Reading, Writing and (Re)organizing for Back-to-School

Still reeling from last school year's book reports, stacks of homework and hectic school and sports schedules? You're not alone. But, back-to-school season doesn't have to be stressful. The National Association of Professional Organizers is offering tips for a stress-less school season.

"Organizing means more than simply having No. 2 pencils, notebooks and calculators on hand," said NAPO President Standolyn Robertson. "It's about creating order and developing organizational systems that make sense to you and your family."

NAPO's organizational tips definitely make the grade. Sharpen your pencils and note some solutions for making the 2008-2009 school year more organized.

The basics

-- Have a family meeting to discuss how to make the new school year more organized.

-- Create systems and rewards for staying organized.

-- Determine missteps from last school year and devise a plan to correct them.

Buying and storing supplies

-- Take advantage of sales and store supplies in a container in your child's closet or desk.

-- Inventory school supplies several times a year. That way you won't be caught short before a big project.

-- Create a home for supplies that children use daily.


-- Designate an area for homework.

-- Get your child into a routine of doing homework at the same time and in the same place daily.

Put paper in its place

-- Create an area for incoming/outgoing papers.

-- Use a file cabinet for temporary storage of papers.

Preparation is key

-- Use a planner that enables you to track family members' schedules.

-- Prepare items the night before to make for a less stressful morning.

1. Pack lunch and leave in refrigerator.
2. Pick out clothes.
3. Pack school bag with all necessities.
4. Set out breakfast dishes.

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Challenged Readers Turn to Bumpybooks Series to Get Ready for School

As the back-to-school season has blossomed upon us the bumpybooks series is being utilized by educators and parents around the country to give all those challenged readers a head start on reading mastery. The news of these multi-sensory reading aides has started to make its way throughout the media- especially in the New York media circuit. As local media continues to profile these ground breaking reading manuals, it is certainly the hope of the creators, Ann Edwards and Karen Goldberg, that national media takes a footing in highlighting these books.

Edwards and Goldberg, the creators of bumpybooks, are focused on bringing their books to the masses in a manner to strengthen the awareness of their creation while at the same time offering support to millions of troubled readers. Dyslexia remains a primary focus of these profound books are founded in the clinically proven Orton-Gillingham methods to help even the most severe readers hampered by dyslexia to begin a long lasting and enjoyable life of reading and writing.

Credibility in the success of bumpybooks is not an issue for any skeptics since the author, Ann Edwards, is an accredited fellow of the Orton-Gillingham Institute, and the late agent for the works of Dr. Seuss, Jed Mattes also held enormous affection for the book. When asked his opinion on the bumpybooks series Mattes was emphatic in stating his adulation. " Bumpybooks is the first new product I've encountered [which has the capacity to be a genuine, long-term phenomenon in the children's reading development world. I consider it to be an authentically revolutionary concept and that it has great value in the publishing, merchandising and education fields."

To have such a regarded Literary Agent as Jed Mattes staking his name in association with bumpybooks is not only a great honor for this Brooklyn, NY based company but it also shows the enormity by which bumpybooks will revolutionize the reading development, merchandising and educational fields.

Recently having to sieve through media requests from around the country, the public continues to want to know more about bumpybooks. Especially how they can help even the most disadvantaged reader become a seasoned pro. Bumpybooks have been a mainstay in all of the New York City Libraries as well as having made their way into the hands of educators around the country. From early reading teachers to special education coordinators the desire to utilize this patented and ground-breaking reading manual is astounding.

So much so that Edwards is fast at work developing the styling and formatting in the next book of their acclaimed series, while Goldberg continues to design the graphic elements. From Public and Private schools, libraries, Montessori Schools, Nursery and Pre-Kindergarten Schools, Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and more have found the importance and vitality of utilizing bumpybooks in the pursuit of teaching challenged readers the wonders of reading and writing.

Having a basis laid through the concepts of Orton-Gillingham the bumpybooks will no doubt become a foundational element in all school systems as they learn of these instructional books and bring them to their students. Originally designed for: beginning readers (Ages 3 and up), dyslexic students, the visually impaired, children with sensory issues, learning disabled, home schooled, and any student who is struggling with reading and/or sound association, there is quickly becoming another facet of readers running to their copy of bumpybooks.

Recently, those who are looking to learn for themselves how to teach others reading are utilizing bumpybooks as their manual of choice. Simply stated, bumpybooks not only teach others how to become proficient readers and writers, but they also teach others how to teach reading and writing for themselves.

Bumpybooks currently are utilized all throughout the country by well-informed parents and instructors. Using all five senses to encapsulate a total learning process of reading and writing, by repeatedly tracing and feeling the bumps on each letter of the alphabet, as they see, hear, and say each letter, children will use all the senses to master the basic elements necessary to read. As an innovative manual for those looking to teach others to read, bumpybooks is firm in its proclamation of reforming the teaching of reading, and has been placed by many as the foremost manual for such efforts.

The creators of bumpybooks, Ann Edwards and Karen Goldberg are continuously being interviewed regarding their bumpybooks and have been seen on network television throughout the New York City area. As business grows and interested parties appear from throughout the U.S and Abroad, all inquires for interviews, product statements, and appearances are being handled by Ann Edwards, while the two simultaneously prepare to launch other works in their bumpybooks series.


