Education

Critical Thinking & Critical Reading

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern

Image of a young person sitting on the sidewalk and reading Contact.

Image of a young person sitting on the sidewalk and reading Contact.

When it comes to learning, critical thinking is a crucial foundational concept. Critical thinking is defined as an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action” from The Foundation of Critical Thinking.

Critical reading is another concept that is crucial, particularly for young learners. Critical reading involves the individual’s ability to recognize the author's purpose and intent. Knowing an author's biases, background and tone all play into understanding the words on the page to their fullest extent.

Critical reading and thinking work hand in hand. Being able to use critical thinking whilst reading, to remain open-minded and rational, heavily plays into critical reading. But how can we teach it to the upcoming generation? It’s good to begin with a question, like “what do you want to learn about this book or topic?” according to Wabisabi Learning. From there, you can incorporate literature to assist progress. This approach will help the critical thinking and reading skills, simultaneously.

At Words Alive, we believe that this marriage of concepts is extremely beneficial for all parties, those learning and those teaching. It shows we all can further our intellectual abilities just by looking a little deeper.

Social Emotional Learning

By Tait Loghi, Blog Intern

Many of you reading may be asking, “what is social emotional learning (SEL)?” Well, according to the Committee for Children it is defined as, “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” This type of learning promotes several areas of development for the next generation as they get older. For example, empathy, communication, emotional control and management as well as assertiveness are traits that are championed and taught through this method.

Starting back in 1995 with the rise of funding and interest in SEL, and by the beginning of the 2000s, SEL had been implemented in schools in all 50 states as well as internationally. In over two decades of SEL teaching, many studies have been conducted and they have found some amazing results. According to CASEL,  a “2011 meta-analysis of 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students, those who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11% point gain in academic achievement.” Clearly, SEL makes a drastic difference in learning for the children.

Here at Words Alive, we understand that the benefits of reading are multi-faceted and extend way beyond meeting literacy benchmarks. Children explicitly learn social and emotional skills through reading!

According to the article “Tips to Incorporate Social-Emotional Learning Into Everyday Literacy Instruction” SEL and reading can “serve as a model of how...Resilience, in particular, is a core SEL skill that translates well across subject areas”. Through reading, children and young adults learn how to be resilient, how to empathize with others, and how to believe in yourself.

Sources:

https://www.cfchildren.org/about-us/what-is-sel/

https://casel.org/what-is-sel/

How Reading Inspires Communities

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern

An image of a group of students in our Read Aloud Program excitedly holding up their books.

An image of a group of students in our Read Aloud Program excitedly holding up their books.

There are countless reasons why two strangers may connect, but one common reason that has connected all ages is the commonality of stories. As a child, when you discover that your classmate loves the same book series as you, an immediate conversation ensues. Being able to talk about characters, what they think will happen next and why they love the book as much as you do creates a bond.

This doesn’t go away with childhood, if anything it intensifies. Reading doesn’t only builds friendships, but entire communities. Words Alive, organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), GoodReads or just a classic book club are just a few examples of how the power of reading can bring people together. It may be the fact that every person reading the pages will take a different lesson or viewpoint than the next, and we as humans desire to know and understand one another through these insights.

Books also teach us life lessons that inspire us to do something good for our community. Organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance were founded out of a love for the Harry Potter series and have created a whole community of activists who are using popular stories to change the world. John and Hank Green are brothers (and both authors) who have fostered an online community called Nerdfighteria, a community that celebrates many things but chief among them is a love for books and learning. With the internet, it’s easier than ever to find and form communities around a love of books.

According to the journal, “Using Parent Book Clubs to Build a School-Wide Reading Community”, a high school class partook in reading aloud throughout the year. This allowed students to “engage in meaningful relationships and social interactions tied to reading, and these connections mattered to them. Students took these connections seriously, and they authentically acted in ways to contribute positively to the reading community.” Here, we can see what one could call book club within the classroom.

The importance in these communities may seem obvious, but there is more than just reading aloud and discussing books. Organizations like Words Alive understand that communities that value reading help build thriving and intellectual individuals and relationships among one another.  

Reading, literacy and all it brings is a powerful thing, which is why we at Words Alive are here. Through the passion of reading we have come together to show the importance and positive impact it can make on others. While reading is often done in solidarity, it has the unique ability to bring a huge group together, to understand and bond with one another.  





