The Knowledge Gap Book Review

It’s no secret that I’m an education nerd. I’m drawn to all things literacy and curriculum. Over my last ten years in education I have seen a lot of different theories, standards, and curriculum come and go with no real answers about how to improve the knowledge gap.

The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix It, by Natalie Wexler, examines the struggles American schools face, how it affects students, and possible solutions.

As a reader, it usually takes me twice as long to get through a nonfiction education book because I need to take breaks. The writing styles of these texts are dry and I find myself taking social media breaks. However, I have to admit, Wexler did an absolutely incredible job making the content flow. I think a lot of that has to do with her breaking up the reading with real life examples from different classrooms, and history of curriculum in America. The change up in content definitely kept me engaged longer and allowed me to draw my own conclusions between the historical facts/accounts and the classroom examples.

While the title doesn’t mention literacy, this whole book truly dives into the deep end of reading and writing. As Wexler points out, reading and math tend to be the focal points in elementary classrooms because of state tests. Even though teachers may have science and social studies scheduled for once a week, it’s rare that those lessons happen because teachers feel the need to constantly hit on reading skills.

One of the main ideas is that using balanced literacy, leveled readers, and guided reading are not helping students improve their reading comprehension skills. The Reading Wars are discussed briefly, with both sides being explained. However, it is crystal clear that phonics based explicit instruction will help the majority of all students learn to read, including those who are English Language Learners, classified with a learning disability, etc. As a reading teacher I was doing a happy dance with the evidence supporting phonics instruction.

Of course, one can’t discuss balanced literacy without mentioning Lucy Calkins. Wexler makes a fantastic argument against the literacy guru that there are indeed flaws in this reading model (and writer’s workshop, too). Readers even “saw” examples in the sections where Wexler observed classrooms using this concept.

But, if balanced literacy is not helping students, then what will?

The author’s #1 point in the 263 pages, is that in order to improve reading comprehension, students need to have more background knowledge, which can only be accomplished by exposing early elementary students to science and history. Yes, some students have social studies where they learn about members in the community, but they need world and US history.

Students have a thirst for knowledge and want to be challenged. Obviously we don’t want students feeling overwhelmed and shutting down, but the classroom teacher is there to guide students. Students can handle advanced vocabulary if they are seeing it in content-rich curriculum. The point of the Common Core was to have American students build on their knowledge from year to year, which a content-rich curriculum does.

Wexler also mentions Daniel Willingham. For my loyal readers you know that I LOVE this man and his book Raising Kids Who ReadIn The Knowledge Gap, Willingham is referenced for his contributions to education and the cognitive psychology. Yay!

Finally, Wexler’s last point was about teaching writing. I will admit during college and student teaching I was always told to teach that writing is a process. I have never used Lucy Calkin’s writing units, but would instead make up my own assignments/tasks with fellow colleagues. The author mentions Judith Hochman, who experimented with a teaching method that started with sentences and taught mechanics at the same time, and has seen great success. Not only has this approach been proven to improve student writing, it has also increased reading comprehension and the ability to critique information they are learning. Hochman and Wexler authored The Writing Revolution, which offers a road map for educators.

WOW!

I have so many parts underlined and marked in this book that there is no way I can share them all in a blog post. However, I would love to share my favorite line.

“…the transformation from a focus on comprehension skills and reading levels to one on content and knowledge is beginning to take hold.” (Wexler 259).

Education is changing. The Common Core sparked that change and caused a lot of educators to look at their teaching methods. As the education world continues to evolve, we need to remember that even though we live in a digital age where students can Google anything, we still need to be providing students with information. Knowledge rich curriculum makes sense for today’s readers. If we want to see changes in our students we have to start looking at the elementary school classrooms.

I recommend this amazing book for superintendents, principals, curriculum supervisors, teachers and anyone thinking about entering the world of education.

To purchase the book click here.

 

Reading Assessments Offered by Little Reading Coach

Earlier this month I shared a post about the virtual services Little Reading Coach offers (click here for the post). Today I wanted to give you a little more insight into the reading assessment services that Little Reading Coach offers.

CTOPP-2

The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP) is used to assess reading related phonological skills. These skills include: phonological awareness, phonological memory, and rapid naming. A deficit in phonological awareness is often viewed as an indication of a reading disability or dyslexia. The assessment can be given to individuals from ages 4-24. If an individual has a deficit in one or more areas, he or she may have more difficulty reading.

Test administration usually takes about an hour (give or take). It provides data for parents that is not included in DRAs or running records conducted by classroom teachers.

Qualitative Reading Inventory- 6

This is an authentic assessment of a student’s reading abilities. According to *Pearson, “This popular resource provides graded word lists and numerous passages designed to assess a student’s oral reading accuracy, rate of reading, and comprehension of passages read orally and silently.”

Test administration usually takes about 1.5 hours, depending on age of the student. This assessment is used for determining reading level and reading comprehension.

