Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Search Engines, Smartphones, & (Human) Memory

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

How are ever-prominent search tools affecting our brains? Clive Thompson set out to answer this and related technology questions in his recent book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. In an excerpt published by Slate, Thompson asks if modern dependence on search engines is causing our memories to retain information less efficiently: “The short answer is: No. Machines aren’t ruining our memory. The longer answer: It’s much, much weirder than that!” The longer answer begins with a discussion of transactive memory, an evolved tool for collective recall that humans are now adapting due to their use of machines. The concept of transactive memory was developed in the 1980s by Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner, who was inspired by the way married couples tend to divvy up the work of remembering important facts or dates. In this way, we store collective knowledge in a kind of joint memory folder that we can access by asking questions of the person who knows the answers or who can help us recall them. According to Wegner, transactive memory represents an indication of strong metamemory, or the ability to conceive the mental strengths and limitations of ourselves and others.

These concepts have been evidenced recently in research studies, including one by a team of Australian researchers who worked with couples married a minimum of 26 years to examine collaborative remembering. This particular study tested how well they could recall simple words as well as autobiographical events and names of acquaintances, both as individuals and as pairs. The researchers found that couples remembered names and events more effectively as pairs, especially when they engaged in cross-cuing, or prompting each other with memory fragments and facts, to aid each other’s recall. Other studies have demonstrated that people who work together to learn a task or recall information can do so much more efficiently and accurately than those who attempt it alone. According to Thompson, “Transactive groups don’t just remember better: They also analyze problems more deeply, too, developing a better grasp of underlying principles.”

He argues that we currently interact with search engines in basically the same way that the married couples played their memories off each other in the Australian study. Columbia University researcher Betsy Sparrow, a student of Wegner’s, recently conducted a computer-based study of transactive memory—essentially testing how much our brains rely on computers to store our information. Sparrow discovered that when subjects knew a piece of trivia that they typed would be saved to a generically labeled folder on the computer, they were less likely to remember the fact itself, but more likely to recall where it was stored. In a paper for Science, she concludes: “Just as we learn through transactive memory who knows what in our families and offices, we are learning what the computer ‘knows’ and when we should attend to where we have stored information in our computer-based memories.”

Thompson maintains that this is not exactly a change from the way human brains have always worked, but it does force us to think about our minds in a different way, because our minds and the computers aren’t nearly as separate as we may think. While it’s harder for humans to use machines the same way we cross-cue each other, because the programming is fundamentally different, we are more attracted to the wealth of information offered by search engines for our perusal than to a human peer who might be able to (verbosely) offer us similar facts.

The bottom line, short-short answer is: “you can stop worrying about your iPhone moving your memory outside your head. It moved out a long time ago—yet it’s still all around you.”

Did You Know?

Although our memories aren’t deteriorating just because we’re more accustomed to search engines and smartphones, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to exercise our minds. There are many different ways to strengthen your mind, from diet and life choices, to memory games. Here are a few tips:

1. Be active, not just with your mind. By participating in physical exercise, the oxygen flow to your brain increases, reducing health risks related to memory loss. Avoiding obesity and other health problems associated with a lack of exercise can also give you a better chance of avoiding memory-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.
2. Catch some Zs. Sleep helps “knit” your memories together and can also make them last longer. Getting enough rest also decreases your stress level, which can diminish your ability to understand facts and retrieve them from your memory.
3. It’s the same thing health magazines profess all the time, but eating the right diet really can help not only your physical body, but also your brain. Certain foods with omega-3s and other nutrients can reduce the risk of dementia and improve the connectivity of your brain.
4. Practice makes perfect. Play certain memory games like repeating facts or names, chunking together facts (It’s easier to remember your social security number in pieces rather than individual numbers.), associating new information with the environment around you, and creating triggers to remind yourself of something. (My watch is on the wrong arm; what am I forgetting today? The dry-cleaning!) These tricks and more can allow you to reel in the memories you know you stored—you just need to remember where they are.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Salerno’s Salinger

