If you want to remember something, read it out loud

“Read something out loud when you really want to remember it.’ These are the findings from a recent University of Waterloo study that found that “speaking text aloud helps to get words into long-term memory. Dubbed the “production effect,” the study determined that it is the dual action of speaking and hearing oneself that has the most beneficial impact on memory.”

Colin M.  MacLeod, the university professor who co-authored the study with post-doctoral fellow Noah Forrin, found that “When we add an active measure or a production element to a word, that word becomes more distinct in long-term memory, and hence more memorable.”

Their study tested four methods for learning written information: 1) reading silently, 2) hearing someone else read, 3) listening to a recording of oneself reading, and 4) reading out loud.  Results from tests with nearly 100 participants showed that reading information out loud to yourself resulted in the best remembering.

The researchers remind us that there are also other ways to build a good memory such as regular exercise and movement. Also, writing and typing words can enhance overall memory retention.

This research seems relevant to another set of findings in the literature: reading out loud to children helps to advance their reading, writing, and communication skills. This is another reason to read out loud to children – to develop their appreciation for reading out loud, and encourage them as they become proficient readers to read out loud to themselves. This will help them practice becoming good communicators and serve them in good stead when they want to remember what they have read.

Teachers learn how to teach reading in teacher preparation programs ꟷ maybe

One in five elementary school teacher preparation programs in the United States are addressing one or none of the five components that teachers must know to teach reading to children: phonemic awareness, phonics (alphabetics), fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

This is serious business. “Teaching children how to read is “job one” for elementary teachers because reading proficiency underpins all later learning.” (The National Council on Teacher Quality)

Unfortunately, many teachers are not prepared well in their preservice programs to teach reading. The National Council on Teacher Quality’s evaluation of more than 800 undergraduate programs for elementary teacher education determined that less than half (39%) provide instruction in all five essential components of early reading instruction. And, 19% of the programs require literacy coursework that addresses no more than one of the five essential components.

The unhappy conclusion is that “training for reading instruction is not adequate in many teacher preparation programs.”

The Institute of Educational Sciences surveyed 99 teacher preparation programs and more than 2,200 preservice teachers about how much preparation programs focused on the essential components of reading instruction [in 2010]. As summarized in Samantha Durrance’s recent blog, only “25% reported their preparation programs included a strong overall focus on reading instruction.” Interesting too is that teachers-in-training were “twice as likely to report a strong focus on reading instruction in their preservice teaching experiences as in their preservice coursework.” This means that many learned on the job, not in the formal coursework at their colleges/universities.

When I worked for two decades in Oregon, there was such concern about the lack of knowledge of teaching reading that many teachers were encouraged by their schools to gain skills in teaching reading.  Several universities joined forces to collaborate on a jointly offered set of online reading programs. The program still continues between two universities –they share a common curriculum of online literacy courses. Participants take courses at either Portland State University or Southern Oregon University (selecting one as “home” institution but able to take classes at either). This effort began as a grant in 2003 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, and I was founding Project Director of this effort.

The ReadOregon consortium offers three programs which enable teachers to gain skills in teaching reading: a 24-credit Reading Endorsement program approved by the state licensing board which enables teachers to add the Reading Specialist endorsement to their license; a 12-credit literacy education course of study for general classroom teachers; and a “courses-only” option.

I recall so clearly the in-depth discussions among teachers and school principals of what these programs must encompass to enable teachers to be prepared to teach reading better. They settled on seven thematic areas aligned with the International Reading Association Standards: 1) Literacy Foundations; 2) Literacy Strategies & Methods; 3) Literacy for Diverse Learners; 4) Literacy Assessment; 5) Leadership in School Reading Programs; 6) Literature; and 7) Practicum.

I’m proud that ReadOregon is continuing to prepare teachers of reading, and that many of the colleges and universities in Oregon — and in so many other states — are providing specialty programs in the teaching of reading.

