Tag Archives: literacy

The Five Essential Elements of Reading…and Your English Language Learner Students

By Steven Rivera-Padilla – Guest Blogger

I began my fifth grade year in a small military town in Maryland, at a new school, knowing no one but my immediate family members, and I didn’t speak English. Most of my memories from that school year involve me sitting in front of books, of which one always included an English-Spanish dictionary. My teacher, Mrs. Diehl, knew how important reading would be to my success in learning the language and the curriculum. Reading became second nature to me that school year.

The lack of resources at that time surely made it difficult for teachers like Mrs. Diehl to work with students like me, but what has remained true throughout the years is that reading helps English language learner students learn their new language more quickly. Currently, there are *4.2 million English Language Learner students enrolled in US schools—and increasing every year—with an array of educational backgrounds. The ever increasing resources brought to us with technology has made teaching ELLs easier than in those past days.English Language Learner

Reading has five essential elements that must be understood before working with this special group of students if we want to close the language gap. They are: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension. Let’s look at each of these and how they relate to your ELL student and myON.

  1. Phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the knowledge and manipulation of sounds in spoken words. They are what one combines to make syllables. This can be difficult for English language learner students because they do not know sufficient English to tell apart sounds that are different from those in their native language. How do you accomplish this? Make students familiar with the English sound patterns by reading poems, do more read-alouds, and sing songs that use rhyme and repetition. This is why the mere action of the student listening to the teachers speak on an everyday basis is just as important.
  2. Phonics is the connection between sounds and letter symbols. It is also the combination of the sounds and letter symbols to create words. This knowledge is used while reading and spelling. As one can imagine, this will be difficult for an ELL student who is not literate in their native language and/or those whose native language has a non-Roman alphabet. The lack of English proficiency slows ELL students down when reading. So what should you do? Give them extra phonemic practice or have them create phonics notebooks to aide in the automatic recognition of words to build reading proficiency.
  3. Vocabulary development. Vocabulary development is the knowledge of words, their definitions, and context. This knowledge helps them recognize words and understand them. It’s important for students to read quickly, but more importantly that they know what the words are, their meaning, and putting the correct intonations. This is the reason we have word walls and labels around our classrooms. When speaking to an English Language Learner student, attempt to use synonyms so the student may make the connection and learn a new word in the process. For example, “Students, now we’re going to work on our conclusion paragraph—the ending or closing paragraph.” Also, attempt to teach your ELL student vocabulary with every chapter, even if they are the only ones doing so in the class.
  4. Fluency is the ability to read with accuracy and with appropriate rate, expression, and phrasing. Most educators will agree that when it comes to fluency, practice makes perfect. Individualized instruction to build fluency can be accomplished in a variety of ways: read aloud in class, assign independent reading time, and help them select or navigate myON for books that will both interest them and help their fluency. Books that are too difficult or beyond their proficiency will discourage and overwhelm English Language Learner students. Once their fluency improves, less time is spent decoding words as the focus shifts to comprehending what is being read.
  5. Comprehension is understanding meaning in text. How can we improve comprehension? Provide visuals, ask questions and have them make predictions during the reading process, and/or summarize what they just read. Individually modify what the student will read based on their needs and provide background knowledge before the ELL student begins the reading assignment. Remember, an ELL student’s cultural differences and assumptions based on that culture may sometime hinder comprehension. myON offers quick, five question assessments to check for comprehension after every book. Review those and work on areas needing improvement.

I consider myON the Swiss army knife of personalized literacy for my students. The student has thousands of books to choose from and the program has tools like audio, heritage language word look up, dictionary, notebook, citation creator, writing tools, graphic organizers, and the quick assessments after every five books read to check Lexile level and at the end of every book to check comprehension. Reading is fundamental in all content areas which is why it’s imperative to make it a priority for language learners. I have a feeling Mrs. Diehl would have really appreciated a program like myON back in those days…as would I.