Read Across America 2019!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

A graphic featuring the text “Read Across America” underneath an image of the hat from Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat.”

A graphic featuring the text “Read Across America” underneath an image of the hat from Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat.”

Read Across America Day falls annually on March 2nd. The holiday was initially founded by the National Education Association (NEA) as a small way to help advocate for the importance reading among children by making it an exciting celebration. Twenty one years later, 3.3 million NEA members support the event. The holiday, which falls on Dr. Suess’s birthday, aims to motivate children to read more at a young age with the goal of creating lifelong successful readers.

The U.S. Department of Education found that, generally, the more students read for fun on their own time, the higher their reading scores. To help encourage this behavior, the NEA comes out with a digital literacy calendar with suggested books for various reading levels that coincide with holidays, events, or unique topics. Included in this calendar is also a list of suggested activities and resources to make reading a more engaging experience. The National Center of Education also found that children who were read to frequently were more likely to count to 20 or above, write their own names, and read or pretend to read, are all very important skills. Integrating reading into a child’s daily routine is imperative to creating a basis to build upon as they grow older.

As a day that is celebrated in many schools, libraries, and community centers, it’s a great opportunity to incorporate Dr. Suess and his incredibly popular children’s books. Thirty years after his passing, his books are still some of the most recognizable, visually intriguing, and entertaining books to read for children and adults alike. As an author who had fun with words and sounds, he helped children get comfortable with phrases they were unfamiliar with. Lines such as, “Then he hides what you paid him away in his Snuvv, his secret strange hole in his gruvvulous glove” encourage both adults and children to use context clues to figure out the meaning of “snuvv” or “gruvvulous” and how they work within the sentence.

Aside from encouraging children to infer, Dr. Seuss also included a lot of lessons in his books. From teaching children about treating the Earth with respect and the importance of sustainability in The Lorax to classics such as The Cat in the Hat, he was able to incorporate a lesson, big or small, into the book. The Cat in the Hat, perhaps one of his most iconic books, is featured in Read Across America media and the hat is even sold with some purchases to bring the celebration full circle.

Read Across America is a great way to help children get excited about something they may often associate strictly with school. Words Alive firmly believes that by extending the spirit of this celebration into an everyday commitment, it has the power to improve lives for the better. If you would like to learn more about the various ways we make reading fun and accessible to children of all ages, click here.

Finding Your Passion in College

By Grace Larsen, Guest Blogger

Image of a person standing in the middle of a library aisle, looking at a book that they are holding open.

Image of a person standing in the middle of a library aisle, looking at a book that they are holding open.

College can be daunting for many students as there is a lot of pressure to be “career ready.” Words Alive previously explored what exactly that term means, and it entails having the tools to obtain a job after graduation as well as being prepared to pursue apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Of course, all that is easier said than done. In order to be career ready, one must have a clear picture of the future they want to begin with. 

Therein lies the problem: for many of us, knowing what we want to do before stepping into college is far from easy. In fact, according to figures by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80% of college students change majors at least once. Another study found that students who started out in mathematics and natural sciences are more likely than others to make a switch. Each student has their own personal reasons for changing majors, but a common denominator is that they realized a little too late that their interests lie elsewhere.

All in all, switching majors has its pros and cons. One advantage is that you’ll be more satisfied knowing that you pushed through with exploring the path you really want. Changing majors also widens your knowledge of other areas of study because of the fact that you’ve taken classes in more than one department. However, the biggest con is that your college expenses can very easily rack up. Another is that you won’t be able to graduate on time, and will be spending more time in school instead of embarking on your career. 

This is why guidance counselors and teachers grill high school students about “finding their passion” so early in life: so that they can pursue their chosen fields and stick with them until graduation. Unfortunately, aiming to discover one's passion is actually the wrong mindset. To better understand why, let's take a look at a study by psychologists from Stanford University and Yale University, which points to two different theories. The “fixed theory of interests” is the idea that core interests are there from birth and are just waiting to be discovered. Meanwhile, the “growth theory” posits that interests are something that a person cultivates over time. 

