Monday, August 27, 2012

Reading Research Monday: Exercise and Reading Achievement


With No Child Left Behind's push for increased test scores and the mandate of a 100% proficiency rate in all tested academic subjects by the 2013-2014 school year, many districts have been sacrificing physical education and recess to increase time in their limited schedules for expanded math and reading instruction.  The results of these practices have been mixed.  Certainly increasing the time a child spends on a given subject will offer more opportunities to learn, but at what cost?  Is removing exercise and play an effective way to improve test scores?

Research Findings

As this rising trend of sacrificing physical activity and movement continues, an increasing amount of research is being conducted on the topic, but more is still needed.  However, the current research available shows the positive effects of exercise and play on academic achievement.

In the research journal Education Policy Analysis Archives, Dagli's 2012 study "Recess and Reading Achievement of Early Childhood Students in Public Schools" compares the amount of time spent at recess and the frequency of recess with reading achievement in kindergarteners.  While there are some mixed results, the study finds that students who have recess three days a week for over forty-five minutes (broken up into three or more sessions) have the highest reading scores.  Dagli also suggests that students who are "exposed to both academic tasks and recess seem to do better than those who may be exposed to uninterrupted" academic tasks.  Dagli concludes that "providing daily and longer than 15 minutes [of] recess for students does not hurt their reading scores, nor does eliminating recess increase their reading scores."

A 2009 study led by Charles Hillman and published in ScienceDaily tests whether a single session of moderate exercise can increase student performance.  This is done by comparing results of students after resting for 20 minutes verses walking for 20 minutes.  The study finds "a positive outcome linking physical activity, attention and academic achievement" in the three areas tested: reading, math, and spelling.  The correlation between physical activity and achievement is largest in reading comprehension.  However, this can be due to the fact that the reading test was administered first.  Regardless, a positive correlation is seen in all tested areas.  This shows a positive relationship between student achievement and exercise.

Another 2009 study titled "Active Education: Physical Education, Physical Activity and Academic Performance" from Active Living Research finds that:
  • Physically active and fit children tend to have better academic achievement, better school attendance and fewer disciplinary problems.
  • Allocating time for daily physical education does not hurt academic performance, and regular exercise may improve students’ concentration and cognitive functioning.
  • In some cases, more time in physical education leads to improved grades and standardized test scores.
  • Physical activity breaks can improve cognitive performance and classroom behavior.


From Dagli's research educators can see that eliminating recess and thus spending more time on academic subjects does not increase students reading skills.  This could be partially due to what activities actually take place in that extra time, and it could also be due to students' waning attentions spans when they receive no break from academics. 

While Dagli focuses on recess, Hillman's study centered on exercise revealing that a positive correlation between increased reading, math, and spelling scores and exercise.  Similarly, an analysis of studies from Active Living Research finds that physical activity can increase academic achievement, cognitive performance, and improve classroom behavior.

While teachers, parents, and even some administrators may not be able to change the amount or frequency of recess and physical education, they can support children by providing them with opportunists to exercise or at least move more throughout the day.  Take a one minute "brain break" where students stand, stretch, and walk around a bit.  Have students stand and even dance as they sing the ABCs in early elementary grades or "De Colores" in Spanish class.  Get creative and get students moving.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reading Research Monday: How Early Literacy Skills Are Indicators of Future Reading and Writing Performance


Early literacy skills not only consist of the five essential components of reading, but of other, more foundational skills as well.  These other skills include print awareness, print motivation, readiness, and narrative abilities.  It is important for teachers and parents to be aware of these skills as they are necessary for building proficient and able readers.  While all of these skills are important, several are strong predictors of later reading outcomes.  This means if a student is proficient in these skills in preschool and kindergarten, then he is likely to be proficient in his reading and writing abilities as he ages.  However, the opposite holds true.  If a child struggles with one or more of these predictors, it is likely that she will struggle later on as well.

Knowing which early literacy skills are strong indicators for later reading success is crucial.  The earlier teachers and parents can create interventions for a child to build his early literacy skills, the more likely he will be able to become proficient in the necessary skills. 