But, I wish all teacher preparation programs were preparing teachers better before they entered the profession. Just a year ago, Kelly Wallace’s CNN report on the art of teaching teachers how to teach reading interviewed an elementary school principal who lays it out there: “Our universities do not teach teachers how to (teach reading) at the undergraduate level. [Teachers] are coming through a traditional track not knowing how to teach reading, just the overall basic components of it . . .  As a principal at a high-needs urban school with 1,260 students, up from 830 six years ago, [I] more than [have my] hands full just trying to keep [my]students and [my]130 teachers on track…faced with narrowing a stunning word deficit: Children living in poverty hear 30 million fewer words by age 4 than children in higher-income households, according to researchers.”

These are big — almost insurmountable — deficits to reverse once children are in school.

Durrance in Are Teachers Prepared to Teach Reading gives us the unhappy bottom line: “Teachers can’t teach what they don’t know. Teacher preparation programs need to make sure their elementary teacher candidates understand how children learn to read, as well as how to help students who struggle with early literacy skills.”

Sometimes people ask me what my favorite work was in Oregon. ReadOregon was and is my favorite. Working with many devoted colleagues, I was doing something that would help prepare teachers to teach reading better. And so many children would reap the benefits.

Is picting replacing words in our digital age – is this the new literacy?

Is technology changing our definition of literacy? That’s the question posed by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway, university professors studying how much time today’s youth spend with text-based materials vs. image-based materials.(1) They estimate that 90 percent of K-12 classroom time in the U.S. is spent with text-based materials, and 10 percent with image-based materials; but outside the classroom, 90% is spent with image-based materials and 10 percent with text-based materials.

The bottom line from their provocative article, Picting, not Writing, is the Literacy of Today’s Youth (May 8, 2017) hits the literacy question head on: “No question about it: picting is the new literacy. For better — for worse.”

As I read their article, I thought about prehistoric cave-paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics, wondering if we’re heading back to an older era of communicating through pictures, respawned by new digital tools. Various North American Indian tribes drew or carved pictures into rocks—the pictures stood for an idea or individual word. Similarly, hieroglyphic symbols represented objects, or stood for sounds or groups of sounds—in a system of picture-writing used on ancient Egyptian monuments. Many view such picture-writing systems as precursors to writing.

Norris and Soloway describe the changing world of literacy—through our many digital networks —with picting emerging as a system using visual forms to communicate ideas and expressions:

  • Snapchat is a social media service where people send pictures to one another. Though a note (words) can be added to the picture, it’s an unnecessary add-on. Pictures disappear after 10 seconds of viewing, or 24 hours for a story made up of sequences of pictures. Our professors conclude that Snapchat is like verbal conversations that disappear, only now it’s the pictures that disappear. The population “picting” is huge: some 30 percent of millennials in the U.S. visit the Snapchat app 18 times per day and spend about 30 minutes a day using it, 158 million use Snapchat daily, and the average number of photos shared is 9,000 snaps per second.
  • Facebook is a video-based social networking site where the video content is growing rapidly in popularity.
  • Instagram is a visual platform—a picting site. There are 400 million active users daily/700 million monthly; 80 percent are from outside the U.S.; over half of millennials with access to the Internet use Instagram daily; Instagram is the second-most used social network among 13–17 year olds; and 95 million photos are uploaded per day (up from 70 million last year).
  • YouTube is a visually-oriented social network. In the U.S., it is used by over 180 million people, reaches more 18-34 and 18-19-year olds than any cable network, 81 percent of millennials and 91 percent of Internet users ages 13-17 use YouTube, 58 percent of Gen X and 43 percent of Baby Boomers use YouTube, and 400 hours of new videos are estimated to be uploaded every minute.
  • Pinterest is an image-pinning bulletin board site. It serves some 150 million monthly active users, with 70 million from the U.S.. There are 50 billion+ Pinterest Pins and 1 billion+ Pinterest Boards; and the median age of a user is 40, however, the majority of active pinners are below 40.

Our professors conclude from these amazing statistics that “picting is a real trend — and one that is significantly engaged in by the youth of today.”

That begs their core question for all of us: “Is the trend towards picting, and away from writing, a good thing for today’s youth?”

There’s no easy answer. Reading words and writing words are key to our culture, life, and jobs. We cannot realistically communicate only through visual forms. However, visual forms (e.g., photos, diagrams, videos, emojis, GIFs) often communicate in a way that words cannot, so they play a vital role in literacy — and may grow in importance in a digital age.