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

The documentary aspect of a true multimedia project on the life of J. D. Salinger (A documentary was planned for release in theatres as well as in a companion book, with the film and book being released almost simultaneously in September of 2013.) is scheduled to air on PBS in January 2014. This final step in the project will include a long lineup of journalists, actors, writers, and biographers who paint a portrait of the man some have called reclusive. The filmmaker Shane Salerno, however, argues that “reclusive” is not the word. “Private,” perhaps, but Salinger, he insists, was not a recluse. The project aims to understand Salinger’s work by understanding his life—his service in World War II, his (failed) relationships, his years up North at a house in Cornish, New Hampshire, and other key aspects of his life. Whether the project does this, or merely represents the same kind of celebrity hype that Salinger walked away from, is a question.

Salinger chose to stop publishing after the enormous success brought to him by the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. He left the world of publishing in New York City and moved to Cornish, New Hampshire, where he would continue to work and write—writing what some say are his actual masterpieces—and lock them in what has become known as “the Vault.” Fans who had experienced Holden Caulfield’s voice and demanded to have more, as well as photojournalists looking for a lucrative snapshot, followed him to the extent of camping at the end of his driveway or waiting days for a photograph of him checking his mail. Protective of his privacy till the end, Salinger blocked illegal attempts to publish his work, including his letters.

Salerno, known for his work on screenplays such as Armageddon and Savages, says he has been interested in Salinger, whom he regarded as a sort of “literary Big Foot,” since his childhood. His original idea was to make a full-length film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Salinger, but he later opted for the multifaceted project, preferring a documentary format. The many interviews included in the documentary range from acquaintances to even famous fans, including actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Salerno selected the interviewees based on their knowledge and admiration of the author, rather than their star power—a distinction Salinger surely would have appreciated on some level. The theatrical version was released by the Weinstein Company in September of 2013.

The project draws attention to Salinger’s service during World War II, where he served for over 300 days of combat, as well as after, when he was a member of the Counterintelligence Corps. During this time he was also working on The Catcher in the Rye. One piece of new information from the documentary is that he was briefly married to a German woman whom he brought home to the United States. Other things brought to light include letters written to ex-girlfriends and new perspectives on the effects of the war on Salinger’s writing.

Since his death in 2011, previously unpublished work held in libraries for research purposes has reportedly been leaked on the internet. These works include a companion piece to The Catcher in the Rye as well as two other stories. Additionally, Salerno and David Shields (co-author of the project’s Salinger, published just before the documentary’s theatrical release) have claimed that more yet-unpublished work is intended to be released within a timeframe of five years beginning in 2015.

Did You Know?

Shane Salerno, the director of the documentary and co-author of the biography, spent a decade researching and recording interviews about the man often called a recluse, intrigued by his story. Salerno spent two million dollars of his own money that he had earned over the years working as a screenwriter. According to several writers whom Salerno worked with in his project, Salinger left specific instructions on publishing the works he wrote while in hiding—noting a detailed timetable. These “new” works would be the first of Salinger’s published fiction since his story “Hapworth 16, 1924” appeared in The New Yorker. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

American Students’ Vocabulary Continues to Suffer

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

In its recent reading assessment, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) included a measure of vocabulary comprehension “that aims to capture students’ ability to use their understanding or sense of words to acquire meaning from the passages they read.” The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a report last year comparing results from the 2009 and 2011 exams testing the vocabulary comprehension of US fourth and eighth graders. The report came to a concerning but rather unsurprising conclusion: American students scored poorly in both years, with no significant change in performance from 2009 to 2011.

“There is the expectation that students would know all of the words that were assessed. The lower the percentage of students who get these questions correct means they do not know enough,” said Cornelia Orr, executive director of the NAEP Governing Board. The Governing Board oversees the NAEP, which is essentially a neutral standardized test designed to represent a description of skills and knowledge that students should have acquired by certain pivotal points in their education. The Secretary of Education appoints the members of the Governing Board, which acts as an independent entity to determine the framework and specifications for the assessments. The NAEP is administered by the Commissioner of Education Statistics, who heads the NCES, the research division of the Department of Education.