 

* According to the National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education, statistic for the 2013-2014 school year, article updated May, 2016

English Language LearnerSteven Rivera-Padilla,  a Bilingual Education Paraprofessional with Hillsborough County Public Schools. He has spent years working with students from various countries and cultural backgrounds to ensure both English language skills and curriculum content is being learned.

It’s Worth the Struggle–The Power of Peer Reviews Using Digital Literacy Tools

By Billy Spicer – guest blogger

Students today write like they never have before-both in print and online. Young or inexperienced writers need to both observe proficient writers at work and share in writing events in authentic and well-supported ways.

One key element to guiding students in becoming better writers is finding ways to encourage their craft while allowing them to share their thinking in multiple ways.   The ability to provide meaningful and manageable feedback should always be on our radars as educators.  What should not be on our radar is spending hours correcting every misspelling and grammatical flaw!  Rather than disheartening students and their efforts over constant revisions, let’s collectively focus in providing encouragement to young authors to rework a different component, such as their lead or varying transitions. We can accomplish this right now in leveraging digital literacy tools like myON.  Let’s make the reading/writing bond even stronger through powerful peer editing. For when it’s done correctly, it can be the most powerful element throughout the writing process.digital literacy tools

Unless students are blogging(which they should be!), they are probably writing to a one-member audience in mind: their teacher. Boring! When young authors keep an audience in mind beyond a single person while also participating in focused peer review interactions, students can offer productive feedback, accept constructive criticism, and master revision. A brief disclaimer before moving forward: not all students are receptive to peer reviews! It makes perfect sense.  Depending on the existing classroom culture, students may be abrasive to the idea of having peers read their work and assess it. So, take caution, but more importantly, empathize with their feelings and “show them the way” through meaningful and authentic interactions with their classmates and through the use of digital literacy tools.  Whether or not peer reviews are successful or not in class partly depends on if their peers can help them see the benefits, and the importance of the process.

digital literacy toolsIn the image above, a Writing Task has been added to a project that is asking students to take a dive into some nonfiction texts with a focus on the structure used by the author. The stated objective included some guiding questions to help frame the task for the students. For this particular Project the Writing Task is the final piece, the assessment item that will help guide future instruction for the teacher while also providing feedback to the student in terms of growth. Here is where the writing task can become more than just a task: enabling the Peer Review feature!

digital literacy tools

Using peer review strategies, students will learn to reflect on their own work, self-edit, listen to their peers, and assist others with constructive feedback. It also becomes a more authentic route to ask students to revisit their work multiple times before stamping it as a polished, published piece of writing.  By guiding peer editing, educators will establish some key expectations: this is important, you can do it, and I won’t give up on you (even if you give up on yourself).

Real, authentic literacy growth can only occur in a community of learners who make meaningful connections. Peer review facilitates this type of social interaction and collaboration that is vital for student learning.

 

Billy currently teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. After spending a decade teaching 3rd thru 5th grades, Billy served students and teachers as an instructional coach. He recently spent time in the Bahdigital literacy toolsamas with the Shedd Aquarium where he lived on a research vessel for a week conducting scientific inquiry. Prior to teaching in Lake Zurich he worked at Walt Disney World as a member of the Animal Programs department in entertaining, educating, and inspiring conservation action. He facilitates a passion for literacy, passionate learning, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs. Authentic and purposeful technology integration is a non-negotiable aspect in providing students with the tools to be successful. Billy earned his BA in Elementary Education at Illinois State University and a MA in Literacy and Reading from Benedictine University. He also enjoys hot dogs, coffee, and his ever growing collection of records. To learn more about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom, follow him on Twitter-@MrBillySpicer

 

Assessing Reading Fluency–Word Recognition Automaticity

By Dr. Timothy Rasinski – guest blogger

In my previous blog I presented a simple approach for assessing reading fluencystudents’ word recognition accuracy.      Certainly accuracy in word recognition is important – you can’t read if you can’t decode the words in print.   However, word recognition accuracy is not enough.    Proficient readers are also automatic in their word recognition.    Automaticity refers to the reader’s ability to recognize words in text instantly or effortlessly.     When word recognition becomes automatic readers are able to move their cognitive resources from the word recognition task in reading to the more important comprehension task.

