Thursday, November 29, 2007

Reading's "Startling Decline" Featured on NPR

DOH! I meant to post this up when I heard it last week. But, alas, I'm getting old.

This report covers the NEA's new report on reading and the "startling declines" it indentifies. Nothing new here, but it reminds me that I have to download that report and see what's what. But I dig it when this topic gets national news coverage—enough Britney and Lindsay already! Jeez.

You can listen to the report here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wisonsin & Pods of Potential

Last week I had a thought while flying back from a fantastic library visit in Middleton, Wisonsin and was listening to the unsteady nose whistle of the man sleeping next to me in the cranial embrace of a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones: Man, there are a lot of kids out there.

Okay, granted, that's not particularly insightful or profound. And I wasn't even referring to Wisonsin, necessarily—although they have their share of backpack sloggers!

There's just something about flying over this vast country that gets you thinking about how many people are wandering around down there. And to meet all these great, enthusiastic kids who have read your books and want you to sign them is really sort of exciting and heady and humbling. And it got me thinking about the vast sea of young people out there; each kid is like some kind of bouncing pod of potential. Some will blossom and really do amazing things, while others—too many I'd say—never quite realize their potential. They get distracted, waylaid, sidetracked and lost for a million different reasons.

Let's faced it, our kids are not struggling for survival anymore, trudging across the snowy plains in hope that Dad or Uncle Walt bags dinner for everybody with a spear. Communities aren't being swept away by hunger, disease or drought. Heck, we've got the whole survival thing pretty well figured out. So are we taking advantage of that? How many kids today reach their potential? How many get half way there? How much could this country achieve, create, cure, discover, build, invent, and figure out if we all could just get close to achieving our potential?

If you're waiting for the answer, I don't have it. But I've got a feeling that the kids with parents who enourage them to read, sign them up for summer reading programs and sacrifice an afternoon to bring them to events where they can watch a real, live author-illustrator talk about the creative process and the joy of writing and they've got a much better chance at tapping that potential.

Kudos to those moms and dads who tip the scale in their kids favor!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Facts and Myths About Reading

Last week I was the "guest author" at Renaissance Learning's West Coast Conference in Sacramento, CA. The people from Rennaissance were very supportive and treated me very well—they also had really cool Wisconsin accents! I had a blast! I signed tons of books, met lots of great teachers and librarians and spread the news about the Joe Sherlock series to people from all over California, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.

If you haven't heard of Renaissance, they make Accelerated Reader (and other cool products, too). Accelerated Reader is a system of software quizes students can take after reading a book to test their comprehension and reading skill as well as chart their progress as a reader. It's also a great motivational tool that gets kids motivated to read more. When my books first came out, many people asked me if my books were "AR." At that time I had no idea what they were talking about, now I do. For some teachers and librarians, it's a key part of the buying decision. (I'd really like to take some of the tests on my books and see how I do!)

One of the things I picked up at the conference was a brochure published by Renaissance entitled "Facts and Myths About The Reading Gap and How to Close It." It has tons of good little factoids that are relevant to this blog. Here are a few nuggets of Truth:

Girls read better than boys. Fact.
The 2004 National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that in all assessed grades—4th, 8th, and 12th—girls scored higher in reading achievement than boys. Girls outscored boys by 5 scale points in 4th grade, 10 points in 8th grade, and 14 points in 12 grade. (Yikes! C'mon, boys! What's up with that?)

Boys don't read. Myth.
Boys do read—they just do not read as much as girls. Girls spend more time reading books than boys at every age starting in first grade, and the difference increases over time. (I know that's the case for grown ups, so the trend starts early!)

Boys read primarily nonfiction books. Girls read primarily fiction books. Myth.
While it is true that boys read more nonfiction books than girls, the vast majority of books both girls and boys read throughout all grades is fiction. (According to the chart in the booklet, the difference is only a few percentage points, almost statistically insignificant!)

Internet reading helps to improve reading about as much as book reading. Myth.
Studies demonstrate that students tend to scan Internet sites looking at headlines and key information, versus engaging in close reading shown to be essential to buidling good reading skills. A large-scale worldwide study to children's reading habits showed that of all the kinds of reading—such as Internet, newspaper, magazine and books—book reading is the single best predictor of reading ability worldwide. (So enough with the "but Jimmy reads a lot on the Internet!" stuff!)

Anyway, that's some food for thought. And just the tip of the iceberg of all the stuff I picked up. So let me know if you've used AR and how you've seen it help kids. And do let me know if you've taken the Joe Sherlock quizes and how you think I'd do on them!