According to the NCES Nation’s Report Card, in 2009 the NAEP compiled data from a representative sample of 116,600 fourth graders and 103,400 eighth graders. In 2011, the representative sample was comprised of 213,100 fourth graders and 168,200 eighth graders, showing an increase in the sample size—the number of students taking the assessments—but not in actual scores. The average vocabulary comprehension score out of 500 points for fourth graders inched down from 219 in 2009 to 218 in 2011, while the average for eighth graders remained constant at 265. Even fourth and eighth graders in the 90th percentile averaged only 266 and 311, respectively, in 2011—down from 269 and 314 in 2009. Basically, as Orr put it, students aren’t learning enough vocabulary. Educators should be especially alarmed about the implications of the report when considering the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which (in most states that have adopted them) is either already underway or will be within the next year or two.

Another distressing facet of the report is the effect of wealth and class as they correlate with students’ performance on vocabulary assessments. For example, of the fourth graders who scored below the 25th percentile, 73 percent were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, and, of eighth graders who scored similarly, 68 percent were eligible.

So, what should teachers and administrations do? Sharon Darling, president of the National Center for Family Literacy, commented, “We need to look outside what teachers can do and look at out-of-school time in a new way. We need to look at activities that are fun and engaging.” However, according to Margaret McKeown, a learning research professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, there is an abundance of untouched literature and studies on teaching vocabulary. McKeown also notes that oftentimes the vocabulary words taught in classrooms are simply words that students already know.

Implementing Darling’s suggestion may produce a challenge, particularly with parents and guardians who hold multiple jobs or work long hours, or who aren’t home as often. It seems that the real problem lies in trying to engage children in learning about vocabulary in a memorable way beyond their current knowledge, and encouraging an expansion of that repertoire in the years to come.

Did You Know?

Unfortunately, the language gap between those of differing socioeconomic backgrounds can start as early as 18 months old. A new study published by Developmental Science and led by Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford University, showed that by the age of two, children from homes whose median income averaged $69,000 had learned 30 percent more words than those whose home’s median income was around $23,900. These numbers are even more unsettling when it becomes clear that, according to the Southern Education Foundation, the population is low income in one-third of the states in the nation. Additionally, a study that tracked children from age three through middle school showed a strong connection between a student’s vocabulary test scores in kindergarten and his or her reading comprehension scores in later grades, showing that the gap tends to widen as time goes on. However, experts say that the more parents talk to their children, the more they can close this literacy gap and improve their child’s vocabulary, regardless of income status. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

RIF Provides 380 Million Free Books to At-Risk Youth

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

Since 1966, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), a nonprofit literacy-enhancing organization, has distributed 380 million new, free books to underprivileged children in the United States. RIF provides these books for children ranging from infancy to the age of eight. Their flagship program, Books for Ownership, allows children to handpick two to five books a year. Volunteers create engaging reading events, revolving around the joy and value of reading, for children and their parents.

While RIF is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States, it is not the only program providing excellent resources to children in need. LitWorld is a courageous nonprofit based in four different countries: the United States, Kenya, the Philippines, and Haiti. Created by renowned motivational speaker Pam Alynn, LitWorld believes promoting literacy is more than providing books and education to children and their families; it is also educating teachers who don’t have access to necessary materials. Going into classrooms in poor communities, Alynn and other volunteers work directly with teachers to grant children a well-rounded education, despite their individual situations. Many of these children stop going to school to help their families at home. LitWorld believes strongly “that all children have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.”

Like LitWorld, RIF also has a history of educators spearheading their program. Originally created by a group of teachers from Washington DC, RIF has, at its core, always been about creating a safe environment in every home for young children to learn and create positive connections to reading. Programs hosted by RIF are made possible by the charitable donations of individuals and many companies.

Macy’s has been aiding RIF in their pursuit to raise literacy in America for over ten years. In July, Publishers Weekly announced that together the two companies donated over ten million books since they began their partnership. Donors can contribute any time of year; however, during the summer months, when back-to-school shopping is at its peak, Macy’s in-store customers may donate three dollars directly to RIF when prompted at checkout, which also gives the customer ten dollars off of a fifty-dollar purchase.

