent the day with a former principal of a comprehensive urban high school in the northeast U.S., and her story illustrates this point. Over a 10 year period, this principal and her staff fundamentally changed the performance of this school, moving it from one of the worst in the state to one of the best. This has led to national recognition for the school, and extensive research from major universities describing in great detail what the staff did to transform student achievement. All of this documentation makes two really important points very clear. First, this was no "flash in the pan" -- achievement has continued a steady upward progression for over 10 years. And second, the strategies -- a school wide focus on literacy achievement and a rigorous focus on implementation- are easily repeatable in other schools and were implemented at extremely low cost.

Yet, despite the national profile of this school and the ease with which these strategies could be repeated, very few other schools across the country have adopted this blueprint. Most notably, not even other schools within the district have adopted these strategies. In fact, the performance of the elementary schools in the district has continued to decline even as the high school continues to have excellent performance.

So why hasn't the heavily documented example of this school caught on like wildfire and translated to mainstream practice? There are numerous reasons for this, but I think some of them include:

  • A pervasive belief that research results are district-specific and aren't able to be easily replicated in "my" school.
  • A lack of "user-friendliness" of educational data findings, and a need for more teachers and leaders to have the data analysis skills necessary to draw insights from research and efficacy studies.
  • A culture in our national education system in which, for many teachers and leaders, a commitment to traditional teaching methods (e.g. "how we've always done it") trumps the power of evidence and research.

None of these issues have quick fixes, but for the quality of education to continue to advance we need to have a national conversation about how we address these issues and speed up the rate at which research and evidence translates into practice.

How To: Motivate kids to read during the summer!

What makes long summer days (that somehow seem too short!) so special?

Beach. Parks. Barbeques. Community and City Festivals. Road Trips. Adventures. Campfires. Block Parties. Day Camp. Movies. Books. Sharing old and new stories with family and friends.

For educators and parents out there, it’s important to remember: All of these activities and moments are inherently connected in one way or another to Literacy. Research shows that reading during the summer is critical. It is estimated that the "Summer Slide" accounts for as much as 85% of the reading achievement gap between lower income students and their middle- and upper-income peers.

So, let’s get to it! 

How to motivate kids to read during the summer:

  1. Make it fun--because it is fun: Summer brings out a child-like curiosity in all of us. And it offers relaxed settings for connecting learning and reading to fun, enjoyable moments. Encourage and help your child find the answers to their questions in books. Get lost in a story together. Allow your child to choose their books on topics that are interesting to them. Play word games. Sign your child up for the Scholastic Summer Challenge. Sing and make up songs together. Don’t make it “homework”, make it “funwork”.
  1. Literacy is all around us: Whether you’re using print or technology, summer adventure requires us to gather information. Take the time to enjoy these moments with your child. Find the best route for that family road trip, look up bus or train schedules together, read magazines and brochures to look for free summer activities. What a great time to celebrate reading in our everyday lives—we would literally be lost without it.
  1. Read aloud and share aloud: Whether it’s in our home, down the block or at a park—summer activities bring family and friends together. This makes it a perfect time to enjoy the magic of sharing stories and reading aloud. So, bring a story or poetry book to that next family gathering. Those young and old are sure to bond as they hear their voices lift the words from the page.
  1. Be well-read and they’ll want to read too: Hopefully, summer means some extra down time for you. And they’ll model what you do with that time. So, whether it’s a novel, the newspaper or a magazine, let them see you enjoy reading! And, remember to share the new things you learn, too.
  1. Write: An important way to develop good reading skills is to write.  Encourage your child to start a summer journal so they have a fun record of their adventures and new memories made. Take the time to sit with them and write to family and loved ones. Turn everyday chores into writing activities—like the grocery list or what you have to pack for the picnic or family vacation. The list goes on and on because summer gives us so many things worth documenting!

These are just a few “how-to’s.”  Here are some additional resources and ideas.

And, encourage your child to sign up for the Scholastic Summer Challenge, where they can log the minutes they read, play games and earn prizes!  What else do you do encourage summer reading?

Cursive or cursed?

If I owe you a thank-you note, I apologize. My Catholic school upbringing has led me to believe that I can only express my gratitude in one way: legible script.

Computer use and its attendant impatience have led to the near demise of my handwriting. Were you to see my scribbled signature on any given credit card receipt, you might conclude that I have a medical degree rather than a diploma from Holy Cross Grammar School, once a nerve center of the Palmer Method of penmanship.

Should today's kids learn cursive as I did? Is it essential for developing hand-eye coordination, knowing how to read the past and express one's creativity? Or is script obsolete, like vinyl records and paying for content?

After noting the absence of cursive writing instruction in the Common Core State Standards, Brian Lehrer, a talk show host on public radio in New York City, took up the matter. You can listen to his conversation with teachers here. The listener comments posted beneath the audio link are also interesting.

If cursive hadn't faded in recent decades, the great American novel I wrote 15 years ago might not be sealed on a Zip disk that my MacBook Pro has zero interest in reading.

But if you really want to feel sorry for someone, tour the National Archives. You'll see what record keepers have had to do in the computer age to preserve American history, much of which now resides in a nameless cloud.

What do you think? Should we—can we—keep cursive alive? Let me know, preferably in script.


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