Teachers, we’ve heard you – more than 20,000 of you in fact

Teachers leave an indelible imprint on their students’ lives, and, as the ones in the classroom on a daily basis, they’re on the frontlines of education-feeling shifts as they happen. It’s our goal and our privilege to bring their voices to the forefront of the conversation surrounding education.

Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change aims to do just that. Released today, this report is the third in a series from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is designed to highlight the views of America’s public school teachers on important issues related to their profession, such as the rewards and challenges of teaching, teacher observations, evaluations and feedback, and how teachers collaborate within and beyond school walls with both peers and students’ families. As you may recall, we also released data on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards back in October.

This report reflects the views and voices of more than 20,000 of America’s PreK–12 public school teachers from all 50 states.

Throughout the day, we’ll be revealing data from the report on the Scholastic Teachers Facebook page and from @ScholasticTeach, and tonight, Scholastic’s Chief Academic Officer, Francie Alexander, will join us for a live Twitter chat to discuss the findings of the report. We encourage you to follow (and join!) the conversation online using #TeacherVoices.

In the meantime, here are just a few of the findings from this edition of Primary Sources:


  • Teachers Bring Passion and Commitment to Their Challenging Work. Overwhelmingly passionate and committed, nearly all teachers (98%) agree that teaching is more than a profession; it is how they make a difference in the world. Though 82% of teachers report that constantly changing demands are a significant challenge, 88% agree that the rewards of teaching outweigh the challenges, and 89% say they are satisfied or very satisfied in their jobs.




  • Teachers Seek to Collaborate In and Outside of School to Best Serve Students. Teachers tell us that lack of time to collaborate with their peers is a challenge (51%) and we see they are seeking new ways to share with their colleagues thanks to technology. For example, 91% say they use websites to find or share lesson plans. Regarding collaboration with parents, almost all teachers (98%) believe the best thing parents can do to help their child succeed in school is to avoid absences, followed closely by setting high expectations for their child and working in partnership with teachers when their child has challenges.

We invite you to visit www.scholastic.com/primarysources to explore the data in-depth (you’ll also find state-by-state data) and to download the full report. Again, you can join the conversation using #TeacherVoices. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Honoring Black History (and a list of 50+ books for students)

When I was in sixth grade, my older brother handed me a paperback book. I don’t remember what he said, but I knew by the look on his face that I had to read it.

I didn’t understand the title, Manchild in the Promised Land, and I’d never heard of its author, Claude Brown. But once I opened the book I couldn’t put it down. It was based on Brown’s coming-of-age in Harlem in the 1940s and ’50s. His descriptions of gangs, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes made for a harrowing ride. As I turned the pages, I felt like I was holding a stick of dynamite.

My father had grown up not far from Harlem, and we visited New York City often. But Brown’s was a world altogether different from anything I had known, and it terrified me. I couldn’t understand why there was such a gulf between my life—in a white suburb—and Brown's. I only knew that skin color played a defining role. It was a lesson I never forgot.

Examining the experiences of African Americans is a complicated endeavor that cannot, and should not, be consigned to one month of the year. We honor the talents of inventors, doctors, artists, athletes and musicians. We also bear witness to the hundreds of thousands of people who once lived in bondage.

We look with admiration upon those who escaped from slavery—and those who led them to safety. And we revisit the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement who faced fire hoses and beatings for freedoms that never should have been denied them.

Each time we do so, a piece of our hearts is pierced a bit more. We may want to blame the likes of Bull Connor and Orval Faubus, but the complicity extends much further. It's called turning a blind eye.

Since the 1950s, when a Supreme Court ruling and a series of laws began to dismantle Jim Crow, the harsh realities experienced by a kid like Claude Brown have eased, but not enough. Although illegal, segregation lives on in insidious ways.

The books below will help you introduce students to black culture in all of its dimensions. You’ll find Manchild in the Promised Land and other works of literature, a riveting account of Negro League Baseball, and lush picture books by artist Faith Ringgold. Also included is a Rosa Parks biography that dispels myths about the so-called “weary seamstress” who refused to move to the back of the bus.

The titles are grouped according to grade bands with a range of genres. To help deepen your students' understanding, here are tips on crafting evidence-based questions.

These works offer a rich account of the struggles and triumphs of a people whose history in America is longer—and more agonizing—than most; who, with their grit, faith, and courage managed to endure and, in so many cases, thrive.

As Claude Brown wrote, it is “a story of their searching, their dreams, their sorrows, their small and futile rebellions, and their endless battle to establish their own place . . . in America itself.” It is our job to ensure that the battle finally ends in true equality.

(A version of this essay originally appeared on scholastic.com/commoncore.)