Research Findings

In Predictive Validity of Early Literacy Indicators for Middle of Kindergarten to Second Grade by Burke, et al. (2009) correlations were found between kindergarten phonological awareness and first grade reading skills.  The study stressed the importance of monitoring phonological awareness in the very early grades (preschool and kindergarten), as poor performance indicates that interventions are needed.  If these low performing students can be targeted for specific interventions, then the issue can be corrected and "the word-reading problems as well as the poor reading trajectories typified by older struggling readers can be prevented."

Developing Early Literacy Skills: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel also examines early indicators by focusing on how children's skills and abilities are linked to later literacy outcomes in chapter two.  The NELP found that literacy skills "measured when children were in kindergarten or earlier... were substantially related to measures of decoding that were obtained when children were in kindergarten or later.  The NELP found three interesting correlations in preschool and kindergarten aged children:
  1. Reading readiness and concepts of print were most correlated to later reading comprehension abilities.
  2. Current spelling abilities, including invented spelling and decoding, were most correlated to later spelling abilities.
  3. Decoding non-words was most correlated to later decoding real word abilities.

The University of Oregon's Center on Teaching and Learning also adds letter naming fluency to the list of strong predictors.  In its discussion of DIBELS: Letter Naming Fluency the CTL emphasizes that this skill is "highly predictive of later reading success."  However, the CTL is quick to point out that directly increasing a student's letter naming fluency ability does not improve his reading outcomes.  Rather, letter naming fluency is an indicator that a student, "may require additional instructional support."

This doesn't take away from the fact that letter naming fluency is good predictor of later reading outcomes.  It is.  And it is also important to remember that the link between letter naming fluency and later reading success is a correlation, not a causation.  The reason it correlates so well is still unknown, but some believe it is due to other influences like parental involvement building pre-reading skills before a child enters school. 


For parents and teachers it is important to foster a rich learning environment that develops students' early reading skills.  It is also important to monitor how those skills progress and to intervene early if adequate progress is not being made.  In Examination of the Predictive Validity of Preschool Early Literacy Skills Missall, et al. (2007) stresses that "many early indicators are sensitive to growth in preschool and kindergarten."  Burke, et al. supports this by stating that "kindergarten is where a prevention-oriented approach... can have the most impact."

Essentially this means that if students lack the skills they need, it is much more effective to start interventions immediately while the gap between their skills and where their skills should be is relatively small.  If intervention is postponed, then low performing students' skills will remain low while their peers' skills keep increasing.  Remember that standards are a moving target - they increase as students age.  If a student starts interventions in kindergarten, the standard she needs to meet is lower than if those interventions were started a year later when she enters first grade.  With each passing year (or month even) the gap between low performing students and their on-level peers widens.  It is essential to start interventions early.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Next Reading-Research Monday!

This coming Monday's topic:  How Early Literacy Skills Are Indicators of Future Reading and Writing Performance.

Make sure to stop by and check it out!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Need a Good Book Recommendation?

Do you need a good book recommendation for yourself? Your child? Your students?  Would you like your students to be able to recommend books to each other?  Would you like parents to be able to see what books their children and their children's friends are enjoying? Below are 6 websites that will help you do just that.

1. BiblioNasium
A favorite of many teachers.  BiblioNasium is created for kids to "flex their reading muscles."  Free accounts can be made for kids, parents, and teachers.  Teachers can manage students by classes or groups, and parents can be notified of reading lists, reviews, etc.  Students can easily discuss books and see eachother's reviews.

2. Scholastic
Write and read book reviews without having to log in.  Search through book reviews by genre or by grade level.

3. Library Thing
Self-described as the world's largest book club.  It meshes a library catalog with a social networking site where you can tag, rate, and review books.

4. Good Reads
Along with searching or browsing for books by title, author, ISBN, or by genre enjoy trivia, quizzes, and quotes from a variety of texts.  Also, user generated lists allow you to search through "The Best for Book clubs," "Best Books of the 20th Century," and more.

5. Shelfari
Powered by Amazon.  Search by tags, most popular, series, lists, and authors.  The community provides insight into books and you can find members like you.

