Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Listen and Read

Listen and Read
by Gabby Balza, Fall 2012 Intern

“Pick out any book you want.” These are the words my preschool tutor said to me when I was seven years old and still couldn’t read. My mom had already tried everything: flashcards, bedtime stories and several programs promising increased literacy in young children. But all of them ended with me sitting on the floor still trying to pronounce banana while flashcards and magnets containing different vowels and consonants covered my body. Luckily, working with a tutor was the last stop before reading became less of a struggle and more of a favorite pastime for me. When I look back on the differences in teaching methods between the failed and successful attempts at my literacy, I can’t help but think of all the techniques that my tutor used with me involving audio and video, helping me to understand the story—not just isolated words on a flashcard. We’d sit there in front of each Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bear book. My tutor would point to every word while I looked at the corresponding picture; she repeated each sentence three times, after which I mimicked it all back to her. Instead of flashcards sticking to my body, I now had the words actually sticking in my mind. The techniques my tutor used with me remind me of the ones used by Scholastic’s Listen and Read program and Disney’s Digital Books to help improve the reading skills of students.

Both of these products take advantage of different sensory techniques normally used by people to obtain information. Scholastic’s Listen and Read program provides photographs pertaining to the topic of each book, allowing children the opportunity to see cultural artifacts such as a hogan, which is a Navajo house made of mud and wood. The Disney Digital Books program utilizes illustrations on each page to help children visualize the characters and events taking place within a story. At the end of these books there are interactive games that pertain to each story, giving children the chance to engage with the text. Since both products cater to children’s visual needs, they allow children to experience the story environments in a more enhanced fashion.

Audio components also play a role in these products. Disney Digital Books provide recordings of the stories in multiple languages. The books also integrate musical scores from movies, such as the The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata,” helping children to immerse themselves in the tone of the story while stimulating their creativity. Listen and Read also provides recordings for each story, a feature enabled when children click the LISTEN button on each page. This option provides an opportunity for children to listen to vocabulary as often as they need.

For young readers, these different visual and audio components are what can help a text become more than just words on a page. Being able to picture, hear and imagine the stories help children think of reading as an experience rather than an obstacle. They can go on a journey with the characters and events, and with different modes of accessibility, children can follow along whether at home on a computer or on the bus ride to school with a tablet. 
Further Reading:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Freshmen in Brooklyn Already on the Career Path

Freshmen in Brooklyn Already on the Career Path

by Rose Pleuler

Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn entered its second year this September, touting a unique six-year program that goes from grade 9 through grade 14, after which students graduate with an associate’s degree. The initiative began in September 2011 to develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills in students to better prepare them for the job market. In this program, students pursue a degree in either applied science in computer information systems or electromechanical engineering technology. Interest has grown remarkably since the program’s inception; in September of 2012, there were 600 applicants, six times the amount that applied last fall. The benefits of the program—namely, a financially feasible opportunity for a useful degree straight out of high school—is obvious to New York City families.

The program was developed in partnership with IBM, and the relationship between the school and the company is ongoing. The curriculum of the school has been developed with consultants from IBM with the desired skills of its employees in mind. From there, IBM employees helped train teachers in the curriculum and even became directly involved in students’ education through a mentorship program. By developing the program this way and providing students with positive relationships, the likelihood of a job prospect at IBM or a similar company is hugely increased. And the fiscal benefit is undeniable, especially to the students themselves: “It’s giving me the opportunity of getting my college degree without having to pay for it,” says Lamar Agard, a freshman in the program.

P-TECH is an opportunity for students who learn by doing. According to Stephen F. Hamilton, professor of human development at Cornell University, some students learn best when they are able to answer, “ ‘What does this mean? Why am I doing this?’ ” Much of the P-TECH curricula strives to answer those questions. In the program there is an emphasis to develop STEM skills, which Stanley S. Litow, president of IBM’s International Foundation, deems to be invaluable: “Because that is the problem. Too few kids have these skills.” Additionally, students develop skills in workplace learning, critical thinking and presentation skills, which even trickle down to students’ self-imposed dress codes. Some students come to school wearing ties and carrying briefcases, mindful of appearing business-like to future employers.

This program and the ones like it nationwide are not simply the difference between a low-wage job and a middle-class job—although that remarkable benefit should not be overlooked. Students at P-TECH also have big ideas for their future. These students have dream careers in mind: technology law, cardiac surgery and health technology, to name a few. The development of critical skills and the acquisition of an associate’s degree certainly put students on the path to their goals.

