Monday, July 26, 2021

This Will Be Our Last Post Together

Reading Aloud to Henry Walsh
The little counter that accompanies the analytics page of this blog tells me that this is my 400th post. I have decided that it will be the last. To paraphrase Dr. Pangloss, I make this decision for the best of all possible reasons. I have said what I have to say on the topic of literacy instruction and after nine years out of the classroom, I think it is time for new voices to take up the cause of thoughtful literacy instruction.

I started this blog in earnest after I retired nine years ago to continue the conversation with teachers about literacy instruction that I had begun at the start of my teaching career in 1969. As I wrote, I found I could not avoid commenting on issues related to public education like the Common Core, the education reform movement, charters, vouchers and the like. Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Pelto, Mary Howard, Stu Bloom, Mike Simpson and others started sharing my work and the blog reached a wider audience than I could have ever imagined.  

I am grateful and humbled by this. Over the years, however, new voices have joined the blogosphere with fresh and knowing perspectives. I found that Peter Greene at Curmudgucation did a better job of debunking education reform than I did. Paul Thomas at Radical Eyes for Equity did a better job on social justice issues. Jersey Jazzman did a better job of debunking the myth of charter school excellence. Steven Singer at The Gadfly in the Wall did a better job at righteous indignation. So I decided to stay in my literacy lane, for the most part, the one area I felt I had some real expertise.

As I look back on my literacy writing for this blog over the past few years, I truly feel I have said what I needed to say. It is all out there in cyberspace for those who want it. When I took a year off from writing the blog a while back, I noticed that thousands kept visiting the old posts even without new content. I trust that will continue and I hope teachers and teacher leaders continue to find them useful.

So that's it. I hope all of you will continue the good fight for good literacy instruction. It is a never ending battle, and while I know we will never get it completely right, I know that many of you will continue to passionately pursue the best literacy instruction possible for children. This fight demands knowledge, informed decision making, the will to speak up for the children, the will to take risks in instruction, and the desire to continue to read, write, learn and grow. Keep at it.

I am off on new projects. I have decided in my 75th year of reading, writing, acting, and blathering that the truest, most lasting form of human communication is through story. I plan to spend much of my remaining time writing and telling stories that I hope will resonate with others. If you are a baseball fan, you might be interested in one such story project: my new blog The Faith of a Phillies Fan. It turns out baseball stories are really fun to write. And I will continue to act, just another form of story telling, after all. I get my third shot at playing Shakespeare's Sir Toby Belch in a production of Twelfth Night this fall.

Be well all. Thank you for your passion and readership and feedback and sharing over the years.

Monday, July 5, 2021

The 7th Annual National Give-A-Kid-A-Book-Day is July 6th

Tomorrow, July 6, 2021 is the 7th Annual National Give-A-Kid-A-Book Day (NGKBD). This is the yearly celebration dedicated to getting books into children's hands over the summer. Literacy research has shown that the single best way to extend children's literacy learning beyond the school year is to get books in kids hands. One way to do this is to give books as gifts. The day July 6 is chosen because it is my son's birthday. Every year for the past 44 years, I have given him books for his birthday. This year is no exception. My son is a reader. I believe giving him books helped. 

Participation in National Give-A-Kid-A-Book Day is easy. All you need do is find a child and give that child a book. The child could be your own, a neighbor's child, a student, a grandchild, one of your kid's friends, or children in a homeless shelter. Just give the child a book and say, I thought you might enjoy this." You might want to include a note with the book. This personalizes the gift (and provides another reason to read something). Some participants like to include a lollipop or other small treat with the book to send the message "Reading is sweet," but the most important thing is to give a kid a book.

National Give-A-Kid-A-Book Day is dedicated to the many hard-working people and organizations who have gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure that all children have access to books. Toward that end, each year on July 6 we recognize these folks by placing them on the NGKBD Honor Roll. Past inductees have included Luis Soriano, Lisa Wilever, Philadelphia's Words on Wheels, Dolly Parton, Margaret Craig McNamara, M. Jerry Weiss, Joan Kramer, Donalyn Miller, Project Night Night, the Fallsington, Pennsylvania Public Library, and The Children's Book Project of San Francisco. If you wish to know more about these inductees and about their work you can look at past NGKBD posts here, here, here, here, and here

Here are the 2021 inductees.

End Book Deserts - End Book Deserts is an organization that advocates for children who live in poverty areas and lack basic access to age appropriate books and high quality reading materials. End Book Deserts is the brainchild of Dr. Molly Ness. The group has developed a large group of  organizations nationwide that are working to end book deserts and get quality books in kids hands. End Book Deserts will hold its first national conference online this year on August 8-9. For more information you can go to the group's web site here.

Children's Literacy Initiative - For thirty years, his Philadelphia based organization has provided a wide variety of literacy services to teachers, children , and families. Central to their mission is helping kids get access to quality reading material. They provide schools with home lending libraries, independent reading collections, informational text collections, and read aloud collections. You can learn more about this nonprofit organization at their web site here.

Give a kid a book very soon. It will make you feel good; I promise.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Defeating the Science of Reading Narrative, Part 4: Addressing School Boards, Legislatures and the Public

This series of posts has taken aim at the false Science of Reading (SOR) narrative that posits that the Simple View of Reading (SVR; Gough and Turner, 1986) is the scientifically proven best way to teach reading and all schools and all teachers should be adopting it. The first post in the series showed that SOR was far from settled science. The next three posts addressed ways to defeat this narrative by first focusing on the individual child, then talking to parents about the child, and then working with colleagues to improve everyone's breadth of understanding of the issues. In this post, I would like to address the need for teacher advocacy on the political level. Several respondents to the previous posts have noted that school boards and legislators are forcing the SOR instructional design on teachers through policy and legislation. Neither the school board members nor legislators are the professionals here. Neither is the journalist, Emily Hanford, who first brought the SOR narrative to the public in a misguided and misleading editorial in 2018. 

It is past time for the professionals to push back. Here is what I would say to SOR zealots. Please use any of this that you think would be useful in your own situation with school boards, or legislatures, with parent advocacy groups, or as an editorial in the local newspaper.

