2021 banned books focus on minorities and non-“straight” people

 

 

Books about minorities and non-”straight” people were the kind most often banned in the US in 2021, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

In 2021, more books were banned than in any other year of the 20 years that the ALA has been keeping records.

The rise in numbers in 2021 is attributed to social media where lists of books adults think inappropriate for children circulate.

Parents and community members lobbied school boards to remove certain books from school and public libraries.  1597 individual books were either challenged or removed, according to the ALA.  The actual count might be different since the ALA gathers its information from the media and self-reporting by libraries.

Librarians have been threatened with legal prosecution over the book choices they have made.  These threats might be skewing the choices librarians make, encouraging them to choose books espousing “traditional” values and discouraging books about sexual orientation and racial issues.

The ten most banned books in the US during 2021 are

  1. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. Banned, challenged and restricted for LGBTQ+ content and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images
  2. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison. Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
  3. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson Banned and challenged for LGBTQ+ content, profanity and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
  4. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez Banned, challenged and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Banned and challenged for profanity, violence and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda
  6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references and use of a derogatory term
  7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and degrading to women
  8. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit
  9. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson Banned, challenged, relocated and restricted for providing sexual education and LGBTQ+ content.
  10. Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

 

Frustration in teaching virtually

As an online tutor, I’d like to share my experience learning Zoom and Osmo, using manipulatives online, keeping students’ attention, and teaching reading and writing to students ten miles or three time zones away.

In four words:  I have been overwhelmed.

Before the pandemic, I used GoToMeeting with one student whose father set everything up for us.  That worked, in part because the father hovered nearby and anticipated his daughter’s and my needs.

But after a pandemic break from tutoring so I could babysit and teach grandchildren, I struggled to learn Zoom.  For my first classes, my husband (my IT person) sat at my side off camera and slipped his hands on the keyboard from time to time to rescue me.  I couldn’t have done it without him.

For me, learning to teach via Zoom has been like trying to teach English in Vulcan aboard the Starship Enterprise with Mr. Spock at my side.  I know the content, but grapple with how to use the technology.  For example,

  • If my student writes her homework in a workbook, how can I see her answers via Zoom? She can hold the workbook in front of the camera, but she might hold it too close or too far away or she might jiggle it.  With time, I learned how to solve this problem.  Her parents can scan her work before our lesson and send it to me as an email attachment which I can then open and share on Zoom.  It took me weeks to learn that.  But not all parents have scanners.

 

  • And what if I want to scan information to send to my student as an email attachment? Before, I would make a photocopy and bring it with me to a lesson.  I have learned to scan and input, but I don’t do it often enough for the process to stick  I keep a little notebook next to my computer with “how to” directions in it.

 

  • If I want to see what changes my student is making in her hand-written document, how can I? Her writing surface–a desk or table–is out of camera range.  I learned that if she rereads the corrected writing, I know if she has changed it.

 

  • I can see only the tops of some students’ heads. Asking a student to sit up works until the student slumps a minute later.  I have asked parents to adjust the camera angle, and that helps, but some children deliberately hide.  I have learned to accept this if the student remains engaged.  If not, I ask the student to sit up.  Again.  And again.

 

  • For some students, especially pre-K, K and first grade students, I need to use manipulatives like letter tiles or easy-to-read books.  I have found using Osmo allows the students to see letters as they appear rather than flipped.  My husband set up the Osmo, and I use a two-dozen step process to make it work.  But it does work, and Osmo has allowed me to teach a group of young students I might not otherwise teach.

 

  • One of my students is hyperactive, sliding in his chair, contorting his body, standing, stretching, walking around and darting off camera. He even falls asleep.  When I teach in person, I use eye contact or a tap on the desk to engage him.  But via Zoom, if he is not looking at the camera, I have only my voice.  I am still working on this problem.  Maybe a whistle?

 

  • Many of my students are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Sometimes I ask my students to bring their parents to the camera at the end of our classes. When I try to explain homework expectations or student behavior to the parents, they nod, smile, and say nothing.  I know I have not made my message clear.  I have learned to recap a lesson in writing immediately after the lesson concludes.  I include the homework assignment and any other work a student might need—like a prewriting organizer the student worked on.  I send everything as an email to both the  parent’s and student’s email.

