Meghan Liebfreund is this year’s winner of the ILA Outstanding Dissertation Award. The Literacy Research Panel asked her to provide a post about her scintillating study.
The widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards shines a spotlight on informational text comprehension. Research consistently reveals that students rely on different component skills when reading informational compared with narrative texts (Best, Floyd, & McNamara, 2008; Eason, Goldberg, Young, Geist, & Cutting, 2012; McNamara, Ozuru, & Floyd, 2011); however, these studies of informational text investigated only a few component skills and focused primarily on decoding ability and prior knowledge. As a result, in my dissertation I aimed to better understand informational text comprehension by examining additional component skills.
This study included students in grades 3–5 and examined how decoding ability, vocabulary knowledge, prior knowledge, and intrinsic motivation are related to informational text comprehension. Each of these reading components was important for informational text comprehension, and vocabulary knowledge was the strongest predictor. I also examined these components for higher and lower comprehenders. For lower comprehenders, decoding ability and motivation had the strongest relationships with informational text comprehension. Of note, decoding ability predicted only informational text comprehension beyond the control variables of age and grade. When the other components were entered into the model, decoding ability was no longer a significant predictor. Also, because of the sample size, motivation was only marginally significant. For higher comprehenders, vocabulary knowledge was the strongest predictor of informational text comprehension.
Although this study was not designed to determine how instruction in each of these areas contributes to informational text comprehension, what might these findings mean for practitioners?
Meghan Liebfreund,PhD, is an assistant professor of educational technology and literacy at Towson University in Maryland and is the winner of the 2015 International Literacy Association (ILA) Outstanding Dissertation Award.
The ILA Literacy Research Panel uses this blog to connect educators around the world with research relevant to policy and practice. Reader response is welcomed via e-mail.
Best, R.M., Floyd, R.G., & McNamara, D.S. (2008). Differential competencies contributing to children’s comprehension of narrative and expository texts. Reading Psychology, 29(2), 137–164. doi:10.1080/02702710801963951
Eason, S.H., Goldberg, L.F., Young, K.M., Geist, M.C., & Cutting, L.E. (2012). Reader–text interactions: How differential text and question types influence cognitive skills needed for reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(3), 515–528. doi:10.1037/a0027182
McNamara, D.S., Ozuru, Y., & Floyd, R.G. (2011). Comprehension challenges in the fourth grade: The roles of text cohesion, text genre, and readers’ prior knowledge. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 4(1), 229–257.
In recent years, it seems almost every learning center director or teacher who has invited me to do an author visit has asked the same question—can you help inspire our students to read and write about science?
Perhaps it’s the recent push to incorporate more nonfiction texts (particularly with STEM/NextGen content) in the classroom, or the fact that many of my books are about science topics. Maybe it’s because I have an engineering degree and worked on rockets and car brakes before becoming an author. Whatever the reason, I’m happy when schools ask me to discuss science because I love sharing my geeky passion with students and performing my popular “trained ketchup packet” experiment.
Although my presentations create science enthusiasm on the day of my visit, or maybe even that entire week, I wanted to provide teachers with an engaging project that would inspire students to continue pursuing science after I head home. I asked a group of teachers what science subjects seem to interest their students most, and a clear winner quickly surfaced—inventions and inventors. Then I researched the benefits of independent, student-driven projects (the smashing idea behind Genius Hour) and discussed project ideas with teachers and students. In the end, I came up with the "Inventor’s Project."
What I like about this assignment is that students select their own subject (an inventor or invention) and the method they want to use to share their project: a written assignment, a drawing/design project with a brief narrative, or a hands-on building project with brief narrative.
A few teachers have given the Inventor Project a test run and kindly shared some helpful feedback. Several educators reported the last two options—drawing/design and hands-on building—were popular with their visual and kinesthetic learners. Schools with their own Makerspaces (also called FabLabs) were particularly enthused about the “building” option. Without further ado, I present the Inventor’s Project.
