10-Year-Olds Think About College

10-year-olds think about college

About two months ago, BBC News reported on a study, conducted by the U.K.-based Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), of 16,000 students who had applied for undergraduate admissions to universities and colleges across the U.K.  The article’s headline says it all:  “Early university ambitions pay off, survey suggests.”

The article began with a bang:

“Children who know at 10 that they want to go to university are twice as likely to go to a selective one than those who decide at 16, a survey says.”

Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive at UCAS, continued:

“This report is clear–the earlier children set their sights on university, the more likely they are to go.  We need to reset the barometer reading for progression to [higher education] to a much earlier age–10 or younger.”

Elementary school parents in the U.S., take heed.  Are you talking to your fourth and fifth graders about college right now?  If not, you should be, according to our friends across the Atlantic.

My colleague, Marie Segares, and I co-host USACollegeChat, a free weekly podcast for parents who think they could use a little help negotiating the complicated world of college admissions for their kids.  For two years, we have targeted high school parents as the likely audience for our episodes, but I am beginning to think we blew it.  Maybe we should be talking to middle school parents.  Maybe even elementary school parents!

Frankly, I have no doubt that the survey is right.  When our book came out last year (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for High School Parents), an interviewer asked me when I started to talk to my own kids about college.  I said, “As soon as they could sit and talk at the dinner table–in their highchairs.”  I really wasn’t kidding.  Just ask them.

As Cook commented, “Having a focus on university helps provide the rationale for working hard.”  Have kids focus earlier than we might have thought, the study tells us.

What’s the downside?  I don’t see one.  Does it put more pressure on kids to do well in elementary school and middle school?  Maybe, but not as much pressure as they will feel later if they head into high school underprepared to take on rigorous academic work.

Parents of elementary school and middle school students, do this now:  Talk with your kids about all kinds of colleges all across the U.S. and abroad.  (If you need help, send them to Episodes 27-53 of our podcast for a virtual nationwide tour of colleges.)  Set expectations for going to college.  Have family members and friends talk about their colleges.  Visit college campuses informally.  Attend sports and cultural events at nearby colleges.

Parents, you can do these things, whether you attended college yourself or not.  If your kid is 10, the clock is ticking.

Does Your Kid Need a Topic for a Report?

Does Your Kid Need a Topic for a Report?

I will often give a children’s book I love to a friend’s child and say, “Someday, you are going to need to write a report on (fill in the blank), and you will find this book really helpful.”  I guess I have too many children’s books.  Or my own kids did.  Today, I would like to direct you to a resource that might be as good as having your own library of fascinating, informative, insightful books for students.  Maybe better.

It is The Learning Network, a blog published by The New York Times.  It provides great resources for kids and parents and teachers, “based on the articles, photographs, videos, illustrations, podcasts and graphics published in The New York Times – all for free.”  Let’s look at what The Learning Network offers that would be useful for parents, either when working with their kids on a project or when encouraging their kids to do an activity on their own:

Student Opinion — News-related questions that invite response from students age 13 and older.

Word of the Day — Vocabulary words in the context of recent Times articles.

Test Yourself — Questions based on Times content that aim to strengthen academic skills.

6 Q’s About the News — An activity in which students answer basic questions (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) about an article.

News Quiz — Interactive daily and weekly news quizzes on current top stories.

On This Day in History — Listings of historical events and more for each day of the year.

Student Crosswords — Topical puzzles geared toward teens.

Teenagers in The Times — Monthly collections of the latest Times news, features and multimedia about young people.

What’s Going On in This Picture? — A weekly feature done in collaboration with Visual Thinking Strategies in which we publish a Times image without a caption or any other clues about its origins, then invite students to write in to discuss what they see in it. Full information about the image is posted 24 hours later.

Poetry Pairings — A weekly collaboration with the Poetry Foundation in which we feature a work from its American Life in Poetry project alongside content from The Times that somehow echoes, extends or challenges the poem’s themes.

