The Reading Shift

By Deborah Williams

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You may have heard of “The Fourth Grade Shift.”  It’s the developmental milestone that typically occurs in the fourth grade.  It is when students no longer learn to read but switch to reading to learn.  The Shift includes “a change in automatic word processing, a crucial component of the reading shift theory.”  The report on the Science Daily website seems to shut this theory down.

Dartmouth researchers have analyzed elementary students’ brain waves and have concluded that the word processing of fourth graders does not automatically change at that time.  “Automatic word processing is the brain’s ability to determine whether a group of symbols constitutes a word within milliseconds, without the brain’s owner realizing the process is taking place.”  Actually, the researchers found that some of the word processing becomes automatic before fourth grade while others happen after the fifth grade.  That means that fifth and sixth grade students are continuing to develop their “neurological reading system.”

Lead researcher, Donna Coch, found evidence that “…at least through the fifth grade, even children who read well are letting stimuli into the neural word processing system that more mature readers do not.”  She asserts “teachers and parents should not expect their fourth-graders, or even their fifth graders, to be completely automatic, adult-like readers.”

Many states and localities use this time in children’s education to establish policy and interventions.  This video speaks to the issue and provides some tips for parents to help their children read better:

Topics: Child Development, Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Born to Learn

By Deborah Williams

Often, a person who is good at reading is not as good at mathematics, and vice versa; however, a new study described by Robert Preidt on the Everyday Health website shows, “Nearly half of the genes that affect children’s reading ability also play a role in their math skills.”  Generally speaking, heredity has a lot to do with how easy it is for a child to learn.

Despite genetic influences, the researchers found that there are things that can be done to improve a child’s learning.  Study author, Robert Plomin of King’s College London explained, “—heritability does not imply that anything is set in stone—it just means it may take more effort from parents, schools and teachers to bring the child up to speed.”

Topics: Child Development | No Comments »

Apprenticeship Program in California

By Deborah Williams

The economic situation in our country has caused a spike in higher education enrollment, but many degree holders still find it difficult to find suitable employment.  Michelle Maitre posted an article on the Edsource Today website about an apprentice program that provides on-the-job training, college-level coursework, and great pay for doing so.

The state of California has established “the largest apprenticeship system in the nation with about 54,000 apprentices training in more than 800 occupations, mostly in the construction trades.”  Surprisingly, the apprenticeship model, which enjoys great success in Germany and other countries in Europe, is virtually an unknown opportunity for most of California’s high school students and young adults.  They are not aware that going to college is not their only option.

This program is a win-win for stakeholders.  Programs like this one is seen as a way to satisfy the country’s increasing need for skilled workers.  The state paid part of the costs for training and the apprentices’ salaries, but the providers—often trade unions—pay the bulk of the costs of the programs.  They hire and train the apprentices.  Because apprenticeship programs are tied to community colleges, the apprentice earns college credit for the classroom-based instruction that they earn, and those credits can be applied toward an associate degree if the apprentice chooses to pursue one at that college.  The program can last from two to five years, but apprentices earn a good hourly wage for on-the-job training with the possibility of raises as the proceed through the program.

Apprenticeship programs are seen as a way to retrain workers in emerging fields.  “Rapidly changing fields such as health care and manufacturing are looking to the apprenticeship model to help provide a stream of well-trained workers.“

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More Participation in Summer Programs

By Deborah Williams

Edsource Today writer, Susan Frey, reports that among the number of families with school-age children, about one third of them had enrolled at least one child in a summer program in 2013.  Five years earlier, only 25% of those families had their children in summer programs.

The benefits of their participation are huge.  Students from low-income households lose more than a month of education achievement from the previous school year during the summer because their families cannot provide enrichment activities that help them to retain gains from the school year.  More participation in summer programs is a welcomed change that benefits the students.

The reasons for this increase seem to stem from a few possibilities:

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

The Future of School Libraries

By Deborah Williams

The abundance of digital media has caused librarians to rethink how they will serve their patrons.  Some public libraries offer previously unimagined uses, and the new uses are evolving.    MindShift’s Luba Vangelova, posted an article about an innovative school library that provides a glimpse into what the next generation of school libraries may resemble.  The library at Monticello High School in Charlottesville, Virginia has been re-designed, and it is not your grandmother’s school library!

Monticello’s library is not the quiet research space that we may associate with a library; it’s a “Learning Commons.”  Librarian Joan Ackroyd explains, “People no longer have to come to a library to get information, so the library has to get people coming in for different reasons.”  She and her staff made several changes:

It took a while, but students learned that with the new freedoms that such a resource provides comes responsibility.  At first, students weren’t studying.  Now, students have adjusted’ they even police each other if someone becomes too disruptive.

Teachers still can hold classes there if they want their classes to do research or if they need more equipment and personnel.

Despite a school population of 1,104, the library “logs more than 33,000 student visits per year outside class time…”  The Virginia School Boards Association in its “Showcases for Success” recognized the Monticello High School Library.

Learn more about another school that transformed an elementary library to a learning commons:

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Reducing Stress on the Playground

By Deborah Williams

Constant stress is a problem for many children, and it keeps them from learning.  Many schools have implemented programs that will help them to deal with stress, but a new study suggests that reducing stress can begin outside—on the playground.  This does not mean just providing more recess time.  The University of Colorado Boulder study suggests, “playing in schoolyards that feature natural habitats and trees and not just asphalt and recreation equipment reduces children’s stress and inattention…”

This study observed elementary students’ recess in wooded areas, fourth through sixth graders’ use of a natural habitat for writing and science lessons, and high school students’ volunteering as gardening at sites in Baltimore and Denver.  The results were interesting.  In the Baltimore elementary school, these were some outcomes:

Similar outcomes were noted from the Denver participants:

CU-Boulder professor of environmental design and lead researcher, Louise Chawla suggests that schools that want to provide natural habitats for students but have only built outdoor spaces should tear out some of the asphalt areas or create joint-use agreements with city parks and open space.

Topics: Child Development, Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Fitness and Your GPA

By Deborah Williams

Attention college students:  If you want an edge for improving your overall GPA, join a gym!  An article by Nina Friend on the Huffington Post website reports a recent study led by Michigan State University kinesiology and epidemiology professor, James Pivarnik, showed that among the 4,843 freshmen and sophomores who had memberships to MSU’s recreational sports and fitness centers were likely to have higher GPAs than those who did not.  Pivarnik reports that those with gym membership had cumulative GPAs that were 0.13 points higher than those who were not members.  That seemingly small advantage might “mean the difference to those students on the cusp of getting into graduate school or even advancing to the next academic year.”  Not only that, he noted that those students with gym membership “…had more credits completed by the end of their freshman year and stayed in school longer…”

The results of this study suggest the need for colleges to become more of “a healthy campus” in ways that some work environments seek to be healthier.  Pivarnik suggests various factors for healthy campuses in addition to gym and recreational facilities:  smoking, pollution, mental health, and feeling good about one’s self as a student.  He believes that colleges might have higher retention rates if they provide “adequate recreational and fitness facilities for students.”

Topics: College Preparation and Advice | No Comments »

Return to One Room Schoolhouses

By Deborah Williams

NPR writer Anya Kamenetz’s recent blog post reveals that the one-room schoolhouse, once the standard of American education, has suddenly become new in some locations.  The current version, now known as the “micro-school,” “is being touted as an important model for creating innovative, personalized learning experiences.  Such an environment, the thinking goes, can ease the creation of close relationships among teachers and students.  And it can provide an easy venue for experimentation.”

“Micro-schools” are organized into various structures.