The statistics Norris and Soloway have laid out are compelling, the trend lines undeniably headed upward. As we trade more pictures (with few or no words) with one another every minute, hour, and day, let’s think about the impact on our children’s literacy skills especially.

This is a set of developments that will be evolving in this next decade of digital change, as Norris and Soloway conclude, “For better — for worse.”

☹ ‍ 🙂

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(1) Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Their sites: www. imlc.io. See their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc

 

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Book-Rich Environments Initiative to benefit children

One phrase pulled out of context says so much: “zip codes will not decide our children’s future and fate.”

These words come from Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, in a letter of commendation to the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Education. This week the two federal agencies jointly launched the Book-Rich Environments Initiative with the aim to boost educational outcomes for children living in public and HUD-assisted housing. Smith notes: “Today’s launch … serves as a powerful affirmation … to leveling the playing field so that zip codes will not decide our children’s future and fate.” [1]

The initiative will bring high quality books and other literacy tools to 4 million children and their families living in HUD-assisted housing. Public housing authorities and local library partners throughout the nation have already committed to participating in the initiative, which centers on three components:

  • book distribution—free, high quality, diverse books provided to children and families
  • partnership building—strategic partnerships established between the local public housing authority, local public library, and literacy partners to develop and deliver programming that will improve educational outcomes
  • library engagement—children and families engaged in reading and literacy activities offered by library and literacy partners[2]

Several influential partners are part of the initiative, including the National Book Foundation,[3] the Urban Libraries Council,[4] and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading:[5]

  • Publishers will make large donations of books and the National Book Foundation will expand its free afterschool program, BookUp, which has already donated over 30,000 books to young people. By the end of 2017, the number will expand to 300,000+ books.[6]
  • The Urban Libraries Council will work to ensure that kids and their families have books in their home, books and technology at their neighborhood library, and support needed to become strong readers.[7]
  • The Campaign for Grade Level Reading (CGR), a coalition of 240+ communities in 42 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands —and funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, federal and state government agencies— will participate with CGR’s focus that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship.[8]

Ralph Smith invokes “zip code” in his letter about the new initiative because zip code make a difference in educational opportunity —and has become a recognized shorthand reference to the problem behind the initiative as demonstrated in these examples:

  • A child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in— Megan Slack and Alicia Oken on President Obama’s 2014 announcement of “Promise Zone” locations, an initiative that partners with local communities and businesses to create jobs, expand access to educational opportunities, and spur economic mobility and security
  • Send your kids to a good school, no matter what ZIP code you live in —First Lady Michelle Obama
  • Your zip code should not decide your fate —Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer
  • A student’s zip code should not dictate their educational opportunities—Washington Education School Funding Association
  • Student Success Comes Down to Zip Code— Mark Elgart blog, The Huffington Post
  • A child’s zip code should not dictate the quality of education he or she receives—Congressman Erik Paulsen
  • No child’s future should be determined by their color, economic status, or zip code —Brian L. Pauling, national president of 100 Black Men of America
  • Your ZIP Code Should Not Determine Your Success —Kira Davis, guess blogger in Forbes

How high are the stakes behind the zip code problem driving the Book-Rich Environments Initiative? High, very high.

Two-thirds of children nationwide—and more than 80% of those from low-income families—are not proficient readers by the end of third grade. This has significant consequences for each child, for their communities, and for the nation. If we don’t reverse this problem, we’re not likely to end intergenerational poverty, close the achievement gap, and reduce school dropout rates. And, far fewer of the next generation will be prepared to succeed in a global economy, participate in higher education, or enter military and civilian service.[9]

This is the problem the new initiative is working to combat.

Implementation is moving quickly. The work starts in 35 communities across the country next month. Public housing authorities will partner with local libraries organized by the Urban Libraries Council to host community book distribution events throughout the year. Public housing residents will have access to a diverse set of high quality books secured by the National Book Foundation. These distribution events will also serve as a platform to strengthen and launch new local partnerships with libraries, public housing authorities, and nonprofits, organized by the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, that can also help ensure continued access to high quality literacy resources.[10]

The announcement of the Book-Rich Environments Initiative is an important literacy effort that adds to current efforts to “build bridges between school and home, and improve educational and life outcomes for kids and families in HUD -assisted housing, including joint efforts to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism, find ways to support college students with unmet financial needs, and create more summer opportunities for young people.”[11]

Kudos to this promising literacy initiative for taking on the zip code problem affecting so many children.