One outcome of automatic word recognition is an increase in reading speed.  As readers become more effortless and instant in their recognition of words, their reading rate will naturally increase as well.   So, reading rate or reading speed has become a simple way to measure word recognition automaticity.    Here’s how you do it:

Use the same reading that the student did for word recognition accuracy.   In addition to marking uncorrected errors, simply mark where the student is at the end of 60 seconds or reading.  Then, determine the number of words that were read correctly in the 60 second period; this is the student’s word recognition automaticity score and is usually stated in terms of words read correctly per minute (WCPM).

Now, because students’ reading fluency rate increases with age, you’ll need to compare their WCPM scores against grade level norms.  Fortunately, these norms are easily available.   Jan Hasbrouck and Gerald Tindal have developed a valid set of automaticity norms.  Below I provide the end of year 50th percentile norms for grades 1 through 8 based on Hasbrouck and Tindal’s norms:

EOY 50%ile Norm                       Threshold for Concern

Grade 1:               53 wcpm                                              40 wcpm

Grade 2:               89 wcpm                                              67 wcpm

Grade 3:               107 wcpm                                           80 wcpm

Grade 4:               123 wcpm                                           92 wcpm

Grade 5:               139 wcpm                                           194 wcpm

Grades 6-8:        150 wcpm                                           112 wcpm

These norms represent normal end of the year performance at each grade level.   So, for example, if you are a third grade teacher, your end of year goal is for your students to be reading at least 107 wcpm on third grade texts.     Scores that are say 25% below these norms should be cause for concern – such students are not developing sufficiently in word recognition automaticity to comprehend texts well.    A complete listing of Hasbrouck and Tindal’s norms can be found at http://www.jhasbrouck.com/ORF2005_dataBRT.pdf

Determining reading rate is a simple and effective way to measure word recognition automaticity.  However, I need to point out that directing students to read faster is NOT the way to teach automaticity.   When students are directed to read faster and faster they lose sight of what reading is all about – making meaning.   We want students to improve their automaticity (and speed) the way that you who are reading this developed your own automaticity and speed – through lots of authentic and engaging reading,   The more we read, the more automatic we become at recognizing words, and our comprehension and reading speed will naturally increase.

Word recognition accuracy and automaticity are critical for reading success.    And being critical, we need to monitor students’ development of these key competencies.  In my next blog, I will discuss assessing one last component of reading fluency – prosody.

reading fluencyDr. Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University and director of its award winning reading clinic. He has written over 200 articles and has authored , co-authored or edited over 50 books or curriculum programs on reading education. He is the author of several bestselling books on reading fluency. His research on reading has been cited by the National reading Panel and has been published in many high profile journals.

Wait, What? You Wanted Me To Do What? The Importance of Visible Thinking Routines For Student Clarity

By Billy Spicer – guest blogger

I strongly believe that the more transparent and explicit we are in communicating with students in what we view as exemplar work, the more equipped they will be as we apply the gradual release of responsibility. And isn’t that the end goal? To have students independently applying strategies explored in class, synthesizing data and stories, and ultimately creating new meaning? How we say it and what we say will determine the span of our reach, the authenticity of the message we construct and communicate, and eventually the gauge in whether we were successful or not as educators. I continue to be fascinated by the work and research from Harvard’s Project Zero: Visible Thinking Routines.  The work is a product research stretched across years of work concerning children’s thinking and learning, along with a sustained research and development process in classrooms.  Let’s take a look at just one strategy: SEE | THINK | WONDER through the lens of how reading workshop may look in an elementary classroom. Of the many visible thinking routines educators may find applicable to their instruction, this one speaks loud and clear to one aspect we all need to be aware of: close reading!

visible thinking routines

As educators continue to seek out authentic best practices for influencing student learning, close reading is often on the agenda. I’ve often overheard conversations where it is misinterpreted or misunderstood.  But what is it? And what does it look and sound like? Forget all of the Common Core stamped books and resources, because here’s the thing: there is no one-stop shop for teaching students how to think critically of a text.  The real answer lies within a varied approach centered around visible thinking routines.  According to Beth Burke, NBCT, close reading is, “thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep, precise understanding of the text’s form, craft, meanings, etc.”  When students are engaged in visible thinking routines they are more likely to create meaning in the content while also fostering meaningful connections between school and their own lives.