How to Avoid the Back-to-school Blues

The back-to-school blues usually mean kids moaning over lost freedom, moms dreading the chaos of buying back-to-school basics while dealing with the feelings of an empty nest. But a little last minute planning can chase those blues away.

Get reading! Summertime signals freedom for most kids, but too much laxity can backlash when they head back to school in the fall. According to the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, teachers often spend four to six weeks at the beginning of each school year re-teaching material that students have forgotten. Kids also can feel behind before they even begin when a new year and grade begin, so if you children's only reading materials all summer have been the TV Guide and video game instructions, help them dust off some cobwebs.

Kids don't have to dive into textbooks; they can read whatever interests them - novels, newspapers, magazines or comic books. Make the library or bookstore their favorite hangout by scheduling some late August trips to coincide with events, such as book signings, story-time, children's writing groups, art exhibits, concerts, and workshops. Bring your children's friends, challenge them to a read-off, and offer prizes for those who read the most books before school starts.

Make sure they get enough sleep. No matter the season, school-age kids and teens need an average of nine hours of sleep per night. Summer activities wreak havoc on sleep patterns. Sleep problems cause crankiness, learning difficulties and accidents, and can even make some children more prone to depression. Better sleep means happier children. If you've indulged them with later bedtimes, balanced with later wake-ups, start getting back to a regular schedule to avoid disrupting sleep patterns before school starts. That way you can ease them back into their school-time sleep schedule, particularly if you start at least a week before school opens. Young children have an easier time transitioning their sleep back to fall, but once puberty strikes, the effortlessness of transition comes to an abrupt halt. Pubertal changes in the sleep hormone melatonin encourage later sleep and wake up times by shifting the circadian rhythm. That's why, according to the National Sleep Foundation, it's tough to get your teen up in the morning, even after a full night's sleep. To help your children get more zzz's make sure they avoid bright light at night (including computers and TVs), and brighten their morning wake-up with plenty of sunlight.

Play! Childhood is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once it's gone, it's gone, so let your kids be kids. Let them get dirty sliding into home plate, digging in the garden, or building castles in the sand. Computer game play is okay during the dwindling days of summer, but keep it to a minimum, even though there's no homework. Instead, get them out of the house. Active play fights obesity, stimulates thinking, aids in getting a good night's sleep, and is just plain fun. Children need to engage in play with their friends to improve their relational and problem-solving skills, and summer provides them with the opportunity to catch-up on the play they may have missed during the school year, especially since many schools have drastically decreased recess time or eliminated it all together.

Spend time together. You most likely did not have the luxury of extended summer vacations, but you can still make the best of it by making special time for your kids. Take day trips, go the movies, walk around the neighborhood, take a bike tour, or simply relax at home together. Make time for family dinners - just keep them simple so you can spend more time with the family and less time in the kitchen. Order healthy take-out, or better yet, make it a true family meal by having everyone participate in the planning, cooking and clean up, as well as the eating. You'll get so good at it that you'll be able to rev up family mealtime all year round.

Shopping made easier. Have your children give you a deluxe tour of Internet shopping. See what's 'in' for the fall, price compare and have their lists ready to go before you hunt for the school supplies. This will save you time and money - and ready you for easier holiday shopping. You can use some of that saved time and money to celebrate the new school year and your children's advancing into the next grade (or promote how proud you are for second tries for those kids left behind a grade).

Plan ahead for your fall dates - with your kids, your partner, your friends and yourself. Get in the mood by decorating the house with Autumn's beauty, and pick some days for basking in cider and hot apple pie, bouncing on a hayride, prowling through a pumpkin patch, or just snuggling under a blanket outside on a crisp fall eve talking about the day's events. Fall is a magnificent season. Use its beauty to banish the blues and welcome in all that fall has to offer.

Contributed by:
Mary Muscari
Associate professor
Decker School of Nursing
Binghamton University, State University of New York

$670,000 in Scholarships Available from AXA Foundation

For the seventh year, U.S.News & World Report and AXA Foundation announce the offering of the AXA Achievement(SM) Scholarships. Awarding $670,000 to students throughout the nation, the scholarship program is part of AXA Achievement(SM), which is dedicated to providing resources that help make college possible.

Applications are available now at, and the deadline for submissions is December 15, 2008. Additional details of the AXA Achievement(SM) program are featured in the U.S.News & World Report 2009 America's Best Colleges issue, on newsstands August 25.

"The winners, known as AXA Achievers, are students who are involved in improving their communities and making a difference," said Bill Holiber, president of U.S.News & World Report. "Our partnership with the AXA Foundation helps to give these amazing students a head start on achieving even greater things."

Fifty-two students, one from each state plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, will be selected to receive one-time scholarship awards of $10,000 each; 10 students will be selected as national winners from the pool of 52, earning an additional scholarship of $15,000 and the offer of an AXA internship. Qualified candidates will have demonstrated drive and determination to succeed, the ability to thrive in a college environment, and respect for self, family, and community. The scholarship is administered by Scholarship Management Services(TM), a program of Scholarship America(SM), one of the nation's largest nonprofit private sector scholarship and educational support organizations.

