3 reasons why the reading gap is still alarmingly wide

New research sheds light on why so many students are not reading at grade level

Reading ability is a big predictor of other academic success, and unfortunately, many U.S. students are not reading at grade level, according to new research.

Research has long established that proficient reading helps students succeed in other subject areas, especially as academic content becomes more challenging. Students who do not read at grade level by 4th grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Reading ability also helps children develop empathy and self-confidence.

2017 NAEP results show that more than 6 out of 10 U.S. 4th graders do not read at grade level, and that number worsens for low-income students in high-poverty schools, where 8 in 10 students are not proficient.

To gauge the nation’s reading readiness, Age of Reading surveyed more than 1,000 parents and 1,000 teachers of children ages 2-12, reporting on children’s access to books, their reading habits, and major obstacles to developing confident and strong readers.

That research zeroed in on three major factors contributing to the reading gap.

1. Many children lack access to books, especially high-quality books

More than half of surveyed parents say they have fewer than 50 books of any kind in their homes, including children’s books. Schools can’t always pick up the slack–10 percent of surveyed teachers say their school does not have a school library, and 56 percent say their students do not have access to a digital library. Other research shows that more than 8,000 elementary schools in the U.S. do not have school libraries.

Cost is another issue around lack of access to books. Seventy percent of surveyed teachers say purchasing books for a classroom library is too expensive, and 77 percent say they buy classroom books with their own money.


Looking for ways to become a stronger educator?

Learn how from this week's podcast, which features principals sharing their best practices

The Better Leaders Better Schools podcast is for school and district administrators, emerging leaders, and educational influencers. In each episode, Daniel Bauer, a self-described “connector,” interviews school principals and industry leaders who share their insights, experiences, and mistakes. Learn how to build relationships, use data, and maximize your influence by practicing a growth mindset. Each show includes helpful educational resources shared to improve your leadership skills at school. As Bauer says, “This podcast was created to make your commute, workout, and even the chores more enjoyable!”

Here are three of our favorite episodes:

Can 30-minute conversations improve a school?-Dan Butler discusses using empowerment and delegation to maximize productivity.

Student-Centered Real-World Innovation – Nancy Conrad discusses the Conrad Challenge and “No box” thinking.

Knocking Down the Walls of the Classroom – Chris Nesi discusses how to help resistant teachers accept new tech tools and how to get kids comfortable with innovative learning.

[Editor’s Note: eSchool News will be featuring a K12 podcast every Friday. Send your favorites to eullman@eschoolnews.com.]


Zap life into your feedback with technology

This tutorial will show you how to collect and disseminate feedback

If you’re like any other teacher or administrator I know, you are busy. You need to deliver effective instruction to your students, meet the demands of your school and district, and manage your own personal responsibilities, all at the same time. You have good intentions about giving feedback that is timely and purposeful for your students or teachers. With limited time, how do you go about doing this?

Technology presents a unique opportunity to allows students access to your feedback in effective, efficient ways, following several steps. By setting up the parameters, you can have the tools in your arsenal to deliver effective, personalized feedback that’s powerful (and impresses your principal!). This is also a great way for administrators to deliver feedback to teachers—something we know they want! Peer feedback works using this method, too.

There are three steps to this process that, once set up, anyone can do. But first, a caveat: You must use a Google account. If you don’t already have one, sign up through Gmail now.

The 3-step tech-driven feedback process

Step 1: Create a form
Forms are an excellent and easy way to collect information. I use forms all the time to categorize information specific to feedback, a letter to a group of students or parents, etc. I just create the form and then enter the information. If you have never created a Google Form, or you’re unsure of how to do it, this quick-and-easy tutorial will show you how.

Step 2: Collect the feedback in an easy-to-read format
You might want to share a feedback score on persuasive writing clarity, or some other feedback you’re giving to your class, like from a rubric grade.

Here are some examples of how you might want to collect information, or give feedback:

  • Online assessments (Google Forms now allows teachers to create and grade quizzes)
  • Collecting data for science experiments
  • Brainstorming ideas in class
  • Completing a reading journal or log
  • Surveying students or parents
  • Peer feedback

Step 3: Share the responses
When Google Form responses get collected in a Google Sheet, they can be challenging to read if the answers are long (essays, open-ended questions, etc.). By using the add-on “Save as Doc,” you can turn your forms into an easy-to-read document to print and/or share. Here’s how to do it.