Recommended Reading
Grades K–1
Barack Obama: Out of Many, One
Shana Corey (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2009)
The story of a skinny little boy with a funny name who became the first African American President of the United States

Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra
Andrea Pinkney (Hyperion Book CH, 2006)
This “smooth-talkin’, slick-steppin’, piano-playin’ kid,” who was born in 1899, would grow up to dazzle the world with his music.

Ellen’s Broom
Kelly Starling Lyons (Putnam Juvenile, 2012)
A young girl describes a poignant tradition among slaves who are unable to marry legally.

A Picture Book of Frederick Douglass
David A. Adler (Holiday House, Reprint edition, 1995)
A pictorial depiction of a man who went from being a slave to a freer of slaves and a world-famous orator and civil rights activist

Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story
Ruby Bridges (Cartwheel Books, 2009)
The story of a tough little girl who rises above racism.

Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride
Andrea Pinkney (Hyperion Book CH, 2009)  
The portrait of a freed slave whose physical and spiritual strength made her one of America's most powerful abolitionist voices

Tar Beach
Faith Ringgold (Dragonfly Books, 1996)
The artist's signature quilt paintings chart a Depression-era girl’s imaginative foray above the streets of New York City.

A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver
Aliki (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1988)
An introduction to George Washington Carver, a scientist who was born a slave

Grades 2–3
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky
Faith Ringgold (Dragonfly Books, 1995)
Historical Fiction
With Harriet Tubman as her guide, young Cassie retraces the steps that escaping slaves took on the Underground Railroad.

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa
Andrea Davis Pinkney (Hyperion Books for Children, 2007)
Historical Fiction
The story of a remarkable musician as told by Scat Cat Monroe, a feline fan

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins
Carole Boston Weatherford (Puffin, Reprint edition, 2007)
Historical Fiction
When Connie sees four young men take a stand for equal rights at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, she realizes that things may soon change in the South.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
Kadir Nelson (Balzar + Bray, 2011)
A tale of discrimination and broken promises, determination and triumphs

Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told
Walter Dean Myers (Amistad, 2008)
An illustrated profile of a pioneering voice against lynching

I Have a Dream
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Schwartz & Wade, 2012)
Paintings by Kadir Nelson accompany King’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
Jen Bryant (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013)
After an injury in World War I, Pippin learned to draw again and became a famous painter whose works were displayed across the country.

STAT: Standing Tall and Talented
Amar’e Stoudemire (Scholastic Press, 2012)
A heartfelt story based on the famous basketball player’s boyhood

What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld (Candlewick, 2012)
Historical Fiction
The lives of black inventors and innovators are explored through the eyes of fictional twins.

Grades 4–5
Bud, Not Buddy
Christopher Paul Curtis (Laurel Leaf, 2004)
It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. When 10-year-old Bud decides to hit the road to find his father, nothing can stop him.

Eliza’s Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Dairy
Jerdine Nolen (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2011)
As she escapes slavery in Maryland for Canada, 12-year-old Eliza recites the stories her mother taught her.

Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America
Andrea Davis Pinkney (Hyperion Book for Children, 2012)
Lyrical narratives about 10 influential men from different eras in American history

Ida B. Wells, Mother of the Civil Rights Movement
Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin (Clarion Books, 2000)
Civil rights leader Ida B. Wells is brought to life in this accessible and well-researched biography.

One Crazy Summer
Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad; Reprint edition, 2011)
Eleven-year-old Delphine has only a few memories of her mother, Cecile, who abandoned the family in Brooklyn. Then, in the summer of 1968, Delphine and her sisters visit Cecile in Oakland.

Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?
Patricia C. McKissack (Scholastic Paperbacks, 1994)
The portrait of a pivotal yet appalling era in American history, centering on the life of a remarkable woman born into slavery in 1797 in New York.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
Christopher Paul Curtis (Laurel Leaf, 2000)
A boisterous family journeys from Flint, Michigan, straight into one of the most chilling moments in American history: the burning of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church with four little girls inside.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Kadir Nelson (Hyperion Book CH, 2008)
A lost piece of American history comes to life in Kadir Nelson's eloquent story of the Negro leagues and their gifted baseball players.

Grades 6–8
Black Women in White America: A Documentary History
Gerda Lerner (Vintage, 1992)
From the first women who fought slavery to the great Fannie Lou Hamer, this book profiles some of America’s most extraordinary freedom fighters.

Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic Press, 1997)
This songlike poem relates the story of a people who settle in New York City hoping to improve their lots in life, only to discover that racism can still keep them from achieving success.

Harriet Tubman, The Road to Freedom
Catherine Clinton (Back Bay Books, 2005)
The famous conductor of the Underground Railroad is revealed as a singular and complex character.