Dear ______________

The American journalist, essayist and social critic, H. L. Mencken once said, "For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." I come to you today because I believe the currently proposed Science of Reading approach to literacy instruction is one of those clear, simple, and very wrong answers. The recent discussion of the best way to teach reading which has gained so much currency in the media, among parent groups, and in state legislatures needs to be clarified. The Science of Reading is based on a flawed model of instruction that has been around for almost 100 years and that has been tested and found wanting over all that time. The current Science of Reading rage is based on The Simple View of Reading from the work of theorists Gough and Turners in 1986. Since that time we have learned that the Simple View of Reading, which says that reading is simply a matter of decoding words and comprehending language, is overly simplistic.  Reading is a much more complex activity than the simple view would have us believe. As Duke and Cartwright have stated in a recent article in the Reading Research Quarterly, "Dictating a narrow instructional practice based on this Simple View of Reading leaves educators ill-prepared to understand and identify instructional targets for poor comprehenders with grade-appropriate decoding and listening-comprehension."

If the simple view is, indeed, too simple, what does a more complete view look like? The aforementioned Duke and Cartwright offer a more complete model that they call the active view of reading. In the active view of reading we find four distinct elements of a more complete model of reading and reading instruction. These four include 1) motivation and engagement 2) word recognition 3) language comprehension and 4)  bridging processes . Motivation and engagement involves the reader in actively using a variety of strategies to improve their own reading. As the term motivation implies, this means that students must develop the desire to practice reading. Word recognition includes all the abilities we usually think of as necessary for decoding words such as phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle. Language comprehension involves the prior knowledge and reasoning ability required to understand what is read. Bridging processes help readers connect words and meaning. These bridging activities include fluency, vocabulary knowledge, and flexibility in problem solving novel words. 

The active reading model holds out greater promise for successful literacy learning for all students. It also provides a more complete model for teacher professional development. With this more complete model as a guide, school leaders, administrators, and teachers can build a more complete picture of the reading process and guide more children toward both the skill to read well and the will to read well.

I urge you, as you consider what is best for the literacy instruction of all children, to take this broader, more inclusive view of the reading process. Simple answers are appealing, but a more nuanced view of the issues is more likely to lead to lasting success.

As we talk to Science of Reading advocates, let's be armed with a clear and much better alternative. Duke and Cartwright's Active Model of Reading provides the kind of balanced take on the issue I believe we can all rally around. Let's not allow this narrative  to be dominated by journalists and politicians. As professionals, we have a responsibility to make our voices heard.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Defeating the Science of Reading Narrative, Part 3: Building Bridges with Colleagues

Over the past month I have been exploring the Science of Reading (SOR) narrative that has dominated discussion about reading instruction for the last few years in posts here, here, and here. What I have argued is that the SOR narrative is far too narrow a conceptualization of reading instruction and that making it the dominant mode of instruction is dangerous. The prior posts back up that argument with relevant and recent research. Some readers, while sympathetic to my overall message, have complained that my language in these blogs is confrontational and likely to cut off conversation rather than build bridges. 

I admit that I have used words like "defeat", "fight", "overturn", and "combat", in discussing how we must respond to the SOR narrative. That is because this narrative is being foist upon school leaders, teachers, and children through lobbying groups, state legislatures, and school boards that have bought into this narrow view of reading instruction. My language is aimed at the narrative and those who blindly promote the narrative, not at teachers who are seeking the best way to teach reading and are looking at the SOR narrative and wondering if this is the best way to go. To those colleagues, I do indeed seek, and hope we all seek, to build bridges. Here are some ways we might be able to do that.

Despite disagreements on how best to teach reading, there are some things we can all agree on. In conversation with colleagues let's start there. After establishing our basic agreements, let's explore together what the research says. Finally, let's agree to try instructional strategies with our students, gather some informal data and report back to each other on how things are going. These conversations can be either formally structured professional learning committees, informal book groups, or just two colleagues getting together to explore their understandings.

Start with the Things on which We All Can Agree

  • No matter our philosophical differences when it comes to instruction, all teachers want all children to develop both the skill to be a successful reader and the will to be a lifelong reader.
  • We can all agree that children need to learn to hear and segment the sounds in words (phonological awareness).
  • We can all agree that in order to be successful readers children must learn to rapidly decode words based on their knowledge of how words work (phonics, onset-rime, morphology).
  • We can all agree that the goal of reading is comprehension and that skilled comprehension requires prior knowledge, content specific vocabulary, fluent reading, and use of a variety of comprehension strategies.
  • We can all agree that reading aloud to children helps to develop comprehension, vocabulary, and interest in reading.
  • We can all agree that no matter how good our instruction in reading is, children will learn most of what they need to know for skilled reading by doing actual reading, so motivating children to be engaged readers is part of the teacher's job.
Work Together to Learn What the Current Research Says
Try Things Out in the Classroom
  • Invite teacher volunteers to try new ideas, strategies, and approaches out in the classrooms and report back to the group.
  • Set up opportunities to observe each other teaching using strategies discussed together and meet in groups to discuss what was observed. I like to think of this kind of activity as similar to "making rounds" in the medical profession. We need to find time to learn from each other.
This kind of work takes time. It also takes cooperation from the administration. It would be wonderful if this sort of professional learning time was already built into the school day, but I know in most cases it is not. 

The important perspective here is that fighting back at the SOR narrative demands expanding everyone's understanding of the breadth of possibility in reading instruction. Whatever side of the fence you might find yourself on, don't we owe it to the children to provide them with everything we know that works, not just a type of instruction that we personally favor?

Next time I will look at how teachers can communicate a more balanced view of instruction to school leaders and community groups.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Defeating the Science of Reading Narrative, Part 2: Talking to a Parent

In my first post in this series on how teachers and literacy specialists can push back at the Science of Reading (SOR) narrative currently dominating reading instruction conversation and legislation, I leaned on the work of Peter Johnston and Deborah Scanlon in their report An Examination of Dyslexia Research and Instruction to argue that dyslexia is not a useful term, and that the SOR narrative, with its focus on word level instruction, casts literacy learning in too narrow a light. In the second post, I posited that a focus on getting to know the individual child as a learner immediately makes clear that each reader is unique, and that each reader's needs must be viewed from a broader lens than is suggested by SOR. In this post I would like to suggest a way of communicating with a concerned parent, who has read and bought into the SOR narrative, about the literacy instruction needs of their child.

Much of my framework for this conversation comes from new work by Nell K. Duke and Kelly B. Cartwright in their recent article published in Reading Research Journal, "The Science of Reading Progresses: Communicating Advances the Simple View of Reading."  The International Literacy Association has made this an open access article and I encourage you all to read it in full. Essentially, the authors argue that we have learned a great deal about what works in reading instruction in the years since Gough and Tummer suggested the Simple View of Reading (1986), which is the basis of the SOR instructional narrative. The authors suggest a new model of reading, the Active View of Reading, which encompasses word recognition instruction, plus motivation and engagement, fluency, vocabulary, flexibility, and language comprehension.

