September 6, 2016

Education Stakeholders as Lifelong Learners

This is likely not the first blog post you've read about educators as lifelong learners. The reason: there's value in viewing learning as a journey as oppose to a means to an end.

We're conditioned in some ways to study material for tests and research topics for papers. The end-goal in both instances involves achieving a passing score. Then, many move on to the next imposed challenge. The cycle lives on in those of us who go through the motions. We follow steps and engage in processes prescribed by outside entities without reflecting on meaning and value.

Learning for Life Quote

There are moments when educators fail to question understanding, to apply knowledge and skills in novel ways. Upon reflection, it's helpful when educators adopt the model of lifelong learning. Though we don't yet have the capacity to ameliorate our younger selves, it is possible that educators, parents, and students advance as lifelong learners.

What does this mean? The traits of a lifelong learner are numerous; providing a full list of these would take up more space and time than we have. Since education stakeholders tend to focus on identification of appropriate instructional approaches and learning strategies, let's truncate the definition of "lifelong learner". Here's my version...

A lifelong learner is one who pursues problem-based research and 
performs experimentation to assess the fitness of possible solutions 
on an ongoing basis

How does it look? In short, we develop processes to learn on our own. We intrinsically seek and solve problems. Four phases are encountered during this journey. Lifelong learners (in any field) tend to...

  1. pursue problem-based research
  2. identify possible solutions
  3. examine solutions via experimentation
  4. repeat this process to address a new (or old) problem

Why is it valuable? Many education stakeholders benefit when one person adopts this model of learning. Stakeholder behaviors evince curiosity. For instance, parents model curiosity when they inquire about strategies to address academic challenges and behavior setbacks during parent-teacher conferences. Also, as educators, we manifest curiosity by offering alternatives to struggling families and peers.

Our efforts are not in vain, because lasting growth ensues. Five minutes dedicated to responding to a parent or co-worker activates dormant knowledge and skills. Weeks dedicated to researching strategies for a learning disabled student lead to permanent personal and professional growth, plus undiagnosed and borderline students benefit from the new instructional outlook.

Improving confidence, easing family tensions, facilitating learning, increasing performance, and bridging the transition to more challenging environments are borne out of the intrinsic motivation to view one problem through different lenses. 

As lifelong learners, stakeholders understand that no education is ever complete. We value professional development opportunities and look beyond these to seek solutions to immediate threats to the development of more independent learners. This is the mission of my firm, Jackson Education Support.

Custom products and personalized services offered for educators, parents, and students. Specialty subjects are literacy, math, and science. Schedule a consult to discuss challenges and goals here.

August 30, 2016

Remember to Remember: Reflecting to Change

Imagine you are preparing to teach students a new skill. You do your due diligence by researching and planning a stellar lesson. You have a clear focus and engaging activities. You rehearse the lesson format and feel confident. You begin the lesson, but as time goes on students begin to lose interest and goof off. The lesson ends and students do not grasp the concepts. You are left feeling frustrated and confused. Sound familiar? 

This scenario is common across classrooms everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you are a novice teacher or a veteran, it is  incredibly difficult when instructional plans go awry. As hard as it may feel, this is precisely the time when you have to remember to remember. Put differently, reflect on the instructional plan and delivery. Intentional reflection can be transformative if done on a regular basis. Consider the following during reflection exercises, especially when lessons are not well received.

Focus on the positive. It does not matter how much experience you have. There will be many times when things go wrong. Teaching is a courageous undertaking that requires bravery. Try not to be negative with yourself or your students. Avoid negative thoughts by embracing successful moments during a lesson. Find at least one aspect of the lesson that was successful. Did you plan a great introduction? Were students engaged during a particular part of the lesson?

Don’t take it personally. It is easy to take misbehavior personally, but this is usually a symptom of something deeper. Rather than focus on student behavior, reflect on aspects of the lesson that caused disengagement.  Also, think about ways to address similar situations in the future lessons. Was the activity explained properly? Was the amount of content too overwhelming? Really pinpoint where the breakdown happened, so that you can identify effective solutions.

Ask for help. Now that you have a positive outlook and you've pinpointed areas needing improvement, ask for help. Look for resources. Brainstorm with a colleague. Bounce ideas off of mentors. Seeking help from others yields a variety of strategies to improve engagement during lessons.

How will you practice intentional reflection?


A very special thanks goes to
guest blogger, Kandice Cole. 
Kandice is a writer, teacher, and education consultant. 
She resides in Chicago with her husband and infant daughter.