Time remains a big barrier to better technology implementation

While many educators feel more optimistic about teaching, concerns about technology access and training persist

The use of digital resources and tools in classrooms is at an all-time high, but educators still say they need more time and training if they are to effectively integrate technology resources into their curriculum.

Ninety-six percent of the more than 1,200 teachers surveyed in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s fourth annual Educator Confidence Report say they see the many benefits of using ed-tech tools in the classroom, with 63 percent citing improved student engagement as the top benefit. But despite that enthusiasm, 52 percent say time to integrate the tools into their curriculum remains the biggest barrier to more effective technology use.

Technology has helped educators:

  • Improve student engagement with learning (63 percent)
  • Improve ability to deliver differentiated, individualized instruction (52 percent)
  • Improve ability for students to access instructional content anytime/anywhere (50 percent)

Nearly all surveyed educators (94 percent) say establishing a meaningful connection with students is the most important part of learning, but 53 percent say they worry that today’s growing emphasis on technology use might impair the growth of important personal relationships.


8 great apps to enhance classroom learning

Whether you teach English, foreign language, math, or all three, we've got an app for you

We’re in the Golden Age of Educational Apps, according to Shannon Holden, assistant principal at Republic Middle School in Missouri. However, many parents and educators question the educational value of apps and worry they are taking away from actual instructional time. Holden reminded attendees in his recent edWebinar “10 Apps Every Teacher Needs NOW!” that like any instructional resource, teachers should carefully review each app’s purpose and potential for aiding the learning process. The apps showcased in the presentation help reinforce lessons, organize lesson content, and assess student progress.

1. Quizizz: This app does exactly what its title says—teachers can make quizzes (or choose from a library of quizzes) to assess student understanding of a topic or lesson. In addition, it keeps track of student scores so teachers can assess comprehension across a class. Finally, it offers a variety of ways for students to learn: flashcards, quizzes they can explore on their own, and more.

2. Kahoot!: Similarly to Quizizz, Kahoot! also tracks student progress, providing a bar graph of student answers and helping teachers take corrective action. Teachers may also create timed quizzes. Most important, students can use their own device.

3. Wakelet: Through this program, educators can make and curate collections of materials they find online: photos, web pages, podcasts, etc. They can make the collections public or private, but best of all, you don’t need to sign up for an account to use them.


Why we love our SEL tools

Looking for the right social emotional learning program? Here are a few to choose from

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an increasingly important part of the curriculum in many schools—and for good reason. SEL helps students develop key skills they’ll use to navigate personal and academic relationships as they move through school, including critical thinking, problem solving, and empathy.

When students learn self-management and social awareness, they’re automatically set up for more success, academically, personally, and professionally. SEL skills stay with students for life.

But because SEL isn’t a formal part of many districts’ curriculum, identifying the right SEL tools can be time-consuming.

That’s why we asked educators to share their favorite SEL tools and talk a little bit about why they like the tool and its offerings.

Social emotional learning programs

“We selected the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) from Aperture Education as our social-emotional learning assessment because it is easy to administer, is strengths-based, has a track record, and is aligned with our SEL curriculum. The DESSA data has been instrumental in helping us identify students’ SEL strengths as well as areas in which they may need additional support. It has become a key component of our SEL initiative.”
—Gina Hurley, Ed. D., executive director of social-emotional Learning and student services, Barnstable (MA) Public Schools

“When we first started using Kickboard, we wondered if our high schoolers would care about things like character traits. With Kickboard, they actually do. They care a great deal about what their balance is and where they stand in Kickboard. When they make a mistake and see demerits, it bothers them. It makes them want to show positive character traits and improve. During the semester we couldn’t use Kickboard, we really felt its absence in our school culture. Without a clear way to track these traits, they got lost in the shuffle. But with Kickboard, students care, which helps these traits become intrinsic. Each day, students want to do better and better.”
—Liz Hein, dean of students and culture, Carmen Northwest High School, Milwaukee