Armed with the insight that comes from the Active View of Reading, let's see how a conversation with a concerned parent might go. Our teacher is a classroom teacher, Mrs. Hannah Jones, working with first grader Johnny Smith. It is the end of October. Johnny had entered first grade with some concerns reported by the kindergarten teacher that he seemed to have difficulty with hearing and recording sounds in words. While he had developed about 25 sight words and could write about 20 words on his own, his progress in decoding unfamiliar words was not as expected. In most tasks in school, Johnny was bright and eager, but he was not generally engaged by literacy activities and his attention to these tasks seemed to waiver. Some reversals (b, d ,e, r) were evident in his written work. Johnny's mother, Amanda Smith, has requested an update on his progress.

Hannah Jones: Thank you for contacting me to talk about Johnny's progress in reading. Now that I have been working with Johnny for about a month, I have had a chance to get to know him as a person and as a learner, so this seems a good time to meet.

Amanda Smith: Yes, thank you. I am very concerned about Johnny. The kindergarten teacher gave me a heads up that Johnny seemed to have trouble learning new words and hearing letter sounds, so I want to make sure he is getting the instruction he needs.

HJ: That's what we all want here as well. Can you tell me a little bit about Johnny at home. What does he like to do?

AS: Well, Johnny is obsessed with baseball. Most of the time at home he is either playing catch or bugging his dad to pitch to him or just throwing a ball against the garage wall. He likes to watch baseball on tv, too. I swear he would sleep with his baseball bat, if I would let him. He's very active, likes running around. It can be hard to just get him to sit down long enough to eat dinner.

HJ: How about his interaction around books or writing?

AS: Well, I try to read to him at night before bed, but he is usually pretty impatient about that. I gave him a journal, but he doesn't choose to write in it that I know of. Sometimes he draws pictures and writes on them. I have noticed his spelling is pretty bad and that he reverses some letters.  Do you think he should be tested for dyslexia? My husband said he had trouble learning to read when he was in first and second grade.

HJ: Well, Mrs. Jones, I have noticed his difficulty with hearing sounds in words and reversals, and it is true that some perceptual difficulties can be inherited, but I believe these are issues we can work on through instruction. That instruction would not be different if Johnny were identified as dyslexic. What I think is important here is that Johnny get the instruction he needs and that is what I would like to focus on.

AS: Well, I am very concerned about that. I have talked to some neighbors and they say that unless he is classified as dyslexic he won't get the instruction he needs.

HJ: I hope you will find that that is not true in this school district or this classroom, Mrs. Jones. In fact, I would like to to talk to you about that instruction now.

AS: Well, good. I've been reading about that, too. I know that schools have not done a very good job with instruction for kids like Johnny. That article in the New York Times a couple of years ago laid it all out. This Science of Reading. It seems to me that that is the kind of reading instruction Johnny needs, a focus on phonics. Everybody is saying that schools don't teach phonics and I know that Johnny certainly needs that, so I hope that is what you are talking about.

HJ: Mrs. Jones, Johnny certainly needs good instruction in how words work and in the phonics knowledge that will help him discover how they work, I assure you that Johnny will receive that instruction, but I want to also assure you that Johnny will receive much more than that. Since the Science of Reading work was done in the 1980s, we have learned that many things influence a child's learning to read. Decoding, guided by phonics knowledge, is one important one. Instruction in this area will include phonological awareness, that is, hearing the sounds in words, like the word cat has three sounds (k-a-t). Instruction will also focus on how to blend those sounds into words. In learning about words we need to also look at how words are spelled, what we call orthography. So, we will also spend time on learning spelling patterns, like how the word ship is made up of two parts sh- and ip. As part of our instruction in decoding we will do considerable writing using invented spelling. As Johnny writes words on the page, he will learn to stretch out the sounds of the words and try to write down what he hears. This type of writing has been shown to help readers develop their ability to hear sounds in words. 

Also very important is comprehension - understanding what we read. Comprehension is the central goal of reading and we also know that comprehension, the attempt to make sense, helps readers decode words. We can work on comprehension through our daily read alouds in class as well in stories that we use for reading instruction. Talking about what might happen in the story not only helps with comprehension, it also helps with word identification. We will also work on reading fluency, which is the ability to read aloud so that it sounds like talking. Fluency is what we would call a "bridging" activity that helps readers connect decoding ability with comprehension. We often practice fluency with short pieces of text that children read over and over until they can read it with ease.

Finally, we also need to focus on Johnny's motivation to read. We know that good instruction in decoding and comprehension needs to be reinforced by having Johnny do lots of reading on his own. Because Johnny is struggling right now, he may not be as willing to engage in this type of reading. Here is where Johnny's obsession with baseball can help us. I have already begun to gather as many books about baseball that I think Johnny can read as I can. Since Johnny knows a lot about baseball, he will already know many of the words he encounters there. If we can help Johnny have success in some reading in a topic he already knows well and is interested in, we may be able to extend his interest to other topics moving forward. Johnny's baseball love should also help us with engaging him in writing, about games he has played or baseball rules or games he has watched. Finally, his interest in baseball may help us expand his decoding ability by using words like bat, ball, base, throw, pitch and run as anchor words for learning other words that fit those patterns.

So as you see, we have a good deal of work to do, but I think an approach that considers all the variables of an active reader will support Johnny the best.

AS: Well, ok, as long as you can assure me he will get that phonics instruction he needs.

HJ: He will.

AS: What can I do at home?

HJ: Continue with your read alouds and talking about what you read. You might consider an arrangement where you choose the reading one night and Johnny the next. Also, you might consider reading to him about baseball from articles in the newspaper or magazines, even the backs of baseball cards can provide some interesting reading. Continue to take advantage of opportunities to write -even making shopping lists. Encourage Johnny to stretch out the words and replicate the sounds he hears. Also, I will be sending home books that we have read in school. Have Johnny read them to you at home for practice. Encourage him to read as smoothly and fluently as he can. He can repeat these readings as many times as you can get him to do it.

AS: Ok. I guess we'll see how it goes.

HJ: Yes. Let's check back in two months and see what progress we notice.