Magazine Subscriptions Survey Reveals Nation's Reading Habits

The results of the largest ever survey of UK magazine subscribers have revealed that when it comes to taking time out to enjoy our favourite magazines, our resting places are certainly not confined to the sofa.

The survey by magazine subscriptions web site revealed that our favourite reading place is the bedroom, with more than half (52 per cent) of people opting for some bed time reading. Almost a third (30 per cent) say they retreat to the smallest room in the house and read their magazine in the loo! Parents say they grab the chance to catch up on the latest news while waiting to collect their children from school or classes, while Dads say they like to get some peace and quiet in the shed!

It seems banishing bathroom boredom with a favourite magazine may be a very British habit, with only one in 10 (12 per cent) of readers outside the UK stating the toilet is a favourite reading place.

Women's magazines were the clear winner of the title of favourite subscription - proving to be by far the most popular topic amongst the four million subscribers surveyed. There's also no place like home with house and home titles second on subscribers lists, followed closely by computers, cars and country titles.

When it comes to sport people across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are certainly football crazy with football titles proving twice as popular as rugby. Readers in Wales defy this trend however, with sports fans there twice as likely to subscribe to rugby magazines.

The results also provide an insight into different regional hobbies: readers in Guildford are the most likely to enjoy a spot of fishing, while those in Peterborough are keen to look to the skies with a subscription to a bird watching title.

Other interesting regional trends revealed by the survey are: Bristol proves itself to be a city of cyclists, while readers in Birmingham go crazy for golf. It seems that Britannia is still keen to rule the waves however, with twice as many people in the UK subscribing to boating titles than caravanning magazines.

People in London are the most likely to subscribe to a psychology publication, while people in Edinburgh are eager to know what the stars have in store, with more subscribers to astrological titles than any other city.

Nicola Rowe from said "The survey reveals some marked variations in reading habits across the UK. However, it's clear that whatever the subject, and wherever the chosen reading place may be, millions of people choose to keep up to date with their hobbies and interests by subscribing to a copy of their favourite magazine."


Homeschooling Is The Choice Of Many Parents Today

Homeschooling is the choice of many parents today who find that what they are looking for in education has become very difficult if not impossible to find in the government schools. In the homeschool their children's education can be once more directed according to the family's desires and values.

All too often education in government schools is more about teachers and their security than it is about properly training young minds and motivating the intellect of the next generation. Indeed, unlike most non-government careers, mere time can lock in a bad government schoolteacher for a lifetime. And experience has shown that the best way to sour young minds on education is to force incompetent teachers on them.

At best, both the content and the quality of the teaching methods used in the government schools, in terms of what we value as important, are severely outdated.

Needs and Resources

Children's basic needs haven't changed. A broad background in what has been called "cultural literacy" is essential to becoming mature, responsible, productive adults, who contribute solutions to ongoing social and individual problems.

The foundations of early social, physical, and mental needs are laid in the first seven years -- and a well-designed homeschool curriculum provides the structure and the content to help children develop most. A good lesson plan is important, and the Internet can provide many curriculum suggestions. A search of "homeschool curricula" will point you to many excellent resources.

Additionally, software is now available that puts the power of your computer to work, automating and integrating many of the latest innovations in education with proven traditional methods, saving you, the parent, much time, and providing your students with accelerated learning tools which will serve them for a lifetime -- helping them learn faster, remember longer, and actually enjoy the learning experience. A search for "learning systems" or "accelerated learning systems" will point to some excellent and inexpensive resources.


Set up successes for your children by assessing where they are, meeting them there, and then proceeding at a pace that is comfortable but challenging for each child.

Home schooling produces great success for many students, but it works best when the parents understand that they too are learners and that learning is a family occupation. As with any human activity, learning is an ongoing process. Research has consistently shown that those engaged in some form of lifelong learning are happier, live longer, and are more engaged in life.

To meet the competitive imperatives of speed, global communications, and the need to innovate constantly, lifelong learning will be critical, and the well-planned homeschool can best prepare today's generation for these challenges.

Learning is truly "the gift that gives for a lifetime."

(C) Literacy News

Teachers Can Learn to Command Attention

Some teachers may feel like they've tried every trick in the book to maintain control in the classroom – too often to no avail. Unfortunately, teachers may be overlooking one of their most powerful – and available – resources for taking charge.

"The secret to maintaining control in the classroom is right under the teacher's nose," says Renee Grant-Williams, author of Voice Power: Using Your Voice To Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention. "It's the teacher's voice."

Speaking skills can help to establish a teacher's authority in the classroom, according to Grant-Williams, who is also an acclaimed coach to professional speakers, business leaders, politicians and some of the recording industry's biggest names. She has developed voice guidelines for educators designed to get the students' attention, maintain control and keep things interesting.

Establishing authority begins the first day of class. You are the one in charge," says Grant-Williams. "But, students need to hear that in your voice. When you give instruction you must make what you say a command, not a request."

