Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Who’s Really Teaching Our Children?

             My wife and I recently welcomed the arrival of our first two grandchildren. No, they
weren’t twins. In early 2012, our son and his wife had a little girl. Then, later in the year, our daughter and her husband also had a little girl.

            As a parent or grandparent, you are already aware of the many forces at work, intent on attempting to shape the thoughts and opinions of the little ones in your family. What you may not know is that a clock is ticking, as you guide them to independence and maturity.

            For decades, psychologists have reported about the critical stages of development in children. As the research progressed, it became clear that formation of personality and the foundations for learning occurred much earlier than had originally been thought.

            The debate has raged for decades, as it relates to how our children develop, and whether heredity or environment has the greatest impact on the outcome. But stop and think about where your children and grandchildren are getting the information from which to form their life’s choices and opinions. Consider the following.

            80% of children 6 and under, read or are read to in an average day.

            But…children spend an average of only 49 minutes with books in that same

average day.

            This is compared with 2 hours and 22 minutes or more in front of a television or

 computer screen. Smart phones are eating into the timeline even more.

            In addition, a recent survey found that 90% of parents said their children under age 2 watch at least some form of electronic media. And the average amount of TV watched by children 2 and under was 1-2 hours a day.

Then the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) made a “screen-free” recommendation for all children under age 2. The researchers wanted to study the benefits or harm in educational TV viewing for the same age group. This is some of what they found:

Because educational television programs usually use content and context that doesn’t make sense yet to children under 2, there is little, if any, educational value.

Unstructured play proved to be far better than electronic media for encouraging brain development. Through unstructured play children learn creativity, problem solving, reasoning, and motor skills. Unstructured play also encouraged independence by teaching children to entertain themselves.

Little children learned best when they interacted with people and not a TV screen.

Even when parents watch TV and videos with their children, to help them understand and learn, the children do much better from live interaction and instruction.

A television or radio, in the background, can also do damage to a child’s development by distracting the parent and decreasing interaction with their children. Hearing these distracting sounds in the background can also have a negative effect on a child during his unstructured play time.

Television viewing around bedtime is especially negative because it causes difficulties in sleeping and sleep schedules. This affects a child’s mood, behavior, and learning.

Many children with increased exposure to media have delayed language development after they start school.

One of the primary researchers, Dr. Brown, gave the following recommendation to parents: "In today's 'achievement culture,' the best thing you can do for your young child is to give her a chance to have unstructured play -- both with you and independently. Children need this in order to figure out how the world works."

Because you’re concerned about what your children or grandchildren are learning, and their literacy success, pay attention to the warnings from AAP and consider reducing or completely eliminating heavy media use for children under 2. Instead, begin reading together with your child to better develop literacy and to ensure their success in education and life.

To help in this battle, an online children’s magazine has been developed where you can find new short stories to read to your children during the day or at bedtime. Each month, I also have two, new, original short stories in this magazine. You can find more information at http://www.knowonder.com It’s free.

Remember, parents and grandparents stand on the front lines when it comes to the battle for our children. Reading habits you instill early will benefit them for a lifetime.

Max Elliot Anderson

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Reading Equals Success In Life

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to speak to children at an inner-city tutoring center in Chicago, Illinois, called By The Hand. They work primarily with at risk kids after school. Here is what this organization says about the importance of reading.

Reading is one of the best predictors of a student’s academic success. Poor readers tend to read less. They lack motivation and confidence in the classroom, which can lead to a devastating and downward spiral in a child’s life. Yet, one-third of fourth graders in Chicago are not reading at grade level and live in neighborhoods with little to no access to books.”

Here’s a link to their video which makes the point better than I can: http://vimeo.com/42630922

If we’re going to assert that reading leads to success in life, then statistics surrounding our prison populations should cause us to do everything we can to encourage children to read early and often.

            Literacy statistics and juvenile court from Literacy and the National Reading Statistics:

85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.

More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.

Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.

And consider these numbers.

Many of the USA ills are directly related to illiteracy.

*       Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write.

*       One child in four grows up not knowing how to read.

*       43% of adults at Level 1 literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at Level 5

*       3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform in the lowest 2 literacy levels

*       90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts

*       16 to 19 year old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average reading skills, are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their reading counterparts.

*       Low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. A recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher.
When the State of Arizona projects how many prison beds it will need, it factors in the number of kids who read well in fourth grade (Arizona Republic (9-15-2004)). Evidence shows that children who do not read by third grade often fail to catch up and are more likely to drop out of school, take drugs, or go to prison. So many nonreaders wind up in jail, Arizona officials have found they can use the rate of illiteracy to help calculate future prison needs.           

The majority of inmates in America’s prisons have low levels of education and some can barely read, write, or use a computer. These are all skills that are necessary to make it on the outside without returning to a life of crime. Prison libraries offer inmates the chance to learn all of these things and more. Additional information on this subject can be found at http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/Literacy/stats.asp

Interesting statistics have emerged from prison programs where inmates have been exposed to a prison library. One of the best ways libraries benefit prisoners is by helping make it less likely that they’ll end up back in prison again. Studies have shown that education helps to reduce rates of recidivism, and libraries can play a big part in that, with access to books, educational programs, and computer training.
One study of inmates found that participation in education programs while in prison helped reduce rates of re-arrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration by significant amounts, with only 21% of those who participated in education programs ending up back in prison versus 35% of non-participants.

So, what can we do to ensure that the children around us don’t fall through the cracks and become such negative statistics in the future?

            Parents: Monitor your children’s time spent on TV, computer, and video games. Lay down strong rules concerning reading time. These other activities can easily be included as rewards, once the reading requirements are met.

