How to raise kids who love to read

Raising Kids Who ReadIn his new book, Raising Kids Who Read, Daniel Willingham explains the “difference between teaching kids to read and teaching them to love reading,” writes Cory Turner on NPR.

A University of Virginia psychology professor, Willingham wants his children to share his love of reading. “If the goal is to become a good citizen or the goal is to make a lot of money, I can think of more direct ways to reach those goals than to read during your leisure time.”

He advises parents to play games that help toddlers hear speech sounds. “Rhyming games, reading aloud books that have a lot of rhyme in them and other types of wordplay, like alliteration. That’s helpful.”

Then it’s time for Dr. Seuss and banana-fana-fo-fana.

 If you had a child named Billy. You could say, “Daddy’s name is Cory. What if we took the first sound in Billy’s name, and my name is now Bory?” That kind of stuff is comic gold for kids.

If parents read, their children see themselves as being part of a “family of readers,” says Willingham.

Cubby, on the 1950s' Mickey Mouse Club, was my first crush.

Cubby, on the 1950s’ Mickey Mouse Club, was my first crush.

But “it’s not enough that the child like reading,” he says. Parents need to limit access to digital devices that provide instant, varied and effortless entertainment. It’s not that attention spans are shrinking, he says. “What’s changed is our attitudes and beliefs. And our attitudes and beliefs are, ‘Bored is not a normal state of affairs. I really should never be bored’.”

I’m so old that I remember when my family got our first TV.  My sister and I — probably both still in nursery school — were allowed to watch for 30 minutes a day. We chose The Mickey Mouse Club over Howdy Doody. By the time we were too old for Micky, we were enthusiastic readers.

In his advice for schools, Willingham stresses that teaching decoding skills is only the first step to reading. To understand what they read, students need to build vocabulary and background knowledge.

Many schools go heavy on reading skills but ignore knowledge, notes Karin Chenoweth. Students don’t enjoy reading things they can’t understand.

For a New York Times parenting blog, Willingham talked to Jessica Lahey about what not to worry about in teaching young children to read.

About that ‘miracle’ school

When Chris Stewart tweeted about George Hall Elementary — “99% black. 98% student poverty. All proficient.” — skeptics wondered if the “miracle” was real.

The turnaround school in Mobile was one of the highest-performing schools in Alabama in 2013, according to Education Trust, I noted.

A George Hall student

A George Hall student

Ed Trust’s Karin Chenoweth explains how George Hall went from one of the worst-performing schools in the state in 2004 to one of the best. No miracles were involved, she writes.

A new principal followed “what research indicates is important” and aligned “curricula, lessons, professional development, schedules, budgets, discipline — everything — . . . to support high-quality instruction.”

“Our children can’t help what they come from,” Terri Tomlinson told me when she was the principal. “It’s our job to teach them. And I think we do a pretty good job of it.”

At George Hall I have read student essays, heard students read, and talked with them about what they’re learning and what they hope to be when they grow up. The children at George Hall are not “miracle” children but children who have ambitions and — like all humans — are hardwired to learn.

I believe the faculty and staff would find deeply offensive the idea that the only way that their students can achieve at high levels is through divine intervention.

Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2011) by Chenoweth and Christina Theokas profiles Tomlinson and other leaders of  24 high-performing, rapidly improving schools that serve disadvantaged students.

Hall students strive to improve in behavior and academics. Photo: Dan Carsen

Hall students strive to improve in behavior and academics. Photo: Dan Carsen

WBHM profiled George Hall in 2012 as part of a series on turnaround schools.

In 2004, the district transferred most of the teachers, hired Tomlinson and let her recruit a new set of teachers with “a strong work ethic and a belief that all kids can learn at a high level,” reports Dan Carsen. Teachers were offered $4,000 signing bonuses plus performance bonuses.

The community was angry about the changes, says Tomlinson. “We were a predominantly white staff and a white principal who came into a black school with a predominantly black staff and a black principal, and it was … it was hard for it not to be racial. And there were threats.”

Now, people lie about where their kids live so they can enroll them at George Hall, writes Carsen.

The principal and teachers “leave nothing about teaching and learning to chance. They’re very strategic,” says Alabama Superintendent Tommy Bice. “They know where every child is. They have a plan ensure that they move from point A to point B. If they’re not moving along that trajectory, they have a plan to intervene.”

Teachers assess students very frequently, and principal Tomlinson analyzes the data every day. Faculty planning time is protected, and instructional time is guarded like treasure. Tomlinson says you practically need a letter from the Pope to get on the intercom, and teachers recently voted to lengthen the school day by 50 minutes.

Teachers use common lesson plans, and group planning sessions often span grade levels. Collaboration is key.

There are a few white students now, writes Carsen. They are the children of teachers.

Who’s responsible for poor kids?