Further Reading

“At Technology High School, Goal isn’t to Finish in 4 Years,” The New York Times, accessed November 19, 2012,

Early College High School Initiative, accessed November 19, 2012,

“Julia Steiny: When a School Makes Itself Useful to Business,”, accessed November 19, 2012,

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Students Performing Better in a Responsive Classroom

Students Performing Better in a Responsive Classroom

by Eileen Neary, Intern Fall 2012

Elementary schools are saying, “Class dismissed!” to traditional lectures. The Responsive Classroom approach, a teaching technique promoting social–emotional learning strategies, was discussed this past fall at a meeting that the Society for Research on Education Effectiveness (SREE) hosted. The study, funded by the US Department of Education and conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia, found that fifth graders who were taught with the Responsive Classroom approach received higher scores on state assessments than their peers who were not taught this way. Over 2,900 students were followed in this study from second grade through fifth grade.

The Northeast Foundation for Children (NEFC), a nonprofit organization established by elementary school teachers, developed the Responsive Classroom approach in 1981; it is built upon the idea that children learn best when their social–emotional skills are developed along with their academic skills. The Responsive Classroom approach has been introduced to hundreds of schools since its start three decades ago, and, as the approach’s success grows, approximately 6,000 teachers each year attend its training workshops.

The Responsive Classroom approach is made up of ten components used in the classroom: Morning Meetings, Rule Creation, Interactive Modeling, Positive Teacher Language, Logical Consequences, Guided Discovery, Academic Choice, Classroom Organization, Working with Families and Collaborative Problem-Solving. These components help teachers use more positive language with their students and encourage collaboration with other teachers. Students in a Responsive Learning classroom receive more freedom to create classroom rules and practice self-discipline. To cater to their independence and creativity, students are given choices between different assignment activities.

The US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) were impressed by success of the Responsive Classroom approach and gave nearly $3 million toward a follow-up study on the efficacy of the program. According to, in addition to students receiving higher scores on state assessments, they have also shown “…increased academic achievement, decreased problem behaviors, and improved social skills.” Teachers, feeling more capable and optimistic about their teaching through the approach, are able to offer higher-quality instruction.

Gretchen Bukowick, a director at the NEFC, is excited by the positive results. “This helps us put some evidence behind what we believe,” she says. “Academic, social, and emotional learning all go hand in hand.” Lora Hodges, the executive director at NEFC, is especially enthusiastic that the study has proven what she believes: The Responsive Classroom approach helps “…districts and schools achieve their dual aims of increasing teacher effectiveness and improving student performance.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Your Librarian is a Superhero

Your Librarian is a Superhero

by Rose Pleuler, Intern Fall 2012

Question everything is a principle to live by—and to learn by. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) promote inquiry-based education, thrusting students into a hands-on relationship with their education. This is a great power and responsibility, but luckily the students have help. Every school has a secret resource, trained to support students and teachers alike. Who is this mysterious superhero? The school librarian, of course.

The librarian is a resource to teachers and students alike. Librarians help teachers find primary sources and high-quality reading that will engage students in their coursework. Often certified teachers themselves, librarians have the skills to help create uniquely enriching curricula. In fact, this educational model encourages creativity and innovation in instructors, according to Marcia Mardis, assistant professor of communication and information at Florida State University. Ms. Mardis, also a former librarian and educational digital library director, maintains that the relationship between teacher and librarian becomes one of “two creative partners working together.” Teachers can create an engaging classroom environment with help from librarians and their various resources.

Librarians and teachers work together to build a curriculum that will invigorate the minds of students and provoke questions: This is the intention driving inquiry-based educational models. Students should generate questions that will enrich their understanding of the topic. Questions should be researchable and indicate a complex inquiry. “If your assignment can be answered on Google, it’s void of higher-level thought,” says Paige Jaeger, who manages 84 school libraries in the Saratoga Springs, New York, area. The journey to an answer can be as educational as the answer itself: Instead of learning the properties or the names of the planets in the solar system, students could ask, Why isn’t Pluto a planet? This is a complex question that encourages students to dig deeper.

Then begins the exploration. The student must investigate, evaluate and analyze—important CCSS verbs—and librarians know how to connect the students to the sources of their inquiry. Librarians have knowledge of an entire school’s curricula, and they can help students learn the cross-disciplinary impact of their inquiry. This type of education teaches students that life is complicated but also connected. An educational system can be connected too, when supported by the superpowers of the school librarian.

Further Reading

“Common Core Thrusts Librarians into Leadership Role,” Education Week, accessed November 19, 2012,

“Finding Resources with Your School Librarian,” website of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), accessed November 19, 2012,

“Common Core Verbs,” Instructional Coach Corner, accessed November 19, 2012,