Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dr. Seuss's Read Across America

by Emeli Warren, Spring 2013 Intern

For many decades, Dr. Seuss has been a legend in children’s literature and educational settings. Growing up, I could just as easily recognize the striped top hat from The Cat in the Hat as I could my Barbie doll. Having such vivid illustrations to associate with Seuss’s stories just piqued my interest as an avid young reader. Who knew that I was also learning moral lessons and increasing my cognitive function that allowed me to recognize letters of the alphabet?

Many of Seuss’s books maintained views of society and touched on politically charged issues from environmental awareness to the dangers of materialism. But most of all, the books of Dr. Seuss have promoted literacy in children through creative visuals and rhythmic poetry.

Six years after his Seuss’s death in 1991, a group of National Education Association members wanted to do something to get children excited about reading. They decided the best way to do this was to dedicate a day to reading and to one of children’s literature’s most legendary benefactors. Celebrated on or around Dr. Seuss’s birthday, March 2, Read Across America has more than 3.2 million participants and supporters doing their best to change a child’s life through reading.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 26% of children who were read to three or four times by a family member in the last week recognized all letters of the alphabet, versus the 14% of children who were read to less often. Further still, the US Department of Education also found that students who picked up a book on their own to read for fun had higher reading scores than those who didn’t. The books that Seuss produced were ones that drew children in, electing to read on their own time. According to National Public Radio, Dr. Seuss was one of the first authors to achieve the goal of providing children with books that taught them to read and were fun at the same time.

William Spaulding, the then-director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division, had seen an article written by John Hersey in a 1954 issue of Life magazine that claimed Hersey knew why kids weren’t choosing to read: the books were too boring! Spaulding contacted Dr. Seuss, asking him to write a book that could keep first-grade readers engaged. In response, Dr. Seuss wrote Cat in the Hat from a vocabulary list for six- and seven-year-olds as a replacement for the Dick and Jane readers. Up until this time, Seuss had been used to making up his own words—sticking to a list was quite the challenge. In the end, the 236-word book was a huge success, not only in sales (he sold two million by the second year!), but also through breaking ground in child literacy by showing children how enjoyable reading could be.

In addition to Cat in the Hat, Seuss wrote more than 40 books, selling more than half a million copies between them. His inspiration ranged from his baker mother who used to sing him to sleep using “pie-selling chants,” to a bet where he claimed he could write a book using only fifty words, resulting in Green Eggs and Ham. It is his huge success as an author and his influence on the metamorphosis of children’s literature that makes him a perfect representation of Read Across America and its goal to promote lifelong reading and learning. This year’s event takes place on March 1,, bringing together children and their teachers all over the country. Albert Einstein reminds us of the importance of imagination in his quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Seuss enhances children’s imaginations through his creation of fictitious characters and illustration style, reminding people each day just how fun reading can be.

Further Reading

“Facts about Children’s Literacy,” NEA, accessed January 29, 2013, http://www.nea.org/grants/13662.htm.

“Fifty Years of the ‘Cat in the Hat,’” NPR, accessed January 29, 2013, http://www.npr.org/2007/03/01/7651308/fifty-years-of-the-cat-in-the-hat

“10 facts about Dr. Seuss,” BBC News, accessed January 29, 2013, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3523393.stm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Enhancing Education Through Comics

by Emeli Warren, Spring 2013 Intern

If you asked me a week ago what I thought about when I heard the word comics, I would have mentioned the colored “funnies” in the Sunday newspaper, or the brightly illustrated magazines featuring superheroes rescuing their damsels in distress. Not anymore! Today, the art medium that uniquely uses both text and imagery is being woven into education to promote literacy and hands-on interaction with reading and writing.

Stephen Cary, who is the author of Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom and a language learning specialist, says that comics have several forces in enhancing education, including motivating reluctant readers, engaging students in new literary formats and helping students identify not only various uses of language but also symbolism, satire and humor—things that text on its own cannot do.

The dual coding theory, first proposed by Allan Paivio in 1971, “. . . supports the importance of imagery and narration in cognitive operations.” According to the theory, imagery helps a person to recall verbal material when a word can be associated with a certain image. Comics, some are saying, is one of the ways this theory can be implemented into education for young students.

Thanks to today’s technology, it is now easier than ever to create comics in the classroom. One such outlet is through Comic Life, computer software that allows students to make their own comics in school computer labs. Although users need to provide their own images, adding these and word balloons is as easy as dragging and dropping into a template provided. The author of the program, Glen Bledsoe, notes the way these comics can help students not only learn the use of narrative devices, but also the power of framing and different perspectives. Students can better understand the impact a visual can have on dialogue context by using cropped images that focus on facial emotion or a slightly altered image across multiple frames to imply movement. Students can also see the evolution of a story depending on the rearrangement of speech bubbles or the way tension can be built or released based on frame layout.

Computer applications like Comic Life are changing the way students can interact with their own brand of publishing in the classroom. By incorporating comic creation into a lesson plan, teachers can show students how to enhance their skills as artists and writers, utilizing creativity in the classroom to expand and develop essential skills.

Further Reading:

“Dual Coding and Common Coding Theories in Memory,” Stanford University, accessed January 31, 2013., http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imagery/theories-memory.html.