Not Without Laughter
Langston Hughes (Dover Publications, 2008)
This 1930s coming-of-age tale, the only novel by the great poet, unfolds in rural Kansas in a racially divided society.

Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900
Edited by Jacqueline Jones Royster (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1997)
This volume collects three pamphlets that constitute Wells’s major works during the anti-lynching movement: Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases; A Red Record; and Mob Rule in New Orleans.

A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.
Edited by James M. Washington (HarperOne; Reprint edition, 1990)
King is shown in his roles as philosopher, theologian, orator, essayist, and author.

Up From Slavery
Booker T. Washington (Dover Publications, 1995)
This 1901 narrative details Washington’s slow and steady rise in the years after the Civil War.

Grades 9–10
The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom
Marcus Rediker (Viking Adult, 2012)
The author reclaims the famous slave rebellion for the African rebels who risked death to stake a claim for freedom.

By Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X Speeches and Writing
(Pathfinder Press, 1992)
In 11 speeches and interviews, Malcolm X presents a revolutionary alternative to injustice.

The Color Purple
Alice Walker (Mariner Books, 2003)
This moving story, set in rural Georgia, tells of a 14-year-old girl’s shame and suffering after her father rapes and beats her.

Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family
Condoleezza Rice (Three Rivers Press, 2011)
The former Secretary of State recalls her childhood in the segregated South and how she overcame prejudice with the help of her exceptional parents and an extended family and community.

Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965
Juan Williams (Penguin Books; Reprint edition, 1988)
The events of the 1950s and ’60s are brought to life with photographs and vivid text, including first-person accounts. Written in conjunction with the PBS TV series of the same name.

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006)
One of the most important works of 20th-century American literature, Hurston's 1937 classic is a Southern love story told with wit and wisdom.

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
(Dover Publications, 2003)
Douglass, who was born into slavery in 1818, recounts his escape and how he later risked his own freedom to become an antislavery advocate, orator, writer and publisher.

The Souls of Black Folk
W. E. B. DuBois (Dover Publications, 1994)
First published in 1903, this classic work remains a crucial document in African American literary history.

The Tuskegee Airmen: An Illustrated History: 1939-1949
Joseph Caver, Jerome Ennels, and Daniel Haulman (NewSouth Books, 2011)
Here, in pictures and words, is the full story of the Tuskegee Airmen and the world in which they lived, worked, played, fought and sometimes died.

When I Was a Slave: Memoirs From the Slave Narrative Collection
Edited by Norman R. Yetman (Dover Publications, 2002)
More than 2,000 interviews with former slaves provide often-startling first-person accounts of their lives in bondage.

Grades 11–12
The New York Times: The Complete Civil War
Edited by Harold Holzer (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2010)
Newspaper accounts
This book collects every article that the Times published about the war from 1861 to 1865.

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Barack Obama (Crown, Reprint edition, 2007)
A probing memoir by the man who would become America’s first black President

Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison (Vintage, 1995)
First published in 1952, this award-winning novel tells the story of a disaffected young black man who makes his way from the segregated South to an often-violent Harlem.

Mama’s Girl
Veronica Chambers (Riverhead Trade, 1997)
A story of perseverance and achievement, this book is Chamber's moving self-examination as an African American woman.

Notes of a Native Son
James Baldwin (Beacon Press, 2012)
Written during the 1940s and early ’50s, these essays capture a view of black life and thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement.

Native Son
Richard Wright (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008)
The shocking tale of a young African American man living in a black neighborhood of Chicago

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63
Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster, 1989)
This volume, the first of two, offers an unsurpassed portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.’s rise to greatness.

Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison (Vintage; Reprint edition, 2004)
A powerful, poetic exploration of four generations of a family mistakenly named Dead

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
Jeanne Theoharis (Beacon Press, 2013)
Published 100 years after the activist's birth, this account of Parks's life fleshes out her sometimes-surprising role in the fight for civil rights.

Manchild in the Promised Land
Claude Brown (Touchstone, Reprint edition, 2011)
The definitive account of everyday life for the first generation of African Americans raised in the Northern ghettos of the 1940s and ’50s

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Road That Sparked the Civil War
Tony Horwitz (Henry Holt and Co., 2010)
The story of one of America's most troubling figures

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
Isabel Wilkerson (Vintage, Reprint edition, 2011)
An account, as the author says, of "the biggest underreported story of the 20th century"

Meet the Super Teachers!

Superman may be able to fly, but can he teach fractions? To our minds, that’s a true superpower. And thousands of incredible teachers do it brilliantly every day. The latest issue of Scholastic Instructor magazine is dedicated to them—the “Superteachers.”