August 9, 2016

Literacy Camp Lessons

Members of the JE Community email list have received updates about the Summer Literacy Camp. Six elementary students from different local districts gathered to build literacy skill. During sessions, participants engaged in hands-on activities, discussions, and games. Topics included written self-expression, cause-and-effect relationships, and sequencing events. Everything was planned: lessons were meticulously detailed, activities were aligned with standards. Then, parents and students arrived.

As the Summer Literacy Camp unfolded, we found a groove. Students developed an understanding of behavior expectations. The volunteers and I learned to work together in a new capacity toward development of more independent learners. Everyone learned to support one another in ways that facilitated learning while promoting curiosity and creativity. Three lessons were reinforced during this experience.

Lesson 1 - Don't go it alone.
Involve parents and family members in the learning process. In addition to sharing preparatory activities via email before each camp date, a peer tutor was invited to improve student-teacher ratios. Camps are designed to be inclusive; that is, each participant is involved in each learning activity. Having support, whether in the form of peer tutors or other educators, enhances engagement and amps up motivation.

Lesson 2 - Embrace curricular adjustments.
View the lesson plan as an instructional guide, not a law. Remaining flexible is imperative to leverage spontaneous teachable moments. This is particularly challenging when time is limited, which is almost always the case. Though ideal, transitioning from one topic to the next as outlined in a day's lesson plan may not be possible. During Literacy Camp, scaffolds were provided while students completed advanced activities. The objective was to engage all students, to improve individual performance through preparation.

Lesson 3 - Take time to reflect and learn.
Educators and parents adopt varying reflection exercises. Some blog about their experiences. Others prefer to curate portfolios and visuals. Whatever your approach, moments of reflection are invaluable. These moments provide opportunity to identify areas in need of improvement as well as successes worth celebrating.

In true fashion, reflection on the Summer Literacy Camp resulted in a number of new strategies for supporting parents and students. Feedback from parents prompted development of Multiplication Circles, the first event under the Jackson Education Support Circles umbrella. Parents of students enrolled in 3rd through 5th grade are encouraged to register here.

Jackson Education Support Circles are designed to improve parents' ability to help learners complete homework and assignments. Share skills you'd like to revive via email.

July 26, 2016

Educational Support: Shaping My Future

I am young enough to recall specific pivotal moments in life that influenced personal choices along my professional path. Yet, I am old enough to reflect on how those moments served as a springboard during my journey. 

Formal education was rocky for me in the beginning. School was not easy. I, like many children who have trouble learning, deflected by misbehaving.  I remember being labeled by teachers and other adults; my self-esteem shrank.  I vividly remember the pain these labels caused.

 You're brave, strong, smart

Fortunately, a fourth grade teacher saw past the superficial and encouraged me.  At first, I applied myself simply because I wanted to please her.  Oh, how I yearned for more positive reinforcement. I became attentive in school and soon found I no longer had a desire to misbehave.   My grades improved, and I passed to the next grade instead of being held back as others had predicted. Eventually, I embraced my mother's love of reading. I viewed books as an escape from reality. I read everything - whether age-appropriate or not - to my mother's chagrin. My mother encouraged reading by purchasing books and newsletters within her limited budget. When I was of age, I registered for a library card at local library. The more I read, the more curious I became about the world and what it had to offer.  I would - and continue to - get lost in books.  

I also received encouragement from my grandmother to do well in school.  Due to her limited 2nd grade education, she could not offer assistance with homework, but she offered support. My grandmother purchased school supplies and attended every school award ceremony. This was no small feat because my grandmother had serious health issues; it took Herculean effort for her to be present.  Later in life, I understood the value of my grandmother's support and encouragement, the value of seeing her in the audience as I accepted an academic award.  Believe me when I say this: I scanned the audience until I found her beautiful face!  Even then, I knew that disappointing her was not an option. She made sure that I had an opportunity to have what she was denied. I was motivated to strive toward her expectations.

 Learning in Harvard Square

Yet another teacher took an interest in me and went beyond the call of duty by exposing me to museums, art galleries and higher education. She would often spend Saturdays with me at Cambridge Commons and Harvard Square "teaching" in a way that many classrooms preclude.  Because of her, I experienced the classroom of life outside of my neighborhood school. This stoked the flames that had arisen from reading.  

Due to the encouragement, exposure to unfamiliar experiences, and educational support received, I developed the self-confidence needed to overcome (what I believe was) an undiagnosed learning disability. Educational support was vital to propping me up so that I could achieve successes and persevere in the face of failures. We know that failures are part of life, but students have to experience success. A record of success is the foundation which fosters the wherewithal to power through obstacles, to once again relish the sweet taste of success. 

Without educational support, my life could have been very different. For these reasons, I am so thankful for a structured educational services provider like Jackson Education Support. This firm provides the  encouragement, exposure, and academic support needed to build self-esteem and promote success among students and citizens. 