We need to push back at the Science of Reading/Dyslexia narrative by acknowledging parent concern, demonstrating knowledge of the individual child, clearly explaining our instructional goals, and most of all, delivering on our responsibility to meet every child where they are and providing the instruction they need.

For the next post in this series, I would like to look at fighting back at the SOR Narrative through teacher professional development.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Defeating the Science of Reading Narrative, Part 1: Focus on the Child

Last week I wrote a post, Unsettling the Science of Reading Narrative that highlighted a new report from the Literacy Research Association, on dyslexia and the Science of Reading. The report titled An Examination of Dyslexia Research and Instruction, with Policy Implications,  by Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon, posits that 1) "dyslexia" is not a useful term for guiding teachers in making literacy instructional decisions and  2) the "Science of Reading (SOR)" narrative, which states that a heavy phonics emphasis is the best and only way to teach reading to dyslexics and everyone else, is neither accurate nor scientific. Several readers of that post responded favorably, but asked, "Given that SOR has the support of the media, powerful parent lobbying groups, and state legislatures, what can we as teachers and literacy leaders do about it?" The question is a good one and the answer is complex. I will try to respond to that question over the next several posts. I think to turn this narrative around, which in various guises has been circulating since at least the 1950s, we need to start locally and then move our message more globally. The place to start is with a focus on the child. In later posts I will focus on the parent, the teacher, the school board, and beyond.

Child Focused Response

When we focus on the child the absurdity of SOR becomes clear. Early screening of children using such tools as Marie Clay's Observational Survey can help us identify children who are at risk. Research indicates that early intervention with at risk readers is effective for most. Research also suggests that focusing instruction on one aspect of reading, say decoding, to the exclusion of others doesn't necessarily translate into improved reading. What we do know is that at risk children benefit from rich and varied literacy instruction. This includes explicit instruction designed to develop the ability to analyze the sounds in spoken words (phonological awareness), an understanding of how print is related to the sounds in spoken words (alphabetic code), and the predictable patterns of letters in printed words (orthographic structure). This word focused instruction must be combined with instruction designed to develop reading comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency. One final critical aspect is motivation. Teachers  need to guide children toward developing what Johnston and Scanlon call "a strong positive relationship to literacy."

When we identify a child as "at risk", we risk making the mistake of grouping that child into a category and applying instruction meant to address children in that category. Every child, and every at risk child, however, is an individual with individual strengths and weaknesses. The original screening should not be seen as a prescription for a certain kind of instruction, but rather as a guide to help the teacher begin to probe the individual needs of each learner. Perhaps for some children teachers need to focus on developing a rich oral language to underpin literacy learning. Perhaps for others teachers need to help them develop a positive attitude toward literacy through exposure to books and stories and talk that invite them in to the literacy world. Perhaps with others teachers need to help build the experiential knowledge that will help them comprehend what they read. And, of course, with most teachers will need to provide instruction in the way the sounds and symbols of our language works.  

Children who struggle in reading are as individual and unique as snowflakes. We know what instruction works generally, but we don't know what critical combinations of instruction will work with each individual child. While our early intervention attempts will work for many, some children will not progress. When the child fails to respond to instruction, Johnston and Scanlon suggest our best response is not to label the child dyslexic or to double down on the same instruction, but to try something different. The person in the best position to make these critical instructional judgments is the classroom teacher. The classroom teacher can only make those judgments through informed, systematic, and documented instructional moves over time. 

As the teacher works with individual students and provides instruction, they begin to deepen their original diagnosis of "at risk" to a richer and fuller understanding of the child's individual needs as a literacy learner. This knowledge is powerful. Not only does a deep knowledge of the child as a learner help the teacher design instruction that will help the child grow in reading, that knowledge also gives the teacher the information needed to talk to parents and other stakeholders about the needs of this individual child in a holistic sense, rather than through the label "dyslexic." It also helps teachers to argue against simple prescriptive reading program recommendations. Too often when children do not thrive in literacy learning, an Orton-Gillingham style, phonics-heavy program is prescribed when the individual child's needs are much more complex than a "more phonics" approach. The teacher's focus on the child provides the ammunition to combat this Science of Reading narrative, with a clear, more complex picture of the child as a learner.

In my next post, I will take us into a potential parent-teacher conference, where the parents are arguing for a dyslexia label for their child and for a SOR instructional approach from the teacher. We'll see how the teacher can use their knowledge of the child to combat the SOR narrative on the parent level.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Unsettling the Science of Reading Narrative

Call me crazy, but when I learned I had cancer a few years ago, I did not immediately consult a journalist. Instead I chose to see an oncologist. When COVID broke out, I threw in my lot with Dr. Fauci and other infectious disease scientists, instead of a former reality TV star who suggested I inject bleach. And so, when I want advice on reading instruction, I avoid the journalists, the parent lobbying groups, the reading program sales reps, and the agenda driven pseudo-education organizations, and I look to the experts.

Two such experts, Peter Johnston and Deborah Scanlon of the University at Albany, have recently laid waste to the so called Science of Reading (SOR) in a thoughtful report written for the Literacy Research Association, An Examination of Dyslexia Research and Instruction, with Policy Implications. I strongly recommend reading the entire report, but I would like to share a few takeaways that I think illuminate the current SOR debate. As the title of the report suggests, SOR cannot really be discussed outside of the context of the research related to dyslexia and the current push by well-organized parent and educator groups that argue that dyslexia is a frequent cause of reading difficulties. Currently 42 states and the United States government  have invoked laws enshrining dyslexia. These laws are for the most part aligned with the SOR instructional perspective. The media has famously picked up on this and has helped fuel the narrative that dyslexia is the chief cause of reading difficulty and that SOR is the best instruction not just for those identified as dyslexic, but for all students.