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[1] http://gradelevelreading.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/GLR-Commends-Sec.-Castro-and-Sec.-King-for-BRE_010517.pdf

[2] http://www.nationalbook.org/2017_book_rich_environments.html#.WHJEKThTGUk

[3]http://www.nationalbook.org/

[4]Membership association of North America’s leading public library systems. ULC libraries, located in the U.S. and Canada, as public sector institutions comprise a varied mix of revenue and governance structures and serve communities with populations of differing size – from 30,000 to more than eight million. The libraries serve people of all ages. They are community centers for education and lifelong learning; economic and workforce development; health, wellness and public safety and environmental sustainability. ULC libraries bridge the digital divide by providing public access to technology services (e.g., digital media, mobile applications, e-reading, other modes of enrichment that technology makes possible). See: http://www.urbanlibraries.org/

[5] http://gradelevelreading.net/

[6] http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/72434-nbf-launches-the-book-rich-environment-initiative.html

[7] http://military-technologies.net/2017/01/08/u-s-department-of-housing-and-urban-development-department-of-education-and-nonprofit-partners-launch-book-rich-environments-initiative-to-boost-educational-opportunity-for-children-in-public-housin/

[8] CGR focuses on school readiness, quality teaching, chronic absence from school, summer learning, and engaging parents as a child’s first teachers.

[9] http://gradelevelreading.net/

[10] http://military-technologies.net/2017/01/08/u-s-department-of-housing-and-urban-development-department-of-education-and-nonprofit-partners-launch-book-rich-environments-initiative-to-boost-educational-opportunity-for-children-in-public-housin/

[11]http://military-technologies.net/2017/01/08/u-s-department-of-housing-and-urban-development-department-of-education-and-nonprofit-partners-launch-book-rich-environments-initiative-to-boost-educational-opportunity-for-children-in-public-housin/

 

Add fake news to the list of challenges for children: telling fact from fiction

There’s a growing unhappy fact of life — fake news. Most of us get that some of the magazines winking at us from the shelves next to the grocery check-out counter with their unbelievable headlines and pictures (e.g., three-headed Martians) are just that, unbelievable. But increasingly, there are fake news reports pommeling us from a host of media outlets — television and radio, print, Facebook, Twitter, and speeches by policymakers. It’s getting more difficult to tell fact from fiction because most of us are not conditioned to question everything we see and hear — and we don’t have good tools to verify information. Now fact-checking tickertapes on some television news channels are telling us what is true or false with colored check marks; and there are fact-checking websites to visit if we take the time.

I don’t want to play the “true or false” game around today’s news. And I don’t want our children to play this game either — especially as they face the challenges of learning fact from fiction as evolving readers.

How big a problem is this for children?

According to Sam Wineburg, professor of education and history at Stanford University, it is a big problem — the majority of children in middle and even high school find it difficult to tell fake from real news.[1] “The ability to determine what is reliable and not reliable — that is the new basic skill in our society,” he explains [2]

Wineburg reminds us that until recently editors and librarians played a key role in helping us sort the reliable from unreliable. But now, anyone who sits at a screen — most of us from very early ages — will take on this role.

Is this realistic for children? As early readers, they will be exposed to fanciful stories −like the story about Lyle the Crocodile who walks on his hind legs, dances, ice skates and shops at a department store in the city.[3] They will also be exposed to informative (nonfiction) texts about crocodiles. And over time, young readers will learn to tell the difference between fantasy and factual texts.[4]

Between the ages of three to five, children are beginning to understand the difference between make-up and reality.[5] But there are many situations in which children as old as twelve may still have difficulty telling the difference between fantasy and reality.