Matilde Ascencio holds her 18-month-old daughter Vitzal as she waits in line to receive food aid in a Chicago suburb. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The U.S. is not the land of opportunity for the children of poorly educated parents, writes social scientist Robert Putnam in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

When Putnam finished high school in 1959 in a small Ohio town, factory jobs provided steady paychecks for classmates who didn’t go to college. Now there are few steady jobs for workers with only a high school diploma.

“There’s such instability in the families of poor kids that 60 to 70 percent of them — of all races — are living in single-parent families,” Putnam told NPR’s Scott Simon. In the wealthiest fifth of families, only 6 percent of children are raised by a single parent.

If you have two educated parents, “you’ll have a larger vocabulary, you’ll know more about the world,” Putnam said, and such children will have “a lot of adults in their life that are reaching out to help them. They tell them about what it means to go to college.”

Not-very-educated single parents, short on time and money, are less likely to take their kids to soccer practice, dance class or church, Putnam found.

Sympathy for poor children isn’t enough, writes New York Times columnist David Brooks. We need to reintroduce social norms, such as what it means to be a good father.

These norms “were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another,” he writes. We don’t want to hold people responsible for their choices.

People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?

Privileged people could do better too, Brooks concludes, though he’s not clear on how.

Liberals made a “historic mistake” 50 years ago when they rejected the Moynihan report’s warning “that the rise of single-parent households would make poverty more intractable,” writes Nicholas Kristof, also in the New York Times.

“From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history,” wrote Moynihan. “A community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families … never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos.”

Can tech break the college monopoly?

Online courses will revolutionize higher education when learners can earn low-cost credentials that lead to jobs, writes Kevin Carey in the New York Times. Carey is the author of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere

. . .  traditional college degrees are deeply embedded in government regulation and standard human resources practice. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher you are — if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, it’s illegal for a public school to hire you. Private-sector employers often use college degrees as a cheap and easy way to select for certain basic attributes, mostly the discipline and wherewithal necessary to earn 120 college credits.

However, Carey believes alternative credentials such as badges will break colleges’ “near-monopoly” on job qualifications. And most students go to college to get a better job, he writes.

Not so fast, responds economist Bryan Caplan.

Degrees signal an array of traits: not just intelligence, but work ethic, conformity, and more.  “Harvard dropout” tells the job market, “This person was promising enough to get into Harvard, but so lazy and/or non-conformist that he wasted this golden opportunity.”

Conformity to social norms is a valued job attribute, adds Caplan. “Employers focus at least as much on workers’ general competence and people skills” as they do on specific skill sets.

He’d love to believe Carey is right, but he concludes “the status quo has a massive built-in advantage” because of the importance of “conformity signaling.” Furthermore, “governments at all levels annually cement the status quo’s advantage with hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies.”

Does Harvard matter?

Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania is “a soothing balm for upper-middle class parents whose children do not quite manage to scale the highest peaks of prestige,” writes Nick Romeo in The New Republic.

Bruni doesn’t challenge the desire for status, writes Romeo. He tells parents their kids can attain wealth and status with a not-quite-Ivy education.

Bruni provides anecdotes about non-Ivy “people who run huge companies or work at prestigious consulting or law firms,” notes Romeo. “There are ‘myriad routes to a corner office,’ as he puts it. He never seriously considers the possibility that college might shape students into adults who are not interested in a corner office.”

Sex ed: Too hot to handle?

“There is probably no subject that has posed greater headaches to teachers than sex education,” writes Jonathan Zimmerman in his new book, Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education.

“And no other topic illustrates the complexity and emotion that lies at the heart of the debates about parental, local, and federal control over education,” writes Jessica Lahey in What Schools Should Teach Kids About Sex.

In many U.S. districts — and around the world — students get “a smattering of information about their reproductive organs and a set of stern warnings about putting them to use,” writes Zimmerman, an NYU professor of history and education.

I learned in sex-ed movies that teens only have sex because of peer pressure. Nobody really wants it.

Young people can go online to sites such as Scarleteen.com, which has drawn 1 billion users since its launch in 2006, notes Lahey. Here are popular recent questions.

Learning about reproductive biology isn’t enough, sex advice columnist Dan Savage tells Lahey.

We should be teaching the real things that can trip people up, things that can ruin people’s lives or traumatize them, like what is and isn’t consent, and what is and isn’t on the menu, and what are you or are you not comfortable with, and how do you advocate for yourself, and how do you draw someone out and solicit their active consent so that you don’t accidentally traumatize someone? We need to talk about sex for pleasure, which is 99.99 percent of the sex that people have, and that’s 99.99 percent of what’s not covered …

Savage analogized the state of sex education today to a driver’s education class that focuses exclusively on the mechanics of the internal combustion engine, with no mention of brakes, steering, red lights, and stop signs. “That’s sex ed in America. We hand kids the keys to the car, and when they drive straight into walls, we say, ‘See? See? If we’d only kept them a little more ignorant, this wouldn’t be happening!’”