Don't let your child's natural-born flame to learn be extinguished. Contact Jackson Education Support to foster your child's life-long love of learning.


A very special thanks goes to
guest blogger, Mrs. Pamala Feehan.
Pamala is a wife, mother, grandmother, and entrepreneur.
She has experiences as an instructor and director in academia.

July 5, 2016

5 Back-to-School Reminders

The Fall semester begins as early as August 8th for students in my area, so this post highlights strategies to get a jump start on the new school year.

Elementary and secondary level stakeholders, primarily educators and parents, will want to bookmark this back-to-school checklist. From school supplies and attire to reminders about back-to-school nights, this checklist promotes proper preparation to prevent poor performance in the coming school year. Some strategies on the list are reminders; others you may be reading for the first time.

School Supply Lists
As outlined by the GreatSchools Staff, there are certain staples students need across grade levels. These include notebooks, paper, pencils, and pens. I've gathered a couple of resources that offer grade-appropriate school supply lists below. We want to have these on hand for learners, so they're equipped to meet the challenges to come.
  • offers a printer-friendly list by grade level (K-12) or visitors can email the list to themselves and friends.
  • Office Depot & Office Max sell supplies online and in stores. Supplies are categorized by grade level through college; plus, there's a section for classrooms.

Budget cuts are a hot topic in education. This causes schools to shift responsibilities to families. Often, parents and teachers dole out funds for basic school supplies needed to succeed. The cost of school supplies adds up quickly for families already strapped for cash. This year, consider buying supplies for a family that's less fortunate. Implement a drive in your community. If you'd like to join the effort, Jackson Education Support is collecting school supplies to donate during Fall semester.

Uniforms & School Attire
Having access to appropriate materials and resources solves part of the problem. It's not enough for students to be equipped to play the part, they need to look the part as well. For younger students, this is less of an issue. Conversations with students about proper school attire may have lifelong effects. Discuss: What is proper school attire? How does school attire differ from street clothes or casual dress? Expose students to the notions that uniforms are intended to foster focused learning environments and that, in the absence of uniforms, wearing proper school attire has similar effect. In worst case scenarios, students learn to disagree without being disagreeable as they understand reasons behind the rules.

Back-to-School Night
When is it? Where is it? Who's my child's teacher? Who is my professor? These are a few questions to ask early on. When the big day arrives, make every effort to attend. Work schedules make this next to impossible for some. If you find yourself in this category, think outside the box. Think beyond parental engagement. Think family engagement! Often times, information shared early on is integral to student success. Share this information-gathering responsibility with family members and friends.

Prepare for student success with discussions centered on these questions...
  1. What are your goals for the course?
  2. What resources (e.g., books, websites, apps) will you use during the course?
  3. How often will you require homework?
  4. May I have a copy of the syllabus or pacing guide?

Build rapport with conversations centered on these questions...
  1. What is the best way to monitor progress toward learning goals?
  2. How can I support your classroom management system?
  3. When is the best time to contact you with questions or concerns?
  4. How can I encourage learning at home?

Academic Pacing Guides
Pacing Guides are tools used by K-12 educators to prepare students for state assessments. They're similar to syllabi handed out the first week of higher education courses. Classroom learning activities are chosen based on pacing guides. Lessons are designed based on pacing guides. Educators are also assessed based on how closely classroom instruction at any point in time aligns with grade-level pacing guides.

Mississippi pacing guides are available by an assessment company known as TE21, Inc. (Individual districts make these available as well.) TE21, Inc produces CASE Benchmark Assessments. Benchmark assessments gauge student performance during the school year; assessment results provide timely feedback to teachers and are used to inform classroom instruction. Though pacing guides may differ from district to district, consider printing the Mississippi Pacing Guides offered by TE21, Inc.

The goal of this reminder is that parents print pacing guides early on to prepare students for learning challenges. A student who struggled with fractions last year will like struggle with fractions in the Fall semester. With pacing guide in hand, we morph into a super heroes. As students transition from one language arts concept to the next, stakeholders predict the future by simply following the pacing guide.

Online Performance Records
We live in a data-rich society. Technology allows us to make data-driven decisions more quickly now than ever before, and educators are leveraging this fringe benefit of the 21st century. Districts aggregate student data in online portals. Parents access to student data in real-time by logging into these portals. Teachers share virtual (online) grade books that reveal attendance, missed or late assignments, and exam and homework grades. Applications like PowerSchool afford an opportunity to help students correct behavior and address misconceptions about content in a timely manner.

After viewing my top five back-to-school reminders, I hope you feel more prepared to help students bridge the transition from summer to school mode. Jackson Education Support offers a number of options to aid this transition that include exam proctoring, parent and student events, private tutoring, and writing assistance. Specialty subjects include literacy, math, and science. Visit to learn more.