The routine has its highest impact when a student responds by using the three stems together consecutively, “I see…, I think…, I wonder….” Implementing or launching this routine in a shared reading or in partnerships can also prove to be a worthy venture because students will quickly see how others use it and apply it to their own use. Another implementation idea is to create a class anchor chart that displays the three driving questions students will need while engaged in their book or text passage.

  • What do you see?
  • What do you think about it?
  • What does it make you wonder?

As students enter the intermediate grade levels, the ability for them to use and cite text evidence becomes an important skill. Each of the three question stems can be further supported through text evidence which will result in a deeper understanding of the text.

For teachers that use myON within their literacy instruction, the use of the embedded literacy tools are all students need to apply this visible thinking routine! By color-coding each of the three stems, students can be clear and transparent what they see, think, and wonder. See below for one example taken from a book of a 5th grade student who was reading about states of matter within a physical science unit of study.

visible thinking routines

Billy currently teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. After spending a decade teaching 3rd thru 5th grades, Billy served students and teachers as an instructional coach. He recently spent time in the Bahamas with the Shedd Aquarium where he lived on a research vessel for a week conducting scientific inquiry. Prior to teaching in Lake Zurich he worked at Walt Disney World as a member of the Animal Programs department in entertaining, educating, and inspiring conservation action. He facilitates a passion for literacy, passionate learning, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs. Authentic and purposeful technology integration is a non-negotiable aspect in providing students with the tools to be successful. Billy earned his BA in Elementary Education at Illinois State University and a MA in Literacy and Reading from Benedictine University. He also enjoys hot dogs, coffee, and his ever growing collection of records. To learn more about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom, follow him on Twitter-@MrBillySpicer

visible thinking routines

Assessing Reading Fluency – Word Recognition Accuracy

By Dr. Timothy Rasinski – guest bloggerReading fluency

Reading fluency has been identified by the Common Core Standards as a foundational reading competency.   This means that readers must have a solid foundation in reading fluency before they are able to move on to deeper and more sophisticated levels of reading (e.g. deep reading).   The Common Core indicate that reading fluency is made up essentially of three sub-components – word recognition accuracy, word recognition automaticity, and expressive (prosodic) reading that reflects the meaning of the text being read.   In order to determine how well students are doing in their development of fluency, we need ways to assess the various aspects of their fluency.  In this blog entry, I describe a simple way to assess word recognition accuracy, the first component of fluency.

In order to read one needs to be able to accurately recognize (decode or sound out) the words in the text.   Clearly, if a reader is unable sounding out 1 out of every 10 words in a text comprehension will suffer.     How do we assess this ability in our students?  We’ve all heard about the five finger rule – is on a given page of text a reader has trouble with five or more words, then that text is probably too difficult for the reader.    While intuitively appealing, this rule is rather imprecise.   A page of text can have anywhere from 20 to 100 or more words.  Five problematic words can yield a word recognition accuracy level of 75% to 95%.  That’s a wide range that really does not provide good guidance on the appropriateness of a passage.

There is however a more precise way to assess word recognition accuracy.    Here’s how it goes.   Find a passage of text of about 100 words that has a readability (Lexile) level that matches a student’s assigned grade level.   Ask the student to read this passage orally to you.    As the student reads you follow along and mark any word recognition errors that a student makes that goes uncorrected.  A word recognition error is simply when a student gives a pronunciation for word that does not match exactly the word in print. For example, word recognition errors may include a student reading big for bag, dog for dogs, saw for was.     A word recognition error may also include words omitted by the student or words in which you the teacher have to pronounce the word for the student after they have examined or attempted the word unsuccessfully for a count of three.