A convincing command requires using a voice that is full, clear, confident and in control. This means breathing and speaking from deep within the speaker's body. By contrast, a voice that comes from the throat is whispery, thin, pinched and whiny. This kind of voice practically begs to be ignored, and won't be taken seriously by the class.

In addition to establishing control, an educator can use their voice to maintain students' interest in the subject being discussed. One effective way to grab attention is to make good use of consonants by going early to the beginning consonants of important words in order to stretch them out. It's a heads up to the students that an important point is about to be made and they need to pay attention.

"Like waiting for the other shoe to drop, stretching out the beginning consonant and delaying the rest of the word totally arrests the listener and mmm-akes them listen," says Grant-Williams.

Another way to keep students interested is to pause before and after a crucial thought. A pause before the thought gets the class's attention and prepares them for an unexpected idea. A pause after the thought gives the idea time to sink in. For instance, droll actress Mae West made brilliant use of a pause: "I used to be Snow White (long pause) but I drifted."

Grant-Williams says effective teachers know that silence can be just as powerful, if not more powerful, than words. "Streams of run-on words become monotonous and can lull a class to sleep," says Grant-Williams. "But a sprinkling of well-placed power pauses produces the opposite effect, keeping students on the edge of their seats and eager for more."

Grant-Williams suggests educators practice reading the class material aloud, inserting pauses before and after key thoughts and words – wherever a good pause will emphasize or clarify what is being said. The next step is to record and listen back to determine whether the pauses appear to be effective and the message clear. Grant-Williams offers more advice in her book, Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention (AMACOM, NY). This book is endorsed by Paul Harvey and was selected for inclusion in the Soundview Executive Book Summaries program.

Grant-Williams coaches business executives, sales professionals and celebrities including Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt, Tim McGraw, and Christina Aguilera. She presents speaking programs to organizations throughout the United States and has been quoted by the New York Times, Cosmopolitan, US Weekly, TV Guide, Business Week, Southern Living, the Associated Press, UPI, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the New York Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. She has appeared on many broadcast outlets including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Bravo, USA, MTV, CMT, GAC, BBC, PBS, and NPR.


Oregon Writing Project offers new strategies for K-12 teachers

Throughout the Portland metropolitan area this summer, K-12 school teachers are gaining vital skills and strategies in curriculum camps administered by the Oregon Writing Project ( OWP ), a collaboration between Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling and area schools.

"Writing is the gateway to success in school and beyond—it's the currency of the new workplace and global economy," said OWP Director Linda Christensen. "The Oregon Writing Project's programs help students read, solve problems, and understand concepts in every part of writing."

OWP's Summer Institute, now in its 25th year, is being held in the Portland, Newberg, and West Linn school districts, offering teachers a three to five day intensive workshop on teaching the writing process, including lessons plans and revision strategies. Participants discuss lessons that tie to multicultural and contemporary literature and develop a bank of genre-based craft lessons for each grade level.

"We also talk about the tough issues, like how to differentiate our curriculum with an increasingly diverse student body and how to work with students who don't speak or write Standard English," Christensen said.

By the end of the week, teachers design a writing curriculum to take back to their classrooms. Some examples of the curriculum teachers create include units on The Kite Runner, Persepolis, Of Mice and Men, Reading Poverty, Immigration, as well as units integrating science, social studies, and language arts.

Throughout the coming school year, OWP will continue running professional development programs, helping teachers in all subject areas and at all grade levels become members of a professional community where they can learn new strategies for helping their students become accomplished writers and learners. With funding from several multi-year grants, OWP serves some of the most underrepresented and neediest children in the state.

"For more than twenty years, OWP has been working with schools in the Portland metropolitan area, including the highest-need schools with the lowest test scores," said Christensen. "Our goal is to create a lasting legacy for the schools where we can have the largest impact. For this reason, we chose to work with three schools during the 2008-09 school year where our program will impact teachers and administrators at multiple grade levels."

At Clarendon-Portsmouth, OWP will work with a K-8 Spanish immersion school that feeds into the Spanish English International School ( SEIS ) at Roosevelt High School. At Jefferson High School, the organization will work with the 6-12 schools located on the Jefferson campus.

Additionally, OWP will spend the next two years working with Lane Middle School as part of a national research project that looks specifically at how OWP's collaborative teaching program affects change in middle schools.

New Literacy Campaign : Book A Brighter Future

As students prepare to head back to school this fall, Macy's and Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), the nation's oldest and largest children and families' literacy nonprofit, are joining forces for another year to launch Macy's 2008 "Book A Brighter Future" campaign. The campaign promotes and supports RIF's early childhood literacy programs by providing resources and books for underserved children throughout the nation.

For $3, which Macy's will donate to RIF, customers will get a $10-off shopping pass to be used toward their next eligible Macy's purchase of $50 or more. The RIF shopping passes are available in-store at Macy's nationwide this back-to-school season. They will be redeemable in most Macy's departments. (Exclusions apply. See shopping pass for details.) One dollar of each $3 donated will go to support a local RIF program; $1 will benefit RIF's Multicultural Literacy Campaign; and $1 will support reading resources for children nationwide.