June 7, 2016

The Top 3 Reasons I Teach

The reasons I teach are numerous. I could write at length on this topic, because the skill set required to effectively support learners is a lifetime work in progress. We adopt student characteristics to promote independence. Then, evaluate and re-evaluate the effectiveness of instructional strategies toward this end.

Supporting clients is a mutually beneficial endeavor. Implementing lessons that meet a variety of learning needs requires educators to abandon comfort zones; through growth we learn to effectively support this in others.

Personal and professional growth are mere strokes of serendipity. My top three reasons to teach involve helping learners leverage challenges, effecting generational change, and supporting creative freedom.

Leverage learning challenges
Whether education professionals, government officials, or parents, someone is expected to accept blame when students fail to meet learning objectives. When test scores are low, are teachers to blame? When homework is missing or incomplete, are parents to blame? When environments are unsafe, are administrators to blame? When students lack resources, is government to blame? We all bear some responsibility in each of these instances. Collective effort prepares students for success.

I teach because learners are not to blame. The learning process is influenced by environment. We assimilate behaviors and beliefs - good or bad, right or wrong - from peers and role models. Students often have little control of this process. Even adults have limited physical control. Many lack knowledge of pedagogy and androgogy, which help us understand education and learning (there is a difference). Through educational support services, clients gain deeper insight into effective learning strategies and master ways to leverage challenges.

 Equitable Education

Level the playing field
Adult education impacts youth education. Young people are often limited in the types of learning opportunities to which they're exposed. Proliteracy reports, "Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves." We know that literacy skill impacts math and science performance as well. As a consequence, children of illiterate and moderately literate adults are at risk of experiencing greater academic challenges. With each generation, legislation and societal advancements require the bar be raised in education. Ill-prepared, students are expected to meet more challenging learning standards at younger ages.

I teach because obtaining an education levels the playing field across socio-economic sectors. Systemic inequities experienced by those having low socio-economic status result in low grades and behavior issues. Students repeat grades levels as a result; some lose hope and drop out of school altogether. This downward spiral continues generation after generation. Helping learners leverage strengths to resist low expectations permanently transforms families.

Liberate minds
Practically from birth, children are trained to abandon their instincts. We know that the best experiences happen outside the box; yet, children are expected to hoe a designated row (and do nothing else). If they talk, they're punished. If they laugh too loud, they're ridiculed. If they question the status quo, they're marginalized.

I teach because confident students feel liberated to follow their passions. Supporting this process of self-discovery is our best chance for improving life as we know it. An insightful article in Harvard Business Review makes this point simply. Teresa Amabile acknowledges creativity is viewed as "unmanageable" and shunned by short-sighted leaders (and parents). Her notion of "managing for creativity" brilliantly communicates my approach to teaching. The objective is that learners feel encouraged in this way.

Essentially, teaching to the whole child is ideal. I want students to be college- and career-ready. The most successful individuals and organizations embrace creativity, so I aim to liberate minds. I want students to feel empowered to change their circumstances regardless of perceived limitations. Many need to view the playing field as level to pursue success (a conviction that's different for each person); they must feel their efforts are valued and valuable. Sustaining the wherewithal to overcome obstacles is made easier when students learn to leverage challenges independently.

 Teach to the Whole Child

Learn more about my education firm, Jackson Education Support, and schedule a consult to improve academic performance and increase confidence. Specialty areas include literacy, math, and science. Currently, popular services are private tutoring and writing assistance. Jackson Education Support options help learners of all ages move into more challenging environments.

May 3, 2016

The Secret to Student Growth

Do any of these sound familiar? Mindset is everything. Challenges make life interesting. Think positive thoughts. Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond. 

Time and again, we realize how outlook influences outcome. The wisest among us leverage this fact to manage stress and respond to obstacles with novel ideas. At age 19, Jessica Matthew invented SOCCKET ball to help those living in developing countries recuperate from power outages. She is quoted saying, "It's not just about providing off-grid power. It's about believing what you put into something can give you something in return".

All too often, the connection between outcome and outlook becomes clear in hindsight. More important, students may not have the skills to develop logical connections between effort and experiences. Honing this skill requires heavy lifting. Much work is required to change the figurative zebra's stripes, but it's possible.

The old way
Traditional views of learning tend to align with the fixed mindset, the antipode of growth mindset. Individuals with a fixed mindset believe they are defined by things they're good at; having a fixed mindset fails to account for the value of effort and the benefit of mistakes. Promoting fixed mindset qualities in students decreases motivation, causes disengagement, and stifles growth. 