While any of these could prove truly educational, I love Poetry Pairings.  As I might say, “Someday, your kid is going to need to write something about a poem, maybe linking it to another text or to something in real life.”  Well, here is your answer.

My favorite entry is a Poetry Pairing from September, 2015 (I have saved it for a year, waiting to have an opportunity to praise it).  It is a pairing of William Wordsworth’s “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802” and the article “My London, and Welcome to It” by A. A. Gill.  It is perfect for anyone who loves poetry, especially Wordsworth (and who doesn’t?), and for anyone who loves London (and who doesn’t?).  But, in fact, this pairing is also perfect for people who are not too crazy about poetry.  The poem and the article are suitable for high school students and interested middle school students, too.  Fortunately, the poem and the article do not need over-interpretation; they are evocative, lyrical, and straightforward (in the best possible way).

Parents of middle school and high school students, do this now:  Check out The Learning Network to see what online resources it has to offer.  Someday, your kid will need to write about a great English poem…or something else.

The Death of Reading Logs

The Death of Reading LogsMaybe “The Death of Reading Logs” is an optimistic title for this post.  Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

I wrote several posts this summer about summer reading—the joys and the sorrows, the good and the bad, the important and the irritating.  But, I think we can all agree that it is a good thing if kids read in the summer—whether for enjoyment or for skill improvement or for both.  I think we can also agree that it would be great if kids did summer reading because they wanted to and not because they were required to.

With that in mind, let’s look at reading logs.  If you have had a child in elementary school in the past three decades, you undoubtedly know what they are.  Each week, your child’s teacher hands out a form on which your child is supposed to record the title of the book and how many pages or minutes per day he or she reads at home.  Likely as not, you have to sign it before it is turned in.

As a parent, I hated my children’s reading logs.  I spent many evenings looking for a book that would be quick to read (or, honestly, that my child had already read) so that she would have something to write down—because it was already well into the evening and we had just gotten home after three hours of ballet and character dance classes.  My excuses were not nearly so good for my two sons—one who actually liked reading and one who never met a book he liked (except for Way Out West Lives a Coyote Named Frank—thank you, author Jillian Lund).

Reading logs turned whatever reading my children might have enjoyed into drudgery, and they turned me into a bit of a—I might as well say it—fibber.  I would have been glad to see those reading logs spontaneously combust.

All these years later, I am relieved to know that researchers have found that reading logs can actually dampen a kid’s enthusiasm for reading—almost the exact opposite of what they are designed to do.  In an excellent piece last June in The Atlantic, Erica Reischer explained it this way:

“As a psychologist (and a parent), I have long opposed reading logs because of abundant research on the negative effects of external controls (such as rewards, deadlines, and assigned goals) on intrinsic motivation. In other words, when motivation to do an activity comes from outside, via rewards or mandates, it tends to undermine people’s interest in doing that activity for its own sake. This decline in motivation ultimately affects enjoyment, creativity, and even performance….

This research would suggest that reading logs have a similar effect on children’s reading habits, especially their desire to read for fun, making reading less of a pleasure and more of a chore. Imagine telling your child that she must draw pictures for at least 20 minutes daily—and also record how much time she spent drawing and how many different colors she used.

Until recently, however, there were no formal studies testing whether or not reading logs were actually promoting reading. A study published a few years ago, to surprisingly limited attention, in the Journal of Research in Education found that, indeed, reading logs can have a detrimental effect on students’ interest in and attitudes toward reading.”

You should read her article to find out more, if you have any lingering doubts.

If you are reading up on the subject, you will also find some intriguing takes on reading logs from teachers who have published their own ideas about how to know if kids are reading without having to resort to reading logs.  Jessica Lifshitz, a fifth grade teacher at Meadowbrook Elementary School in Northbrook, Illinois, posted several good ideas—including signs on each kid’s locker, showing the name of the book that kid is currently reading—in a guest post she wrote for the Reader Leader blog for Scholastic.  You should also check out what she had to say.

