Back to Books

Written by Elizabeth Gill

Do you have a stack of books that you have been meaning to read? How did that pile grow, what compelled you to purchase these books? What enticed you to buy those at the bookstore? Was it the clever title or interesting cover that sparked an interest?

Back to school season is upon us and as a teacher, it is an especially poignant time for me.  I love the new starts that it brings: new colleagues, new students, new parents, and new school supplies! 

Over this past summer, I have been reflecting on all of the places that I’ve been a teacher.  I taught in struggling schools in St. Louis, Missouri before moving up here and getting to teach in a top district in the Twin Cities area.  In each and every building, the language arts teachers are passionate about books and teaching students lifelong literacy skills. The differences have been in the resources given to teachers to meet that goal. 

Textbook-Only Teaching

The linoleum floor gazed up at me in all its green and cracked glory.  I had to be careful when I went to work with Trinity because her desk was next to a spot in the floor where I could see the brown subfloor, and I didn’t want to catch my heel on it again.  Surprisingly, the textbook on Trinity’s desk was brand new. I spoke with her teacher about it and the district had purchased the whole textbook suite, including workbooks, the year before.  It was a last-ditch effort to get reading scores up. But the single-use workbooks were not for students to write in. Who knew if those would ever be purchased again? To be safe, the teacher had those stored behind her desk.  There weren’t enough for everyone anyway.  

I was impressed by the textbook.  It had well-written stories by well-known authors.  The interior had full color illustrations and deep questions at the end of each tale.  

The students didn’t read them.  

Sure, they read a few stories as a class. Yet, there was no time for students to leaf through and find a story to read on their own.  The textbooks were heavy and thick. None of the students seemed interested in trying to find anything to read there. No other books were available.  During my year there as a student teacher, it was rare for me to observe students reading anything that wasn’t in the textbook or being read to them.  

They were 7th grade students in one of the most poverty stricken schools in the region. 

Fully-Funded Teaching

“Think of this as a book spa. We have our books organized by content level, reading level, interest level. With the district budget each grade can choose between 95 and 100 books and those will all be ordered for each ELA classroom districtwide.”

The sixth grade language arts teachers met as a group for an hour and a half surrounded by newly published books, award-winning books graphic novels and high-quality picture books. We were each able to take a cart and gather a collection of books that we thought would be great for our students and would connect with our students to build their identities as readers. We debated the merits of individual books and selected books that students would want to read and could be challenged by.  

When we went to scan the books and order them, we had enough money to go back and choose another book to add to our list.  Each sixth grade reading classroom in three different middle schools was going to receive 97 brand new, never-been-read-before books.  Each seventh and eighth grade classroom was going to receive their own stack. Oh, and a teacher that teaches seventh and eighth grade? She would receive almost 200 new books without ever having to buy anything herself. 

Book Access and the Opportunity Gap

You know that phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover?” 

Young students DO judge based on what a book looks like. Certain characteristics are more important to students than adults, particularly the age of a book, the pictures on its cover, and the summary on the back. These all work together to entice a student to read or, horribly, prejudice a student against a book.  Effective literacy programs embed choice reading, so more books that students want to read translates well into increased skills and abilities in reading. For school districts that have a budget tightened by poverty, teachers are the ones building the libraries out of their own funds. Direct donations of books and grants for buying books go a long way towards impacting the opportunity gap.  

As we think about the fresh beginnings that come with the back to school season, think about what you can do to freshen a child’s classroom library.  

Call to Action

Help encourage a child to read: The Junior League of Minneapolis will be helping all children enjoy the excitement of the Scholastic Book Fair by sponsoring the whole 3rd grade class of Partnership Academy, the school that HOMES partners with on science activities. At the September GMM we would love you to write encouraging words on book plates that will go into the front pages of these books. Due to the large Spanish speaking population in the school, our focus will be to include books in Spanish and about science. Kids will be able to choose their own books which is just as much fun as you remember!

Watch a documentary on the Opportunity Gap in Minneapolis: Love Them First – Lessons from Lucy Laney Elementary is a Kare 11 News Channel Originals Screening about a school in North Minneapolis. There will be a screening at Riverview Theater on 9/5 and on television on 9/12. Join the JLM at the screening on the 5th

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New Reseach On Minnesota Achievement Gap 

Minnesota Public Radio News has spent the past year looking into the reasons Minnesota’s Achievement Gap is among the worst in the nation. Through data and research it has compiled a summary of causes, implications, and solutions to explain why Minnesota’s students of color face an uphill battle in their attempts to overcome the Achievement Gap.

Please follow this link to learn more.
http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/03/07/graduation-gap-sources

What Can We Do to Boost Math and Science Statistics?

According to the National Math + Science Initiative, only 42% of fourth grade students and 35% of eighth grade students performed at or above the proficient level in mathematics in 2013. The National Math + Science Initiative also reported in the same year that only 44% of U.S. high school graduates are ready for college-level mathematics and only 36% of U.S. high school graduates are ready for college-level science. What do these statistics mean? It’s alarming that less than half of the United States’ population is performing at grade level and less than half are prepared for college-level math and science courses.