We’ve asked a few of our favorite teachers to share their tips to help our readers boost their teaching superpowers. Here is a sneak peek:

  1. The Book Whisperer: Donalyn Miller on developing habits that will inspire every child’s love of reading.
  2. The Text Detective: Timothy Shanahan takes the mystery out of using close reading.
  3. The Craft Crusaders: Teacher bloggers share the “craftivities” that make learning stick.
  4. The Straight Talker: Rafe Esquith on teaching in the Age of Entitlement

Teachers may not don spandex and a cape when they head to work each morning, but their tireless dedication in the classroom is truly heroic. So, we’d like to take a moment to say, “Thank you, Superteachers! You’re ensuring a brighter future for us all.”

E-Learning eliminates snow days

With winter storms popping up all over the country (and let’s not forget about the polar vortex!) many schools have closed their doors during inclement weather this winter. In fact, scores of them have already depleted their allotted snow time and are now planning to extend the school year to make up the lost days. 

However, to avoid lengthening the school year some schools are leveraging the power of technology to overcome the weather. Rather than announcing a typical snow day and cancelling school, some buildings are using technology to extend learning to the home. In this article from Education Week, the superintendent of the 939-student Fort Recovery district in western Ohio, Shelly Vaughn, said, "It's much better to have a day of e-learning instruction right now than if we held a makeup day when the weather's nice."

From posting assignments online to using video lessons, snow days are not getting in the way of education in Ohio.  The district even has a plan in place for students who may not have access to a computer at home. All students have up to two weeks to complete the “snow day” assignments and can also receive a hard copy of the assignment from their teachers when school is back in session.

In addition to schools in Ohio, Gibault Catholic High School in Waterloo, Ill., has implemented academic social networks for snow days. These networks allow students to connect with each other and access resources needed for assignments and projects during "cancelled" school days.

Although this is a fairly new idea, I think we will see more and more schools implement this approach. Of course nothing can replace a great teacher, but giving students the responsibility to “work from home” will only benefit them in college and in careers.  

The Olympics in your classroom

It is official, the 2014 Olympic games have started and I fully admit to being one of the millions watching the different events this weekend. I'm forever amazed by the talent and perseverance of these athletes. Not to mention their accomplishments at their ages! I've also found it interesting to see more about the history of the games and the culture of Russia.

How can this all be translated into the classroom? Brittany of On Our Minds @Scholastic has a great round up of resources I wanted to be sure to share with everyone. Check it out here and see articles, book lists and more! Plus, on scholastic.com there is a feature on "The Science of the Olympics."

Teachers, how are you integrating the Olympics into your lessons?

Statistical skills are vital to career readiness

In an EdWeek post titled “Statistics: The New ‘It’ Common-Core Subject,” Anna E. Bargagliotti highlights the necessity of fostering data literacy. Bargagliotti, a math professor working on Project-SET (Statistics Education for Teachers), cites a McKinsey report stating the US will experience a shortage of people with analytical skills, including managers and analysts with the ability to use data to drive decisions.

Understanding statistics plays an important role in both the job market as well as citizenship. To fully grasp what’s going on in the news, business, and government, students must have statistical reasoning skills.

It begins with the ability to extract relevant information from charts and tables, but a sophisticated understanding of statistics will be necessary for students to pursue high-level jobs and opportunities. Companies (including ones outside the technology industry) and cities (see this article about data in NYC) rely on employees who can make sense of large amounts of data to drive decisions.

Educators, how do you prepare students to navigate a data-filled world? Share any advice on fostering data literacy in the comments below.

Doing math vs. knowing math

There is a big difference between getting the right answer and explaining how you got the right answer. Just ask renowned math educator Marilyn Burns, the founder of Math Solutions and creator of Math Reasoning Inventory (MRI). MRI is a formative assessment tool which helps teachers assess students’ numerical reasoning and understanding of math principles through conversations.

Like Marilyn Burns did when she laid the groundwork for MRI, many math teachers are having conversations with their students to hear how students ended up with any given answer.  A recent Education Week article explores the old adage in the math classroom of “I can't help you if I can't see what you did.” As the author explains, when requiring students to show their work, it may be taking away from a child’s mathematical thinking and weakening his or her problem solving skills. But when students explain their answer, they are sharing their mathematical thinking in a thoughtful and thorough way, while also contributing their opinions on incorrect responses.

I think this method is critical to confirming student comprehension. If the goal is understanding, and a student cannot explain their thought process and fully communicate how they got the answer, then they have not truly mastered the task at hand. It's easy to get stuck memorizing algorithms and processes.

As the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice say, “Mathematically proficient students are also able to compare the effectiveness of two plausible arguments, distinguish correct logic or reasoning from that which is flawed, and—if there is a flaw in an argument—explain what it is.”

Teachers: Do you have any strategies in getting your students to explain their answers?

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.


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