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Is a "Reading Program" Enough for Your Child?

Feb-15, 2021

A child sitting in class at their desk and struggling with work

When it comes to supplemental education programs for your child, there are a variety to choose from. Most, if not all, offer some kind of Math Education and English Education as two core courses. This is unsurprising, as most standardized testing, from the SAT'S and ACT's to Common Core tests, to Smarter Balanced exit exams, all use Math and English as the two main subjects students are quizzed on.

Most programs for English focus on reading comprehension, some calling themselves a "Reading Program" instead of an English program. Reading comprehension is defined as the ability to process information conveyed through text. Children with low comprehension are fluent readers, but lack the ability to gain information from the text they read, slowing down all aspects of their academic development.

While reading comprehension is a vital part of English education, it is only 1 of the 5 components of language arts. Focusing too heavily on comprehension while ignoring these other components is doing a disservice to students, who need language arts not only to support their academic career, but to express themselves beyond the classroom. So, what are the other components of language arts, and what do they contribute to a well-rounded student?

Grammar

Grammar refers to the rules that make a language understandable. Parents can sometimes be off-put by grammar, and think it's too complicated for young children. But as the National Council of Teachers of English writes, "As human beings, we can put sentences together even as children—we can all do grammar..." A comprehensive English program centers grammar as soon as children are fluent readers, so that they can understand the language that they're reading, organize their thoughts clearly, speak with confidence and authority, and communicate well above grade level. Organization is often a key to success, and by incorporating lessons in grammar, a child's thoughts become organized, too, clearing the way for complex thoughts and ideas.

Spelling

Thanks to spell check, auto-correct, and speak-to-type, what use are spelling drills anymore? Well, you might as well ask why teach basic math when we have calculators! Firstly, many schools require handwritten homework and tests, so no relying on our computers for help. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, having a strong grasp on spelling is a key to understanding language. Spelling helps us visualize our words when we're young, and helps us not to confuse one word for another. Learning new words and how to properly spell them is a time-tested exercise to challenge a growing mind. There's a reason why Scripp's National Spelling Bee has been a respected academic institution since 1945.

Vocabulary

Not only does having a strong vocabulary make them excellent at crossword puzzles, but developing their vocabulary contributes directly to a child's reading comprehension. English is a difficult language to master, with one of the largest number of words of any language. By focusing on improving vocabulary, students advance their reading level above their current grade level, opening the door to more opportunities. For example, many gifted and talents programs use vocabulary as a measure to choose which children can attend.

Writing

Nothing makes an educator feel prouder than seeing students express themselves, and writing is one of the most accessible means of expression. Unfortunately, essay writing has been under scrutiny lately. While recent changes to many standardized tests have removed the essay portion of their exams, these changes may be temporary. Additionally, changes to standardized testing are a direct consequence of the rise of A.P. or Advanced Placement courses, where essay writing can be a large component for a variety of subjects like history and social sciences. Beyond the classroom, the ability to write fiction and non-fiction is an artistic and creative outlet that children badly need as they grow and develop their emotions.

When it comes to your child's education, don't settle for a "reading program." Find an English program which utilizes and celebrates all 5 components of language arts, to give your child the tools for success!


Assessing the Effects of COVID-19 on Education

Jan-18, 2021

A child sitting isolated on her bed with her teddy bear working on homework.

As parents and educators, we have been closely monitoring the ongoing effects of distance learning on kids in the US and Canada. We have reported several stories since March regarding the state of education during the pandemic, along with offering our advice on how to combat the negative effects created by this crisis. Now that we are beginning a third semester of virtual learning, have we uncovered any more facts about the true cost this pandemic is having on the academic progress of our kids?

The effects of COVID-19 on education have been felt on a global scale. In August, the UN released a report on the state of the crisis, predicting that almost 23 million children would be dropping out of school in the following year due to the pandemic. Lack of school has also disrupted children's nutrition, increased the risk of violence against children and child labor, and could create a ripple effect that would leave already under-funded school systems around the world in an even more precarious financial position for years, maybe even decades to come.

In the US, the results of assessment tests have revealed some data on the progress children are making. In a sampling of 3rd to 8th grade students, it was found that children have been improving their math and reading scores. However, while reading scores have not been significantly impacted by distance learning, math scores have. This has largely been attributed to both how the format of virtual learning is better equipped to teach reading than math, and also to parents who may feel more comfortable assisting with reading than with math. MAP surveys have also reached the same conclusions, showing that gains have been made in children's education, but the students surveyed are not growing as much as they were compared to last year.

As we have previously stated, while these results are better than expected, these results are only taken from children who were able to be polled. The ones how have regular access to internet, support from their schools, and who regularly participate in class. For the children who cannot be reached by virtual learning, whose parents are out of work, who have lost family to this disease, who are facing food insecurity on a daily basis, it is much harder to track. It's estimated that about 3 million kids in the US have had almost no schooling since March. How can we reach those children who need help the most?

Education is about more than grades. It's about growing and developing into capable adults prepared to participate in a caring society. With 80% of kids reporting loneliness and isolation, the effects of being separated from school and their peers run far deeper than their report cards.