These are small problems.  Bigger ones are caused by my lifetime of relying on my husband to handle online technology.  On Monday, for example, I kept losing Google Docs I had downloaded and opened, ready to revise with a student.  My husband pointed out something basic that I was unaware of:  At the top of my screen are tabs for documents I unload from the internet.  At the bottom of my screen are browser and application icons.  Duh.  (The placement might be different on your screen.)

Many of your children’s teachers are going through the same frustration with virtual technology.  They were trained in math or reading, not in how to teach remotely.  They were trained to walk the classroom to engage students, but they were not trained to monitor two dozen children on a computer monitor, peering at faces the size of postage stamps.  Older teachers like me, who are experts in their subjects, are wrestling with a technology learning curve.  What might seem so basic to a thirty-year-old who was born with a smart phone on her hip seems odd and even frightful to a veteran teacher.

Fifteen months teaching in this online mode has not been enough for me to master it. As Mr. Spock said, “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.”  I have no wish either, but we all must to get through this pandemic and beyond.

Number of primary grade students reading at grade level declines in US

Almost a third of children in kindergarten, first and second grades were reading below grade level at the start of the 20-21 school year, according to research reported on earlier this month.

When first grade students were tested at the beginning of this school year, about twice as many as before the pandemic (school year 2019-20) showed kindergarten level or lower scores.

The federal government is spending billions to try to close the gap in student reading achievement.  But the US lacks enough qualified reading teachers to do so.  Nearly half of the public schools have teacher openings, many in the lower grades.  These openings are due to resignations and retirement.

“Nearly half (44 percent) of public schools currently report full- or part-time teaching vacancies,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a part of the US Department of Education.  Schools report that the Covid-19 virus prompted many of these vacancies.

Some of the federal money is funding a new phonics-centered curriculum called Fundations.  Fundations is part of Wilson Language Training, a well-known program for teaching reading.

Government funded research more than 20 years ago shows that a reading program focusing on phonemes (sounds as represented by letters of the alphabet) and phonics (combining sounds and letters to form words) is a superior way to teach young children how to read.

 

 

How to find the main idea

Finding the main idea in a reading passage is one of the most important reading comprehension skills.  Because of that, questions about the main idea repeat on the SAT and ACT and on almost every reading test from second grade through college.  So how do you find the main idea?

In a one-paragraph passage, the main idea is almost always stated in the first sentence, called the topic sentence.  A student can figure this out because the rest of the paragraph contains details about that first sentence.

Some students think a main idea and a topic are the same thing.  Wrong.  A topic can be stated as a single word or a phrase, but a main idea can be stated only as a complete sentence.  For example, a topic might be “dogs,” but a main idea might be “Boxers are the best dogs,” or “Dogs need to be bathed every week,” or “Dogs come in all sizes.”

If a writer begins a paragraph with a hook, the main idea might not be in the first sentence.  It might be in the second sentence.  Or it might be in the last sentence where the writer repeats the main idea to be sure the student has found it.

Another place to look for the main idea is in the title or headline.  Sometimes the title or headline contains hooks to lure a student to continue reading.  But many times they identify the topic, and sometimes they state the main idea.

As students read longer passages, they should still expect to find the main idea in the beginning paragraph.  However, it might be found routinely in the last sentence of that first paragraph.  The earlier part of the paragraph introduces the topic of the passage, but the main idea is stated in the last sentence of that paragraph.  Many writers repeat the main idea—not in exactly the same words—in the conclusion.

Look at the first sentences in the body paragraphs.  Those first sentences should be backing up an idea.  Many times that idea is stated in those sentences.

In longer passages, a strong clue to the topic is a word or phrase or its synonyms which are repeated more than any other idea in the passage.  For example, “Water pollution,” “river trash,” “ocean dead spots,” and “toxic runoff” all are types of water pollution.  These words tell the topic, but they don’t tell the main idea.  But with the idea of water pollution, students can go back to the first paragraph and the last paragraph to narrow in on the topic sentence.