What can we do to help improve these statistics? The Junior League of Minneapolis (JLM) is actively working with students and parents through the H.O.M.E.S. (Hands-on Math, Engineering and Science) project. Students in grades K-5, along with their parents, are encouraged through positive learning associations and resources to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) activities further at home. By increasing the interest in STEM among students and parents, this is addressing the achievement gap in Minnesota.

One of the easiest ways to help improve these staggering math and science statistics is by helping students have a positive association with math, science and engineering. When students are excited and curious about a subject, they are more inclined to work harder and have a passion for it. The STEM projects set forth by H.O.M.E.S. are hands-on, creative and a lot of fun! JLM members are encouraged to sign up for a shift. It’s the perfect way to spark the love of STEM learning with students and to help decrease the achievement gap in the Twin Cities.

By Katie Runman

A day in the Life of a Between the Lines committee member

Frozen?  What’s that about?  Would a second-grade girl like the story?”  The innocuous question revealed a wealth of information about the woman standing before me.  For starters, she must be pretty isolated not to know about the highest grossing animated film of all time.  Second, she’s been outta the loop for quite a while: Disney introduced Anna and Elsa back in 2013.  The most important takeaway, however, is that she cares about whether or not a young girl would enjoy the story.

Over the next couple of hours, I record women as they read — everything from The Babysitters Club to Love You Forever — into a recording device.  Before starting, each woman opens with a personal message about how she misses and loves the recipient of the book: “enjoy the story, I miss you,” “hope to see you soon,” and “momma thinks of you every day.”
The last woman I record thanks me for spending a Saturday with her, and she praises the volunteers I’m working with, “it it’s so, so nice what the Between the Lines people do for Shakopee.”

Between the Lines is a volunteer-driven committee run by the Junior League of Minneapolis.  The mission of Between the Lines is to promote literacy and help incarcerated mothers//caretakers connect with their children.

Want behind the scenes information about the committee?  Four times a year, members bring books, tape recorders, and stationary to the Shakopee Correctional Facility.  The committee helps mothers do three things: 1) select an age appropriate book for their child 2) create a recording of the mother reading out loud, and 3) write a short note to their child.  A couple weeks later, at a ‘wrap party,’ Between the Lines members package and send the books, recordings, and personal letters to the children of participating mothers.

Between the Lines was established in 2010, and the organization has helped nearly 700* children connect with an incarcerated caregiver through reading.  To get involved or learn more about the committee, please contact beteweenthelines@jlminneapolis.org.

Post contributed by Jennifer Prod

2015 Minneapolis – St. Paul Community Report Card

While progress has been made to address the achievement gap there is still much more work needed. This week Generation Next released its annual report highlighting goals, indicators and trends in our community. Key insights from the report point to areas of opportunity and continued growth.

  • Less than 30% of the 762 early childhood programs in Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP) are rated as high-quality and the biggest gap is in licensed family childcare where only 8% of the 436 programs are rated as high quality.
  • While the majority of low-income children receive a screening through their doctor’s office, only 33% of three-year-olds receive the state-mandated Early Childhood Screening.
  • Approximately 17,000 students in kindergarten-5th grade are not reading at grade level and the majority are in the lowest achievement level—the “red zone.”
  • The percent of students in MSP meeting 8th grade math benchmarks has been steadily decreasing over the last three years—from 44% in 2013 to 39% in 2015.
  • Unlike many other outcomes, some student groups of color have higher levels of social-emotional skills than white students.
  • The number of students graduating high school in four years has been steadily increasing over the last three years—from 3,900 in 2012 to 4,200 in 2014.
  • High school graduation rates are increasing for every student group, except for the rate for American Indian students which has remained relatively flat.
  • Research shows the best predictor of a student’s likelihood to graduate from high school in four years is not race or income; it is whether or not they failed courses in 9th grade.
  • Dual enrollment course participation has a greater academic benefit for low-income and low-achieving high school students than more socially, economically and educationally advantaged participants.
  • Current projections in MN indicate that 74% of all jobs in 2020 will require a post-secondary degree. Currently less than half of students in MN and only 37% of students in MSP have a post-secondary degree after 6 years of enrollment.

To learn more please read the full annual report:

http://www.gennextmsp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Gen-Next-Annual-Report-10-15-2015.pdf

Study :: It’s Not Too Late When Kids Reach Adolescence

With all of the focus on early childhood education and the achievement gap, interventions for adolescents have increasingly been viewed as too costly and not worth the effort. A recent study shows why this assumption might not be true and how we can make a difference in the achievement gap with teenagers.

A University of Chicago research team is carrying out the first ever large-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) of Match Education’s tutoring program over two years with 5,000 students in 15 Chicago Public School high schools. This tutoring intervention is designed to address the problem of academic mismatch (applying the wrong intervention for kids who are falling behind and exacerbating the downhill slide), providing youth with high-intensity individualized math tutoring – two-on-one instruction for an hour a day, every day (“tutoring on steroids”) – designed to help them catch back up to grade level so that they can reengage with regular classroom instruction.

First year results show that participation in Match improved student math test scores by the equivalent of an extra one to two years of learning for the typical American high school student; reduced math course failures by over 50%; and reduced overall course failures by over one quarter.  See the summary here and a New York Times Op Ed here.

Post contributed by Sara Sternberger.