Diversity makes it harder for people to agree about how to teach about sex, says Zimmerman. Values vary. Globalization doesn’t mean liberalization, he writes in a New York Times commentary. “Globalization has served to curtail rather than expand school-based sexual instruction.”

’50 Shades’ boy kicked out of Book Day

A British boy who dressed as a Fifty Shades of Grey character was excluded from his school’s World Book Day celebrations, reports BBC. Liam Scholes’ Christian Grey costume — gray suit, cable ties and eye mask — was deemed “inappropriate,” says his mother, Nichola Scholes.

Liam Scholes wore a suit and carried a mask and cable ties to impersonate the billionaire sadist hero of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Liam Scholes wore a suit and carried a mask and cable ties to impersonate the billionaire sadist hero of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Grey is a billionaire who likes erotic sadism in the best-selling book.

“Liam was advised to dress as James Bond… but [he] was a promiscuous character who kills people,” said the mother. A teacher dressed as a “serial killer.”

Students who’d dressed as movie — not book — characters were allowed to participate, she added.

“It has been massively blown out of proportion,” she said. “It was meant as a laugh and tongue-in-cheek.”

Transformative tech starts with the book

One learning technology — the book — has “transformed teaching and learning,” writes Rick Hess.

First, it gave students access to experts from around the world; children were no longer dependent solely on their teachers for learning. Second, no longer reliant on teachers to tell them everything, students could learn at home or on their own. This “flipped” the classroom, allowing teachers to spend less time lecturing and more time explaining, mentoring, and facilitating.

Educators were dubious about printed books, writes Hess. “Schools were predominantly church-run affairs, and religious leaders worried about the lack of moral and interpretive guidance for learners left to their own devices.”

But books won out, launching an “information revolution.”

With books, students could master content and concepts outside of school, learning even when a teacher wasn’t there to tell them things. (Think of Abraham Lincoln working his way through Shakespeare and the Greeks alone on the Illinois prairie.)

But books have limits, Hess writes. They don’t speak. They can’t adapt to readers’ interests and reading levels, be updated quickly or embed “exercises that let students apply new concepts and get immediate feedback.”

Intelligent, computer-assisted tutoring systems are about 90 percent as effective as in-person tutors, Hess writes. But we need to do three things right:

First, new tools should inspire a rethinking of what teachers, students, and schools do, and how they do it. If teaching remains static, sprinkling hardware into schools won’t much matter.

Second, technology can’t be something that’s done to educators. Educators need to be helping to identify the problems to be solved and the ways technology can help, and up to their elbows in making it work.

Third, it’s not the tools but what’s done with them. When they discuss what’s working, the leaders of high-tech charter school systems like Carpe Diem and Rocketship Education, or heralded school districts like that of Mooresville, N.C., brush past the technology in order to focus relentlessly on learning, people, and problem-solving.

Like the book, technology won’t work miracles, Hess writes. And, like the book, it won’t replace teachers.

How to blend tech and teachers

Liz Arney’s new guidebook, Go Blended!,  shows “how schools should think about using technology and blended learning to better serve students,” writes Andrew J. Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners.

Arney, one of the contributors to the Blend My Learning blog, is director of “innovative learning” for Aspire Public Schools‘ charters.

Blended learning — using learning software for part of the day — is often used to enable students to work at their own pace, freeing teachers to work with small groups.

No profit left behind

Pearson, the British publishing behemoth,  sells billions of dollars of textbooks, tests, software and online courses in North America, reports Politico‘s Stephanie Simon in No profit left behind.

“Public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective,” writes Simon.

Its software grades student essays, tracks student behavior and diagnoses — and treats — attention deficit disorder. The company administers teacher licensing exams and coaches teachers once they’re in the classroom. It advises principals. It operates a network of three dozen online public schools. It co-owns the for-profit company that now administers the GED.

Pearson’s interactive tutorials on subjects from algebra to philosophy form the foundation of scores of college courses. It builds online degree programs for a long list of higher education clients, including George Washington University, Arizona State and Texas A&M. The universities retain authority over academics, but Pearson will design entire courses, complete with lecture PowerPoints, discussion questions, exams and grading rubrics.

In peak years, the company has “spent about $1 million lobbying Congress and perhaps $1 million more on the state level,” writes Simon. But, she adds, the National Education Association spent $2.5 million lobbying Congress in 2013.

I think this is the key point:

“The policies that Pearson is benefiting from may be wrongheaded in a million ways, but it strikes me as deeply unfair to blame Pearson for them,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, an education historian at New York University. “When the federal government starts doing things like requiring all states to test all kids, there’s going to be gold in those hills.”

The real question is whether schools need the products and services they’re buying from Pearson and its competitors. As long as Pearson has competitors, it can’t jack up its prices or lower its quality without losing business. For example, it’s losing GED customers like crazy because the new test is too expensive and too difficult. I predict they’ll announce a new new GED or lower prices to regain business.