1. Invite students to research various inventors using books, reliable Internet sources, or both (see following list below), or provide the class with a curated collection of level-appropriate books on different inventors or a list of inventors from which they should choose.
2. Ask students to select an inventor they admire, want to learn more about, or both.
3. Invite students to select their own "Inventor Project" from the following options:
Students could be invited to display their projects on a bulletin board or table or share their projects with the class through short oral presentations (2 or 3 minutes each). Share a few presentations each day of one week to create an "Inventor Week" celebration.
Internet Inventor Lists
Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 children’s books. Her latest picture book, The Inventor’s Secret, shares the fascinating journeys of two famous inventors, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, and has been called “the perfect title to kick off a Genius Hour program.” The book’s Activity Guide includes student science projects and fun science games. You can find more teacher resources on her webpage. Ms. Slade would love to receive your feedback or suggestions on the Inventor Project. Or, even better, send photos of your students’ projects and she’ll share them on her website!
The International Literacy Association (ILA), formerly known as the International Reading Association, honors its inaugural 30 Under 30 list in the September/October 2015 issue of Literacy Today (formerly Reading Today). The list recognizes the next generation of young innovators, advocates, and educators who are leading efforts to address the challenges of today’s evolving education field and make a difference in the global literacy landscape.
“I’m thrilled to unveil our first 30 Under 30 list of young individuals who are tirelessly working to impact the future of global literacy advancement,” said Marcie Craig Post, ILA’s executive director. “Today, an astounding 12% of the global population is unable to read or write. These 30 young education champions are developing new, creative strategies to close the literacy gap and, in the process, are transforming lives in their communities and around the world.”
ILA’s 30 Under 30 list highlights young trailblazers from 13 countries and several different sectors and includes nonprofit leaders, classroom teachers, authors, volunteers, researchers, technology startup founders, and entrepreneurs. Each honoree has created and implemented an initiative that either has improved the quality of literacy instruction directly or has increased access to literacy tools in the classroom, community, or online.
See the full story in the latest issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s bimonthly magazine, released today. The honorees will be invited to participate in upcoming global literacy community activities to support the shared cause of advancing literacy for all. To view the magazine feature, visit literacyworldwide.org/30under30.
The following is the full version of an essay Brandon Dixon wrote when applying for the Gates Millennium Scholarship—which he was awarded. An abbreviated version appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of Literacy Today.
For some reason, my classmates do not believe me when I answer the question, “how did you get smart?” by pointing to the long list of books I have read since I began devouring them sometime around second grade. They give me incredulous glances and sneer at the concept of “simple reading” being the key to academic success. It truly is a shame they do not believe me, because after truly examining my intellectual growth throughout the past 12 years, I accredit more than 50 % of my knowledge to what I gleaned while reading a book.
For the record, I do not read textbooks, or encyclopedias, or dictionaries. I am a lover of fiction, and a purveyor of fantasy, and I have recently taken to dubbing myself a “dabbler” in science fiction. More often than not, I am reading about things that have never happened in all of humanity’s history. I read about things taken right out of the vivid imagination of the author, stuff that wouldn’t hold up against the harsh, fact-based reality of the world. I have not learned a myriad of specific, physical skills from reading, because very few writers go into excruciating detail when describing simple processes like changing a tire, or knotting a tie. But I have acquired a few specific skills that have acted as gateways into the world of other knowledge I have obtained.
The answer lies between a book’s pages. More often than not, I have no idea what some writers are talking about. There are authors (like Donna Tartt) who manage to employ beautiful strings of advanced vocabulary throughout their novels. I know a lot of words, but I am not a walking human dictionary, nor can I automatically derive the hidden connotations of every word that I come across. In order to be an avid reader and actually get something out of it, I had to acquire the skill of relentless curiosity in the very beginning. With it, the world became open. Topics and themes that would normally soar over my head became things that pinged my attention and sent me scrambling to the Internet to discover the meaning. When I heard of new scientific theories, I would barrage the budding scientists in my life with endless questions to better understand exactly what the authors would talk about.
