The International Literacy Association (ILA) recently issued its “What’s Hot and What’s Important” report. The report highlights what hot topics the country is talking about—and just as telling, what is important to the educational community. Here are some reflections on the report.
The number one hot topic in the country is assessment/standards. Given the polarization of politics, this is not surprising. The world of assessment is in flux now, with the educational community waiting to see what will happen. Will there be more pushback from the Common Core State Standards? And if so, how will it affect assessments aligned directly to the Common Core? Will states receive more direct funding and create their own assessments? Will assessment companies have to revise their current tests? And, most important, when will the world of assessment settle down?
We think the pushback from the Common Core will continue. This may be an opportunity for assessment developers if some states write their own standards, because they will want revised assessments aligned to those standards. One thing is clear: assessment and standards will remain in flux for most of the year, as the political battles continue.
Recently, citizens once again exercised their right to vote. They used the power of voting to have their voices heard. But what does it all mean? Now is the time for civics lessons that teach students civic responsibility. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words,” and students must know how to act, deciding which actions are responsible and which are not. How do students treat others while making their voices heard? Civics lessons provide answers to these questions.
“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” —John Locke
Focus on the Thinking and Motivation Behind Actions
Students need to see that every civic action has a reaction and a consequence. The actions establish a chain of events; each action is linked to a subsequent one.
The heart of civics lessons is not necessarily the content, but rather understanding the thinking and motivation behind the actions taken by individuals or groups. When students read about events in history, they should be able to answer the following questions:
Mark Twain said, “What gets us in trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know that just ain’t so.” Today’s students are bombarded with information and images and there is a need for lessons that foster critical thinking and civic responsibility. The time for strong, innovative social studies lessons has arrived. The National Council for the Social Studies conference provided a showcase of lesson, organizations, and companies that are working to meet those classroom demands. Here are some insights we gained from the NCSS 2016 convention:
Learning from the past is critical in thinking about the future. Primary sources are perfect tools for seeing how events unfolded, the thinking and emotions behind the events, and the impact those events have on the world today. Organizations such as The Library of Congress, The Civil War Trust, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Pennsylvania Historical Society are treasure troves of primary sources with lessons and programs that allow students to see the links between the past and the present. Companies such as Pearson highlight primary sources in their social studies programs. Gibbs Smith Education offers fine state history products. As we discussed in a recent post, it’s worth checking out your state or local historical society for primary sources that will enhance and enrich history lessons.
Often events are driven by economic decisions that continue to affect our daily lives. Students should learn to review and think about how the government spends money and how citizens benefit. Organizations such as the Council for Economic Education have many lessons and programs for students to explore these important issues.
Geography is about much more than learning map skills. Geography tells us about people, their environment, their movements, and how geography affects our daily lives. As individuals in a global world, geography knowledge is critical. The National Council for Geographic Education and Core Knowledge support geography teaching and learning at all levels where students learn not only about physical geography, but also human geography.
Social responsibility is critical in today’s ever-changing world. Students need to understand both the backstories of current events and must comprehend the why as well as the who and what of current events. Access to current events through videos, social media, print, and magazines is offered through Scholastic Magazines, Time Education, CNN Classroom, and Studies Weekly. These companies have products that allow students to focus on specific current events, discussing, thinking about, and understanding why things happen and what are the consequences.
For tourists in London, it’s hard to miss the city’s deep connection to history: it’s everywhere you look, indoors and out. But the Churchill War Rooms museum brings the city’s wartime history to life with a unique blend of the past and the future. The museum is a cavernous collection of preserved bunkers, allowing visitors to experience the same cold, cramped conditions military personnel did. Standing in the space, you can truly feel the looming threat of an attack overhead. And yet the War Rooms also features a glimpse into the future of museum design and education: a giant interactive timeline that uses digital technology to animate correspondences across Churchill’s life.
Victory sees museums and historical societies all over the world as untapped resources for classroom instruction, and even cutting-edge Ed Tech. These resources can help bring history into the future and make it relevant to new generations of students. And you don’t need to take students to Europe to achieve this. Just see what local institutions offer in your own area. Continue reading →
Here’s a scenario many educators are all too familiar with: a new writing assignment is met with blank stares, or worse, outright revolt.
