We get it. We’re visual creatures. We’re as drawn in by videos and graphics as the next consumer and we’ve made moves to harness the power of imagery in our own work. BUT … you’re reading this aren’t you?
In everyday life, it’s kind of hard to get around without having to read … a menu, an article, an instruction guide, a fill-in-the-blank. And why would you want to stop reading? Reading is essential. Reading is fun … unless you’ve never learned to read properly in the first place.
Because reading is the gateway skill to further learning, children who cannot read proficiently seldom catch up academically and often fail to graduate on time from high school or drop out altogether. This stark reality has propelled three dozen states to adopt policies aimed at improving third-grade reading, including holding third-graders back who have yet to become proficient readers— a controversial move.
CPE, in conjunction, with NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education, Black Council of School Board Members, National Caucus of American Indian/Alaska Native School Board Members and Hispanic Council of School Board Members explore the complex landscape of early literacy in a new white paper, Learning to Read, Reading to Learn. Yes, you’ll have to READ IT here.
The Common Core State Standards’ (CCSS) English Language Arts (ELA) benchmarks for kindergarteners came under scrutiny in a recently released report. Issued by two early education advocacy organizations, Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood, the report argues that “many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten” despite the CCSS requirement that prior to first grade, students are expected to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” If an impossible standard has been set, then expecting children to be able to do something beyond their capability appears to be a waste of time, money, and effort for all parties.
However, a deeper look into the CCSS English/Language Arts for elementary school children, provides an additional piece of information that should ease the concerns raised by the recent report. This introductory information notes that for kindergarten students, the goal is just for children to demonstrate an increased awareness and competencies in the ELA standards. Moreover, the CCSS does not advocate for removing play-based learning from the classroom, although a review of the report could easily allow a reader to believe that the CCSS explicitly denounces such practices. Surprisingly then, a complete read-through of the CCSS shows that the authors of the CCSS explicitly state that “the standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach. For instance, the use of play with young children is not specified by the Standards, but it is welcome as a valuable activity in its own right and as a way to help students meet the expectations in this document” (p.6). Within the same document, the standard that the DEY/AFC report focuses on (Foundational Skills: Fluency) is on page 16. Thus, it becomes confusing how the DEY/AFC report can read the standards with such purpose, yet without understanding.
Last, and most importantly, the CCSS does not prescribe how teachers must reach these goals. As highlighted in our own 2013 publication on the Common Core, the CCSS is just a guiding document as to what the goals are, not the pathways in which to reach them. In fact, there is widespread support for play-based learning within the kindergarten curriculum. For example, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the International Reading Association agree that pretend play is an important part of the learning process for young children. In an ideal world, using the CCSS in kindergarten should not interfere with incorporating play into the curriculum and in the practical world, whether or not play-based learning is included in kindergarten falls on the teacher, not the standards. Perhaps kindergarten is an excellent time to start raising awareness and competence in reading with purpose and understanding as this is a skill that is often needed by adults in order to comprehend and think critically about information.
A new app called Newsela may help classrooms read and discuss the same current events stories despite the differing levels of reading ability among the students. The app works by adjusting and creating versions of the same news story in varying difficulty levels. It operates in a discreet way, so students with the easier version of the story will not get embarrassed. Students also have the option of leveling up or leveling down the story themselves to adjust the material if they find it too hard or too easy. Newsela creator Dan-Cogan Drew states that this new technology will facilitate social learning by enabling all students to be able to participate in class discussion.
While it is certainly valuable for students to be able to tackle readings in order to participate, I wonder if these technologies and teacher’s expectations will prevent students from being challenged with their reading. There have been many studies that prove a strong correlation between a teacher’s expectations of a student and the student’s achievement. This NPR blog discusses the first experiment that demonstrated teacher’s expectations of their students affects their daily interactions with them, and students expected to succeed are more likely to succeed. The reverse is also true: students expected to fail are more likely to fail. Relating this research to Newsela, if a teacher has low expectations of students’ reading abilities and assigns easier versions of the article, then students may actually do worse than if they were all assigned the same reading. However, this does not mean that technologies such as Newsela are not valuable in the classroom, but it does mean that teachers should not blindly rely on this technology. Instead teachers should strive to make sure all students are being challenged in their reading.
We gave you something to watch earlier this week with the release of our newest video, Making Time, now we’re giving you something to read.
Much like our video, Beyond Fiction: The Importance of Reading for Information, is concise but packed with data and analysis on a really concerning trend in the American populace: we’re good at reading for pleasure and entertainment but not so good at reading for information. What exactly do we mean by reading for information?
It’s everything from being able to read and understand a newspaper article (which about 30 million American adults can’t do) to being able to decipher a street map (which some 27 million American adults can’t do). We don’t mean to pick on the adults here, but international surveys conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, show we get progressively worse at informational literacy the older we get.
Just four countries ranked higher than the US when it came to fourth-graders’ ability to acquire and use information. In contrast, 14 countries ranked higher than our 15-year-olds in terms of their ability to acquire and use information. Not good. But new standards, particularly the ones touted by Common Core, aim to fix this disparity by expanding and restructuring the way literature is taught. So, take a moment to dig into our latest study which, yes, is a form of informational text. Aren’t you smart! — Naomi Dillon
Last week we shared with you an interview that CPE Director Patte Barth conducted with PBS’ NewsHour on the growing trend among states of building extra time and support for struggling readers at the elementary level. Within that news package was another video that specifically looked at the practice in Florida, where a 2012 state law mandated a focus on the 100 lowest-performing schools.
CPE tackles both subjects— time in school and reading reforms— in two separate projects that will be released next week. Take a gander at this video and then mark your calendar for ours.