And while I have found knowledge in many other places besides books, literature has been the one constant “school” in my life. I never have to ask for permission to enter the pages of a novel and discover something new about the world around me. I have learned more about the human condition and the manner in which humanity carries itself through reading than any introductory psychology course at my high school could have taught me.
I have connected to a central hub of sorts through literature—the depository where authors dump fragments of their personal experiences and observations of the people around them. Because of literature, I have developed not only curiosity, but the keen ability to understand and to empathize with the people around me. There are very few emotions that I have not experienced transitively through the conduit of a novel, and because of that vast internalized understanding of human emotions, I have been able to expand upon my interpersonal skills.
Because of reading, and because of literature, I have developed a host of intangible skills, things I cannot demonstrate with my body, only with my character. Leadership, although it has been undoubtedly tempered by experiences at school, grew out of my love affair with tales of heroism in novels. It was a skill that I revered, and one I truly wanted to emulate. Reading tales of people leading their teams, their units, and their families throughout life gave me perspective on leadership before I even had the chance to actively practice it. It is perhaps because I got to watch (or rather, read) various styles of leadership in action at a young age that I was able to jump so readily into leadership as a teenager.
Perhaps the most important intangible skill I derived from my ravenous reading exploits is my sense of morality. Good and evil sit in the center of every good story. Sometimes it is obvious which side is which. The good guys often brandish gleaming swords of righteousness and are from the beginning of the story slated against the proverbial “dark witch.” But there are also stories where good is indistinguishable from bad, where the bad guys wear the same smiles as the good guys; where each side is motivated by something that they believe to be inherently “good.”
More than anything, these novels have taught me about the multiplicity of morality—how ambiguous and overall ill-fitting the terms “good” and “evil” are. In the world, there is no definite right and wrong because everyone looks at the world from a different perspective. Reading so many stories that have accentuated this fact has given me the cognizance necessary to understand the intrinsic motivations behind people’s actions, and also develop my own understanding of what is and is not “moral.”
In many ways, the true Renaissance man is not he who studies the physical crafts in school, or learns them through apprenticeship. Knowledge of the deeper, more everlasting kind can be learned simply from picking up a book and appreciating it for the lessons within. I have not physically experienced a lot of things in my life, but my mind has been places my body has never been—learned things that my hands will never understand. Foraging through the pages of the many novels I have read through, life has been my way of obtaining knowledge and I value the intangible skills I have developed more than I do any tangible skills I have learned elsewhere.
Brandon Dixon is a recent graduate of Girard College, a 1–12 boarding school in Philadelphia, PA, and is now a freshman at Harvard, in Cambridge, MA.
Summer weather always brings out all sorts of fascinating critters, and along with the delicious fresh produce that fills gardens and grocery shelves at this time of the year, there is a bumper crop of marvelous books dedicated to critters from pests to pets. As most teachers know, fiction books featuring animals tend to be popular with elementary and middle school readers, and readers of all ages gravitate to nonfiction titles featuring strange insects and ocean dwellers—and if the photos in those books are large and contain close-ups, so much the better. This week’s book reviews from the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group focus on books containing animals of all sorts, some contributing in immeasurable ways to our lives and some simply oddly fascinating.
Cicada. Michael Shoulders. 2015. Cherry Lake.
What first seem like perfectly preserved insect carcasses to observant youngsters in the warm summer months are soon discovered to be the crunchy, translucent shells of cicadas found on the ground or attached to trees. This species seems to have a hard life, and not just because they shed their outer surface as they grow. Along with photos of cicadas at different life stages in, this well-written, entertaining, and informative book describes the mating habits of cicadas and how, after hatching on a tree leaf and dropping to the ground, the cicada nymphs must tunnel to the surface of the earth and lie buried for long periods of time. There are plenty of intriguing facts on this interesting species, about which much is still unknown. Other titles in this series feature the ant, grasshopper, honeybee, and katydid.