 

Little Reading Coach offers both of these assessments virtually using Zoom. Students need to be in a quiet environment with access to a webcam, and preferably the use of headphones. ​Little Reading Coach can conduct reading assessments, but can not officially diagnose any reading/writing disabilities. 

For more information click here.

 

*Leslie, L., & Leslie & Caldwell. (n.d.). Qualitative Reading Inventory. Retrieved from https://www.pearson.com/us/higher-education/product/Leslie-Qualitative-Reading-Inventory-6th-Edition/9780134161020.html.

3 Easy Ways Busy Parents Can Help Readers

The alarm goes off at 5. You shower, get ready, pack lunches, make breakfast, wake the kids up, drive to sit in the drop off line, drive to work and start a jam packed day at the office. After work you run to pick up the kids, fly to football practice then dance class, rush home to throw dinner together, go back out and pick up the kids, come back home, eat dinner, get the kids in bed, try and catch up on social media and go to sleep.

Then wake up the next day and do it all over again.

It’s amazing how much parents are trying to cram into a 24 hour period. So how can parents help their kids with reading in the midst of every day chaos?

  1. Squeeze in reading time. This may sound overwhelming. How can you possibly squeeze 20 minutes of reading in before bed every night? Easy, you don’t have to. Reading can happen anywhere at anytime. While driving to violin lessons, have an audiobook playing in the car. Keep a book in the car and have your child read it. Same thing goes while your making dinner. There are always reading moments, it’s just making sure you’re prepared for them. Keep books around the house so they are within reach.
  2. Stay up to date on what’s happening in the classroom. Technology is amazing these days. Every teacher I know has a website that is jam packed with information. They include assignments, reminders, homework, etc. Dedicate 5 minutes a day (probably around 3-4 pm) to check your child’s English class website. See what the homework is, check out when the next quiz is. Have conversations with your child about specifics from class. For instance, if they have a vocabulary quiz, have them go over the words and definitions with you while you drive, making dinner, etc.  (are you seeing a pattern here?).
  3. Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. A lot of my middle school parents would sign up for parent-teacher conferences within minutes to ensure they got a slot. During our discussions, they would mention how they didn’t want to bother me with questions if it wasn’t parent-teacher conference time. Never, ever hesitate to reach out to a teacher with a question. Your goal as a parent is to ensure your child gets an education. If you don’t understand an essay rubric, or why your child scored low on a reading comprehension quiz, reach out to the teacher. The more you understand the more you will be able to help your child.

These three quick and easy ideas do require a little bit of prep work, but they all can be done on a smart phone and on the go.

Top 3 Resources for Dyslexia

The internet is an amazing place. We can instantly find information with just a few taps on a keyboard. However, with this simplicity comes an overwhelming amount of information, which can be hard to sift through. The majority of my pins are from these three websites.

Below are some of my personal favorite resources for dyslexia. I often use Pinterest to save specific topics I want to use in the future.

  1. Understood.org. Holy moly! This website is ah-mazing!! They are all about providing resources and information to families of students with learning and attention issues. Parents can chat with experts on specific topics (make sure you RSVP), join discussions, use personalized tools, and check out a tonnnn of resources. One of my favorite current resource is “8 Reasons Kids Might Read Slowly”.
  2. LearningAlly.org. I recently discovered this website after a parent mentioned it during a tutoring session. Learning Ally provides audio books for students with dyslexia and learning disabilities (for a fee). One of my favorite aspects of this site is the app that they have to make life easier for readers. Students can simply pop on headphones and enjoy a book without struggling to decode.
  3. The Literacy Nest. I shared my love for The Literacy Nest Blog last week (check it out here). For parents that homeschool, teachers, and tutors, this website provides incredible resources. There is a ton of information on dyslexia, tips for parents, spelling, etc. There is information on Orton-Gillingham (OG) and on the multi-sensory approach to reading. Emily Gibbons (the creator of The Literacy Nest) also has a Teachers Pay Teachers store where educators and parents can purchase worksheets and activities to help students. There is also a newsletter that viewers can subscribe to in order to stay up to date.

Each site offers unique information/resources for families and educators about working with dyslexic students.

Virtual Tutoring Services

Little Reading Coach was created to offer students and families individualized virtual tutoring. In case you missed the full explanation of my why, check out the post here. I’ve had a bunch of people ask me what virtual tutoring sessions include, so I figured I would take a few minutes to show you all that Little Reading Coach has to offer.