Once the student has completed the reading you simply determine the percentage of words that were read accurately.    This can be done by dividing the number or words read accurately (total words in the passage minus word recognition errors) by the total number of words in the passage; and then moving the decimal two places to the right.   For example, suppose a third grade student is asked to read a third grade passage that contains 110 words.  She makes 6 word recognition errors that she does not correct.   To determine the percentage of words read accurately, we divide 104 (110 total words minus 6 errors) by 110 total words.   This can be stated as a fraction: 104/110, a decimal: 94.5, or percentage: 94.5 %.

Now you need to interpret this percentage.      Here’s a good guide to use:

91% or below:   Frustration level.   The reader’s word recognition abilities are not sufficient to successfully read passages at the grade level of the passage read.

92-98%:  Instructional level.  The reader’s word recognition abilities are adequate to successfully read passes at the grade level of the passage read with some instructional assistance.

99% and above:  Independent level.  The reader’s word recognition abilities are at a level that will allow the reader to successfully read passages at the grade level of the passage read without assistance.

Let’s return to the student for whom we earlier calculated her word recognition accuracy percentage.  Her score of 94.5% suggests that she is at her instructional level for grade three material.  As a third grade student then, we can assume she is just where she should be — she is able to read third grade material successfully, but may need some assistance and further instruction in word recognition.

A word recognition accuracy score of 99% for a third grader reading third grade material suggests this student has a relatively strong ability to decode words at her assigned grade level.  On the other hand, a third grade student who scores at say 89% word recognition accuracy is likely to have difficulty in word recognition of third grade material (and higher), and this difficulty is likely to cause difficulty in comprehension of third grade material.   Students who score at 91% or below when reading grade level material are likely to be in need of additional instruction and support in learning to recognize or decode words.

This simple protocol for assessing word recognition can easily be modified to gain more precise information.   For example if a student score poorly on a third grade passage, it is reasonable to check the student out on second or even first grade material to determine where the student’s instructional level is at.   Similarly, for the student who decodes well on the third grade passage, you may wish to have the student read even more challenging material to determine her instructional level for word recognition.

Word recognition accuracy is critical for successful reading.   With this simple method for assessing word recognition accuracy you can easily determine which students are doing well in this competency and which students may need additional intervention in this key skill.   In my future blogs I will share simple approaches to assessing those other two foundational competencies – automaticity and prosody.

Dr. Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University and director of its award winning reading clinic. He has written over 200 articles and has authored , co-authored or edited over 50 books or curriculum programs on reading education. He is the author of several bestselling books on reading fluency.His research on reading has been cited by the National reading Panel and has been published in many high profile journals.

 

Inquiry-Driven Student Choice in The Digital Classroom

By Billy Spicer – Guest Blogger

digital classroom

Creating a digital classroom is essential to engaging students in learning for today’s YouTube generation.  We all know the “one size fits all” approach does not work. Through the use of authentic tools that bring students personal choice in their reading journey, teachers can leverage technology to create a digital classroom environment that engages students and families collaboratively, fosters personal growth, and provide quality content to frame an environment to build life long readers and learners.

Full disclosure: student choice is messy! But here’s a secret: the messiness is proof you’re getting somewhere! You’re trying! I’m still tinkering, taking risks, and trying new ideas as well. But here’s what I have learned…

In order to support students’ ongoing literacy needs, teachers must provide choice based on the student’s interest, but more importantly, frame it with inquiry-based learning. When students are seeking answers and solutions to questions they pose themselves, true and authentic learning can occur.

When we ask students to seek solutions to problems of their own choosing, we are encouraging them to engage in deep learning through a process of investigation rather that the low-grade clerical work we know has a low effect in improving student outcomes. Meaningful topics that connect with the standards and learning targets within a school can provide opportunities for students to think critically and connect with larger themes.  And isn’t that what we are striving for as advocates for building lifelong readers?  Yes-Thinking critically while engaged in a variety of texts to the student’s interest that promote individual growth!