Another way for young children to identify the main idea is to ask questions:

  • Who is the passage about? No one in particular?  Then keep looking.  But if it is a particular person or group whose name is repeated, the main idea probably has something to do with them.
  • What is the passage about? Every passage is about something.  Put into your own words what the passage is about.  Now go back and see if you can find evidence backing up your conclusion.
  • Are there numbers in the passage? If so, numbers about what?  Numbers usually back up or prove something.
  • Do illustrations give a clue?  Sometimes art can help a young student figure out the topic.  Knowing the topic, a student can look in the usual places for the main idea.

Sometimes a writer talks around a topic, implying a main idea without stating it, at least at first.  The writer does state the main idea eventually, but it might not be where you expect.

Why is identifying the main idea so important?  As a student grows older, he or she will need to learn more and more from what he or she reads, and less and less from what a teacher says.  That student will need to be able to identify quickly what the main idea is in order to make sense of an article or book or research paper.  When a student does research, he or she will need to be able to analyze information to see if it is relevant.  The most important skill to do that is to identify the main idea.

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Teach 16 consonant sound-letter associations first, not vowels

If you are teaching your child to read, and you wonder what letters to begin with, choose the 16 consonants that almost always make the same sound at the beginning of English words.  Those letters are b, d, f, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, qu, r, t, v, x, and z.

Why these 16?  These sound-letter pairings follow one-to-one logic.  A d always sounds like a d when it begins a word.  An r always sounds like an r when it begins a wordLater your child will learn that certain letters can represent more than one sound (all the vowels, for example) and that certain sounds can be represented by more than one letter (the z sound can be represented by z and s, for example).  That can be confusing.

But for now, as your child learns to read, sticking to one-to-one relationships gives your child confidence.  An m always sounds like an m.  A k always sounds like a k.

Start with sounds that have meaning to children.  If your child’s name is Marco, start by teaching the letter sound m, and tape Marco’s photo on an Mm card to hang on the refrigerator.  If your dog’s name is Bandit, tape Bandit’s picture to a Bb card.  However, don’t use pictures of words beginning with blended sounds (br as in Brian) or digraphs (sh as in Shelly).

Teach children to pronounce the sounds of English

Before children learn their letters, be sure they can pronounce the sounds of English distinctly.  There are 48 sounds of standard American English, although regional dialects might include more or fewer sounds. The 48 single, distinct sounds are listed on the chart below.  Say those sounds and then ask your child to repeat those sounds.

You might wonder, “Is this really necessary?” Yes, it is. Almost always, you will encounter a sound that your child cannot hear or say properly. Let the child listen and repeat the sounds correctly until you are sure the child can hear and say the sounds. You can do this with a child as young as two. Only when the child can hear and say the sounds is it time to associate sounds with letters.

48 distinct sounds in standard American English:

 

Children learn sounds from big to small

children pronouncing elephantLittle children who are learning about sounds in words move from larger units of sound—phrases and words—to smaller units of sound—sounds within words and syllables.  Adults hear “On your mark, get set, go,” but a two-year-old hears “Onyourmark, getset, go.”  Children need to hear distinct sounds within words and to reproduce those sounds properly before they start pairing sounds with letters.

For this reason, most two-year-olds are too young to learn to read.  Even some five-year-olds might not be able to distinguish sounds within words.  In some countries, children don’t learn to read until they are seven. 

A good example of this is when children learn the ABC song.  Most three-year-olds can start the song with A-B-C-D. . .E-F-G-. . .H-I-J-K .  But when they get to L-M-N-O-P they sing L-um-men-oh-P or M-uh-let-O-P.  They don’t hear L-M-N-O as distinct sounds.

I still remember the day when I was in first grade when  my teacher taught my class the words of and the.  I thought, wow, those are two different words.  I didn’t know that.  I thought ofthe was a single sound.

Most two-year-olds are too young to learn to read.  Even some five-year-olds might not be able to distinguish sounds within words.  For this reason, in some countries, children don’t learn to read until they are seven. 

What can you do to help your child hear sounds more clearly?  Speak distinctly.  Slow down.  Face your child and let her watch your mouth when you talk.  When you hear her slurring sounds together which should be pronounced separately, don’t correct her but instead repeat the sounds properly.