The new secret
Today's psychologists and educational thinkers are rallying behind a way of thinking coined growth mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. Adopting a growth mindset requires one to become self-aware. The secret to student growth involves training students to monitor their thoughts; then, use results to strengthen character. 

 There is a difference between not knowing and not knowing yet. (Shelia Tobias)

Monitor thoughts
By reflecting on internal processes, we identify helpful and abandon harmful story lines. The following questions prompt student reflection.
  1. What strategies worked well for me?
  2. What strategies did not work for me?
  3. What should I do next time?
  4. Do I need some help for next time?
As educators and parents, we want to model growth mindset characteristics through reflection exercises as well. Consider making this internal process visible to learners by "thinking aloud", and challenge learners to do the same. Demonstrate the thought process needed to improve a second (third or fourth) iteration of a task.

Strengthen character
Knowledge of character strengths helps us improve those traits working against student growth. Equally important as brainstorming solutions with learners is doing so with a positive attitude about options. (This may call for above average acting skills, at times.)

Not sure where to start? Character Lab offers a number of tools to help. It's a great option for aggregating student and stakeholder feedback on growth. Character Growth Cards are similar to Report Cards in that they promote discussion about strengths and weaknesses; this helps learners leverage strengths to build up weaker skills. The primary difference between Growth Cards and Report Cards lies in the qualitative nature of the former. In place of alphanumeric scores, Character Lab's Growth Card reports qualify student efforts in each of eight character strengths (or character traits). An added benefit is the goal-setting feature used to collaborate with families, build confidence, and improve performance.

Character development is the secret to student growth. Developing character strengths is a strategy for addressing academic challenges and behavior issues. Contact Jackson Education Support to learn how we can help.

April 5, 2016

Summer Learning Loss is Real!

Heard about summer learning loss? This is likely a new term for parents and an all too familiar challenge for educators. Summer learning loss refers to loss of knowledge and skills over summer vacation.

Here’s how summer learning loss begins…

During summer months, many families opt out of academic summer activities. They are so excited to have a break from the "school year" there’s next to no time spent on reading about current events or practicing math skills. Instead, people prefer to reconnect on family vacations, plan cookouts with friends, and relax at home. 

Though you may not have heard of summer learning loss, you’ve likely experienced it. The week-long trip to the theme park… plus weekly trips to grandma’s house… combined with baseball and girl scout camps... may leave little time during summer months to review mastered skills and build weaker ones. By early August, anxieties swell. Parents hustle to secure copies of books, and fears of starting a new school year rise in students. A couple months into the semester, everyone is overwhelmed – teachers, parents, and students alike.

Summer Matters

What is it really?

First Lady Michelle Obama launched United We Serve: Let’s Read, Let’s Move in 2010 to encourage Americans to fight the summer reading gap (also known as summer learning loss). This effort is borne out of the fact that youth who do not read during the summer can lose months of academic progress.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that “for far too many children, reading achievement either stalls or becomes worse when schoolwork stops during the summer”.

It seems the magic number is 5! From the research published by the Department of Education to that published by RAND Corporation, reports confirm that children who read at least five books during summer months begin the school year on track.

Stopping the Summer Slide

Understand the impact
  • Math and spelling are the areas most affected by summer learning loss with students losing an average of 2.6 months (nearly 80 days) of math knowledge and skills along with an average of 2 months (60 days) of spelling knowledge and skills.
  • Teachers spend 4 to 6 weeks (about 30 days) re-teaching material students have forgotten. Addressing the effects of summer learning loss causes teachers to lose ground  when it comes to preparing students to meet benchmarks.
  • You may be thinking… families and educators that survive Fall months are in the clear... they’ve won the battle with summer slide. Though possible, it’s not always the case. This phenom doesn’t just impact performance in the Fall semester. High school curriculum placement and dropout rates are directly related to accumulation of aforementioned challenges.

Read at least 5 books over summer.

Take Action

Identify summer camps that emphasize academics. Locate summer courses that are convenient to attend; this may mean registering for an online course you’ve considered. Teaching others is also a great way to sharpen skills. Students volunteer with organizations like United Way to help peers and younger learners build skills over the summer in many communities.

Sports and the arts are vital to rearing well-rounded young people. Any environment that cultivates student desires offers a quality learning experience. But, we want to keep academics in the mix. It’s imperative that students strengthen literacy, math, and science skills during summer months.

Jackson Education Support has a history of supporting learners in literacy, math, and science year round. Support options include private tutoring, online tutoring, and small group events. If you’re in the Jackson, Mississippi metropolitan area, consider registering your child for Summer Saturday Camps. The Math Camp is scheduled for June 2016, and the Literacy Camp is scheduled for July 2016. Parents of learners entering grades 3 - 5 in Fall 2016 are invited to register here.