Here are the key takeaways from the report:

  • There is no practical nor definitive way to decide who is and who is not dyslexic. They cite literacy researcher, Keith Stanovich who said in 2014, "The retiring of the word [dyslexia] is long overdue."
  • From an instructional standpoint there is no practical distinction between those classified as dyslexic and others at the low end of word reading ability. There is no evidence that our instructional response should be different for those identified as dyslexic.
  • There is strong evidence that most children identified in initial assessments as being at risk of having difficulty developing reading skills respond well to good first instruction and early intervention.
  • A small percentage of children, 2-6%, make slow progress despite our best efforts. We have little research on how to address these students persistent difficulties. This may be due to the belief that dyslexia is a permanent condition and to the assumption that we already know how to approach instruction for these children.
  • Reading is a complex process and comprehension is the central goal.
  • The idea that there is a "settled science" that has determined that systematic phonics approaches are the only way to approach reading instruction is simply wrong. Orton-Gillingham and derivative approaches like Wilson and Structured Literacy, the favored approach of groups like the International Dyslexia Association and the National Council on Teacher Quality,  has been found to be no more effective in improving reading comprehension than other types of intervention. 
  • There is agreement among researchers that children identified as potentially having difficulty learning to read benefit from explicit instruction designed to develop phonological sensitivity (the ability to analyze sounds in words).
  • Students should be encouraged to use context to direct and check decoding attempts. SOR advocates who say that use of context and pictures is a "disproven" theory are wrong.
  • There is no one right way to teach reading. Student's difficulties are unique to the individual students. Better to assume that the instruction we are providing is not meeting the student's needs and adjust accordingly, than to focus on one instructional approach.
  • Phonics instruction should be flexible and integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced program.
  • "Research suggests that teachers are the most important in-school factor in a child's learning. It is what teachers know and do, particularly in meeting the needs of individual students, rather than any programs or approaches they use, that are most influential in literacy outcomes."
To sum up: 
  1. Dyslexia is not a useful label.
  2. The Science of Reading is not settled, nor is it science.
  3. Evidence does not support the use of a heavy focus on phonics.
  4. Reading instruction should be balanced.
  5. Teachers are in the best position to make instructional decisions for individual students.
The work to overturn the Science of Reading narrative will be difficult. Parents and legislators like simple solutions to complex problems and terms like dyslexia and "settled science" are seductive. The stakes are high. The goal is clear. All professionals must work to foster a more nuanced view consistent with the research. Our children's access to informed instruction and a full, rich literacy depends on it.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Rhythm and Rhyme: Read Alouds that Support Reading Fluency

April is Poetry Month and here at Russ On Reading we continue our exploration of poetry read alouds for children with a few books that tell their stories in rhyme. Call it doggerel if you will, what children will tell you is that these stories are entertaining and that the rhymes add to the fun. What reading specialists will tell you is that the rhythm and rhyme in these stories support young readers developing fluency. There are many rhyming books out there, some are very familiar like Click, Clack Moo or the many Dr. Seuss books, but here are some of my favorites that may not be as well known.

My son's favorite book when he was growing up, Drummer Hoff,by Barbara Emberley with Caldecott Medal winning illlustrations by Ed Emberley, tells the cumulative story of soldiers of various ranks building a cannon. The ending of the story provides a kind of Where Have All the Flowers Gone?  message to the militaristic affair. Get your kids walking around the room chanting, "Drummer Hoff fired it off!"

My wife, the literacy educator Cindy Mershon, introduced me to the works of Roy Gerard and I have been a happy reader ever since. Gerard has mastered the form of silly rhymes to tell a story like no other author. Sir Cedric is the story of a gallant, chivalrous, and extremely short, Sir Cedric, and his efforts to save the beautiful Matilda from the evil clutches of Black Ned. An absolute joy to read aloud.

I fell in love with the work of Richard Armour while in high school reading his fractured, irreverent, satirical takes on history, Shakespeare, and classical literature. As a teacher, I discovered that Armour also used his gifts to entertain and inform children. This book is out of print, sadly, and may be a bit hard to find, but used bookstores and online outlets like Abe Books, have copies readily available and cheap. All Sizes and Shapes of Monkeys and Apes teaches children about these animals in a most entertaining and rhyme filled way. Don't miss gems like this:

If you think that an ape must be heavy and clumsy,
Slow moving, big-bellied,
As well as all thumbsy,
Consider the Gibbon, so slender and agile,
Beside the Gorilla, he'd look almost fragile.

Former Disney animation illustrator, Bill Peet, has written many wonderful books for children. The Caboose Who Got Loose tells the story of Katy a young caboose who is dissatisfied with her life tethered to the back of a smoky, dirty train. One day an accident sets her free and after many adventures, Katy learns a lesson about enjoying what life brings to you.

Mom is stretched to her limit by her seven children who all have different tastes in food. Amid the chaos, Mom is worried the kids will forget all about her birthday, but to her surprise the kids have been planning a special, and delicious, treat for her all along. The Seven Silly Eaters is wonderfully told in rhyme by Maryann Hoberman, with winning illustrations by Marla Frazel. Don't miss this one.

All of these books provide great fun and joyful immersion in playful language. What better way to celebrate Poetry Month?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

My Learning Loss Formula: Read, Write, Share

As I addressed in a post a month ago, the Henny Penny's of the world are running around clucking about how the pandemic will lead to inevitable LEARNING LOSS!!!!!  Learning Loss, as Peter Greene at Forbes, has pointed out, is the latest scare tactic being used by educational reformers to push their own agenda (standardized tests, vouchers, tutoring programs). In assessing any learning loss prescription, the first question we need to ask is, "Who stands to benefit/profit?" If the answer to that question is anyone other than school children, we should look for a different solution. 

Many educational researchers are looking at pandemic learning loss as a corollary to summer learning loss. Interestingly, summer learning loss is really only an issue for the most vulnerable in our school communities, those with limited access to literacy materials and other learning opportunities during their time away from school. Richard Allington found that simply giving vulnerable readers books to take home over the summer helped combat summer learning loss. We might conclude that it is not being in school that is most vital to learning, but rather it is about having easy access to opportunities that enhance learning.

With that in mind, I would like to propose my three-step program for combatting learning loss. I base this program on my own pandemic experience, which has been scary and frustrating, but has also opened opportunities based on increased free time.

Step 1 - Read Something

I have spent much of the pandemic catching up on my reading. I have read books that were assigned to me in high school and college that I never got around to reading before (Crime and Punishment, The Light in August). I have re-read some old favorites (Grapes of Wrath, So Long See You Tomorrow) and read books by favorite authors I had never gotten around to (Pastures of Heaven, Time Will Darken It). I have not neglected my non-fiction reading either (These Truths, Donald Trump vs. The United States, K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches). And I have also indulged my love of detective stories by reading the Bosch series by Michael Connelly and the Slow Horses series by Mick Herron.

As teachers, I think we should be spending most of our pandemic teaching time finding ways to encourage students to use a chunk of their pandemic time just reading. Just reading from books they have chosen to read for themselves. Engaged reading, it seems to me, is the single most important antidote to learning loss. Kids need help with this. Teachers help by sharing good books that kids might be interested in and by making sure they have access to them, online or otherwise. Reading something aloud to the students is a good start. Book talks are effective in sharing a variety of books of interest. This reading need not, of course, be limited to books. Interesting articles from online periodicals and news outlets are good fodder for engaged reading. 