Guess What: Twisty Tails. Kelly Calhoun. 2015. Cherry Lake.
With carefully chosen vocabulary perfect for beginning readers yet interesting enough to keep them engaged, this book is essentially an animal guessing game. Readers examine textual and visual hints through text and photographs that allow them to figure out what the animal is. The clues become easier throughout the book, and it concludes with five interesting facts about the animal as well as a brief glossary. The title cleverly informs readers about one of the characteristics for which the animal is best known. This, and all the titles in this series, would be excellent introductory animal books for an elementary science classroom or a home library. Additional titles in the Guess What series are Guess What: Fast and Flightless, Guess What: Feathered and Fierce, Guess What: Fiercely Feline, Guess What: Flashy Feathers, Guess What: High-Speed Hoppers, Guess What: Majestic Manes, Guess What: Poised and Pink, Guess What: Scaly Swimmers, Guess What: Slinky Sliders, Guess What: Sneaky Snouts, and Guess What: Spotted Singers (all written by Kelly Calhoun).
My Dog, Bob. Richard Torrey. 2015. Holiday House.
Anyone who spends time with a dog knows just how smart, clever, and obedient this family pet is. But sometimes the talents of a canine are not meant for public display. In the case of Jeff's extraordinary dog Bob, Bob is completely disinterested in fetching a stick, sitting on command, or speaking when told to do so. To his master’s dismay, he ignored the challenges laid down by Mimi, a neighbor, who shows off her dog Truffles while Bob merely watches. But as readers realize at the story’s conclusion, Bob can do so much more that. After all, he can easily prepare delicious meals for the family, but that can be their secret. The watercolor and oil pencil illustrations and the sparse text will warm the hearts of dog lovers who know just how exceptional their dogs are.
Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane-on-the-Bayou Story. Caroline Starr Rose. Ill. Rob Dunlavy. 2015. Schwartz & Wade.
Natural disasters such as hurricanes often bring to mind the destruction they wreak on manmade structures, but as this nonfiction title vividly illustrates, they also affect nature in many ways. Filled with stunning images, created with watercolor, ink, pencil, paint, collage, and Adobe Photoshop, this book provides readers with a ringside seat on nature’s fierceness. Just as humans place plywood boards on their windows and stock up on supplies, so do the denizens of the wetlands: Pelicans, alligators, fish, and turtles prepare for the onslaught of the storm’s fierce winds and waves. The rhyming text evokes the hurricane wind: “Pounding,/wailing,/hours endless./Blasting,/breaking/storm's relentless.” Readers may be mesmerized by the winds’ brutal power followed by a calm aftermath. An afterword describes the importance of the U.S. wetlands and the challenges that lie ahead for the Louisiana region because of the encroachment of humans on this natural resource. This title might be worth sharing on this, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the destruction it brought to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.
Playful Pigs From A to Z. Anita Lobel. 2015. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Twenty-six handsome and playful pigs scamper through the letters of the alphabet in this ABC book illustrated beautifully with gouache and watercolor scenes. After slipping out of their pigpen and sauntering through the countryside, they have no trouble finding adventures aplenty. As might be expected, each of these porcine individuals has a name, starting with Amanda Pig and ending with Zeke Pig, appropriately. Alongside each pig, the author has placed a short sentence containing a word that starts with the pig’s particular letter of the alphabet. Including the entire alphabet at the bottom of each page allows beginning readers to consider the placement of each featured alphabetical letter on the book’s pages. Delightful and creative, there is no doubt that title will keep emergent readers engaged and learning for long periods of time.
From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess. Meg Cabot. 2015. Feiwel & Friends.