6. Figment
Figment allows you to share your own writing while also discovering new and emerging writers.  Groups, forums, contents, and more.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reading-Research Monday: The Current State of Reading in America


According to the Center on Education Policy's AYP Results for 2010-2011 - May 2012 Update, 49% of all public schools did not meet adequate yearly progress on state testing.  The No Child Left Behind Law and the subsequent national high-stakes testing that was ushered in under it is cause for much debate.  However, whether you are pro or anti NCLB, that fact that nearly half of the nation's public schools are not meeting standard should at least make educators pause to reflect.
Source: Center for Education Policy (AP)

In 24 states and in the District of Columbia, 50% or more of their schools did not make AYP in 2011.  This is twice as many as in 2010.  The state of Florida brings in the most disappointing statistic with 89% of its schools not making AYP.   

The fact that these schools did not make AYP is not necessarily due to poor reading scores.  Low scores in mathematics, reading, or a combination of both caused these schools to drop below what is acceptable student progress.  However, when examining long term data, trends in students' reading abilities can be seen.

Findings for Reading

From The Nation's Report Card, the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that fourth grade average reading scores have stayed the same for the last four years of testing data.  Since 2007, fourth grade scores have stayed constant and had an overall improvement of two points since 2002.  With regard to eighth grade reading score averages, the trend shows nudging up or down a point each testing year and only rising one point overall from 2002 to 2011.

The NAEP also examined trends in reading instruction.  Classroom time spent on language arts in fourth grade has stayed roughly the same between 2005 and 2011, with the majority of students receiving at least seven hours of instruction each week.  By eighth grade this time dropped to the majority of students receiving 3-6.9 hours of language arts instruction each week.

Statistics for fourth grade also showed a slight increase in the number of pages a student reads in class or for homework each day.  However, 20% of fourth grades read 5 or fewer pages for school each day.  This increases to 28% when looking at eighth grade statistics.  Percentages for how often students read for fun stayed similar within their grade levels over the 2005-2011 statistics.  However, 46% of fourth graders reported reading for fun almost every day while only 19% of eighth graders reported the same.  


Fewer and fewer schools are meeting adequate yearly progress for both math and reading related reasons.  Over the past decade, reading test scores for fourth and eighth grade students have shown little to no improvement.  Few if any gains have been seen in the number of pages students read for school related activities or for pleasure.  Additionally, students are less likely to read for fun as they age and less instructional time is devoted to language arts in higher grade levels.

With these dwindling opportunities to read, write, and interact with specific literacy activities and strategies in academic or personal settings, it is no wonder students' scores are not improving.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Latest Trends in Education

Flipped Classrooms

The main idea behind a flipped classroom is that students do their lesson at home and their homework at school.  Lessons come in the format of recorded lectures and examples that students may watch as many times as needed to understand the concepts presented.  Then students come prepared to class with the lesson in mind to do their homework.  This allows the teacher to assist and guide students as necessary as they complete their work, solving the common issue of not having proper help when encountering difficulties completing homework at home.  The prerecorded lectures can be created by the teacher or resources like the Khan Academy can be used.

Mathematics, science, and social sciences are leading the surge of flipped classrooms more so than English & Language Arts classes. 

Flat Classrooms

Imagine a classroom with no walls.  There would be no obstacles preventing students from seeing and being a part of the outside world.  This is the main idea behind flat classrooms: by removing barriers students can interact and learn from the world.  According to the Flat Classroom Project, the aim of this new approach hopes to create "internationally-aware schools [that] embrace a holistic and constructivist educational approach to work collaboratively with others around the world in order to create students who are competitive and globally-minded."  In other words by utilizing current technology, classrooms around the world can work together to help build students' academic knowledge while also building cultural and global knowledge.

Daily 5 and CAFE

The Daily 5 and CAFE (Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, Extend Vocabulary) are quickly being implemented in elementary reading and language arts classes, and Daily 5 Math is recently catching on as well.  The main idea behind Daily 5 is to not only build proficient students but independent students too.  Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, creators of the Daily 5, state that it is "more than a management system or a curriculum framework - it is a structure that helps students develop the daily habits of reading, writing, and working independently that will lead to a lifetime of literacy independence."

To do this, the Daily 5 uses literacy centers that students rotate to, and at each center students are empowered by different choices to practice various literacy skills (as determined by the teacher).

Other Trends?

What other trends are you hearing about?  What other trends are you using?  Do you have a flipped or a flat classroom?  Do you use Daily 5/CAFE?  Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reading-Research Monday: Reading Comprehension Difficulties: Where Do They Come From?


