Monthly Archives: June 2014

Slowing Summer Slide

Summer break is one important reason that low income children fall behind, losing as much as two months of what they’ve learned during the school year.  That loss can be prevented, according to educators and civic leaders at a recent forum. Parents, librarians, and other summer caregivers can all defend against students’ summer slide.

stop summer slide blog graphic

stop summer slide source blog graphic

“When it comes to learning, time matters,” noted Robert J. Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Educational Policy, at the June 10th meeting, entitled Anytime, Anywhere Summer Learning: Connecting Young Children and Their Families to Early Literacy Options, and co-sponsored by the New America Foundation and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “When we have that 30,000,000 word gap,” he continued, referring to the difference in the number of words heard by lower-income and upper-income children by age 3, “We know that summer learning is not just an option, it really is an imperative.”

New digital technologies can help in both providing opportunities for student review and giving adults – parents and librarians, in particular – ways to support young learners. At the meeting, PBS’ Michael Fragale recommended the PBS Parents Play and Learn app which offers games and activities in both English and Spanish with structure for parent participation. All speakers agreed that parents who are intentional about learning are vitally important to preventing out-of-school time skill loss.

With the emphasis on practical ways to obstruct the slippage, attendees learned about Arizona’s Read On program from Arizona Literacy Director Terry Clark. The digital myON library of 4,000 books is available to all of the state’s 360,000 students age three and older, online or offline, on computer, tablet, and other electronic devices. This summer’s goal is for each user to spend at least 20 minutes reading daily.

Digital libraries don’t entirely solve the problem for those who don’t have digital access, noted Professor Susan B. Neuman of New York University. When she compared users of two libraries in different neighborhoods of Philadelphia, she discovered “extraordinary differences”: ten books per child vs. one book per 300 children; one computer per child vs. one computer per 100 children. Further, that one computer – usually at a library –was in so much demand that several turns might be required to complete an assignment.

Agreeing that technology can help, Yolie Flores, Senior Fellow at the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, identified three critical components for erasing the learning gap: school readiness, school attendance, and summer learning. Those who are not at grade level by third grade, she added, are six times less likely to graduate from high school.

It’s important to keep children in the practice of learning, added Michael Fragale, and to understand that learning is not something that stops in June and starts up again in September.


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Reading Rainbow Reboot Finds Pot of Gold

reading rainbow kickstarter

LeVar Burton, good memories, and Kickstarter make a powerful combination. Instead of the 35 days Burton calculated he’d need to raise $1,000,000 to restart his popular series, he raised it in less the 24 hours. Initially intending to revive Reading Rainbow exclusively on the web, Burton has expanded his vision to include mobile phones, game consoles, and set-top boxes – and a new financial goal, in the same 35 days (ending July 2nd), of $5,000,000. As of June 18, the campaign has raised $3,832,723. He has also expanded the potential free distribution of the program from 1500 to 7500 classrooms.

Best remembered as Kunta Kinte in the 1977 TV miniseriesRoots and as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, LeVar Burton was the host ofReading Rainbow throughout its long run. He now owns the rights to the series and has already produced aReading Rainbow app for tablets. On the Kickstarter site, he expresses his concern for literacy and suggests that television is no longer the place to mitigate the problem, that children are watching other screens. “This isn’t a job for me,” he continues. “It’s a personal mission.”

To mount a competitive campaign on Kickstarter, the powerful crowdfunding platform, producers must promote their work effectively and offer prizes that donors will value.  Reading Rainbow contributors of $1500 or more will join Burton for a group picnic; $3000 earns a private dinner in Los Angeles (flight and board not included); $10,000 will bring Burton to a school of the donor’s choice, which will also be one of the first to gain access to the new classroom app.

At the core of Reading Rainbow are books, read by celebrities, reported on by young readers, seen sometimes as animation and others as documentary visits to relevant – and often exotic – locales. During its 23-year run (1983-2006), the educational series developed a devoted fan base and even though the target audience is 3-9-year old children, it appears that a lot of fully grown adults are looking forward to having it back on their multiple screens.

Rep. Katherine Clark Gets Specific about Quality Child Care

“High quality early childhood education and care is as close to a silver bullet as we are going to find to solve our economic challenges.” -Representative Katherine Clark

In an effort to ensure that federal funding is specifically targeted to improving the quality of child care and early education for ages 0 to 3, a group of U.S. representatives are backing an amendment to the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG), which was originally passed in 1990 to provide child care subsidy grants to the states. The Infant and Toddler Care Improvement Act, spearheaded by Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, specifies training and quality improvements for states that receive federal CCDBG funds.