Step 2 - Write Something

Writing something is the single best way to make learning concrete. When we write something, shape ideas into words, we internalize our own understanding. Writing also often spurs more reading as we try to get our ideas down just right. During the pandemic, I have used new found time to launch a new writing career based on my love of baseball. I am now writing short biographies for a website dedicated to baseball research. This work has reinforced in me the idea that writing is, in Jerome Bruner's terms, a unique form of learning. 

The pandemic, therefore, seems to me to be the perfect time for teachers to be finding ways to encourage their students to write. One good way to do this is to share your own writing. Teachers who write often spawn students who write. Your willingness to write (personal narrative, feature articles, poetry, whatever you like) and share that writing can be motivating to students. The key is to give kids choice in what they want to explore in their writing. The idea here is to just write. Just write about those things that matter to you, those things that you want to learn more about. Just write, imperfectly at first, to get ideas down on paper. To shape your own thinking.

Step 3 - Share with others

To be human is to communicate with others. Like all of us, my face to face communication has been limited over the past year. Family Zoom meetings and "Happy Hour" Zoom gatherings with friends have offered an opportunity for communication. Publishing my writing on the blogs I maintain and publishing with my newfound outlets like the Society for Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers of America have provided other opportunities to share and get feedback.

Similarly, whether in person or through Zoom-type electronic meeting groups, students should be encouraged to share what they have been reading and writing. When we talk about what we have read, we must formulate our thoughts and reflect on our reading. This work requires a deeper, more deliberate understanding. Sharing what we write, first helps us to judge the effectiveness of our writing and second, gives us the opportunity to get feedback on that writing. Whether through the internet or in person in the appropriately distanced classroom, communicating about what we read and write solidifies and extends our learning.

So, there you have it. My three-pronged formula for combatting learning loss. It doesn't require a great big standardized test. It doesn't cost anything. It simply taps into what we all know is real and personal and lasting in learning.

Monday, April 5, 2021

April Is Poetry Month! Here Are Some Poems to Eat

April is Poetry Month. April is the perfect time for celebrating poetry through read alouds. Actually, any time is the perfect time for reading poetry aloud. Poetry is meant to be read aloud and children love poetry. But April, with its symbols of rebirth, with the daffodils and cherry blossoms blooming and with dormant grass and barren trees coming back to life seems like the best of times for Poetry Month. So, as Eve Merriam suggests in the poem above, let's dig right in and choose some favorite poems to munch on.

Inner Chimes, is a collection of poems about poetry selected by Bobbye S. Goldstein and illustrated by Jane Briskin Zalben. It contains the Eve Merriam poem cited above as well as all manner of poems that discuss how poems are made, how they should be read, and how they are created. Poems by children's poetry luminaries like Karla Kuskin, Eleanor Farjeon, Jack Prelutsky, and Nikki Giovanni are included. This book makes a great introduction to a unit on poetry for students of all ages.

he Earth is Painted Green, edited by Barbara Brenner and lushly illustrated by S. D. Schindler, is a book dedicated to the celebration of planet Earth through poetry. The book is the perfect compilation for Earth Day celebrations, April 22 this year. Poets anthologized here include X.J. Kennedy, Shel Silverstein, David McCord, Myra Cohn Livingston, and Lillian Moore.

In I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You, famed poet Naomi Shahib Nye and famed poetry anthologist Paul B. Janeczko collaborate to collect poems that look at a variety of topics from the differing points of view of women poets and men poets. Topics explored include how men perceive women and women perceive men, and how different sexes view the world. The poems delineate our differences, but also, how we are in many ways very much the same.

The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems, edited by the great American poet Donald Hall, is the essential anthology for classroom libraries. It covers the breadth of American poetic history from early Native American verse to contemporary voices from the Barrio. Poets represented run from Emily Dickenson to Sonia Sanchez, from Robert Frost to Shel Silverstein, from T. S. Eliot to Janet S. Wong. With this anthology on your shelf, you will always have an appropriate poem to match what your teaching at the moment.

Children who are new to poetry may wish to start small and this collection of short form master Valerie Worth's four volumes of short poems is just what the doctor ordered. Her friend and fellow children's author, Natalie Babbitt, provides the charming illustrations. All the Small Poems and Fourteen More makes an excellent introduction to non-rhyming poetry for all children and, therefore, acts as a spur for children to write their own poems. In my classroom, it was a key mentor text for a writing unit on poetry. Here is a (ahem) brief example.

Coins are pleasant
To the hand;
Neat cirles, smooth,
A little heavy,
They feel as if
They are worth something.

If you are looking for ideas on how to integrate poetry into your literacy instruction, Poetic Possibilities, edited by Susan E. Israel with Michelle M. Israel, will be helpful. The authors offer a collection of poems taken from the pages of the journal, The Reading Teacher, and provide discussion prompts and literacy applications for each poem. Full disclosure: I was honored to have one of my poems included in this anthology. You can read it below.

Under the Table
by Russ Walsh

Under the table’s the best place to read.
A good book and small table are all that I need,
For a morning’s adventure
Or a tale of dark doom.
Under the table –
My own reading room.

Under the table, where it’s dark and it’s quiet,
I open a book and start my own reading riot,
With castles and dragons
And maids in distress
And a hero to ride in
And clean up the mess.

 Under the table I’ve a place of my own,
Where my book and I can be left quite alone,
To climb the high mountains
Or swim with the fishes
To uncover a genie
To fulfill my wishes.

So that’s why each morning at just about 10,
When time for reading rolls around once again,
Under the table’s
Where I can be found
With a book on my lap
And no one around.

Enjoy sharing poetry with children this month!


Monday, March 29, 2021

The Reading Helper

I have a teaching certificate that says I am a qualified Teacher of Reading, and Reading Specialist and Supervisor, but from the time I got a certain Valentine's Day card from a student in 1993 I have thought of myself as a Reading Helper. That card was from a second grade vulnerable reader named Danielle who had been my student since that September. The cover of the hand made card was full of many colored hearts and flowers and said, of course, "Happy Valentine's Day." Inside was a message that I will never forget and which has defined my work ever since: "Thank you for hleping me read. Love, Danielle" Yes, exactly, "hleping." Danielle still had some spelling reversals crop up from time to time. But the message could not have been clearer. I was being thanked for helping and it meant the world to me.