Macy's Book A Brighter Future'campaign will provide free books to hundreds of thousands of children locally and throughout the nation in an effort to further encourage and nurture reading.

In 2007, Macy's launched the "Be One for the Books" campaign, which raised more than $2.5 million for RIF, making Macy's "Be One for the Books" the largest customer-supported campaign in RIF history. Those funds were used, in part, to support RIF's Multicultural Literacy Campaign, which was created to promote and support early childhood literacy in African American, Hispanic, and Native American communities. In order to garner additional attention and community support, RIF launched "Leading to Reading" and "Semillitas de Aprendizaje," complimentary English/Spanish bilingual websites that offer educational resources for parents of young children.

In past campaigns, Macy's has sold 800,000 RIF savings passes and has donated funds that have provided more than 350 multicultural book collections to RIF programs and given more than one million books to children nationwide.


Many 'Failing' Schools Aren't Failing

Up to three-quarters of U.S. schools deemed failing based on achievement test scores would receive passing grades if evaluated using a less biased measure, a new study suggests.

Ohio State University researchers developed a new method of measuring school quality based on schools' actual impact on learning - how much faster students learned during the academic year than during summer vacation when they weren't in class.

Using this impact measure, about three-quarters of the schools now rated as "failing" because of low test scores no longer would be considered substandard.

That means that in these schools mislabeled as failing, students may have low achievement scores, but they are learning at a reasonable rate and they are learning substantially faster during the school year than they are during summer vacation.

"Our impact measure more accurately gauges what is going on in the classroom, which is the way schools really should be evaluated if we're trying to determine their effectiveness," said Douglas Downey, co-author of the study and professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

Downey conducted the study with Paul von Hippel, a research statistician, and Melanie Hughes, a doctoral student, both in sociology at Ohio State. Their findings appear in the current issue of the journal Sociology of Education.

Currently, most people believe that it is obvious which schools are the best - the ones with the highest achievement scores. But using achievement scores to measure school quality assumes that all schools have students with equivalent backgrounds and opportunities that will give them equal opportunities to succeed in school. And that's obviously not true, von Hippel said.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds often face a variety of problems at home; for example, their parents often talk and read to them less, and they are less likely to get eyeglasses for nearsightedness. The result is that they are already behind other children before they even begin school.

"The way most states rank schools is extremely distorted," von Hippel said. "We can't evaluate schools assuming that they all serve similar kinds of children."

The results suggest that states may have to reconsider how they evaluate schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which emphasizes holding schools accountable for student achievement.

The study used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. The analysis focused on 4,217 children in 287 schools.

The survey measured children's math and reading scores on four occasions: the beginning and end of their kindergarten year, and the beginning and end of first grade.

By comparing test scores at the end of kindergarten and the beginning of first grade, the researchers could measure learning rates during summer vacation.

Comparing test scores from the beginning and end of first grade allowed the researchers to see how much children learn during the school year.

They then were able to calculate how much faster students learned during the first-grade school year compared to when they were on summer vacation. This was the "impact" score that showed how much schools were actually helping students learn.

"If we evaluate schools that way, things change quite a bit as far as which ones we would identify as failing," Downey said.

If failing schools are defined as those in the bottom 20 percent of achievement scores, about three-quarters of these schools are no longer failing when ranked on the impact measure.

"It suggests that many schools serving disadvantaged kids are doing a good job with children who face a lot of challenges," Downey said. It also means that many teachers in these schools should be lauded for the impact they are having - and not criticized because their students are not passing the achievement tests.

The study also found that about 17 percent of schools that are not failing when rated by achievement test scores turn out to be failing when ranked on impact.

"These schools may be serving children from advantaged backgrounds who do well on achievement tests, but the learning rate for their students isn't dramatically faster when they are in school versus when they are not. In other words, these schools are not having much positive impact," according to Downey.

The bottom line is that, under the current system, "we are not pressuring the schools that need to be pressured," Downey said.

Another way to measure school effectiveness is what has been called the learning approach - simply measuring how much students learn in a year, rather than where they end up on an achievement scale. However, a major limitation to this approach is that the amount learned in a year is still not entirely under schools' control, von Hippel said.

Students spend three months of the year on summer vacation. Even if you look at only the academic year, children spend most of their time in the home environment outside of school.

The advantage of the impact model is that it measures the different rates of learning between summer and the academic year, giving a more accurate picture of the role of schools, according to the researchers.

The profile of failing schools changes substantially when you use the impact measure rather than achievement scores, von Hippel noted.

Based on achievement scores, failing schools tend to be in urban areas, serve a higher percentage of children who qualify for a free lunch, and have a high minority population.

But if you look at impact scores, failing schools are not as concentrated in poor, urban areas with high minority populations.

"When you shift the focus from achievement to impact, there are still schools that do very well and some that do poorly," von Hippel said. "But they are not necessarily where you think they are. There are high-impact schools in every kind of neighborhood, serving every kind of child. The same is true of low-impact schools."

Von Hippel says the results of this study also suggest new ways to elevate achievement in students.

"If there's a school that rates high in educational impact but low on achievement, maybe the school should have a summer program with those same teachers who are having such a positive impact," von Hippel said. "That's certainly more appropriate than saying something must be wrong with this school because of the low achievement scores."