Massachusetts Representatives John Tierney and James McGovern are cosponsors of the bill, which is the first Rep. Clark has initiated since she joined Congress mid-term, replacing former Representative Ed Markey when he took John Kerry’s Senate seat.  In 2012, while serving in the Massachusetts state Senate, Clark authored a law to ensure that all students read at grade level by third grade. During her time in the Massachusetts legislature, she also supported child health and safety legislation.

The Infant and Toddler Care Improvement Act requires states to implement one of six strategies to improve quality for the 6,000,000 infants and toddlers in family, relative, and group care:

  • Utilize the state’s highest-ranked child care providers as resources for other providers, to help them become accredited and/or advance on the state’s rating system.
  • Create networks of family care providers to provide technical assistance, training, direct services, and administrative support to parents and other care providers.
  • Create networks of specialists to provide training and consultation to child care centers, family child care homes, and relative caregivers.
  • Strengthen the workforce by supporting initiatives to offer providers basic training, high-quality professional development, and scholarships and coordinate with colleges and universities to ensure the value and availability of infant and toddler-related coursework.
  • Support inclusion of infant and toddler components in existing state ratings systems and improve parents’ access to information about high-quality care.
  • Any other evidence-based, high-quality initiative that a state determines will improve infant and toddler safety, development and well-being.

The bill draws on research describing the critical nature of brain development during the first three years of life. It also builds on experience in the field, including the 27 states (but not Massachusetts) that already have infant and toddler specialist networks assisting with training and technical assistance.

Senator Al Franken has proposed a corresponding version of the bill in the U.S. Senate. We hope to see more legislators, on the federal and state levels, voice their support and take up the issue of quality early education and care.

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Technology Tactics for Early Learning, at Home and at School

Child with Tablet from flickr“Technology is most productive in young children’s lives when it enhances their engagement in the rich activities of childhood — talking, interacting, manipulating, pretending, reading, constructing, exploring — as well as in children’s reflections on their actions and experiences.”

Take A Giant Step: a blueprint for teaching young children in a digital age, Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and Stanford University. 

Thirty-eight percent of children ages 0-2 have used a mobile device. Three-quarters of children 0-8 have access to a smart phone. The question is no longer whether youngsters should be exposed to the multiple technologies offered by our culture but how.

Given the ubiquity of screens, there isn’t enough professional development in technology, according to a report released in March by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit. The report’s focus is on how technology can be used most effectively to support learning and how teachers should be trained in using technology so that their students become discriminating users across the technology spectrum.

Opinions about electronic consumption range greatly, especially for infants and toddlers, but there is no question that screen time can add otherwise inaccessible perspectives and content as well as rich opportunities for individualized learning, especially if it is integrated with other subjects and is used interactively.

Educators can benefit from technology in advancing their own training (See our 4/23 blog post, Early Educators Learn from Instant Replay). To ensure optimal integration of technology both in professional development and in the classroom, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute created the Digital Age Teacher Preparation Council.  With the mutual understanding that–if used well–new technologies can enhance education, the council’s 22 nationally respected experts (including Denise Blumenthal, head of Educational Productions at Boston-based WGBH), believe that institutional accreditation should include new standards for integration of technology.

There is broad consensus among educators and media producers that technology is most effective with young children when it is used interactively and when teachers or parents are available to interpret, reinforce, and extend its lessons. Several large studies have shown that children will gain more skill in a multimedia curriculum consisting of video, computer games, reading and writing than in a standard curriculum – but only if the curriculum includes specific preparation of the educator.

Parents can help enhance media for their children by exploring and interpreting the event. The Cooney Center, in a report developed with Sesame Workshop and the LIFE Center, refers to this as “joint media engagement.” Optimally, the interaction is spontaneous and guided by the child’s interest and curiosity. A list of possible parent/child activities is provided by Shalom Fisch of MediaKidz Research and Consulting: labeling on-screen objects and actions; retelling aspects of the story; making inferences about characters’ emotions or motivations; evaluating on-screen events; tying objects to events in children’s own lives; and encouraging viewer participation.

In a world of ubiquitous media, the way that it is viewed and used heavily influences its educational value. Informed teachers and involved parents can make all the difference. 


Image from Flickr Creative Commons.