The major department store is not the only one to make a difference. In 2012, Barnes & Noble College and MBS Textbook Exchange teamed up through MBS’s charitable program One Planet Books to support RIF. They place used textbook donation boxes for unwanted textbooks at every campus bookstore. For every carton collected, MBS donates ten dollars. The textbooks that are collected are taken to be recycled, keeping them out of landfills. According to the Barnes & Noble College website, students helped make a $53,010 donation to the nonprofit in the 2012 fiscal year.

Other donations come in the form of volunteer effort. Sallie Mae Fund employees have given thousands of hours of volunteer time since 2001. In a news release back in 2009, the Sallie Mae Fund reported 13 separate community volunteer efforts to help children and parents have access to safe and fun literacy events. Sallie Mae has also provided over one million dollars in donations, supplying new books for at-risk youth.

Educating our youth is an extremely important task that is not restricted to the classroom. RIF and programs like it strive to provide books to underprivileged youth, arming them and their parents with the tools necessary to ensure literacy levels across the world are on the rise.

Did You Know?

There is no shortage of charities that promote literacy: some donate books, others provide tutors, some help underprivileged families gain access to resources they need. The following organizations promote literacy in their own unique ways, from pairing with doctors to leading writing workshops.

Open Books, located in Chicago, offers both donated books and literacy programs to students in need. Books collected by Open Books are donated to a used bookstore that is run entirely by a group of volunteers. Any of the proceeds made in selling the books go to maintaining the store, running literacy programs in schools, or to seminars for writing, ranging in topics from nonfiction workshops for grades 3–12 to publishing experiences for teenage authors.

Reach Out And Read, the newest winner of the David M. Rubenstein Prize (an award from the Library of Congress recognizing literacy achievement), prepares young students to succeed. In doing this, they partner with doctors who “prescribe” books and encourage families to read as a group. According to their website, the organization serves over four million students annually through the 5,000 sites spread throughout the nation. Many medical professionals who have joined the program incorporate the importance of reading into their regular pediatric checkups, starting at six months and continuing until age five.

Literacy for Incarcerated Teens (LIT) is the only organization of its kind, working in New York to end illiteracy in incarcerated youth. LIT pairs with the New York City juvenile justice departments and the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) in the promotion of literacy. The nonprofit works to provide author visits and directed discussions, maintain curriculum-approved books for readers ages 8 to 17, and encourage enthusiasm for reading and books. LIT currently has eight locations on the East Coast.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Publishing Apps for Students

by Alex Garner, Fall 2013 Intern

With tablets becoming more and more popular, new apps for children’s education have developed, and teachers have even started using them in the classroom. According to Forbes, Apple sold three million of its new iPad during its opening weekend, with analysts expecting over sixty million of the tablets to be sold worldwide; ereaders are selling even faster than tablets. With so many different options, like the iPad, Nook, Kindle, Nexus and other devices, there are innumerable apps available to tablet owners. Nowadays, there seems to be an educational app for everything: language arts, math, science, civics, geography, history, astronomy, and even apps for special needs education.

According to The Mercury News, more than one-third of children under two years old have used a mobile device. Their survey also found that kids are more likely to watch educational programs when watching television rather than when on smartphones, and that kids are watching less TV and spending more time on tablets and smartphones. The rising number of apps geared toward children’s education is especially necessary, then; the CEO of Common Sense Media James Steyer claims, “The data shows rapid and profound changes in the 21st century in both childhood and learning.” Beyond educational tools, apps have even helped students turn the page on book publishing, enabling students of all ages to digitally create their own books.

Designed to help introduce kids to being active creators in storytelling, tablet apps allow kids to publish their own work even in their early childhood. For toddlers, there is Draw Along with Stella and Sam, which has a coloring and drawing interface, and also gives the option for the animations to become a movie. For elementary school kids, there are Little Bird Tales and Toontastic Jr. Pirates—these create easy digital stories for children. Little Bird Tales creates books with drawing and photo features, and children can record their own narration. Toontastic Jr. Pirates features cartoon pirates, mermaids, ghosts and princesses that can be manipulated to tell a unique story.