March 1, 2016

Literacy by the Numbers

Decision-making should be data-driven. Armed with the facts, educators and parents are more likely to behave in ways that achieve results. Accordingly, let's focus on literacy research and ways to leverage statistics. Stats are more than numbers; they should improve decision-making in classrooms and at home.

In previous posts, a number of data-driven strategies designed to build strong readers are offered. This post highlights three literacy statistics every educator and parent should know. The trends below are worth sharing.

 How much learning have you missed?

Attend class
Missing 10 days of school equates to 94% attendance and is the same as missing 60 lessons.

On average, students attend school 180 days each year. In the graphic above, we see a relationship between class attendance and school days missed. The take-home message is that attendance matters. The number of class days missed is directly related to academic performance.

Lisa Freds' article titled Attendance Impact offers an eye-opening explanation of the value associated with attending class. As students miss additional class days, potential for success drops. Children experience added challenges with each missed lesson. What's worse, those already experiencing challenges are likely to give in and quit.

Are there times when children have to miss school? Absolutely. Unavoidable causes include illness and the passing of loved ones. Avoidable causes include behavior issues and dress code violations. No matter the cause, adults can mitigate the impact of missed learning by planning ahead and taking corrective action. If a child misses a lesson, try these suggestions.
  • Discuss missed objectives and activities.
  • Share relevant resources to reinforce learning objectives during missed days.
  • Encourage lots of reading during down times.

Sacrifice now
Students who do not achieve grade level literacy by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who do.  

Our choices during early years set the tone for each student's future. It's challenging to express the importance of decisions made prior to third grade regarding reading, writing, and speaking. We can encourage or discourage development of higher level skills... instill self-governing behaviors or cede to children's whims... model positive attitudes about reading or shake our calling to promote student success.

 Why Reading By The End Of Third Grade Matters

Research tells us that performance in third grade serves is a predictor of many important aspects of academic and personal growth throughout a child's lifetime. In particular, those who do not read on grade level by the end of third grade are likely to struggle as they progress in school. What's more, struggling readers don't just struggle in reading. Math performance is affected. Science grades are affected. This domino effect happens because reading is fundamental to demonstrating understanding and skills. Students have to read homework, textbooks, and tests independently as early as kindergarten.

Whether students achieve grade level literacy by grade three also influences high school graduation rates. Third graders reading on grade level are four times more likely to graduate. Given that there are few viable employment options without an undergraduate degree and even fewer options without a high school diploma, it's imperative that we sacrifice now to develop strong readers.

Consider tomorrow
Surveys of Fortune 500 companies in 1978, 1985, and 1995 revealed trends in the evaluation of resumes. Compared to earlier years, the later survey found more emphasis on grammar and spelling than previously.

Speaking of employment opportunity, companies are taking steps to weed out illiterate applicants which raises the stakes for building strong readers. In the words of Dr. Steve Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, "Our children's unimpressive performance will make them among the least sought-after employees". But, it doesn't have to be this way. We can sacrifice now by filling our respective roles as education stakeholders.

I launched Jackson Education Support for this very reason. Visit the site to learn more.

February 27, 2016

Ten Ways to Encourage Reading

Encouraging reading for kids varies widely by each child’s nature and learning style. The ultimate goal transitions from learning to read to reading to learn to fostering love of reading. Encouraging children during the process results in adults who love to read.  

I have a 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. Whereas they read some of the same books to the point that I have to buy two copies sometimes (thank you Rick Riordan!), they require different kinds of motivation. The following Ten Ways help me encourage their growth.

1. Follow Reading Style
Once kids have learned to read, it is important to find out their reading style. 

My son loves math and the linear nature of solving equations. I found that he loved mysteries because they are also very linear by nature. Defined characters who solve crimes imitate step-wise, formulaic algebra. Focusing on love of a linear plot, we started with The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. Then, he discovered Clive Cussler and James Patterson. Both of whom write mid-grade novels as well as more well-known adult books. Once he polished off the mid-grade novels, he moved on to reading the adult novel versions.

2. Model Reading
If parents read, kids will follow. If there are books in a home, children look for their own books. Likewise if a parent speaks badly of reading or doesn’t encourage reading outside of school, a child may never see the value in picking up a book just for fun. 

I am in a mom book club that meets once a month. My middle-schooled aged son participates in Battle of the Books where his team answers questions about a pre-made list of books. Similarly, my daughter saw value in joining her own kid version of my mom book club. The girls choose books, read them, and met up to discuss over snacks. The book club model nurtures our love for reading, because we have someone with whom to share the experience. 

 Read Aloud

3. Read Aloud
My 10-year-old still enjoys read alouds. Sometimes, I read books that are slightly above her reading level. Other times, I read her old favorites aloud using fun voices. When we are in the car, audio books have the same effect. Sometimes, my daughter prefers to listen to books as she does homework.