“Ridgeview Elementary has been implementing Conscious Discipline practices for the past two years. While our time implementing these practices is short, our successes that can be attributed to these practices are great. Conscious Discipline is a systems approach, focusing on both staff and students. Conscious Discipline understands the power of relationships and the need for connection. It teaches empathy and equips teachers with alternative approaches to discipline.”
—Dr. Tyler Shannon, head principal, Ridgeview Elementary, Liberty, Missouri

“SEL is a priority for Olathe Public Schools and the state of Kansas. We know that just like academic learning is assessed and progressed monitored, it’s just as important for schools to measure the social-emotional learning and development of all students. We chose Panorama Education to be our SEL measurement provider to be able to monitor subgroups like gender, race/ethnicity, ELL status, special education status, and grade level. We strive to triangulate our data with state and national norms, so the ability to use benchmarks in Panorama was valuable to us. At the time we were researching SEL measurement tools, we had adopted the Second Step program and began using Teaching Tolerance resources. Panorama Education aligns with these programs, as well as the CASEL competencies and standards. We appreciate the data Panorama can provide on a student-by-student basis, at the school level, and for our entire district. By using Panorama, we are elevating students’ voices and their perspectives on their social-emotional development.”
—Dr. Jessica Dain, assistant superintendent, Olathe (KS) Public Schools

“I am a new subscriber to The Social Express, and I asked my administration for a one-month trial. I am so glad I did! I will be using some of my social skills budget to have this available to me/my students next year. They love the webisodes and I can use them in my cross-categorical resource room! They make my job so much easier.”
—Kris Bonasera, elementary teacher, Independent School District 728 (MN)

Love in a Big World (LBW) was and will continue to be an essential part of our school-based programming because of its unique approach in providing relevant, fun, and engaging social-emotional learning objectives for students of various ages. I began by using the LBW curriculum as part of an after-school program for girls at reVision, a non-profit program focusing on juvenile justice reform and the dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline through mentoring and positive peer interaction. It not only allows me to discuss and engage students with highly relevant topics, but also promotes literacy through the use of stories and text that aid in comprehension. Moreover, the hands-on activities provide enrichment and support for the lessons while simultaneously fostering creative expression.”
—Tisha Wilson, director of school-based programs, reVision, Houston

“The KidConnect Classroom app has made a huge difference in the lives of my students and my classroom. Working with kids who have emotional and behavioral issues can be challenging. As a teacher, I needed to find something to help them that could be easy, quick, and effective. KidConnect is student-driven, allowing kids to use it on their own to better understand their emotions, the factors that lead to their behaviors, and alternative ways to manage their emotions. I was amazed at how quickly the app made a noticeable and positive change in their behavior.”
—Caroline Burkard, sixth-grade math teacher, Somerville (MA) Public Schools


7 ways Minecraft can make learning exciting again

The popular sandbox game is relevant in nearly every subject area--and it can boost engagement

Minecraft has pretty amazing potential as a teaching tool. In general, it promotes creativity and problem-solving as it boosts engagement. But it also can improve achievement when confident teachers incorporate it into instruction.

It’s easy for students to become absorbed in Minecraft worlds, mainly due to the game’s “sandbox” nature–it’s open-ended and offers unlimited possibilities for math, science, and building challenges.

And the game isn’t just for STEM classes, either. It can help build social and emotional skills, it can illustrate concepts found in literature and history classes, and more.

If you need inspiration, or just a little help getting started, you might find it in one of the following examples.

1. Minecraft has a fascinating link with social and emotional learning (SEL). A report based on interviews, a global survey, and case studies shows that 98 percent of teachers say problem solving is the top SEL skill their students learn from Minecraft. Students also develop creativity (86 percent), critical thinking (93 percent), and collaboration (91 percent). Half of teachers say they think it also helps students build empathy.

2. Gaming, including Minecraft, can be a powerful motivator to students, leading them to greater engagement and achievement. Students frequently walk away from homework when it is too difficult, but difficult games are another matter–kids walk away from games when they’re too easy. Difficult games present a positive challenge for students. A challenging task “stretches” a student’s brain, and the more a person expects his or her brain to do different things, the more pathways that person’s brain will develop.


7 tips for making your principal your ally

These suggestions—directed at librarians—can be useful for all school employees

Librarians, you cannot afford to have an adversarial relationship with your principal. You cannot even afford a principal who is an “agent of benevolent neglect.” You need an administrator who actively supports you and your program.