We know that writing is key to literacy and is linked to great student success, so what’s the problem with this scenario? Instead of approaching writing as a chore, we should introduce students to a more holistic approach to writing. After all, writing isn’t just one thing. It’s a tool we use to communicate in many different scenarios. It speaks to many different audiences and serves many purposes. Taking this broader view can help convince students that, in fact, writing offers them quite a lot.
As a college student, I spent a semester studying abroad in Italy. My embarrassment stumbling over new words will be familiar to many language learners. Whether asking for directions, ordering food, or attending class, I struggled to keep up as I frantically translated my thoughts from English to Italian. One night, after one of those expansive, hours-long Italian dinners with friends, I realized with a start that I wasn’t translating in my head anymore. I was thinking in Italian for the first time, focusing on the conversation instead of grammar and syntax. It’s moments like these that make learning another language so rewarding.
Wouldn’t it be great if learners could experience this at age 8 instead of 18? That’s the kind of experience that dual language programs can provide. Continue reading →
Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.—Xun Kuang, c. 312-230 BCE
Choosing Instruction Modes
Facing a classroom of students who represent different levels of learning curves is not an easy task. We know students learn better by doing, but they may not all be ready at the same time. This is a key reason for planning how to manage classroom instruction.
An effective way to start planning is to ask yourself:
When should I teach the whole class?
Should I move some students into group work?
When are students ready to work independently?
The choices you make directly affect students’ learning and the structure and pacing of lessons. The presentation below gives an overview of when whole-class, small-group, and independent modes work best in classroom instruction. Just click “Start Prezi.”
Spanish: The Greatest Impact on Education Outcomes
To achieve a brighter future in the United States, our students will need to be accomplished in math and science, adept in technology, and fluent and literate in English.
There are, however, hurdles to jump. One is language. In 2014, the largest numbers of new immigrants came from India and China. But there is a tremendous diversity in languages spoken, as shown by this graph from the Census Bureau. In each of these 15 cities, at least 140 languages are spoken.
This may make the educational publisher’s task seem daunting. But it is still true that the largest group of non-English speakers in the U.S. is Hispanic. According to the 2015 census, 41 million native Spanish speakers live in the United States. Another 11 million Spanish speakers are bilingual. By focusing on Spanish, at least initially, a publisher can have the most significant impact on education outcomes.
The Need for Accurate Translation
Research confirms that students learn math, science, and social studies more deeply when taught in their native language. Accurate translations of texts are essential for helping students stay on track as they transition to full English proficiency.
No problem: educational content can be run through a translation program, right?
When I first taught kindergarten, I read aloud The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The kids in my class loved it and we spent hours discussing caterpillars, eating habits, stories, and Eric Carle. Luckily for me, the third-grade teacher down the hall, probably tired of hearing me read the book aloud again and again, offered a wonderful list of books to read aloud. The list included fiction and nonfiction. To this day, I’m grateful (as I’m sure my students are, too!) to this teacher. Over time, I’ve learned from first-hand experience how important a read-aloud is.
Research supports the importance of read-alouds for developing fluency, background knowledge, and language acquisition. Allen (2000) reminds us that those same benefits occur when we use read-alouds beyond the primary years. Read-alouds are one classroom practice that students never outgrow.
As a working author, I’ve spent time researching and thinking about what makes a good read-aloud and how to ensure everyone has the best read-aloud experience. Typically when writing, I read aloud what I have written. A read-aloud has often served as an excellent editor. It’s a good habit for kids to use when they write. Here are five key things I suggest to do for an exciting and meaningful read-aloud.
When we develop digital solutions at Victory, we want the end user to experience visuals as intuitively as possible. Because space is always at a premium, visuals and text are equally important. The visuals need to immediately convey information and tell an extended story. When used well, they not only save space on the page (a picture is worth a thousand words), they also inspire confidence in the reader (or should we say “viewer”) by subtly conveying that the overall message will also be easy to understand.
Visual literacy is experiencing resurgence. It is defined many ways in different disciplines, but a good general definition is:
visual literacy: a set of skills used when a person either sees or produces images in order to interpret them, discover a fuller meaning, and make emotional connections.
From our research, there are five important things to consider about visual literacy:
5 Keys to Visual Literacy
Observing elements in complex images and determining how they relate
Developing questions to ask about the images
Understanding how different visual approaches convey different meanings
Identifying the emotional impact of different techniques on the viewer
Interpreting an author’s intent based on the choices made to deliver the message