4. Find the Passion
Ask kids what they like, and search for novel on the topic. If they identify with the character(s) or setting, children gravitate towards reading. This can be a non-fiction pursuit like marine biology or something more fictional about pirates.

5. Think Outside the Book
Sometimes a child will find an interest that falls outside the reaches of 'traditional child' or 'young adult literature'. 

My son loved studying WWII and quickly exhausted most age-appropriate literature. I found the Mr. Biggles series on Amazon. Long out of print, the books gave him a first-hand but personal essay style of reading about the war and a pilot’s experience. Around the same time, he wanted to learn about physics. I found the Graphic Novel Guide to Physics which gave him a more age-appropriate overview of the material. 

His sister loved the idea of mysteries as well but we had to look harder to find strong girl role models in mystery literature. She needed to read about a protagonist that she could identify with. We found the Enola Holmes mystery series involving Sherlock Holmes’s sister, a character who solved crimes.

6. Don’t Get Stuck on Reading Levels
My kids will often pick up a book that might be below their reading level because they are old favorites. On the other side of the coin, introducing a child to a book of interest at a higher reading level can strengthen and expand their reading skills. Reading books out loud to kids also can expand their reading comprehension level and vocabulary levels. As kids get older, the reading level itself becomes less important as most adult novels are written at sixth and seventh grade levels.

7. Introduce a Book Series
There's a reason we love sitcoms and movies with sequels. Introducing a book series can motivate kids to read more as their attachment to story lines grows. From Harry Potter to the Lightning Thief series, there are many options. Kids that are hooked on a book series continue reading.

 Open eBooks App

8. Provide a Multi-sensory Experience
After my kids read books, I frequently find the video or movie version of the book or other complimentary option. My daughter loved reading about Helen Keller and found even more depth in the books when she watched The Miracle Worker. The Junie B. Jones books and Lily and Plastic Purse books came alive when she visited the children’s theater to watch live theater versions of the books.  The Narnia series of movies gave both of them a fantastical view of the books to add to what they'd already imagined.

9. Supplement with Project Based Learning
Check out Scholastic for teacher lesson plans to add further dimension to the simple act of reading. Incorporating project-based learning projects with text-reading has a longer-lasting impact on learners. 

A science-themed book might instigate a trip to a local science museum while a crime-solving heroine like Nancy Drew may be complimented with an inexpensive spy kit. Also, kids studying Houdini might appreciate learning simple magic trips to identify with Harry’s pursuit of magic.

10. Encourage Questioning
I read books as a child that were probably horribly inappropriate like Clan of the Bear and Flowers in the Attic and Are You There God, Its Me Margaret. With many online sources offering parent and publication reviews, parents can examine content without reading ahead and also prepare responses to questions about sensitive subjects introduced in texts. Kids should feel comfortable to openly talk to us about content.

By taking a look at a child’s interests with an eye on expanding the reading experience, parents and teachers can encourage a lifelong love of reading.


A very special thanks goes to educator and 
guest blogger, Amy Barnes. She and 
her husband created ExitBoxMedia.

February 8, 2016

Get Your Child to LOVE Reading

February is American Heart Month! It’s only fitting to discuss an activity that, according to psychologists, eases tensions in the muscles and heart: reading

Reading eases tension

Losing yourself in a book is considered the ultimate means of relaxation, but it doesn’t come naturally. Let me explain...

We were born to speak, not to read. Children are reluctant to read, because reading is not a natural (or instinctive) function. Children learn to speak through exposure. However, they learn to read through intentional instruction (i.e., direct teaching of phonemic awareness, decoding, and comprehension).

Reading is easily one of the most difficult skills to develop. This in mind, it may be increasingly difficult for parents and educators to cultivate fondness for reading.

1)    Your attitude about reading is reflected in your child or student. Display enthusiasm even if reading feels like a chore. One trick I use: imagine something you’re passionate about as you describe reading. Even the slightest waver in the tone of your voice affects children’s perception of reading.
2)    Punishing children by making them read creates a negative stigma; they associate reading with ‘doing something wrong’. This impression spills into the classroom.  Replacing tablets with books can make children feel penalized, because they no longer have access to a preferred means of entertainment. Though this seems like a no-brainer, children may view the substituted means of entertainment – books – as dismal.
3)    Use interests to propel children’s love of reading. If your child likes a specific character, purchase books about that character. If your child has an affinity for a specific subject or animal, subscribe to a periodical that features the same. (Getting Highlights in the mail was an epic experience for me growing up.)
4)    Find post-reading activities. My favorite activity is to make Green Eggs using avocados after reading green eggs and ham. There are countless, easy-prep activities that foster a love of reading. Pinterest has a reservoir of pre- and post-reading activities.