Downey said it is possible to use the impact model to evaluate schools without increasing the number of tests students have to take and schools have to administer.

Right now, schools test students six times - once each year between 3rd grade and 8th grade.

"Rather than use those six tests for low quality information, let's redistribute them differently to get quality information about the schools," he said.

Tests could be given at the end of 3rd grade, the beginning of 4th grade and the end of 4th grade. That way student learning rates could be compared in the summer after third grade with the 4th grade school year. Another set of three tests could be given at the end of 7th grade, and the beginning and end of 8th grade.

"We would have the same number of tests, but information that is substantially more useful," he said.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Spencer Foundation, The John Glenn Institute at Ohio State, and the Ohio State P-12 Project.

Source: Ohio State Research Communications

Literacy Campaign Encourages Reading Across the District

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) invites all District residents to participate in a new citywide literacy campaign to combat the growing problem of illiteracy and to encourage residents to engage in reading as a daily practice.

"We want to get District residents of all ages involved in the literacy campaign to demonstrate the importance of learning to read at an early age and continuing to read throughout adulthood," said Deborah A. Gist, State Superintendent of Education.

The OSSE is encouraging District residents to document a "Day in the Life of Reading" by photographing their families, friends, and communities reading. These photographs--including parents reading to their children, children reading alone, literacy volunteers teaching people to read, senior citizens reading, bed-time reading, and more--will be used in the literacy campaign as part of a photo essay to illustrate reading as a daily habit. Please e-mail your digital photographs to, and visit for photo submission requirements. The pictures may also be considered for use as part of a slide show presentation at the campaign launch and inclusion in other campaign materials.

Research shows that reading books is the best predictor of several measures of reading achievement for children. According to the recently released DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS) test scores, District students made significant improvement in reading at both the elementary and secondary levels for the 2007-2008 school year. In reading, the number of elementary students performing at the proficient level or higher went up 7.3 percent from last year, and secondary students reaching or exceeding proficiency also increased by 7.3 percent.

However, 36 percent (170,000) of District residents are considered functionally illiterate, compared to 21 percent nationally. People who are functionally illiterate have some ability to read and write but not enough to function fully in everyday life. Functionally illiterate individuals may have difficulty with crucial tasks such as filling out job applications, reading maps, understanding bus schedules, and reading newspaper articles.

The OSSE is hopeful that this new literacy campaign will work to increase literacy across the District. "By working together, we can bring awareness to the problem of illiteracy in the District of Columbia and promote the importance of not only learning to read, but reading every day," said State Superintendent Gist.

Podcast: State-Approved Reading and Literacy Program

Capella University, an accredited(a) and fully online university that is a leading provider of master's and PhD degrees for working adults, has released its latest Inside Online Education podcast. It features a discussion with Beverly Enns, Capella's faculty chair for reading/literacy, about Capella's status as the only online university offering a master's degree program with a state-approved specialization in reading and literacy.

These regular podcasts feature interviews with Capella students, faculty and staff who share the experience of online education from a first-person point of view. They are typically about 15 minutes long and are available at They are also available via subscription from iTunes.

Children Write Their Own Ending to Popular Children's Book

After ten years, the children's picture book, HEY, LITTLE ANT finally got an ending, or rather, 2,000 of them. Children in Kindergarten through Grade 3 from twenty-seven different states (and Canada) sent authors, Phillip and Hannah Hoose their written thoughts and drawings, answering the book's final question, "What do you think that Kid should do?"

HEY, LITTLE ANT is a dialogue between an ant and the Kid who is about to casually step on it. The Kid hesitates, though, when the ant unexpectedly talks back. The Ant pleads for its life and points out the many things the ant and child have in common. On the book's final page, the authors leave the child's foot suspended above the tiny creature and turn to the reader, asking, "What do you think that Kid should do?"

That question has launched the book, HEY, LITTLE ANT as an essential book in classrooms and libraries around the world. The book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and has been translated into nine languages since its publication in 1998. To celebrate the book's tenth anniversary as a classroom classic, and to honor the hundreds of readers who have begged them to "tell what happens," the authors launched The Hey, Little Ant Essay Challenge.

Judges from across the country ranging from early childhood educators to professors at universities to naturalists at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle to educators at the country's leading children's museum in Indianapolis selected sixty-one Hey, Little Ant Essay Challenge entries to honor for their creativity and thoughtfulness. Winners included both squishers and non-squishers.

"Some children simply answered the question, said HEY, LITTLE ANT's co-author, Phillip Hoose, "but many dug deeper and recognized broader questions about friendship, kindness, power, and environmental stewardship. The essays and the artwork showed how intensely they thought about the issue."

Kindergarten winner, Sophie Berghmans of Calgary, Alberta submitted a drawing with three panels showing how the Kid's relationship with the Ant changed over time. The Kid says in the three panels, "I doing lik you (don't like you)...I think I lik (like) you... I luv (love) you litil (little) ant."