In the Stanford University study of more than 7,800 middle and high schoolers across twelve states, for example, researchers found that students “struggled to distinguish ads from articles, neutral sources from biased ones, and fake accounts from real ones.” Students were asked to look at information represented in tweets, comments and articles —and most students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information. The researchers found the students were “getting duped again and again.” Here are some telling examples from the study:

  • Most middle schoolers could identify a traditional ad but more than 80 percent believed “sponsored content” (a paid story) was a real news story. It wasn’t clear if students even knew what sponsored content was.
  • If the text looked well-presented and polished, the students believed the site was “neutral and authoritative.” Most students were not critical readers− they did not look for supporting evidence or citations.
  • Most of the high school students accepted photographs as fact[6] — they didn’t ask where a photograph came from or question its truthfulness.
  • Many high school students couldn’t tell if a news source was real or fake on Facebook — they believed they were all the same.
  • Even at the college level, most students didn’t suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group. To check for bias they would have needed to question if the tweet was based on a poll conducted by a professional polling firm, which might make it a good source; or have clicked on the link within the tweet before evaluating the accuracy of information. Students did not perform these checking functions. The researchers noted that most Stanford students could not identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source of information.

Three of Wineburg’s conclusions should especially alarm us:

  1. School classrooms are not prepared to help teach children how to assess the truthfulness of information.
  2. “What we see is a rash of fake news going on that people pass on without thinking … and we really can’t blame young people because we’ve never taught them to do otherwise.”
  3. “If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed.”

The good news is there are some solutions — we can teach Internet users and especially children — to become detectives, to become fact checkers. And this can start with young children.

  • Parents and caretakers can teach children the difference between reality and fantasy. They can help them learn that the fantasy characters on their tablets and television screens are not real and there are not monsters and ghosts lurking in the closet or under the bed – the serious nighttime fears of so many children.[7]
  • Teachers can help children determine fact from fiction[8] as children are learning to read different types of books. For example, nonfiction often includes picture captions, tables of contents, glossaries, indexes and headings — and while all types of books typically include pictures, a nonfiction book is more likely to use photographs instead of illustrations.
  • Parents, psychologists, counselors, and educators can help children and teenagers to think critically and learn to separate reality from fantasy, fact from fiction and propaganda – in movies, YouTube videos, and video games. While teenagers may well understand the difference between fantasy and reality, they may still absorb or become attached to ideas presented in films, television programs, music, and statements from celebrities that have little or no basis in reality; and they may lack sufficient experience and knowledge to sort propaganda from fact.
  • Parents and teachers can teach children of all ages to question information that comes to them through our many media sources. Our children can learn to become detectives and fact checkers, clicking on links to determine the source of the information, and making judgement calls about the accuracy of the information.

If we don’t take this challenge seriously— develop techniques to separate fact from fiction — we will all be living increasingly in fantasy “screen world.” Fact-checking is the name of the new game to play with our children.

check-mark

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[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/23/503129818/study-finds-students-have-dismaying-inability-to-tell-fake-news-from-real

[2] NPR Podcast of study: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/23/503129818/study-finds-students-have-dismaying-inability-to-tell-fake-news-from-real

[3] Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber

[4] “Young Children Learn to Distinguish Between Fact and Fiction,” Research at University of Texas at Austin Finds. (Nov. 27, 2006). University of Texas at Austin. http://www.utexas.edu/news/2006/11/27/psychology/

[5] http://www.utexas.edu/news/2006/11/27/psychology/

[6]E.g., students were shown a picture of deformed daises growing in a rocky field, with accompanying news story the daises were deformed due to radiation spill. This was not true but the students did not question the photograph nor, therefore, the made-up news story.

[7]Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences found understanding the difference between fantasy and reality helps children overcome nighttime fears. Widen and Russell of Boston University, in “Fantasy vs. Reality: Young Children’s Understanding of Fear” suggests “that preschoolers more readily associate fantastic, nonrealistic creatures [such as ghosts and monsters] with fear.” When adults such as parents, teachers or mental health professionals teach a child to tell the difference between fact and fiction, children can more easily overcome irrational fear.

[8] Irony is, this source is “sponsored content” from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, an online newspaper and former print newspaper. The newspaper was founded in 1863 as weekly Seattle Gazette, and long one of the city’s two daily newspapers, until it became an online-only publication in 2009. The Education section included sponsored link “Teaching Fiction and Nonfiction in Kindergarten Education by Demand Media” by Shelley Frost:  http://education.seattlepi.com/teaching-fiction-nonfiction-kindergarten-3704.html