Since the purpose of reading is to gain meaning from texts, comprehension is essential to the act of reading.  If someone can read every word but lacks understanding after he has finished a passage, few would call that real reading.  Whether it is for pleasure or for academic learning, comprehending what is read is a vital component to the reading process.  However, this is an area where many struggle.  

Comprehension Difficulties: The Usual Suspects

When a person struggles to comprehend texts, his ability to decode words and his vocabulary (or more precisely his lack of those skills) are often the first to be blamed.  It is true that insufficient decoding skills and a poor vocabulary create comprehension troubles.  Certain groups of students encounter these types of comprehension difficulties more than others.  For example, Joan Sedita points out in Effective Vocabulary Instruction that students with limited or no knowledge of English, students who do not read outside of school, students with reading and learning disabilities, and students who enter school with limited vocabulary and reading skills have a more difficult time building their vocabularies.  Since vocabulary and comprehension are related, this puts those students at a direct disadvantage.

While decoding and vocabulary issues can be the cause of reading comprehension problems, they are not the only reasons, and others often go over looked.

Comprehension Difficulties: Other Reasons

Published through the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, Isabel L. Beck's Five Problems with Children's Comprehension in the Primary Grades highlights both decoding skills (word attack) and vocabulary skills (word meaning) as sources of comprehension problems.  However, Beck also discusses three other areas:
  • Fluency
    • Comprehension is impeded by halted, non-automatic, monotone, and/or hesitated reading
  • Syntactic Structures
    • While most students understand the syntactic structures present in oral language, the cues and contexts they use when speaking with another person are not inherently present in print
  • Background Knowledge
    • Students may lack the schema necessary to fully understand a given passage; this can particularly be seen when children encounter unfamiliar names and are not able to connect that it is a person doing the specific action
Nell K. Duke of Michigan State University presented Comprehension Difficulties at the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement's Summer Institute. Duke's presentation confirms Beck's conclusions while also adding in other possibilities for reading comprehension difficulties including:
  • Poor Short-Term and/or Working Memory
  • Difficulties with Oral Language
    • Speech and Language Impairments
    • Limited English Proficiency
  • Difficulties with Written Language
  • Lack of Reading Engagement
  • Lack or Poor Use of Strategies
    • Comprehension Related
    • Word Attack Related
  • Self-Regulatory Issues 
    • Lack of Metacognition

In all of the above examples, meaning of the text is lost as students struggle to form an understanding.

It is essential that teachers not only recognize reading comprehension difficulties in students, but teachers also need to understand that these difficulties can stem from different places.  One blanket approach to increasing reading comprehension will not work.  Specific interventions need to be chosen to meet students' needs.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Next Reading-Research Monday

Be sure to check out Reading-Research Monday.   

Next Monday's topic: Comprehension Difficulties - Where Do They Come From?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Free eBooks for Children, Teens, and Adults

Literally thousands of free ebooks are swirling around out there on the internet.  But how do you find them?  The websites and apps listed below provide a starting point for your search for the free ebooks you desire.


Project Gutenberg: search or browse through over 40,000 free ebooks
Free-eBooks: standard account lets you read five ebooks for free each month; paid account is unlimited
Daily Lit: sends small installments of a book through e-mail, so you read the book overtime, you set how often you get the installments
ePub Bud: Free children's ebooks published by real children; you can create and publish your own ebook as well
We Give Books: Many children's books to read online, plus for each book you read the organization donates a book to children in need
Children's Library: Over 900 books; search by age, type of book, length of books, etc.
Children's Books Online: search by first letter of the title
American Folklore: Folklore from the US, Canada, and Mexico
Reader Store: Over 100 free ebooks for teens
Aesop's Fables: ebooks and audio for about 100 fables


iBooks: Apple's bookstore
Free Books: Over 23,000 free ebooks to choose from
Unlimited Free Books: Wide selection of stories; writers can share their work
Kobo: Boasts 1 million free books
Alice for the iPad (Lite): Free version for Alice stories
Children's Library: App for the website listed above

Audio Books (Bonus)

Audio Books For Free: Hundreds of free audio books
LibriVox: Again, hundreds of free audio books; you can even volunteer to record chapters of books in the public domain
LibriVox Children's and Teen Lit: A small selection of audio books for children and teens

Do you know of any other great resources for free ebooks?  Let me know in the comments section so I can add them in.

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