Is time an issue?

Is time an issue? Try these two methods:
·         Car reading - turn mundane road trips into reading adventures. Whether to the grocery store or to visit relatives, pack your car with books on your child’s reading level. Keep reading level in mind, so children move through the text independently. Though bumps are expected, encourage your child to spell difficult words for help reading.

·         Watch books - leverage a routine activity to build reading skill by incorporating story time via online platforms like Youtube. Bath time and bed time are great opportunities to listen to audio books on a mobile device. Often, the stories will include humorous character narrative to engage children. If they’re laughing while learning, mission accomplished!


A very special thanks for this contribution goes to 
guest blogger, Jeannette Washington. 
Jeannette is the owner of 

February 3, 2016

Cure Unmotivated Readers

We know the benefits of reading, so let's challenge ourselves to make reading a fun experience for learners. If something is fun, adults are more likely to do it... So, why wouldn't this be true for children as well?

Intrinsic Motivation

Though unequivocal differences exist, adults and children learn in similar ways. Both groups must experience motivation to learn. Whereas adults are more motivated by responsibility to family and career, young readers are almost entirely driven by intrinsic motivation. This refers to the "WHY" behind what we do and how we do it.

Read with purpose.
Setting explicit goals is one way to promote intrinsic motivation. Though effecting intrinsic (or individual) motivation seems a futile endeavor, research on human nature helps us create goals whereby learners choose to do the "heavy lifting". 

Bringing your child's reading goals into focus is well worth the effort. Get to know the child. Learn what drives them to take action. Keep reading to learn how...

Research on Reading

Bring goals into focus.
Jeremy's teacher suggests that he read more often to build vocabulary and improve comprehension. Following a conversation with Jeremy, you learn he likes cars. He likes custom cars with "pimped out" add-ons, engines, and paint jobs. Your first thought is to buy a book about "pimped out" cars, and wait for his grades to improve.

However, a more effective approach involves setting explicit reading goals whereby Jeremy has input, attainment is uncertain, and short-term tasks are identified. To facilitate intrinsic motivation, these three criteria are integral:

  1. Involve the student.
  2. Ensure goals are not too easy and not too hard.
  3. Develop a hierarchical plan with phases.

What do we know about human nature?
Learners are more likely to take ownership of a project if they have a say in how it unfolds. This first criteria is straightforward. However, we don't want to release children to their own devices without providing guidance.

Guidance with setting goals should be data-driven. That's to say, parents and educators want to examine performance data and set a goal that's neither too hard nor too easy. Human nature prompts us to avoid overly difficult and ridiculously easy tasks. The brain wants to solve a problem or resolve inconsistencies. As such, goal attainment should be probable, yet uncertain in order to achieve optimal levels of intrinsic motivation.

We're also hard-wired for immediate gratification. Since development of reading skill is a life-long process, we increase intrinsic motivation to read by emphasizing the short-term. An ideal approach leverages hierarchical goal systems to demonstrate how short-term tasks relate to a long-term goal. In this way, children visualize how puzzle pieces fit together to form the bigger picture.

Make reading fun

How do we leverage goal-setting to make reading fun?
Jeremy's explicit reading goals as reported by the classroom teacher are to (a) build vocabulary and (b) improve comprehension. These are long-term goals. Let's transform the second goal into one that makes learning fun: improve comprehension.

First, we need input from Jeremy. What are Jeremy's ideas for building vocabulary? Depending on his age, he may have little to offer initially. Don't fret. Do research. Ask Jeremy to offer feedback on comprehension practice completed in class; observe his behavior at home for clues about activities that keep his attention.

Let's say Jeremy likes drawing or computer activities, so you challenge him to make comic strips that summarize each chapter of Cars on the Move. With this approach, Jeremy looks forward to reading about an enjoyable topic and drawing comic strips or building them online.

To recap... 

  1. We involved Jeremy in developing an explicit, reading comprehension goal. 
  2. Since he has the skill (but has not produced comic strips as summaries), it's reasonable to conclude attainment is uncertain. 
  3. Comic strips are to be created for each chapter (rather than after reading the 24-page book), so we addressed the need for instant gratification. 
As with implementing any plan of action, remain flexible. Adjust. You may find it's better to create one comic strip frame every few pages. It may be ideal to switch from creating digital comic strips to drawing them by hand. Jeremy may suggest a different summary activity altogether.

Jackson Education Support promotes intrinsic motivation by involving students in setting challenging goals. Personalized learning plans leverage student interests to improve academic performance.

Access a more recently peer-reviewed publication on this topic here.