These psychologists explain that students with the first mindset may waste their time skipping opportunities and foregoing lessons that aren’t aligned with their previously stated passions. Also, if a person is told that their interests are ingrained, they may easily give up on learning certain topics because of the belief that these don’t align with their predetermined interests.

Therefore, high school students shouldn’t start college applications thinking about finding their passions, but rather, to develop them. With the second mindset centered on growth, one can increase their knowledge in areas outside of pre-existing interests. In contrast to those with a fixed mindset, they would then form connections among new areas and the interests they already have. 


For a start, Maryville University provides some key pieces of advice on how to choose a degree program or area of study. They emphasize the importance of knowing a particular field’s median salary, projected growth, and the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded annually. Information like this can help you check whether you see yourself in a particular field years from now. You can then proceed to researching school options as well as other things like costs and location.

Again, it's important not to feel overly pressured to know for certain what you love and will continue to love in the future. It’s healthier to believe that passion is something that you create. This helps you tackle your chosen field with a more determined approach, and shapes how you will learn along the way. College may expose you to a number of challenges and obstacles, but a growth mindset can keep you focused on building your passion.

Learn more about our work with college students through the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program here!

Life Lessons Learned From Popular Children's Books

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax is standing on a tree stump and text on the images says, “‘Mister!’ he said with a sawdusty sneeze, ‘I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.’”

An image from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax is standing on a tree stump and text on the images says, “‘Mister!’ he said with a sawdusty sneeze, ‘I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.’”

If you think back on some of your favorite books as a child, or the books you read to your own family members and loved ones, there’s likely some stories or motifs that stick out in your memory. Examples of popular themes in children’s books include not getting to bed on time and all of the chaos it can create, what eating too much food can cause, or why being nice to siblings can bring positive experiences. These subtle themes introduce new ideas to children as well as humanize lessons for them.

Some books take these lessons even further by relating them to some of the “Golden Rules” or basic social skills that children should learn when they are young. Aesop’s Fables is perhaps one of the most famous for popularizing these ideas for children, but it’s a common practice among popular contemporary children’s literature. Take a look at some of the examples below that you may have not realized subtly suggest a larger life lesson to children.

“The Rainbow Fish” by Marcus Pfister follows the story of a beautiful rainbow fish who keeps his beautiful scales to himself instead of sharing them with the other fish, leaving him with no friends. By the end of the book, the fish learns that giving the other fish some of his scales made him friends, thus embodying the “sharing is caring” motto we often teach children.

“Corduroy” by Don Freeman depicts the story of a teddy bear who goes on a hunt for his missing button that he believes he needs for any child to love him enough to buy him. After an adventure-filled and fruitless excursion for another button, a little girl buys him and loves him for his flaws. This book touches on the lesson that no one is perfect and everyone has flaws; it’s just about learning to love yourself as you are.

No children’s book list would be complete without a book from Dr. Seuss. “The Lorax”, perhaps one of his more popular and pertinent books, is a cautionary tale about treating the Earth with respect. It follows a child and his discovery to how his previously breathtaking town came to become such a desolate and destructed area. This book not only teaches children about the importance of sustainability and moderation, there’s also an overarching theme about the importance of learning from the past.

Words Alive knows that there are countless more benefits to reading aloud to children. In addition to introducing life lessons to them, reading aloud can also support their overall knowledge of books in general, cadence of reading a book, and vocabulary. If you would like to support our journey in ensuring more children are able to participate in the experience of reading aloud, you can visit our Read Aloud Program homepage here to learn more.



The Rise of Reading Aloud

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image from our Champions for Youth Read Aloud event. A group of students stare intently at a book that is being help open by a member of the PGA Wives Association.

An image from our Champions for Youth Read Aloud event. A group of students stare intently at a book that is being help open by a member of the PGA Wives Association.

Scholastic recently published their bi-annual report on reading aloud. The report focused on the prevalence of reading aloud in the home, at what age this is most common, and the implications of the study.

The Rise of Read Aloud: Summary

When the study was first conducted in 2014, the percentage of babies younger than 3 months old who were read aloud to was 30%. Four years later, this has increased to 43%. Additionally, the percentage of children younger than one year who are read to has increased from 73% to 77% in 2018. It’s noted that this study began the year that the American Academy of Pediatrics began encouraging parents to read to their children beginning at birth. Despite the possible reasons behind why there has been a rise in the number of children who are read aloud to, it is a positive trend that helps to prepare babies and young children with language skills that will be important in their lives.