“Comic Life in Education,” Comic Life in Education, accessed January 31, 2013, http://comiclife.com/education.

“EduComics Project,” EduComics, accessed January 31, 2013, http://www.educomics.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19&Itemid=27.

“Comics and Education Meet at First Ever Wildcat Comic Con,” Publishers Weekly, accessed January 31, 2013, http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/51445-comics-and-education-meet-at-first-ever-wildcat-comic-con.html.

“From Digitised Comic Books to Digital Hypermedia Comic Books: Their Use in Education,” Comic Strip Creator, accessed January 31, 2013, http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CD4QFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.comicstripcreator.org%2Ffiles%2Fpapers%2FDigitalHypermediaComics.pdf&ei=rY0KUfX1Aoa70AHd6IDQAQ&usg=AFQjCNHd0oNL1zFZX8kyUgSBqysVcdeeDQ&sig2=lLngYBMiyUkhb4yCFRDD1g.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Keeping Kids Interested in Poetry

by Kate Carroll, Editorial Assistant (former Intern)

I’m not a poet, and I certainly do know it. But long before the times when I was asked to analyze the symbolism of “The Raven,” back when I was an eager pupil who thought “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was about Santa Claus, poetry was fun.

Part of what made it fun was the activities my teachers would assign. From drawings to dioramas, the crafts would give me something to look forward to. Today, there are multiple ways to keep kids interested in poetry: ReadWriteThink.org has combined crafts with technology into a program that encourages kids in grades K–5 to write their own “Theme Poems.”

Students begin by simply typing in their names, then proceeding to select a category; they then have their choice of 32 category-specific “objects.” From there, the program provides eight spaces to write “some words or phrases that remind you of this [object],” promoting the brainstorming process and allowing kids to think outside of the box. The final step involves the actual writing of the poem by typing directly into the object. Users are encouraged to apply the words from the previous step, a reminder of their thoughts on the subject. Finished? Students can print their poem immediately. Want to go back? They can just save their progress and return at any time.

The site presents new activities for all sorts of lessons, be it a regular lesson on poetry where students can pick their favorite topic, or something specific like Flag Day, where the flag object would be ideal. Teaching the basics of photosynthesis? Why not have students create poems about the process using the flower, leaf or sun objects?

Further approaches to fun poetry can be found with a quick Internet search. Scholastic provides students and teachers in grades K–8 with templates to be printed for various poetry topics. PoetryTeachers.com provides a wide range of inside- and outside-the-classroom activities, from tongue twisters to poetry “theater.” And PBS has a poetry aspect of its site where one can submit poems or browse through some lesson plan ideas. Whether students need a break once in a while from the typical approaches to writing poetry, or parents are trying to keep their kids’ brains active during a long school break, each of these ideas is a great new way to remind students—and teachers and parents as well—that poetry can, in fact, be fun.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Controversial Laws for Underperforming School

by Annette Trossello, Project Manager & Copyeditor

Won’t Back Down
is a 2012 drama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a single mom to a dyslexic daughter, Viola Davis as a teacher at a failing inner-city elementary school and Holly Hunter as a teacher’s union representative. In the movie, Gyllenhaal’s and Davis’s characters use a fail-safe law to take over the underperforming school. The film plays out in typical Hollywood fashion with plucky heroines, underhanded villains and heartwarming scenes. The response to the film has been intense and varied as can be seen by its reviews: “A Political Football in the Classroom,” “‘Won’t Back Down’ doesn’t let up on unions” and “New movie ‘Won’t Back Down’ makes the case for education reform.” This film has received so much attention because it is loosely based on actual laws called parent trigger laws.

California, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas have versions of parent trigger laws, which allow parents to trigger a change in unsuccessful schools. The laws vary from state to state, and parents have a variety of intervention options, including replacing faculty and staff, shutting down the school or converting to a charter school. Many states require that a majority of parents with children in the school sign a petition. Some states also require a local public hearing or that the state education agency approve the chosen intervention. The local school board has different options depending on the state as well; some are required to implement the intervention while others have the option to propose a different course of action.

Those who advocate the laws feel that they give power to parents of children in failing schools. Typically, these parents have no other schooling options for their children. Proponents of the laws also feel that the current process for improving school systems is too slow and doesn’t have the best interest of the students at its core.

Opponents of the law feel the existing policies for underperforming schools are sufficient. They also assert that there’s no research to verify claims that these interventions will improve the performance of schools. Those who do not approve of the laws believe in opportunities for parents, community members and teachers to work together to improve schools, but that trigger laws are not the answer. Many teachers unions are also opposed to them, as the unions feel parent trigger laws can lead to privatizing education.

In California, there have been two schools where parents have attempted to trigger a change. The first was at McKinley Elementary in Compton, California, where parents petitioned for the failing school be turned into a charter school. The school board unanimously rejected the effort for a variety of reasons. The second was at Desert Trails Elementary, an underperforming school in Adelanto, California. After a nearly two-year battle, the school district approved a charter school operator. With this success, we are likely to see more cases of parents using these trigger laws in an attempt to improve their children’s education. One hopes no matter what the outcome of these cases that parents and teachers can work together to give students the best education possible.