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.

‘The world needs books!’

“The world needs books!,” declares Madison Reid, an eight-year-old Cleveland girl. Just as a car can’t go without gas, “our brains can’t go without books.” The third grader was interviewed at an event for Little Free Library, which provides books for people to read and exchange.

No more teachers, no more books

From Robb Brewer:

Reading Rainbow is not a charity

“LeVar Burton has found a pot of gold at the end of Reading Rainbow, reports the New York Daily News.” The former host’s Reading Rainbow app raised $1 million in 24 hours on Kickstarter.

Burton, also known as Star Trek’s engineer, bought the name of the PBS children’s series, which aired from 1983 to 2009. He’s started a company to bring “Reading Rainbow’s” digital library of books and videos to classrooms and homes.‘We can genuinely change the world, one children’s book at a time,’ LeVar Burton said about his goal to raise money to bring ‘Reading Rainbow’ online.

Burton’s RRKidz, which produces a Reading Rainbow tablet app, is a for-profit company, not a charity, writes Caitlin Dewey in a Washington Post blog. It will be available to teachers for a monthly subscription — not free.

The app features book read-alongs and “video field trips.” Like the show, it fosters interest in reading but doesn’t teach reading skills, writes Dewey.

However, the app may not reach many low-income children. The Kickstarter funds will be used to put the app on desktop computers, while low-income families are much more likely to use phones to access the Internet.

Teachers already can access many episodes of the show for free via YouTube.

A better way to get books to needy kids is to give to nonprofits such as Children’s Literacy Initiative or First Book, Dewey suggests.

23% didn’t read a book in 2013

Nearly a quarter of American adults didn’t read a single book — including e-books — in 2013, Pew Research reports. That’s no worse than the year before. The typical American read five books.

The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978, according to Gallup, observes Jordan Weissmann in The Decline of the American Book Lover.

Without question, the American bookworm is a rarer species than two or three decades ago, when we didn’t enjoy today’s abundance of highly distracting gadgets. In 1978, Gallup found that 42 percent of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year (13 percent said they’d read more than 50!).  Today, Pew finds that just 28 percent hit the 11 mark.

Weissmann finds some hope: “The percentage of young folks reading for pleasure stopped declining. Last year, the NEA found that 52 percent of 18-24 year-olds had read a book outside of work or school, the same as in the pre-Facebook days of 2002.”

Sources: Pew 2014Pew 2012, and Gallup

What’s your state’s book?

Here’s the Most Famous Book Set In Every State, according to Business Insider.
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There’s plenty to argue about. Stephanie Myer’s Twilight is the most famous book set in Washington state? A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks is the North Carolina book, beating out Look Homeward Angel. I guess it depends on the definition of “famous.”

I grew up in Illinois (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) and live in California (John Steinbeck’s not-very-famous East of Eden).

Of course, a few are right on, such as Willa Cather’s My Antonia (one of my mother’s favorites) for Nebraska.

What colleges ask new students to read

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Politically-themed books published since 1990 dominate summer “common reading” lists for incoming college students, according to Beach Books 2012-2013, the National Association of Scholars’ annual report.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — about scientific research using a black cancer victim’s cells — was the most popular book by far for the second year in a row.

Reading the same book is supposed to build a sense of community among new students and provide something to discuss in orientation. But “so-called ‘common reading’ programs have become a tool for orienting students to progressive causes,” said NAS president Peter Wood.

The dominant themes in these books are race, gender, class, the evils of capitalism, and the ubiquity of oppression.

. . The popularity of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for example, is based on its depiction of the American medical establishment as racist.”

Very few science books are chosen for common reading, the report finds. That suggests that “The Immortal Life owes its popularity not to being a book about science but to being a book about science whose subjects—the Lacks family—happen to be black and poor and furnished with a victimhood narrative.”

I think that’s an accurate description of the book, which would have been better if it had been a lot shorter.

Social justice, sustainability, diversity and economic justice are four major themes in common-reading books.

NAS lists 50 recommended books for common reading programs including Flatland, Camus’ The Plague and Augustine’s Confessions. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, about the denizens of Brook Farm, and Conrad’s Under Western Eyes look good to me.



Librarian: Top reader ‘hogs’ glory

Tyler Weaver, 9, read 63 books in six weeks to win the summer reading contest at Hudson Falls Public Library in upstate New York. The incoming fifth grader has won five years in a row.  Which is . . . unfair?

Tyler “hogs” the contest every year and should “step aside,” Library Director Marie Gandron told the Star-Post.  Over five years, Tyler has won an atlas, a T-shirt, a water bottle and certificates of achievement.

Tyler’s mother, Katie, had alerted the newspaper to his streak. His younger brother, Jonathan, 7, won second place for the second year by reading more than 40 books.

“Other kids quit because they can’t keep up,” Gandron said.

Gandron further told the reporter she planned to change the rules of the contest so that instead of giving prizes to the children who read the most books, she would draw names out of a hat and declare winners that way.

Prizes also are given to the top kindergarten reader and for best rock people (?) and coloring entries.

Lita Casey, an aide at the library for 28 years, said the Weaver boys visit the library every week year round. She estimates they’ve checked out 1,000 books in the last few years.

Changing the contest rules is “ridiculous,” Casey said.

“My feeling is you work, you get it. That’s just the way it is in anything. My granddaughter started working on track in grade school and ended up being a national champ. Should she have backed off and said, ‘No, somebody else should win?’ I told her (Gandron), but she said it’s not a contest, it’s the reading club and everybody should get a chance,” Casey said.

A few years ago, the summer theme centered on regions of the United States, Casey recalled. “Kids were supposed to read a book on each section of the country,” but some found it boring and dropped out. “Tyler read at least one book on each of the 50 states,” she said.

One commenter suggests that Marie Gandron has hogged the library director job long enough and should “step aside” to let someone else have a turn.

Harrison Bergeron, call your office, Instapundit writes.


Hello, Goodnight Moon

Yesterday, as commenters were discussing reading to children, I discovered my daughter’s old copies of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, Corduroy, Tasha Tudor’s 1 is One and others, plus the “activities book” I bought her at a fair when she was a baby.

In a few weeks, my mother will leave the house where she’s lived for 40 years — we’ve already sold it — and move to assisted living near me and my sister. We need to make room to store things for her, so we’ve been de-cluttering.

Three of our four children have papers, books, photos, posters, CDs, clothing and “unwanted stuffed animals” (three boxes) in our house and garage. We’ve been sorting things into garbage, recycling, giveaway and need-to-keep piles, finding missing treasures and getting rid of our own excess junk. Yesterday, I donated seven Styrofoam coolers to RAFT, which collects supplies for teachers. All the junk electronics is going too.

It’s not easy. I decided to throw out my brother’s things, mostly videotapes from his work at a cable TV station in Guam. He died 15 years ago at the age of 42 of cardiac arrythmia. The children’s books were under a file of his bills.

I keep my old children’s books in my office; I’ve added Allison’s. Perhaps I can read A Pocket for Corduroy to the grandkids, four and two years old, who will be visiting soon. They leave the day my mother arrives.

If I seem a bit distracted, that’s why.

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