When asking the parents and children about how much they enjoy the reading aloud experience, the trend is also positive, with over 80% of children and parents rating read aloud time as something they “love” or “like a lot”. Several different benefits of the read aloud experience were referenced by the survey participants, from activities such as picking out the books to the talking and laughing that the whole family gets involved in. Asking questions and making sound effects are also part of the read aloud experience that is measured in the study, as these are positive actions for both the reader and audience to participate in.

Where the Opportunities Remain

The study shows that the practice of reading aloud peaks at the age of five, lessening around the time that the child enters kindergarten and can read on their own. However, at this age there is still much to learn in terms of vocabulary, writing styles, and plot. The article points out that continuing to frequently read aloud beyond this point is a key factor in predicting whether or not children ages 6-11 will be frequent readers (which we knows leads to better educational and social outcomes).

Lower-income families with children ages eight and under read aloud less frequently; 39% of families with household incomes less than $35,000 read aloud to their children 5-7 times a week compared to 62% among families with incomes of $100,000 or more. Lower-income families with kids ages five and under are also less likely to have received information on the importance of reading aloud from birth.

At Words Alive, we understand the importance of reading aloud, and in fact have a whole program dedicated to helping children become lifelong readers by participating in engaging read aloud session with our volunteers. Also, our Family Literacy Program focuses on educating participants about why reading is an important family activity. If you would like to learn more about our programs, click here

Read Scholastic’s full study here: https://www.scholastic.com/sites/readaloud/

What Are Wordless Books?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Wordless Books Post.jpg

What Are Wordless Children’s Books and Where Can I Find Them?

Wordless children’s books rely on illustrations to tell the story and allow children to create their own narrative in their head. These books may have no words at all or may have just a few words on each page. Wordless books are commonly found in school and public libraries and can cater to children of all ages in elementary school. Popular examples include The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, and Journey by Aaron Becker.

Why are Wordless Books Important?

Wordless books are important in building  literacy skills and confidence with books. Without a set storyline, there are a lot of different directions and discussions that the book can take the reader on. This allows for a more diverse method of learning. More specific benefits include:

  • It familiarizes children with books. When just starting out on their journey with reading, children need to learn the basics of books: which way to read the book (front to back), what the spine and title page are, where to find the author’s name, etc. Wordless books provide the perfect opportunity to introduce these important aspects of reading to a young child.

  • They allow children to use their imagination. Children can use context clues to infer what will happen next in the story. They are able to make up whole conversations and narratives based on a single page of illustration. The complexity or simplicity of the story is up to them and can easily be guided by additional questions from an adult.

  • The story changes depending on who is reading it. This maintains a child’s interest in reading by never allowing the story to get repetitive. This dynamic aspect of wordless books has the potential to get children excited about all of the various book options available so they can get more creative with their stories!

  • You can read them in any language. Illustrations have no language. This means that reading as a family doesn’t need to be limited by what language is read in the home or what reading level the parents are at. Children create the story, and can do so in the language they feel most comfortable and excited about.

To help drive home the importance and dynamic use of wordless children’s books, we read these in our Family Literacy Program -- which is starting back up soon! This program, which only runs in the spring, focuses on making reading a fun habit for the whole family. Our volunteers and staff work with families to deliver ten hours of parent education over the course of seven weeks. Each workshop includes an information session and skill-building exercises for parents, group story time, and guided activities for parents and children. We continue to do this each year because we have seen promising results and feedback from the session, including a 29% increase in the positive literacy behaviors in the home environment following the workshops.

If you would like to learn more about our Family Literacy Program or how to get involved, click here.

It's National Mentoring Month!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Our WAWS student Antonise (left) and her mentor Brittany volunteered together for the local humane society.

Our WAWS student Antonise (left) and her mentor Brittany volunteered together for the local humane society.

January is National Mentoring Month, a campaign that celebrates mentoring and the positive effect it has on young lives. The month includes a variety of celebrations including, “I am a Mentor Day”, “International Mentoring Day”, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service”, “National Mentoring Summit Day”, and “#ThankYourMentor Day”. These celebrations are focused on reflecting on the benefits both the mentors and mentees receive in the relationship as well as to share powerful stories about volunteerism. Mentoring.org outlines the three goals of the month-long campaign:

  • Raise awareness of mentoring in its various forms.

