This week, institute season kicks off at The Reading and Writing Project, as thousands of educators gather at Teachers College in New York City to reflect upon, reinvigorate, and refine their teaching of writing. The workshops, lectures, keynotes, and often informal study groups they will attend will help them to hone their teaching practices so that they begin the next school year in the strongest place yet.
These days, books have a lot of competition for kids’ attention. Video games, cell phones, tablets, and social media sites all provide tantalizing sources of entertainment for kids of all ages during their off hours. As we move into the summer months, many kids will have a lot of hours to fill. As teachers, we have a lot of power to make sure that at least some of kids’ time this summer is taken up with reading.
Reading over the summer is particularly crucial for children from lower income families, as study after study has shown. Many of these children already suffer from vast achievement gaps that they can’t afford to widen. Some research estimates that children from middle-income homes read three lines of print for everyone one line read by children from lower income homes. Children from lower income homes simply cannot afford to not read in the summer if they are to catch up.
The winding down of a school year brings both reflection on what has passed and hopes for what is to come. In schools across the country, administrators and staff developers are wrapping up the year by gathering teachers in planning meetings to take stock and look ahead.
To be as effective as possible, planning meetings need to be carefully, er… planned. Here are a few steps administrators can take to make sure that end of year planning meetings go as well as possible.
Data collection has become more and more of an obsession in education over the past decade. Certainly, the term data often suggests Big Data: standardized test scores and other quantitative measures derived from evaluations, and school-wide data such as graduation rates and quality review or teacher evaluation outcomes. These kinds of data can provide helpful big-picture information about a school. But it is the little data that teachers collect continuously that often has the most impact on day to day teaching and, in the end, on student achievement. This kind of data is mostly qualitative and provides in-depth insights into students’ skill levels, understandings, and work habits.
For many teachers and students, the summer months are a chance to change pace, to dig into projects of personal interest, and just…breathe. But for many kids, summer is also a time when learning grinds to a halt. Students in lower socio-economic households in particular have little opportunity to practice the academic skills that began to take root and gel by the end of the year. One particular area of well-documented summer decline is in reading. When students don’t read during the months of summer, the effects on their academic progress are disastrous.
I have come to love fantasy novels, particularly young adult fantasy. There’s no doubt that the Harry Potter series stirred this love. Who couldn’t adore a book that got millions of children to read? The teen fascination with Twilight and The Hunger Games did the same thing—literally millions of teens are reading and talking about these books. They join blogs, they dress up like the characters, they attend the film releases, they compare the books to the movies. Fantasy has been a force for good in literacy.
—Mary Ehrenworth, in Learning from the Elves: A Genre Study of the Complexities and Themes of Fantasy