First grader winner, Marina Sanchez of Wilmington, Delaware encouraged her reader to "come out on the right not squish the ant" because "he's defenseless. If you cild (killed) him, he still did nothing to you." Accompanying this essay was a picture of the Kid in deep contemplation with the Ant at his feet.

Second grade winner, Amos Livers from Oldenburg, Indiana imagined himself observing the Ant in its natural environment. "If an ant were under my shoe I would lay on the ground by the ant and watch it crawl to safety...I would watch the ant tackle this chore and admire his strength and determination."

Third grade winner, Charlie Parsons of Lincoln, Nebraska imagined a scenario in which the Kid's friends ask him to prove his friendship and bravery by squishing the Ant. The Kid in Charlie's story tried a clever subterfuge, but in the end decides his friendships are not worth killing an Ant for.

Because the book asks children to decide the outcome, it has proved to be a widely used "icebreaker" for educators and caregivers to discuss with children everything from bullying to the appropriate use of force to the ethical treatment of animals.

"It is a rare young children's story that asks its readers to look at themselves and figure out what they believe. It invites critical thinking about something relevant to them, while also being significant in a larger world context." said Kindergarten educator, Marie Simon, M.Ed., "I don't tend to be contest oriented. But, I was excited to offer my Kindergarten class a chance to share what they think, and why, in a different format."

The four winners and the fifty-seven honorable mentions will receive signed, personalized copies of the book, HEY, LITTLE ANT and other prizes. One can view the winning essays and artwork on the Essay Challenge website.

Hundreds of Thousands of Kids to Benefit from Borders Book Drive

Throughout the entire month of August, Borders is conducting a company-wide, community-based book drive, which is expected to provide hundreds of thousands of books to children in need across the nation. Nearly 1,000 Borders and Waldenbooks stores have each chosen a charity in their community to benefit from the book drive. The staff at each participating store encourages customers to purchase new books that the store then donates directly to the selected charity.

Borders has thousands of titles to choose from, including classic titles such as "Goodnight Gorilla," "Pat the Bunny," "Where the Wild Things Are," "Goodnight Moon," the "Little Bear" series, "Harold and the Purple Crayon" and the "Junie B. Jones" series.

Some of the organizations that Borders and Waldenbooks stores have chosen to receive book donations include:

-- Reach Out and Read, a national non-profit organization that promotes early literacy by making books a routine part of pediatric care, will receive book donations from nearly 120 Borders and Waldenbooks stores.

-- Boys and Girls Clubs, which offer a safe place to learn and grow - all while having fun, will receive book donations from nearly 70 Borders and Waldenbooks stores.

-- Ronald McDonald House Charities will benefit from nearly 20 Borders and Waldenbooks store book donations in support of their efforts to provide a home away from home for families of seriously ill children receiving treatment at nearby hospitals.

Last year, more than 363,870 books were given to dozens of non-profit organizations through the Borders book drive. According to Rob Gruen, executive vice president of marketing and merchandising for Borders Group, the retailer has set its sights high this year. "We are planning to make this our biggest book drive ever," he said. "More of our stores are participating this year and they are doing some truly creative things to get our customers motivated to help a record number of charities, and as a result, a record number of kids. Our customers are extremely generous and we thank them for their enthusiastic support of this community-based effort. With the start of the new school year, this is a great time to purchase new books to promote reading to children of all ages."

Parents, Read Aloud to Your Kids, Say Experts

Research shows that whether a child has been read aloud to on a regular basis is the single biggest predictor of a child's success in learning to read, says University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Associate Professor of education Kathleen Martin, Ph.D.

Martin and UAB Assistant Professor Kay Emfinger, Ph.D., are authors of the new book "Sharing Books Together: Promoting Emergent Literacy Through Reading Aloud and Home-School Partnerships."

"Reading aloud to children helps them develop oral language," says Martin. "It teaches them how to listen and how narrative is structured. They also learn vocabulary and how print works and that it is read from left to right."

Children who are not read aloud to often enter kindergarten and first grade lacking these skills, which Martin says are important for learning how to read.

"A lot of parents know that reading aloud to their children is important," says Martin, "but often they don't realize that it continues to be of value as the child ages. Also, many parents probably have less time to read aloud to their children these days.

"It is never too early to begin reading aloud to children," Martin said. Even infants can enjoy looking at illustrations in a book as their parents read to them. When children are past kindergarten, they still need to be read aloud to in order to learn about more complicated subjects and how to listen to and comprehend more sophisticated text, Martin said.

It's important for parents to be animated when they are reading to children, says Martin. Using different voices for the various characters in a story makes the experience more fun for young children.

For older children, it's important to look for quality literature that offers a
satisfying story. Parents can select books that have a particular theme or that are written by the child's favorite author, she said.

Besides reading aloud narrative fiction, poetry, which has rhyme, rhythm and repetition, can also be enjoyable for children, Martin said. Reading aloud nonfiction also has benefits.

"Some children enjoy facts more than stories," says Martin, "and reading nonfiction can build up a child's background knowledge."

However, parents should never force children to listen to a text if the child is bored by the material. Reading should always be presented as a fun activity, Martin said.

It's important for parents to be animated when they are reading to children, says Martin. Using different voices for the various characters in a story makes the experience more fun for young children.