 

Virtual Tutoring for Grades 6-12
Provides tutoring for:
*Reading (comprehension, vocabulary, intervention, summer reading, etc.)
*Writing (paragraphs, essays, research papers, college essays)
*Note-taking, study and organizational skills

Tutoring sessions include:
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual tutoring
*Recording of session and tutor notes (emailed within 24 hours)
*Access to weekly read aloud (live or recorded)

Virtual Reading and Writing Homeschooling for Grades 6-12 
Daily course includes:
*Novel based individualized curriculum created by a Reading Specialist
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual course time
*Recording of session and teacher notes (emailed within 24 hours)
*Homework assigned daily
*Parent teacher conference once a month

 

Virtual Reading Evaluations for Grades 6-12
Assessments used:
CTOPP 2 for phonological aweareness
Qualitative Reading Inventory-6 for reading level and comprehension

Reading assessment/evaluation Includes:
*Conduct reading assessment(s) [2] I Hour Sessions
*Virtual Parent Meeting [1] 1/2 Hour Discussion Session
*Provide list of reading strategies and accommodations based on assessment data
*Suggest books based on assessment data
*Written report with findings from data collected

Virtual Writing Evaluations for Grades 6-12
Each evaluation includes a write up that can be shared with schools and teachers

Quick Write
*on demand writing (paragraph or essay depending on student’s grade level)
*Evaluation of the following skills:
-Content (writing on task, answer the prompt, textual evidence)
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Sentence Structure

The Basics
*on demand reading (grade level text) and writing (paragraph or essay depending on student’s grade level)
*Evaluation of the following skills:
-Content (writing on task, answer the prompt, textual evidence)
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Sentence Structure
*1 hour Zoom conference to discuss findings

The Works
*on demand reading (grade level text) and writing (paragraph or essay depending on student’s grade level)
*Evaluation of the following skills:
-Content (writing on task, answer the prompt, textual evidence)
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Sentence Structure
*Basic grammar diagnostic (knowledge of parts of speech, sentence structure)
*1 hour Zoom conference to discuss findings

Little Reading Coach can conduct reading and assessments, but can not officially diagnose any reading/writing disabilities.

For more information click here.

3 Benefits of Virtual Reading Tutoring

This year marks my 10 year anniversary of tutoring students! I have pretty much tutored in all different types of environments: in a tutoring center, at the library, at a student’s home, in a classroom, and virtually. While there are benefits to in person tutoring, there are also some fantastic positives for virtual tutoring.

  1. Convenient. Each family is incredibly busy. Football practice, swim lessons, boy scouts, etc., fill weekly schedules. One of the great aspects of virtual tutoring is that it can take place anywhere at any time. I use Zoom for my sessions, which can be accessed on any device (computer, tablet, or phone). There is no driving to a center, or rushing home to meet the tutor. Sessions can take place wherever the student is. In the car on the way to a soccer tournament, during study hall every Wednesday, or at home. I like to think of it as having a tutor in your pocket.
  2. Customize. Each child needs individualized instruction to improve their skills. As with teaching in the classroom, sessions can go in a completely different direction. Being virtual, the tutor has access to literally anything on the internet. Need a quick grammar worksheet to practice subject very agreement? The tutor can find one online, share their screen, and work on it with the student. Need to revise an essay? Both parties can look at the screen and discuss what corrections need to be done. Teachers are also known for having their own materials. Instead of trying to print out a copy, a virtual tutor can share their screen with the student instantly, which saves time and aggravation.
  3. Comfort. Having worked with students in grades 6-12 for years, I’ve learned that the most effective tutoring takes place when a student is comfortable. Some don’t like going to a center because they don’t want to see other students, have anxiety, etc. Virtual tutoring allows students to work wherever they feel comfortable. It can be at their desk in their room, outside by the pool, or in the car. Students like privacy, especially when they are working on skills they are not super strong in.

If you’re interested in learning more about virtual reading tutoring and to see what services are offered, click here.

Project Dandelion Book Review

My reader heart has been so happy the last few weeks with reading new YA books. Even better are YA dystopian novels.

Project Dandelion by Heather Carson, is a YA dystopian novel about the potential end of life in the US.

Katrina wakes up in a fall out shelter after multiple nuclear explosions have occurred. Like the other teenagers in the shelter, she has the Dandelion Gene, making her super adaptable. Like all heroines in YA dystopian novels, there is something different about Katrina. She tries not to get attached to the others (like her father told her), she uses her knowledge of survival skills to devise a plan for when the doors open, and she always seems to be one step ahead of the game.

The plot reminded me of Maze Runner, but a much more straight forward and quick read. I kept waiting for a plot twist with Nanny dropping a bombshell on the group, but the 14 days spent in the shelter moved along quickly. It didn’t feel as drawn out as The Hunger Games, which makes this a great read for students who struggle with reading stamina and comprehension.

While reading, I did have a few reader questions that weren’t answered. Why a dandelion? How does the government know the teens have this gene? Is there something more than these kids just being able to adapt well? None of these were answered in Book 1, so I’m curious if Carson will address some more of the back story in the next book.

As primarily a middle school teacher, I really appreciate YA texts that are appropriate for grades 6-12. The only little comment that raised a teeny tiny red flag was when Lark told James he just wanted to get laid. Personally, I think this will go over most middle schoolers heads, so I would still recommend it to readers in grades 6-12. There is a little bit of a flirting between Katrina and James, but it is purely innocent.

For more information visit the author’s website here.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.