Students who own their own learning will be positioning themselves for their future, not the one they are often being forced into. Providing students with authentic choice goes beyond simply picking an item out of a menu. In that case it’s still the teacher who is ultimately directing the learning. Instead, seek out opportunities for students to be self-directed in taking charge of their own learning. Whether you are already on board with student choice or looking to get started, consider the following tips as a possible catalyst to dive in.

  • Readers get to select texts that are to their own interest and independant level while following the big themes within a unit of study.
  • Readers pose questions and then seek the answers through diving deep into the topic.
  • Readers leverage literacy tools to curate their own personalized literacy environment: sketchnoting, mind maps, journals, text annotation etc.
  • Readers get to choose when they want to read silently, participate in a shared reading, or listen to the audio version of a book.
  • Readers will decide on an avenue for sharing their findings and answering their own “big question”.

Purposeful and meaningful experiences that integrate technology is at the core of today’s classroom in seeking avenues to improve student learning.  When we provide students with quality resources and tools we are not only empowering them to drive their own learning, but  also maximizing their individual reading growth.  

To learn about some other applications in which I leverage myON in my quest to empower student choice in my reading workshop, please check out the video below!

Transitioning to the Digital Classroom

Billy Spicer teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. As a member of the district’s Demonstration Classroom project, he spends 50% of his time in the classroom, with the other 50% serving as a technology integration specialist. He enjoys facilitating a passion for literacy, passionate learning through student choice, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs.

Getting Back to School with English Language Learners

This school year we will be featuring blogs from industry experts who will share thoughts, ideas, and expertise around cross curriculum instruction in the  classroom which will include varied perspectives from teachers, researchers, curriculum specialists and literacy experts.

We will kick off this school year with Steven Rivera-Padilla,  a Bilingual Education Paraprofessional with Hillsborough County Public Schools. He has spent years working with students from various countries and cultural backgrounds to ensure both English language skills and curriculum content is being learned.

English Language Learners

End of Summer Blues

By Steven Rivera-Padilla – Guest Blogger

Like many of you, I am gearing up for the start of another amazing school year. With this, a plethora of feelings arise; I like to call this my “end of summer blues”. My emotions range from excited to sad (summer vacation is always difficult to part ways with!) to excited (a fresh start is always a good feeling) and scared (unknown challenges lie ahead tend to play tricks with your mind) to fearlessness (I can overcome any new challenge!). Although my brain entertains all of these emotions these last few days of summer, the one thing I want to ensure is that I start off on the right foot with my special group of students.

Unlike teachers who teach a specialized subject to a specific grade, I have the pleasure of working with ELL (English language learners) students from all three middle school grades. I educate my students throughout their three years of middle school, which allows me to see the growth they make. It is always very gratifying, and it’s also very rewarding to see all they’ve learned over one school year.

English Language Learners
Our computer lab is ready to go!

This group of students has two goals: learn English and learn the curriculum. This isn’t an easy task, folks! Their proficiency in the language directly affects how much of the curriculum they learn, therefore LEARNING English is at the top of the priority list. If we want these students to learn the language as fast as possible, reading is fundamental. We must have them work on gaining vocabulary through reading proficiency.

“If you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail.”  -Benjamin Franklin

This is where starting off on the right foot comes to play. By establishing a strong groundwork during pre-planning and the first week of school, I can provide personalized literacy and cross-curricular, individualized instruction through myON! I create a fun myON ELL group that meets three to five days a week. We meet during homeroom, study hall, and sometimes during their lunch time.

The first week of school, students learn how to navigate their dashboard, begin and complete project, and being that they’re English language learners, how to use the program’s dictionary tool to look up English words unknown to them in their native language. (As we like to say in the ESOL world, “vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary!”) I give students the liberty to choose books that interest them when they’re not working on a specific project. Heads up, sixth grade boys are especially attracted to the scary and gross book selections… whatever gets them reading!