As I reflected on this note, I began to realize that Danielle's message was truly profound. Danielle had made progress in reading, and I had helped, but Danielle was the one who did most of the work in her great improvement. She needed some help, but she had to do the hard work. I think it is important that we all remember this. Most of the hard work of becoming a reader is done by the reader. We can help, but skilled reading is mostly a matter of the individual spending highly engaged time in the act of reading, making meaning, figuring out words, solving problems along the way.

When vulnerable readers need help, reading helpers provide it. Here are some ways I think we can provide that help.

Vulnerable readers are children first and we need to get to know the child, their interests, their passions, their worries, their hopes, their dreams first. Share with the child your own passions, worries, hopes and dreams as well. Relationships are two way streets. It. may not seem like instruction to just sit and talk, but it is a prerequisite for the reading helper.

Know Lots of Books

A reading helper needs to know a wide variety of books on a wide variety of topics and a wide variety of reading levels to make knowledgeable recommendations to vulnerable readers. It is important to be able to say, "I think I know a book you will like."

Watch and Listen

For the reading helper, diagnosis is accomplished by knowledgeable observation of the child in the act of reading and other literacy activities (writing, spelling, choosing a book, sitting and reading). That means lots of listening to the child read and lots of analysis of that reading. Running Records are an excellent format for this, but sometimes just sitting and watching while the child reads can yield useful information.

Target Instruction

Watching and listening provide information for targeted instruction. Reading helpers need to focus on one or two key instructional points per session. Build slowly and celebrate small successes. Be sure to focus on decoding and comprehension and teach intentionally for fluency development.

Follow Instruction with Choice Reading

Build in time for the child to do some reading from a book of their own choosing, perhaps books that have been the focus of instruction previously or a book from a browsing box you have developed with the child. Note how the child is doing with applying the targeted instruction for the day.

Advocate for the Student

Communicate to the classroom teacher and the parents about what you have learned about the child, their reading challenges, and your recommendations for how they can help. Try to insure that teaching points are reinforced in the regular classroom and work to have the parent provide a time for reading and listening at home.

Increase the Complexity of the Tasks

Try not to belabor instructional goals, even if they don't seemed to be mastered. Move to more complex tasks and more difficult reading tasks, cautiously, but with the intention of continuing forward momentum. If fluency or understanding are lost, double back to reinforce previous teaching points.

Focus on Will and Skill

Motivation to read is built on interest and success. As the reading helper your job is to help the child identify books that they want to read and that they can read. Most of what a reader will learn about reading will occur while the reader is engaged in real reading. Make sure that real reading happens as often as possible. Every successful encounter with an unknown word and every successful attempt to make sense of the reading, reinforces your teaching and extends the reader's knowledge of reading. Engaged, independent reading is critical to success.

My work with Danielle resulted, as many of my encounters with students did in those days, in a poem. The poem was published in The Reading Teacher, in March 1995 (Volume 48, No. 6).


As I flash, all business, into the room. 
I am stopped by her doe-eyed expectancy.
The tilt of the head, the turn of the nose,
The shy-happy, half-lip smile of greeting.
Pleased to see me.

"Can I read to you today, Mr. R?
I practiced last night."
Her baby radiance lifts my bone-achy
Early morning fog.

"Yes, Danielle, read to me.
Read to me of dreams fulfilled."

"Well, I only have this book about a cat."

"That will do nicely, Danielle."

Monday, March 22, 2021

Reading Aloud for Better Human Understanding: Asian-American Picture Books

Prejudice and hate crimes against Asian-Americans are not new in the United States, unfortunately, but the recent increase in bias related crimes against this segment of the American population reminds us that anti-bias efforts remain critical. The need to address the issues head on is made doubly important when political leaders are among the principal spreaders of this unreasoned hatred. One way to combat prejudice is through knowledge and understanding and one good way to spread knowledge and understanding is through a good book. Here are some great picture books that will help young readers learn about their Asian-American classmates and neighbors.

Long one of my favorite read alouds for children in grades 2-5, Angel Child, Dragon Child, by Michelle Maria Serat, with pictures by Vo-Dinh Mai, tells the story of Ut, recently arrived in the United States from Vietnam. Ut is teased by her new classmates for her different language and different clothes. School is a sad, dispiriting experience and home is a place where she misses her mother who has not made the journey with the family. Ut eventually makes an unlikely friend at school, a boy who was her chief tormentor, and the school community eventually unites around Ut and her family. Wonderful soft pencil and watercolor illustrations enhance the story.

In Grandfather's Journey, the great artist and story teller, Alan Say, recounts his own cross-cultural experience as a man who loves to countries. When in America, he misses Japan, when in Japan he misses his home in America. His grandfather, who made the journey from home in Japan to new home in America, would understand. A Caldecott medal winner. Don't miss it.

Coolies, by Yin, with phenomenal illustrations by Chris Sontpiet, tells the story of the Chinese immigrants to America who came to help build the transcontinental railroad. Arriving full of wonder and hope, Shek and his brother, Little Wong, find back breaking labor, harsh discrimination, and dangerous conditions in the railroad labor camps. The story, based on historical events, becomes a testament to these workers' courage and perseverance. The richly detailed pictures make the story even more unforgettable and compelling.

Just published this year, Eyes that Kiss in the Corner, by Joanna Ho, with drawings by Dung Ho, is a powerful reminder of the importance of a positive self-image for all young people. When a young Asian girl notices the difference between her eyes and the eyes of the other children in her class, she draws on the strength of her mother and grandmother to come to an understanding that her eyes are special and beautiful and filled with stories from the past and hope for the future.

An old, much loved favorite is Taro Yashima's Caldecott Honor winning tale of the Crow Boy. Chibi, or "tiny boy", is a strange boy in school. He was afraid of the teacher and could not learn a thing. He was afraid of the other children and could not make friends. The other children in school called him stupid and slowpoke. But day after day, year after year, Chibi came trudging to school. Finally, Chibi finds a teacher who understands him. Mr. Isobe discovers Chibi's special gifts. When Chibi shows off his ability to imitate the sounds of birds, the children are amazed and saddened by how much they had mistreated Chibi all those years. A character and a story to remember, with a universal message. 

