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It was the first day of the semester, and my Creative Writing professor asked us to introduce ourselves to the class. As part of the introduction, we were to name the book we were currently reading. I froze. I wasn’t reading a book at the time. It had been a busy month, and I hadn’t taken the time to read anything beyond a few news articles and the back of the cereal box. As my turn approached, I weighed my choices. I could either lie and name a book I had read in the past, or I could tell the truth and risk making a bad first impression. I’m a terrible liar, so I chose the latter. “I’m not actually reading a book at the moment,” I said, nervously.

About 5 million public school students in the United States today are English Language Learners (ELLs). National Public Radio (NPR) recently conducted a robust research project entitled 5 Million Voices, which set out to discover who these students are and how our public schools are serving them.

If you work with struggling readers, chances are you’ve encountered a student with dyslexia. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in the country. Students with dyslexia are smart and competent, but differences in their brains make reading much harder for them. While educators and parents don’t usually make official dyslexia diagnoses, they are often the first ones to spot the symptoms, which include trouble with decoding, spelling, rhyming, and phonological awareness.

Educators today are bombarded with recommendations on the most effective products and strategies. Whether you’re surfing online or talking to a trusted expert, countless others will claim to know what’s best for you and your students. As you know, the only way to truly know what is effective in your classroom is to try the recommended tool or strategy for yourself.

Everywhere you go these days, it seems that educators are talking about personalized learning. Defined loosely, “personalized learning” is instruction that is tailored to meet an individual student’s needs. The instruction is usually delivered via technology that can adapt to each student. Educators often ask us if our web-based reading intervention program, Read Naturally Live, is considered a personalized learning tool. Our answer is that it’s “personalized learning with a twist.”

What are the characteristics of a successful school? Educators everywhere have asked this question in hopes that the answers might help create an optimal learning environment for students. Over the past 14 years, the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) has done extensive research into this question as well. The studies conducted there led to a list of nine characteristics that were found most often in high-performing schools. Read on for a summary of the nine characteristics, as well as the many ways in which Read Naturally programs can help your school develop them.

Today, thanks to the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, more and more teachers are designing and sharing curricula. The digital revolution has given teachers better equipment to create materials, and it’s now easier than ever for teachers to share these materials with others. What’s more, many of these materials are available for free. To many teachers, the OER movement seems too good to be true—and then, inevitably, they wonder: Is there a downside?

How can we help those students who have not attended preschool and/or do not possess the same school-readiness skills as their peers?

Flip on the 2016 Summer Olympics, and you’ll quickly see that today’s athletes are the best of all time. Records are being shattered left and right. The best sprint times of Jesse Owens, once considered the fastest runner in the world, wouldn’t even earn him a medal today. And if you really want to be blown away, compare the Olympic women gymnasts of 1936 to the “Final Five” who captured the gold in Rio. To say there’s no comparison would be an understatement.

In elementary school, I remember participating in a reading incentive program with a simple premise: The more books I read, the more points I’d receive toward a reward. Because of the reward, my classmates and I were highly motivated to spend our free time reading. What’s not to love about a program like that?

There was just one problem. I could read a long, challenging chapter book slightly above my reading level in the same amount of time it took my classmate to read a dozen quick, easy books below his reading level. Who earned more points? My classmate. What did I learn? Quantity beats quality. Don’t challenge yourself.

The program had a fantastic mission, but there was an unintended consequence for me and many other students. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens often in schools. The only way to avoid it is for teachers to take the time to scrutinize the practices and programs they put to use in their classrooms. Are we doing things out of habit or because others are doing them? Or are we doing things because they truly promote learning? A good educator is one who observes and adjusts—constantly and relentlessly.

Make Your Student a STAR!

Read Naturally Star of the Month​Share your student’s success story—nominate him or her for our Star of the Month award. Win a Barnes & Noble gift card for the student and a Read Naturally gift certificate for your class!

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