Your principal needs you as well—as a cheerleader and co-conspirator for change efforts. As a staff development resource for new programs. As an educator who can positively affect the learning environment of the whole school. As a researcher for best practices information. How exactly does your principal rely on you? Are you important enough to be listened to?

Principals and librarians need to be firm allies in helping their schools change in positive ways.

And it will be up to you, not your principal, to create this alliance. Here are some concrete ways you can do so.

1. Report regularly and formally.
We should all be sending out a written (emailed) quarterly principal’s report and a monthly faculty bulletin. These should be upbeat, useful, and short. Every newsletter that goes to parents needs a library column that includes digital photos of happy library-using kids. Administrators hate surprises—good and bad.

2. Know you principal’s goals and interests.
Can you rattle off the three or four things your principal considers important in your school? Test scores? Climate? Meaningful technology use? For what is your principal being held accountable by his or her boss? Where do your services and your principal’s goals overlap?


Lockhart Ed Tech

An instructional technology expert shares how to bring your classroom to life

David Lockhart started teaching high school history in 2004. He had to find that thing that made his lessons stand out, and he saw it with technology. For the last four years, he has been an instructional technologist who coaches, trains, and speaks full time. Today, he teaches students to program, and his blog, Lockhart Ed Tech – The Big Guy in a Bow Tie Blog, covers all the important edtech topics: STEM, coding, makerspaces, G Suite, virtual reality….

If you’re looking for ways to introduce coding into your classroom, Google Docs add-ons, or tips for helping your students make videos, Lockhart has you covered. As a long-time instructor, his posts offer clear advice and helpful how-to details.

Check it out!

[Editor’s Note: eSchool News will be highlighting a different blog every Monday. Send your favorites to eullman@eschoolnews.com.]


5 edtech tools that take personalized learning to the next level

In Putnam County Schools, students use a variety of carefully chosen digital resources to meet them where they are

On day one of math class, about one-third of school students are ready to master grade-level standards while others aren’t yet able to complete basic skills. Indeed, it’s not uncommon that students’ abilities span not just one grade level, but several grade levels. And while whole-class instruction may meet the needs of some students, more often than not, it leaves out many more students than it helps. An effective way to tackle the challenge of teaching core academics to all students across ability levels is to implement a personalized approach supported by a variety of carefully chosen digital resources.

In the Putnam County (TN) School System— a rural school district with 23 schools spread across 400 miles—our personalized learning approach has allowed us to reshape education for students on a variety of fronts. In the past several years, we have implemented a number of district-wide initiatives to support personalization and differentiation for students including the launch of our Virtual Instruction to Accentuate Learning (VITAL) program in 2008. Highlights of VITAL include a virtual homeschool, blended and online learning across every one of our schools, course recovery to ensure students stay on track to graduate, and course acceleration—all with the goal of preparing students to be future ready.

Intentional design
Our transition to personalized learning has been an exhilarating journey that picked up even more momentum through our work with Education Elements beginning in the 2017-18 school year. First, we defined what personalized learning meant for Putnam County and then formed a district leadership team to develop supports that align to this vision. Using the organization’s personalized learning implementation framework, we diagnosed areas of need and focus while further workshops exposed our teams to design thinking and innovative approaches to personalized learning so that each school team could ultimately create its own instructional model. In our first year, we implemented personalized learning in our six middle schools. This school year, as we continue this work in our middle schools, our 11 elementary school have embarked on their first year of personalized learning, and in 2019-20, our district’s three high schools will follow suit.

At the core of our personalized learning program is our use of data to inform instruction. We use NWEA MAP data to help us create “personalized learning paths” for students that accurately represent their strengths and weaknesses across core academics while providing detailed insights into their skills within each subject. That information helps ensure our instruction is aligned with students’ specific needs, and furthermore, empowers us to provide students with appropriate tools, resources, and curricula. Here are five digital resources we use to meet students where they are and take them where they need to go.

1. Canvas
Canvas is our learning management system (LMS) and provides a framework for our blended learning environment. It allows us to document, track, and deliver various resources to both students and teachers. Canvas also functions as a professional development tool that connects our master teachers to our newer teachers. For example, master teachers can create entire base curricula, including a menu of digital resources, and make them available to teachers across the district. This is particularly useful for newer teachers who have far less experience in teaching particular courses.