While we’re on the subject of hearing words correctly, children will subconsciously learn the rules of grammar without instruction.  A four-year-old might say, “Mommy goed to the store,” properly making the verb past tense by adding the d sound to the end of the word without realizing go does not follow the rules.  Or he might say, “I amn’t done yet.”  He is learning contractions, not realizing that am can’t be contracted in the negative form.  Or a child might say, “Her said so.”  Objective pronouns are learned before subject pronouns.

To correct these mistakes, repeat what the child says correctly without comment on the error.  When the child hears words said properly enough times, he or she will say words that way too.

 

Defining basic terms used to discuss reading

When you are learning how to teach your child to read, you need to familiarize yourself with a few  words.  If you read widely about reading, you will encounter these words all the time.  But even if you don’t, understanding them will make reading instruction easier to follow.

phonemes

One such word is “phonemes.”  The smallest sounds we utter are called phonemes.  About 48 such small sounds exist in standard American English. These sounds are not letters; they are sounds to which we pair letters in order to read and pronounce sounds.  Some words such as eye have one phonemes (a long ī), but most words have two or more phonemes.  Snow, for example, has three (s, n, ō).  Putting together phonemes to form words is an important reading skill. 

phonics

Another important word is “phonics.”  Phonics means combining phonemes to form words.  For example, the phonemes b, ă, and t combine to form the word bat.  250 letter patterns represent the 42 to 44 phonemes in American English.  Most children cannot figure out phonics on their own. They need instruction to match a phoneme to a letter or to a pair of letters.

systematic phonics instruction

Systematic means that concepts are taught in a particular order.  For example, phonemes which are always represented by a single letter such as b are taught before phonemes which are represented by more than one letter such as th.  Short vowel words such as cat are taught before long vowel words such as bike. 

For more details on the sequencing of learning sounds, go to http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200901/BTJPhonologicalAwareness.pdf.  While you are there, check out 1) the list of read-aloud books that emphasize sounds, and 2) activities you can do with a child who is learning sounds.

vowels

A vowel is the primary speech phoneme in every syllable (one vowel phoneme for one syllable).  Vowel phonemes are made by the mouth without any blockage by the tongue or lips. Short vowel phonemes are the vowel sounds in Pat, Ben, Jill, Tom, and Bud.  They are sometimes represented by a curve over the vowel.  Long vowel phonemes are the vowel sounds in Kate, Eve, Mike, Joe, and Lou.  They are sometimes represented by a straight horizontal line over the vowel.  Other vowel sounds are also represented by a, e, i, o, and u, and by combinations of these letters.  W and y can also be vowel phonemes in combination with other vowels or alone as in cow and by.

short and long vowels

Short and long are a traditional way to describe certain vowel sounds.  Short vowel sounds can be said quicker while long vowel sounds take a fraction of a second longer to pronounce.  In recent years, the terms closed and open are used the same way to mean, respectively, short and long.

consonants

A consonant is a speech sound made by partially blocking the air as you breathe out.  Most phonemes are consonants, but they cannot be pronounced without connecting them to vowels. American English includes the consonant phonemes b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, qu, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, and z. 

syllables

Syllables are units of sound containing one vowel phoneme and usually one or more consonant phonemes.  Mitten has two syllables:  mit and tenRobotics has three syllables:  ro, bo, and tics.

Knowing these terms gives you a basic vocabulary enabling you to follow instruction about reading.

Check your child’s prereading skills before teaching her to read

The place to start teaching reading is by assessing her prereading skills.  This is easy.  Hand your child a picture book upside down with the back cover facing up.  Watch what happens.

Does the child turn the book over so the cover is right side up?

Does the child open the book with the bulk of the pages near her right hand?

When the child turns the pages, does she turn them from front to back?

Ask the child to point which way the words are read.  Does she point top to bottom?  Left to right?

Ask the child where the cover and back page are.  Where is the title?

If your child can answer these questions correctly, she knows basic pre-reading skills for the English language.  If she cannot answer these questions correctly, teach her. 

How?  Read often to your child and point out these basics.  You could also play games by holding the book upside down, or by beginning to read from the last page, or by looking at the back cover and saying, “Is this where we begin?”  If your child corrects you, she has absorbed these pre-reading skills. 