For older children, it's important to look for quality literature that offers a
satisfying story. Parents can select books that have a particular theme or that are written by the child's favorite author, she said.

Besides reading aloud narrative fiction, poetry, which has rhyme, rhythm and repetition, can also be enjoyable for children, Martin said. Reading aloud nonfiction also has benefits.

"Some children enjoy facts more than stories," says Martin, "and reading nonfiction can build up a child's background knowledge."

However, parents should never force children to listen to a text if the child is bored by the material. Reading should always be presented as a fun activity, Martin said.

It's important for parents to be animated when they are reading to children, says Martin. Using different voices for the various characters in a story makes the experience more fun for young children.

For older children, it's important to look for quality literature that offers a
satisfying story. Parents can select books that have a particular theme or that are written by the child's favorite author, she said.

Besides reading aloud narrative fiction, poetry, which has rhyme, rhythm and repetition, can also be enjoyable for children, Martin said. Reading aloud nonfiction also has benefits.

"Some children enjoy facts more than stories," says Martin, "and reading nonfiction can build up a child's background knowledge."

However, parents should never force children to listen to a text if the child is bored by the material. Reading should always be presented as a fun activity, Martin said.

Personalised Approach In Delivering Education Electronically

A learning system that adapts to the abilities and needs of students opens the way to a more personalised approach in delivering education electronically.

The use of the web as a teaching medium has not had the success that many had hoped it would. Universities around the world have placed much of their teaching online, accessible from their websites. Many open and distance learning institutions are relying heavily on the web as a means of distributing teaching material to students working at home.

Yet somehow reading a computer screen and interacting with software is not the same as studying in a classroom or a laboratory and e-learning has had a mixed reception.

"The problem is that such an approach is technology driven," says Pierluigi Ritrovato of the Research Centre in Pure and Applied Mathematics (CRMPA) near Salerno, Italy. "The web is a wonderful tool for delivering content so people imagine that this technology is suitable for e-learning. So all the efforts have been going into producing some content and then finding technological solutions for delivering it."

A second, subtler problem is that the teaching content itself contains assumptions about the kind of person the student is and what kind of teaching approach is appropriate. The student or distance teacher is not able to adapt easily the contents to the needs of the student.

What e-learning software has overlooked until now is that no two students are the same. They have different backgrounds, different learning styles and different approaches to learning. A technological medium that ‘delivers' the same material in the same way to every student is bound to fail.

Models of learning

European researchers in the EU-funded project ELeGI (European Learning Grid Infrastructure) decided to take a new approach to e-learning. They designed key network software designed around models of how people learn.

Ritrovato, who is one of the project's scientific coordinators, cites the example of people who want to learn a programming language.

"I might like to work with experiments while others are more interested in reading and understanding, or doing exercises or perhaps by a ‘learning by doing' approach," he says. "The learning model is general enough to take all these aspects into account in a comprehensive way."

The consortium of universities and research centres involved in the project pursued two research lines. On one hand, researchers focused on formal learning such as in educational institutions. On the other, they researched methods of informal learning through collaboration and conversational approaches.

The learning platform developed by the ELeGI team can automatically be tailored to the different needs of students, and can also adapt rapidly in the way it can access teaching resources through a ‘grid' of networked computers.

If a teacher decides that the students would benefit by collaborative working, the ELeGI platform can find suitable software, perhaps a wiki, locate a machine to run it on, set it up for the group of students and set them to work in an automatic and transparent way.

The ELeGI software can group students who share similar learning styles. It can also recognise when a student is having difficulty and can offer a ‘mini-course' of remedial work, generated according to the student's profile and preferences.

Intelligent web teacher

A number of pilot studies and demonstrators have shown how the ELeGI platform could work in practice. The studies include a series of ‘virtual scientific experiments', mainly in physics. In the studies, students learn from a simulated experiment.

The researchers also designed several demonstrations related to collaborative working and designed a system to automate assessments of students' work. As part of the programme, the researchers also launched EnCOrE, a net-based encylopaedia of organic chemistry.

"In terms of outcome we have the model for creating adaptive and personalised learning experience, the ELeGI software infrastructure, that is based on grid technology," says Ritrovato. "It can be considered the first example of a service-oriented infrastructure for learning."

Insights gained through ELeGI, particularly in formal learning, have been incorporated into Intelligent Web Teacher (IWT), a software platform for distance learning that has been developed over many years with support from several other EU-funded projects.

IWT is marketed by MoMA, a spin-off from the Pole of Excellence in Learning and Knowledge, a virtual research organisation based at Salerno University and which includes several ELeGI partners.

The project demonstrated that it is possible to create a highly personalised learning experience in a dynamic way taking into account the user's reaction, preferences and the pedagogical aspects," Ritrovato says

"It is now clear in the community that the existing learning management systems are out of date," he adds. "They have to change their approach to learning and to be much more user-driven instead of content-driven. This is one of the key features that IWT and ELeGI have been developing. The teacher should be a guide, a support for the student in their learning process."

The project, which lasted for 41 months and received funding from the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for research, came to an end in June 2007.

Source: ICT Results (