Going beyond children’s education, there are apps for high schoolers and adults specifically for publishing: Creative Book Builder, currently available for Android- and iOS-based tablets, lets students create original works in an ebook or epublishing format, letting them incorporate images, audio and video with their text. Some apps exist as guides to self-publishing. For example, there is the Kindle Self-Publishing Success, available from the Google Play Store and marketed toward writers who wish to live the dream as an established Amazon author. There is also iBooks Author, an app for iPads and Macs that makes digital publishing simpler with design layouts and templates. The app features galleries, videos, interactive diagrams, 3D objects and mathematical expressions. These apps are more developed with what users can do, making their projects seem more serious and unique.

Although teachers and parents have feared that touch screen devices prevent children from picking up and interacting with books, these apps make tablets educational and encouraging. If anything, it seems that children interacting with these devices is almost inevitable according to studies, so it is only beneficial for them to have educational apps. In the classroom, teachers have started using them—one elementary school teacher recalls, “It’s truly incredible that a five-year-old’s story can now be amplified using the iPad and creativity apps to a global audience. This is an exciting time for parents and teachers, but more importantly it’s a fantastic time to be a kid!”

Did You Know?

The availability of countless types of tablets for adults has long seemed clear, but what about options for kids? Many schools and parents may hesitate in having kids handle more advanced technology, but they can find a solution in the more kid-friendly options out there.

Two of the leading children’s tablets specifically geared towards learning are the LeapFrog LeapPad series and the VTech InnoTab series. The former comes with built-in apps, a camera, access to over 800 games, ebooks and other interactive media, and is built “kid-tough.” Its competitor also comes with a wide range of fun and educational apps as well as a camera and MP3 player, and has the option to text/message others with a tablet or smartphone through Kid Connect. Both devices and apps are often available in department store toy aisles, allowing adults (and kids with adults) easy access.

While these tablets are known mostly for their educational approach, there is also a huge amount of tablets built to be kid-friendly. From Toy “R” Us’s Tabeo e2, to Ematic Fun Tab, to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids, the choices span many different age ranges and can be used for both fun and skill-building. Regardless of choice, the learning and exploring potential is right there in a child’s fingertip.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Children’s Books, New and Old

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

From touch-and-feel genre books such as Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny, originally published over 60 years ago, to new interactive ebooks such as those hosted on Scholastic’s Storia, which come with text, audio, and games, children’s literature has taken on many forms. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. As interactive children’s stories are taken to a new level, classic children’s books are being reprinted in new editions as part of the The New York Review Children’s Collection. Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny belongs to this collection, among many others with voices that are reaching a new generation of young readers.

Begun in 2003, The New York Review Children’s Collection issues products from picture books to young adult novels in an effort to reward readers with a return of their favorite titles to a new generation of readers. They take classics written by one generation, aiming to deliver to another. The collection accepts suggestions for additions to their series, which includes authors whom many readers from a younger generation may have never heard of, such as Eleanor Farjeon, Russell and Lillian Hoban, Ruth Krauss, E. Nesbit, James Thurber and T. H. White.

Interactive children’s genres are not new. Touch-and-feel books used tactile response to teach children vocabulary through different textures a word describes. Interactive children’s books have existed as pop-up books, coloring books and game books. Some of these, such as the classic searching game Where’s Waldo, have moved their adventures online. Today, parents can monitor children’s reading activity with a variety of ebook applications, and children can use them to learn new words or interact with a story. For example, on a tablet or other electronic device, a child can simply touch a word on a screen to have it defined for him or her.

Meanwhile, new children’s novels and stories are coming out with increasingly diverse characters and plots.
Coming out in early 2014 are comics featuring Kamala Khan, a 16 year-old Muslim American superhero. She will be the new Ms. Marvel and possesses the power to lengthen her arms and legs and change shape. Creators say they wanted a character that young women could relate to in a superhero world that is often occupied by white male characters.
Any story is intended for interaction with its reader, but digital learning tools are allowing this to happen in all new ways. From old to new, children’s books are entertaining young people from one generation to the next.

Did You Know?