I will then adjust the individual Lexile levels, create and look for already created projects that will work for each students’ particular needs, and see how some of these projects will work in other classes—yes, talk to your other subject teachers throughout the school year to see what they’re learning, and assign students a project that correlates. The process will become second nature after the initial week and this will allow you to witness the gains students make. This makes my end of the summer blues last just before the school year begins instead of all year long!

Here’s to a fantastic school year full of amazing growth with all your students!

 

Best Practices for 21st-Century Teaching and Learning

Best practices for 21st-century teaching and learning

By Lucas Gillespie, John Prchal, Ruben Alejandro and Lydia Withrow on February 17th, 2016

Early education

Ruben Alejandro

To give our students the best possible chance at success in a changing world, when I became superintendent of schools in the summer of 2012, I put together a team of administrators, parents and teachers to create a vision for the district called “Empowering 21st-Century Learners.”

We are making our vision a reality in two ways. I have a strong focus on early learning, and a big part of that is early literacy. We worked with our digital literacy platform to launch an initiative called “Zero to Three: Weslaco Reads,” so kids who are 0–3 can download books and read them for free.

We also teach robotics and STEAM starting in kindergarten, and are now including 3- and 4-year-olds. With the help of an engineer, our youngest students are building a Mars rover — a modular car that they can put together and drive. The rover will have a handle that controls a claw so students can learn by picking up blocks with numbers and letters on them. We will have mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and systems engineers to help build the rover and take it through an obstacle course. As far as I know, nobody in the world is bringing this level of STEAM and robotics to 3- and 4-year-olds.

To read the entire article, click here.

Ruben Alejandro is the Superintendent of Weslaco Independent School District in Texas, where he launched the “Zero to Three: Weslaco Reads” initiative in collaboration with myON.

The Reading Road Trip starts in your school!

As the creator of the wonderful book lists for the 2014 back-to-school reading challenge, we have asked our very own Nancy Stetzinger, Director of  to be a guest blogger! Ms. Stetzinger has an incredible history in the world of publishing! We look forward to future blog posts from her!

Reading Road Trip ThemeHave you heard about the myON Reading Road Trip Challenge?  It’s a great way to learn about your state, other states, regions and the U.S. in general. It’s also a great way to engage your students in reading and getting them off to a great start to the school year!

And personally speaking, it was great fun (and maybe a bit painful) creating these lists. I was on every state webpage, every state reading list page, www.awesomeamerica.com, and  www.statesymbolsusa.org.  But I learned a lot. And as a graduate of let’s say a few years it was so much fun and educational too!

US Map
Click on the map and each state has a book list & important facts!

Do you know :

  • How many states have the Honey Bees as their state insect?
  • How many different types of turtles are state reptiles?
  • Did you know that in Texas it is illegal to graffiti someone else’s cow?
  • Or that Utah is the jello capital of the world?
  • Did you know that Oklahoma is home to the shopping cart, the aerosol can and parking meters?
  • Did you also know that Maine produces 99% of all blueberries in the country?

There are so many fun facts and some silly ones to discover, but I digress…

The Reading Road Trip Challenge lists contain books across all grades K-12. They are a mix of fiction and nonfiction.  All fiction books have a reason for being there, they are set in the state, the author was from the state or they have appeared on the state reading list.  Nonfiction books help tell the story of the state, what dinosaurs roamed the area? Where did early settlers hide their treasure? What famous ghosts inhabit the White House?  What Native American tribes lived across the country? What famous people lived in the state? And let’s find out about sea turtles, box turtles and tortoises.

So as you set your students loose across the country don’t be afraid to branch out and incorporate reading and research. Ideas include:

  • One book per state and one key event in the state’s history
  • One book per state and one fun fact
  • One book per state and one important person per state
  • One book per state and an essay on If You Could Live Anywhere in the US

I could go on, but you get the idea…Take the Reading Road Trip Challenge and see the U.S.A.!