Fans of the Princess Diaries are sure to love this title, part of a new series about a New Jersey middle school princess who has no idea that she has royal connections. While Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison has no idea how to handle Annabelle, a school bully who is jealous of her, she clearly has a way with dogs. In fact, once she is swept up by a limousine and brought to a swanky New York City hotel, she quickly befriends the royal pets, Snowball, who becomes hers, and Rommel, who never likes anyone, but does like the princess. The youngster has never met her father and had no clue that she is related to someone royal. Except for her talent in art, Olivia really isn’t all that different from her classmates at Cranbrook Middle School. Still, she is simply endearing, making the best of her lonely existence and second-class status with her aunt’s family, and then grateful at the good fortune that comes her way once her true identity is revealed. The wonder of it all is that she is thankful to have a loving family, not that she’s so glad to have all that wealth and privilege. As most dog lovers can tell you, dogs are good judges of character, and they don’t miss in assessing Olivia’s worthiness.
Unleashed. Gordon Korman. 2015. Scholastic.
In this seventh title in the Swindle series, Griffin Bing and his friends are divided suddenly in a gender war, boys against girls. The rift results from the pressure Griffin feels to win the school’s competition for best invention. He’s pitted against arch-enemy Darren Vader and his good friend Melissa. As Griffin and his crew experiment with ways to muffle the sound of a vacuum cleaner, Melissa crafts an invention that will prevent Luthor, Savannah’s beloved and reformed attack dog, from chasing after the exterminator’s truck. There are plenty of hair-raising adventures, some questionable activities, and close calls within the book’s pages. Fans of this series will not be disappointed, as each character has a chance to shine. As always, the author hooks readers until the very last page, when Luthor’s reasons for chasing the truck become all too clear. There’s no one better at coming up with interesting plots, terrific characters, and authentic dialogue, all wrapped in a layer of sophisticated humor and canine affection than Korman. It’s a dog lovers’ delight.
Close to the Wind. Jon Walter. 2015. David Fickling.
Although this book brings to mind the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, the author never specifies the story’s setting, which makes its appeal more wide reaching. Ten-year-old Malik and his grandfather are waiting to board a ship that will bring them to sanctuary. Ticket costs are quite steep, but the grandfather has hidden resources—a large diamond secreted in a tooth in his mouth. When two men with whom Papa is acquainted betray the old man, he scrambles to get his grandson on that ship. Malik constantly annoys his grandfather with questions and his interest in a stray cat he befriends. Once Malik and the cat, eventually named Booty by the purser, are on board the ship, he is placed with other orphans who offer survival tips. A chance encounter with the sons of the men who betrayed his grandfather leads to his agreeing to a trade, and Malik is torn between his conflicting thoughts about what he values. The affection he has for Booty, the only thing from his former life, is quite understandable and moving for readers. The book is compelling, heartrending, and ends on the perfect note. Clearly, access to money can make life much easier, but it isn’t what matters. A fantastic debut that will stay with readers long after they have reached the last page, the book explores loyalty, compassion, generosity, and treachery, encouraging readers to explore what they might have done had they been in the characters’ shoes.
Stormstruck! John Macfarlane. 2015. Holiday House.
Twelve-year-old Sam hasn’t really processed the death of his brother Steve who was killed in military service. But he takes seriously his promise to take care of Steve’s Labrador, Pogo. After overhearing his parents discussing putting Pogo, who has cancer, to sleep, Sam decides to head out to a nearby island. His plans are vague, but he has the good fortune to meet Magnus, a retired ornithologist, and his crippled bird. After sharing a meal and a chat, he tries to go home but is delayed by dense fog and a series of accidents and mistakes. Through it all, Steve is with him in the form of survival tips he shared with his brother. The author piles on the suspense, providing riveting details of how helpless Sam feels when he is unable to see where the boat is going and his wariness of the shark nearby. This adventure story featuring one boy against the elements will appeal to animal lovers and anyone with a tender place in the heart for seemingly hopeless causes. As sick and frail as Pogo is, he still keeps watch over Sam, often with no concern about his own welfare. To entice readers to give this action-filled survival story a try, teachers should read aloud one of the compelling passages with which it is filled.
Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave. Jen White. 2015. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
This book scared me to death! Not in a Stephen King–horror way, but in an edge-of-the seat-worry-about-what-might-happen way for the two sisters at the story’s heart. I kept thinking about all the terrible individuals they could have encountered and keeping my fingers crossed they would be OK. After the death of their mother, 12-year-old Liberty and her 8-year-old sister Billie stay with their mother’s friend Julie until some sort of arrangement can be sorted out. Although they’ve hardly had contact with their father, he agrees to take responsibility for them, and they spend the summer roaming the Southwest. But he isn’t up to the task, and the girls find themselves left behind at a gas station. With a little luck and a lot of pluck, they take matters into their own hands and do what they have to do as they try to find a way back to San Diego. Middle-grade readers will find Liberty’s notebook filled with animal facts and the way she sees the world in terms of predators and prey and survival fascinating. It’s hard to resist some of their benefactors, most of whom have no idea that they’re helping the girls. In the end, as Liberty realizes that she has plenty of folks who care about her, she also decides that she can form her own pod, as whales do, and surround herself with supportive individuals—a good reminder for all readers. This is a fine authorial debut, filled with strong writing and vivid word paintings that make her characters unforgettable. I love the book cover, too.
Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku. Lee Wardlaw. Ill. Eugene Yelchin. 2015. Henry Holt.
A series of Japanese Senryu poems highlights the relationship between a cat and a dog. Readers of Won Ton (2011), the book’s predecessor, will recognize the independent—and possessive—feline from that earlier charming poetry book. From his first sighting of the interloper, “My eyes full of doom” to their initial uneasy encounters and all the way to their collective morning assault on their boy as two “furry alarm clocks!” the verses honor a feline, an only child, who learns to coexist peacefully with a dog. Created with graphite and gouache, the illustrations feature winsome facial expressions and body language. This book is perfect for teaching students about voice in writing because of Won Ton’s distinctive feline voice. Every word captures Won Ton’s dismay at being possibly supplanted in the family hierarchy.
The Dogs. Allan Stratton. 2015. Anderson.
On the run from his abusive father, Cameron and his mother settle into a remote town far from his reach—or so they believe. Just as they think that their five years of avoiding him may be over and that they’re safe, Cameron makes a mistake, contacts his father, and sets into motion a frightening chain of events. If that were all that the book was about, it would be engaging. But its additional layers of suspense and the hints dropped about Cam’s own mental health and the bullies he faces at school make it even more intriguing. Teen readers won’t be sure what to believe or who to trust. It seems that the old house in which Cam and his mother are living has secrets about its previous inhabitants, and Cam may—or may not—be seeing and hearing things, including barking, growling, snarling dogs. Watching the author unspool this story and then reel in his readers was a compelling experience since it skirts so closely to madness before dipping back to reality time and again. Be careful not to read this as dusk is falling or while you are alone because it may send chills down your spine every time you hear the neighborhood dogs howling or feel their breaths at your back.
Last of the Sandwalkers. Jay Hosler. 2015. First Second.
It might be a stretch for most of us to envision a complicated insect world where a group of explorers boldly go where no one else has gone before. But the book’s creator has done just that in a way that makes the insects themselves come to life in believable ways. Not only do Lucy, the scientist who is leading the expedition beyond these insects’ known world, and her companions have personality quirks and habits that make them seem real, but also they are imperfect and splendid in their wonder at the things they are stumbling upon. Readers can certainly enjoy the book just for its story or to see similarities between these beetles and we humans as they realize that they are not the only living things found on earth while navigating complicated family dynamics and dealing with political intrigue and treachery. Hmm...it sounds like higher education and academia, doesn’t it? The annotations at the end of the title add plenty of interesting science to an already fascinating book. I hope there will be more forthcoming.
Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in communications and a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Reading Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG)and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.