In September of 2013, The New York Public Library (NYPL) published a list of 100 children’s books they believed to be the best of the last 100 years, based on specific criteria: the book had to be published in the past century, be available in print and still boast popularity with neighborhood libraries. The books within the list were not put on a rating scale, but instead are listed in alphabetical order. The list spans everything from children’s books to young adult stories, including Charlotte’s Web, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver, Green Eggs and Ham, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Hobbit, Matilda and A Wrinkle in Time. The list notes each book’s author, the date it was originally published and a one- to two-sentence synopsis. The oldest book to make it on the list is Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, published in 1926, while the most recently published is Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin, published in 2012. The list was released in tandem with a free exhibition titled “The ABC Of It: Why Children’s Books Matter,” hosted in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at the NYPL. The display, curated by children’s literature expert Leonard Marcus, features the importance of children’s literature by exploring its history and influence on society. It opened in June of 2013 and can be viewed until March 23, 2014. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Age-Old Uniform Debate

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

In the last several years, New Jersey school district attempts to reopen the uniform debate or instate uniform policies have been met with strong parental opposition. Bayonne parents filed suit over a uniform policy that requires students to wear navy tops and khaki bottoms, citing First Amendment freedom of speech protections, but a judge ruled in favor of the district in 2007. Parents in Clifton have protested uniforms twice in the last few years, arguing with both free speech and cost concerns, and managing to defeat proposals in 2009.

This year, however, Hoboken has instituted a uniform policy for all seventh through twelfth graders, and parents have remained quiet. Superintendent of Schools Mark Toback commented that the “goal here is to make the focus on academics more pronounced than the focus on clothing” as well as “to avoid any loss of instructional time while maintaining a good teaching and learning environment.” For this reason, flouters of the dress code—which includes black or khaki slacks as well as polo shirts in red or white for high school students and black or grey for middle school students—will not face severe consequences. Students will be given a chance to change into the uniform, and in the event that they cannot, school officials will give them a pass to display throughout the day. Disciplinary action will occur after rather than during school.

Superintendent Toback gave a comprehensive list of the pros of school uniforms in his commentary, including refocusing school time on academics. He added, “Uniforms will not only take pressure off students who feel that they have to fit in by wearing certain clothes, but also save administrators and faculty from having to waste time dealing with dress code violations.” Hoboken High School Principal Robin Piccapietra also noted that in the wake of last year’s Newtown, Connecticut shooting and similar tragedies, increased emphasis is being placed on security in American schools, and uniforms make it much easier to spot trespassers.

On the other hand, the question of uniforms usually sparks dissent among parents, with many arguing that uniforms unconstitutionally infringe upon students’ freedom of speech by refusing to celebrate diversity of expression. Other parents have sued over the cost, maintaining that a requirement to purchase school uniforms violates the agreement of free public education for taxpayers’ children. Uniforms are often costly and difficult to procure, especially when they must be purchased from a particular supplier. No matter what, a uniform requirement generally means parents must purchase new clothes for their children, which many lower-income families cannot afford, potentially causing embarrassment to their children. Students with medical or religious concerns regarding the uniforms mandated by their school district may suffer discrimination as a result of their more obvious differences in appearance. Furthermore, school uniforms often play into concerns about gender stereotypes—should male students be made to wear pants and females made to wear skirts? This particular concern is becoming increasingly relevant as parents are trying to broaden their horizons by encouraging kids to embrace what they are drawn to rather than all aspects of normative culture. Finally, some students also may feel discriminated against due to discomfort caused by sizing or clothing material, which could actually become a deterrent to education and focus.

However, the Hoboken policy appears to have taken many of these concerns into consideration; Principal Piccapietra assured parents that the school would organize a website with a list of locations where the clothing included in the policy can be purchased. New Jersey also has a law on the books compelling schools with uniform requirements to first hold a public hearing and give parents plenty of time to acquire the clothing. These schools must also provide uniforms to students of families with economic difficulties and allow students with medical or religious concerns to waive their requirement.

Did You Know?