            Teachers: It may be difficult in the classroom, with other students who need your time, but encourage students to become readers. The earlier they master this skill, the better they will perform in the classroom. When you identify students with reading problems, alert the parents.

            Grandparents: Increasingly, grandparents are stepping in to help raise their own grandchildren. Last year, my wife and I began looking after one of our granddaughters while her mother teaches. I’m already spending time helping this little one to embrace books and reading.

            Students: Take reading and your future seriously. Don’t just complain that reading is boring or you can’t find anything that interest you. Reading doesn’t always have to be a book. Look for other short articles and information in the areas where you are interested. But whatever you do, start reading today! Reading exercises your brain just like physical exercise improves your physical strengths and skills.

In the final analysis, it’s clear that not knowing how to read, or reading very little, has direct, negative consequences on children as they grow up, while knowing how to read, and doing it well has the complete opposite effect. As a nation,  let’s make it our priority to see that children around us are reading early and often. Their very futures success depend on it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Reading & Learning With Generation Z

Who are the members of Generation Z? What do we know about them? How do we reach out to them with written material they’ll find of interest?
One of the things I like most about writing for children 8 – 13, is visiting them in their schools. Imagine my surprise, though, when I stood in front of a class a few years ago. Students wanted to know if I’d met any famous people through my video production business. I began talking about a private video interview I’d had with President Reagan as he visited his boyhood home in Dixon, IL. Their eyes glazed over, their mouths dropped open, and it became clear that these students had no idea who Ronald Reagan was. I also knew it would be pointless to talk about working with George Burns, Liam Neeson, B.J. Thomas, or the Rolling Stones which would also have been met with equally blank stares. I learned an important lesson about being relevant to this age group with the books I write.
You may have seen the list that’s published for incoming students each year. It’s called The Beloit College Mind-Set List http://chronicle.com/article/The-Beloit-College-Mind-Set/123925/  A member of the administration and a faculty member began making their list in1998 to help educators understand the frame of reference that shapes the worldviews of each new class of college freshmen. At times the list is quite jolting because we who are older expect that everyone knows what we know. Understanding Generation Z will help when it comes to teaching and reading. Generation Z is known as the Internet Generation. Some call them Digital Natives. They are the first generation, born between 1994 and 2004, to grow up where the Internet has always existed.  These children are always connected. They fully understand and utilize technology. They’re accused of being lazy, unaware of important issues, and apathetic. Likely because of their early introduction to technology, few want to go outside. Most say they’d rather text, tweet or play video games. All of this inside activity is leading to problems with overweight and one fifth of Generation Z’s are considered obese.

Many predict this generation could forever change how students are taught at every level by making technology an integral part of all classroom study. No matter if you’re studying to be a teacher, you’re a grandparent, or parent, there are some important educational trends to understand.
Today it seems the entire country is connected to the Internet with few exceptions. When Generation Z students come to school, they already understand the interactive features of smart phones, iPads and the like. It is for this reason that these devices are quickly becoming part of normal classroom activities. Since Generation Z students already arrive at school wired for technology, they’re ready to hit the ground running. This is spawning an avalanche of applications (apps) to provide interactive books, textbooks, educational games, and more.

Over the past several months, I’ve teamed up with an online organization that is developing its own app for young readers. As one of their writers, I’ve submitted nearly thirty short stories for use on digital devices. Knowonder.com is set to launch this month, providing free stories and materials for this Internet generation.

Homeschoolers are embracing the same explosion in technology which will help these students when they move on to high school or college, enabling them to be just as comfortable and proficient as other students.

More teachers are discovering the power of web-based programs and collaborative online projects. Students are also able to interact with other students across the country and around the world in real time.

Recent studies indicate the brains of Generation Z kids are structurally different from earlier
generations. It has to do with how they use their minds to respond to their surroundings. Because
of extensive web browsing and information overloading, Generation Z children have become
increasingly visual in their learning styles. So, educators have responded by focusing more on seeing
than listening. Teachers are focusing less on rote memorization and emphasize problem solving and
critical thinking. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that have to be memorized; it just means
this element in education is not implemented as much as in the past.

All of this early use of technology has a downside, and it shows itself most in reading. Generation Z, like Gen Y before them, has developed very short attention spans. This makes them harder to teach because they quickly become bored and are ready to move ahead to the next thing. Longer lesson of the past don’t work today. Educators are forced to develop shorter lessons to accommodate this obstacle. It’s important to note that this issue finds its way into reading as well. Authors of books for middle grade ages and below, are tasked with creating stories that move quickly, use shorter lines and paragraphs, along with lots of dialog and humor. Some publishers are experimenting with interactive fiction for kids, but these haven’t become popular yet and are extremely expensive to produce. Some fiction readers have found that all the available options take them away from the story’s flow. 

And mental health experts report that all the technology is causing an “acquired attention deficit disorder.” They tend to lose their ability to comprehend complex information, becoming impatient if it takes too long to figure something out. Most probably would never finish reading this column because they’d see it as too long.

As one Generation Z puts it, “Length is something that greatly frightens Gen Z. We don’t like taking our time to read, do or say anything. With texting becoming more popular so are abbreviations. Youths text an average of 2,900 times a month. Cyber communication is deteriorating our language and social skills.”

These trends have great implications not only on the current children of Generation Z, but also on what we can expect when they become the dominant demographic in our society. Many publishers are already working on that problem, trying to insure that there will always be a ready reading market for their books in the future.

The only question left to answer then is, what will we call the next generation after Z, now that we’ve reached the end of the alphabet?

VIDEO - Imagine