If you read to your child in two languages such as Chinese and English, or Arabic and English, make sure your child understands these skills as they apply to English.  Some languages do not follow the English language pattern.  You might want to stop lessons in the other language for a few months until the English pattern is established.

How to teach a child to read

When my older son neared the end of first grade, his teachers told me he would need to repeat because he could not read.  What!  I couldn’t believe it. I phoned my brother, a special ed teacher, and he said, “Relax. You can bring him up to grade level if you work with him all summer.”  He recommended I buy Why Johnny Can’t Read by Rudolph Flesch, a then out-of-favor approach to teaching reading using phonics. My brother said to turn to the word list at the back of the book and start there.  I trusted my brother, bought the book, and worked with my son every day.  He hated the lessons—lists of progressively more difficult words—but in September he started second grade reading on grade level.

Thus began my interest in how to teach reading.  Time and research have proven Flesch and my brother right.  A systematic—not random—phonics-based approach yields the best results in teaching children to read.  Even so, today many teachers do not teach reading using phonics.  And as a result, many children fail to learn to read.

If your child has been left behind, or if you want to be sure that never happens, this blog is for you.  In coming weeks I will advise parents and teachers of beginning readers

1) how to teach reading skills by sounding out letter patterns, and

2) in what order to teach those letter patterns. 

If your child already knows how to read some words, you can assess his or her skills by using the word lists below to know where to begin.

These lessons start with one sound represented by one letter, a simple yet reliable decoding system.  While these lessons introduce the most common letter patterns of English, they do not introduce them all.  That is not necessary.  As children read widely, they encounter new letter patterns which they figure out from context clues, by asking questions, or by using a dictionary.

If you choose to supplement the ideas in coming lessons with lessons from reading sources like Why Johnny Can’t Read or Explode the Code (both good), their lessons might not sequence letter sounds or letter patterns in the same order as I do.  That is because reading experts do not agree upon a single sequence for teaching reading.  The sequence I will use here extends the one-sound, one-letter pattern as long as possible, reinforcing what seems logical to little children.

IMPORTANT: Beware of any reading advice which encourages your child to guess at words, a strategy that can lead to lifelong reading problems.  Instead, ask your child to sound out words based on the rules of phonics.  That leads to reading independence.

Phonics assessment

The following words are listed in the same order as the lessons I will share in coming weeks.  If your child can read some words, and you wonder where to begin teaching her phonics, ask her to read these words in order.  When she starts making mistakes, stop her and turn to my corresponding lesson.  Proceed from there.

bad, hem, fit, don, pug, am, if, lass, jazz

lock, Mick, bills, cliffs, mitts, catnip, Batman

grand, stent, frisk, stomp, stuck

chuck, shun, them, branch, brush, tenth

star, fern, birds, fork, purr, actor, doctor, victor

muffin, kitten, collect, pepper, gallon

complex, helmet, falcon, napkin, after

tantrum, muskrat, constant, fulcrum, ostrich

skate, bike, Jude, mole, dare, shore, tire, pure

need, cheer, aim, hair, bay, pie, boat, oar, Joe, low, soul

fruit, few, child, blind, fold, colt, roll, light, high

earn, worm, rook, pool

fault, claw, all, chalk, Walt

boil, so, pound, down

comet, dragon, liver, salad, denim

total, ever, student, basic, demon, vital

apron, elude, Ethan, Owen, ideal, usurp

inside, nearly, absent, unicorn, degrade, tripod

advance, offence, fence

gripped, planned, melted, batted, handed

sweeping, boiling, thinning, flopping, biking, dating

rapper, saddest, finer, bluest, funnier, silliest

easily, busily, massive, active, arrive, wives

keys, monkeys, armies, carried

action, section, musician, racial, crucial, nuptials

brittle, pickle, carbon, dormer

parcel, decent, gem, urge, badge

lose, sugar, nature, sure

graph, Phil, then, moth

bomb, thumb, gnat, gnome, high, sign

whip, whirl, echo, ghoul, knee, knob

could, calf, folk, hustle, listen, wrist

alone, bread, bear, chief, young, squaw, swan, waltz, word

decision, exposure, gigantic, polarize, occupant, quarantine