One of the main topics of discussion regarding uniforms is the question of cost. Some schools require students to wear uniforms from specific companies or customized with the school logo. Despite the estimate that uniforms cost an average of $249 per year, more and more school systems support the ideology that they are still cheaper than regular apparel. According to a survey of principals and other school leaders, published in July of 2013 by Lands’ End School Uniform alongside the National Association of Elementary School Principles (NAESP), 86 percent of participants believe uniforms are more cost-effective. Not only do leaders believe they are more affordable, but they also believe uniforms are creating a positive impact on the student body. Of those surveyed, 86 percent have seen a positive impact on peer pressure, 44 percent have seen an improvement in attendance, 79 percent have seen enhanced student safety, and 64 percent have seen an increase in student achievement. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Taking Reading Beyond the Book

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

It goes without saying that kids’ attention is not focused where it used to be. Children are more apt to sit in front of the television screen watching shows or playing video games than to read or write. Luckily, there are many ways to incorporate television into educational activities, encouraging children to learn in fun ways. Many popular children’s shows were originally book series. Scholastic offers a helpful list of ten book series that they published. Random House is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their publication of The Berenstain Bears, which was later adapted into a popular children’s series. The television schedule for this and other PBS Kids shows can be found online. Other popular books that have their own television spinoffs are Arthur, Little Bear, Max & Ruby and Babar the Elephant.

How does reading and watching television build literacy? By sitting down with children and interacting with stories, educators and parents can provide a happy, healthy environment for children to learn and to grow their love for reading. Asking children to summarize a story hones their narrative skills and keeps them engaged in the characters and plot. In an article about increasing literacy in young children, Daniella Giammarino, a licensed speech-language pathologist, explains that “reading to children promotes communication and speech sounds, and it introduces many concepts. It builds listening, memory, and vocabulary skills, and gives children information about the world around them.” These skills can be further emphasized when followed up with an on-screen adaptation.

When you read a book and then watch the show or movie, you naturally compare the two for differences in plot and narrative style. Children should be encouraged to do the same when reading and watching the corresponding show. By recognizing the differences, kids are building their comparative reasoning skills, something that will be instrumental to their education and careers. Watching the shows is also a great way to encourage children to write scripts of their own. Using their imagination and household or classrooms props, they can tell their own stories, expanding on the universe of their favorite books and shows. By interacting with the stories, they will be even more excited to continue to read about the many adventures of their favorite characters.

Picking books and television programs that relate to the season or holiday is another way to bridge the gap between reality and fiction and open children up to learning while having fun. When kids feel connected through experience to the characters, they will want to read more. Learning from the book can also go beyond television to other connected activities. Many children’s shows have websites with free games and printouts for activities. From there the possibilities are endless: acting out a favorite scene, even illustrating and binding their own book! One helpful website, Get Ready to Read!, lists these and many other helpful games kids can play at home or in school.

When young children are introduced to habitual reading, they can form early, positive associations with reading. The most important thing about reading with young children is that they enjoy themselves and the stories, and oftentimes television shows or other adaptations emphasize that enjoyment. While some may prefer to stick to reading alone, the approach is not really what matters in the end. It is more important that children have a happy and healthy association with reading so they can continue to improve their literacy throughout their lifetime.

Did You Know?

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, as well as Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, were also so popular as to be adapted for the big screen. Although still meant for young readers, they are aimed at a slightly older demographic.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are characters in both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, causing many movie producers to combine the storylines of the books. The first was released as a silent film in 1917; it was titled Tom Sawyer and was intended as the first introduction of a two-part movie series. The second was released under the title Huck and Tom in 1918, setting up a third film for the trilogy, released in 1920: Huckleberry Finn. Paramount Pictures produced all three under the direction of William Desmond Taylor. The two most recent adaptations of the books took place in 1993 and 1995. Elijah Wood starred in The Adventures of Huck Finn, while Jonathon Taylor Thomas starred in Tom and Huck.

Finally, Anne of Green Gables had its movie debut with a silent film in 1919 and is now considered a “lost film,” meaning that it no longer exists in any archive. This was followed by two different black-and-white versions in 1934 and 1940, each starring Dawn O’Day as Anne Shirley—who changed her name to Anne Shirley after her involvement in the 1934 release. After that, many adaptations of the famous novels were hosted on television, as miniseries or made-for-TV movies.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)