  • Recruit individuals to mentor, especially in programs that have waiting lists of young people.

  • Promote the rapid growth of mentoring by recruiting organizations to engage their constituents in mentoring.

Celebrating its 17th year, the campaign has gained support from Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, Harvard, and the NBA, among others.

Benefits of Mentorship

A mentor is more than a support system or a professional counterpart. According to mentorship.com, the following are a few benefits of students having a mentor:

  • Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor.

  • In addition to better school attendance and a better chance of going on to higher education, mentored youth maintain better attitudes toward school.

  • Students who meet regularly with their mentors are less likely than their peers to skip school.

  • Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are: 81% more likely to participate regularly in sports or extracurricular activities than those who do not.

Words Alive Mentorship

Words Alive analyzed results from the mentorships in our Westreich Scholarship program and found that there was a large benefit when mentors and mentees met consistently. Many mentors mentioned that in the beginning of the program they would be stood up on multiple occasions or meetings would be cancelled without explanation. It was up to these mentors set and communicate expectations. For many of our scholars, consistency was not prioritized in their previous relationships, and their Words Alive mentors helped them see the value and importance of honoring their commitments.

We have many more success stories from the WAWS program that we are proud to share. At a recent meetup, our WAWS mentors talked about the successes they’ve had with their scholars. Successes included “Scholar is forming a study group”, “Scholar’s professor praised him on his critical thinking skills” and “developed a budget”. Successes like these show the amount of trust and support that the mentor relationship requires. Another success story involves Antonise Stewart, a veterinary student, who met with her mentor to donate their time towards creating kitten toys and scratching posts for the local humane society. By volunteering together, they are bonding over a shared passion and activity that makes both feel good about how they spent their time.

If you would like to learn more about the WAWS program, click here.

Sources:

http://www.mentoring.org/why-mentoring/mentoring-impact/


Why We Should Own Books

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image of a young student from Golden Hill pointing at a large pile of books at a book giveaway we hosted in 2017.

An image of a young student from Golden Hill pointing at a large pile of books at a book giveaway we hosted in 2017.

Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, The Going to Bed Book -- these are some of the most iconic children’s books today. You may have read them to young ones before bedtime or perhaps you had them read to you when you were young yourself. However, many children don’t have books read to them before bedtime because they don’t have home libraries or books at home. Having books in the home is important not only for bedtime stories and the routine it creates for a family, but also for the educational value books can provide to developing minds.

An analysis of nearly 100,000 school children across the United States found that access to printed materials is the critical variable affecting reading acquisition. Having books easily accessible, such as in the home, helps them enjoy reading and read more frequently. For a skill as important as reading, something that can change one’s social and economic standing for years to come, frequent exposure is imperative. It’s also been noted that even allowing a child to pick out a book that they would like to read teaches them autonomy and empowerment.

Previously, having college-educated parents was thought to be the top predictor of a child’s success in school. A study at the University of Reno found that both having a 500 book library or having university-educated parents propel a child an average of 3.2 years in their education. Though 500 books is a significant investment, having as few as 20 books in one’s home library can have an impact on a child’s future education, with the impact increasing as the number of books increase.

An article from The Atlantic discusses a community with high poverty rates that was found to have only one age-appropriate book per 33 children -- all of which were coloring books. By comparison, children in a middle-class community in the same city had access to 13 books per child. By slowly building home libraries in these communities, we can help develop an interest in reading in children.

Words Alive helps our participants in all programs build their home libraries. Our Family Literacy Program students take home a new book every week, culminating in 7 new books for their home libraries by the end of the program. Our Adolescent Book Group participants keep the books that we read together throughout the school year. We also have our Winter Book Giveaway coming up where we will be giving away 3,000 new books to students in our Read Aloud program.

If you would like to donate or become a fundraiser to help us continue building home libraries for students, check out our Champions for Youth campaign that is running through January 27, 2019!

Sources:

http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/face/pdf/research-compendium/access-to-books.pdf

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/07/where-books-are-nonexistent/491282/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100520213116.htm

https://booksaremagic.org/2012/03/14/book-ownership-matters/