A good book, well read. A kind word. A conversation about how we are all so very different and yet all so much the same. These are conversations we must be having with children right now. Hate and mistrust cannot be our legacy. When we grow to understand our different cultures, our different histories, our different physical features, we reduce the chances for hate to take root. What a wonderful goal for an author, an illustrator, and a teacher. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Henny Penny Discovers Learning Loss

It was a difficult year in the barnyard with all the animals confined to their own homes because of a mysterious and devastating avian flu. Henny Penny, cooped up in her humble abode with a half dozen chicks scurrying about unable to go to school, was at her wits' end. She barricaded herself in the TV room and turned on Foxy News. There she heard a report from an education expert, one Chester Tester, that the entire barnyard was going down the tubes due to an outbreak of  "learning loss."

Henny Penny flew into a panic. She flung open the door calling to the chicks, "You are losing learning. You are losing learning. Hurry we must find it." Henny Penny and her chicks scurried around the chicken house looking for their learning. The looked under the beds of straw. They looked in the kitchen. They searched the family room. They even rifled through the medicine cabinet, but they could not find their learning. 

Finally, Henny Penny FaceTimed her friend, Ducky Lucky. "Ducky Lucky," said Henny Penny, "I just heard on Foxy News that my chicks are losing their learning."

"Oh, no!" said Ducky Lucky. "If your chicks are losing their learning, mine must be, too. Our friend Goosey Loosey is here, let's see what she thinks."

Goosey Loosey came onto the FaceTime call. Henny Penny said, "The chicks are losing their learning! The chicks are losing their learning!"

Goosey Loosey said, "You know, I haven't seen my chicks carrying their learning around in weeks. I think they must have lost their learning, too. It's a community problem. We need a Zoom meeting with all the animals in the barnyard."

Goosey Loosey, who was the best organized of the three, sent out a Zoom invitation to Turkey Lurkey, Drakey Lakey, Goosey Gander, and Foxy Woxy. At first the Zoom meeting was a disaster with each of the animals clucking at the same time and Goosey Gander having microphone issues, but finally Henny Penny shouted over the din, "Our children are losing their learning! Our children are losing their learning! What can we do?"

Everybody started clucking and cackling again until Foxy Loxy intoned in a deep clear voice, "I can help you."

"What can you do?" the concerned parents all asked at once.

"Well, first we need to measure the learning that has been lost," said Foxy Loxy. 

"How do you do that?" they asked.

"Oh, with a great big standardized learning loss test," said the sly fox. "I have one ready to go."

"But what if the test shows they have learning loss?" asked Turkey Lurkey.

"Oh, well then, my den of learned foxes will offer the chicks intensified tutoring and summer school. It really works wonders," enthused the fox.

"That sounds pretty expensive," said Goosey Gander who was always worried about money.

"Oh, no!" said Foxy Loxy slyly, "all you need to do is let my group of foxes into the hen house."

Foxy Loxy smiled and licked his lips. The group of concerned parents murmured to each other in concern for their chicks. They were about to agree, when Drakey Lakey spoke up.

"Wait a minute. Are we sure our children have lost their learning? I know a year away from the schoolhouse is concerning. And I know the online learning is not as good as beak to beak learning, but just what are we worried about here. Our children are learning lots of things. They have learned how to make the best of a bad situation. They have learned how we all need to pitch in to help each other. They have learned to wear masks in public. They have learned a lot about communicable diseases. They may have different learning this year, but is that the same as losing learning?  Before we let the foxes into the hen house, we better be sure there is a big problem."

The Zoom meeting went silent. Goosey Loosey shut down Foxy Loxy's Zoom feed. She said, "You know maybe we have bigger things to worry about than learning loss. I am going to go read my chicks a book."

For some serious reading about the silliness of learning loss check out Peter Greene's collection of the best pieces on the topic here.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Read Alouds for Social Justice: The Right to Vote and Combatting "The Big Lie"

This past Sunday was the anniversary of  "Bloody Sunday," the attack on peaceful protestors on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama that resulted in many marchers, including future Congressman John Lewis, being beaten nearly to death. Those marchers were seeking the most basic of American rights, the right to vote. Not long after Selma, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was supposed to protect everyone's right to vote. Much of that landmark legislation was gutted by the Supreme Court in a 2013 decision, and that action brought on a new round of attempts to suppress voters. The Big Lie propagated by former President Trump and his followers, asserting that the latest presidential election was rigged, has now led to 23 states again trying to limit our voting rights. 

Picture books and read alouds have an important role to play in informing children about the importance of voting, the sacrifice others have made so we can vote, and the actions we need to take to make sure that the right to vote is protected. He are some favorites.

For The Teachers March! authors Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace interviewed the Reverand F. D. Reese, a principal and teacher and a leader of the Voting Rights Movement in Selma , Alabama, along with several other teachers and their families. The interviews make for a compelling story. It is the story of a group of Black teachers who walked off their jobs on January 22, 1965 to march for the right to vote. Charley Palmer's vibrant illustrations bring the story to life.

In Lillian's Right to Vote, we get the story of an elderly woman's determination to make her voice heard. As she climbs a tall hill to her polling place, Lillian remembers the sacrifices her family made to ensure that this precious right would be hers. The book is a 50th anniversary tribute to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Author Jonah Winter uses the hill that Lillian must climb to beautifully evoke the struggles of her ancestors to reach their goal. The pictures are by Coretta Scott King Award Winner Shane W. Evans.

In So You Want to Be President, veteran non-fiction author Judith St. George and Caldecott winning illustrator , David Small, combine for this updated version of the classic picture book that helps children learn what it takes to be the president. The book shares not just the humanity of our presidents, but some of the characteristics that make each of them unique. The illustrations are laugh out loud funny.

Senator Kristin Gillibrand of New York brings us the story  of ten heroes who won women the right to vote. The book highlights not only the stories of well known women like Susan B. Anthony and  Ida B. Wells, but lesser known names like Alice Paul and Mary Church Terrell. Gillibrand demonstrates that each woman has a lesson to teach us about courage and determination. The witty illustrations are by famed New Yorker cover artist, Maira Kalman.

This biography of Ida B. Wells by one of my favorite authors for young people, Walter Dean Myers, tells the story of the remarkable career of the African American journalist, abolitionist, and feminist who led a powerful anti-lynching campaign and later became involved in the fight for women's suffrage despite the opposition of some of her white suffragist colleagues. Myers' story highlights Ida's courage and persistence, while Bonnie Chritensen's watercolors provide rich historical detail.

Our right to vote is precious. It is never too early to read and learn about how that right has been fought for and defended throughout our history.