Parents of elementary school students, do this now:  If you feel the way I did and are persuaded by what experts are now saying, look for the right way to intervene if your child is bringing home reading logs as this new school year gets started:

  • It might be a talk with your child’s teacher to voice your concerns.
  • It might be a talk with your child’s principal, especially if reading logs are required throughout the grades and there are a number of parents who want to weigh in.
  • It might be a talk with your PTA officers to see whether reading logs should be a topic of discussion at the next meeting so that parents and teachers could talk together as a larger group.
  • It might even be a question to take to your school board.

Just do your homework first.  Read what the researchers are saying.  (And don’t forget to let your own children see you reading.  That should do more good than those reading logs.)


Why Not School Libraries in Summer?

Why Not School Libraries in Summer?Can you stand one more piece of advice about summer reading?  It’s one that could have long-term results for your school districts, if you parents get on board.  This post is in honor of my father-in-law and sister-in-law, whose lives have been devoted to running college libraries, including those at Bowdoin College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University (before my father-in-law went off to head a library foundation and offer advice to libraries around the world).

I bet that all students who love their college libraries started by loving the ones in their elementary schools.  I actually remember my own elementary school library a lot better and a lot more fondly than I remember the ones I should have perhaps spent more time in at Cornell University.  I probably took the Merion Elementary School library for granted—just as I did the community library where we stopped off in the summer whenever we felt like it to pick up a new book or two (that was before you could get them all electronically).

But, as I have said previously, every kid in the U.S. does not have such easy access to community libraries in the summer, and every kid in the U.S. cannot afford to buy whatever books might make the long summer days a little more enjoyable.

So, that brings me to a variety of articles in the education press lately about school libraries that are opening up in the summer to provide books and programs for kids who want them—and need them.  At Education Week’s Time and Learning blog, Marva Hinton wrote an intriguing story about one such school district effort in New Hanover County Schools in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In an interview, New Hanover County Schools librarian Jennifer LaGarde talks about three features of her school district’s summer library program:

  • Staffing by a school library media coordinator, so that kids can get the help they might need to select suitable books and get excited about them
  • Offering other programs at the library, so that kids can come and explore other ways to have a good time—in addition to reading
  • Opening up school libraries in neighborhoods where many kids can easily walk to them (or be walked to them by older siblings), so they don’t need transportation they might not have available

It couldn’t be simpler.  And it couldn’t be cheaper.  What would a school district have to pay to run such a program?  The school district would have to come up with funds to pay for the librarians’ time (just part time for the hours the libraries are open—maybe half-days, maybe only certain days of the week), for keeping the buildings open, and maybe for bringing in some special programs.

Would the investment be worth it?  Yes, according to the research I have been reading and writing about for the past month or two.  Kids cannot read in the summer if they don’t have books, and too many kids don’t have books.

We are lucky, as a society that cares about kids and literacy, that the problem is so fixable.

It is time to take a look at what your school district’s libraries will be up to next summer—if you aren’t fortunate enough to know already.  Parents, especially elementary school parents, do this when school opens again for 2016-2017:

Ask your school board to talk about whether it has a policy on the use of school libraries in the summer.  This discussion should be part of an open board meeting, but board members should have the opportunity first to meet with the superintendent about the reasons for and history of whatever that policy is.

If there is a policy, congratulations!  Ask for the data on how many students visited the libraries and how many books were taken out in the summer of 2016.  Compare those data to data from previous summers, if available.  Ask whether there are plans being made to continue or to expand the library program for next summer.

If there is no policy, perhaps it is time to advocate for one—especially if your school district has elementary school kids who do not have access to a variety of books at home in the summer.  When would school libraries be open?  Which school libraries would be open?  Who would staff them?  How much would it all cost?  Where could the money come from in the school district budget?

By the way, parents, school libraries are a great resource that all kids need, even kids with plenty of their own books at home—unless maybe you have a librarian around the house.