At Best Brains, we have worked hard to make our program accessible to all our students, to guide their education and prevent stagnation. In 2021, we will look at how much more we can do, to get our kids back on the right track. To help them feel connected, supported, and valued. We hope you will join us in these efforts!


Dr. Jill Biden Will Be the Latest Teacher in the White House

Dec-14, 2020

Dr. Jill Biden, seated and smiling in a classroom, will be the First Lady of President-Elect Joe Biden after he is sworn in.

Image via Shutterstock

President-Elect Joe Biden will be sworn in on Inauguration Day, Wednesday, January 10th, 2021 in Washington DC to become the 46th President of the United States. When he is, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, will become the First Lady. Dr. Biden has become used to a designation like this, as she was the Second Lady of the United States for 8 years, from 2009-2017. Dr. Biden is a professor of English, and was a full-time teacher during her previous stint in the White House, a job she plans to continue when she returns, this time as First Lady.

The First Lady: A Brief History

While there is no designation for a "First Lady" in the Constitution, the role of the woman closest to the President has been recognized since the days of Martha Washington. Most often a wife, but sometimes a daughter or other close female relative, the original role of the First Lady was as a hostess, managing the social life of the President. Since the term of "President" is an elected title, not an inherited one like "Duke" or "Baron," the wife of the President did not have a designated title to go with it, like "Duchess" or "Baroness." Martha Washington was referred to as "Lady Washington" as a sign of respect and an acknowledgment of her husband's authority and the tradition stuck.

The role and responsibilities of the First Lady changed with the times, based on what was considered acceptable for a female public figure to do, and the woman herself who held the title. First Ladies generated a lot of attention and respect, so they were sought after by charities and other organizations which needed funding or political support. First Ladies would also champion causes that aligned with their husbands' political agenda, though with a humanitarian goal. Because of this, the First Lady is considered to be an extension of the President in the eyes of the government, so her staffing needs come out of the yearly budget intended to run the White House.

In recent years, the goals and projects undertaken by the First Lady have reflected less on what her husband does and more on her. As Second Lady, Dr. Biden was a huge champion of community colleges, since, as a professor at a community college, she knew how essential community colleges can be for young people looking to earn a degree. As First Lady, Dr. Biden will have even more resources to advance a pro-education agenda in the White House. While Dr. Biden's decision to keep her job while her husband is in office is historic, even Michelle Obama put her career on hold and threw herself into First Lady duties full time, Dr. Biden is actually the tenth teacher to hold the title of First Lady. Let's take a look at some of the other First Ladies who had a career in education.

Abigail Filmore: The First Teacher

Wife of Millard Filmore, Abigail was a teacher at both public and private schools for over a decade before she married her husband. Notably, she kept teaching after they married, which at the time was uncommon, until their first child was born. Abigial was only First Lady for 3 years, but in that time, she was able to expand the White House Library with a curated collection of books.

Grace Coolidge: The Teacher Who Raised Awareness

Though known to history for her enthusiastic participation in social events at the White House, Grace Coolidge chose not to be the champion of any one cause, and famously did not give public interviews. Instead, she made the White House itself her passion project, overseeing a restoration and a refurnishing to both modernize and bring historical significance to the building. Thanks to Grace, the White House is thought of as both the President's residence and office as well as a living museum. As a teacher, Grace worked with deaf children, and at the time, there was a fierce debate among educators whether learning sign language or lip reading was the superior method. Grace, a proponent of lip reading, did not want to use her political influence to affect this debate. Because of her decision, American Sign Language is still a vital part of deaf education in the United States today. Plus, her status as a public figure meant that deaf education as a whole received national attention without any controversy.

Laura Bush: The Front-and-Center Teacher

Before becoming a wife and mother, Laura Bush was a teacher and a librarian. When her husband, George W. Bush, entered public office, Laura Bush used her status to advance the cause of education, particularly reading education, however she could. As First Lady of Texas and then as First Lady of the US, she devoted much of her time to creating programs and advocating for education reform. During her 8 years in the White House, she launched the "Ready to Read, Ready to Learn" early education initiative, founded the National Book Festival, and became an honorary ambassador for the United Nations, meeting students all over the world and encouraging the education of women and girls to multiple governments. She also raised awareness for many humanitarian efforts to elevate the status of women and girls around the world.

Thanks to these women and many others, the role of the First Lady can be both very challenging and extremely rewarding. The educators of Best Brains believe that "Dr. B," as her students affectionately call her, is ready to add to the legacy of the role!


Why 1-on-1 Attention is Important to Coronavirus-Affected Students

Sep-17, 2020

child on laptop, distance learning, online instruction

As students have returned to distance learning this fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are facing the reality of an online curriculum which falls short of in-person classes. After a rocky spring, the consensus among many parents was that distance learning had proved ineffective and stressful for the whole family. The efficacy of online education has been a hotly debated topic in recent years as many higher learning institutions had made the transition to distance learning for some subjects. While there are many benefits to online learning, many of which we have discussed on our blog, it is clear that not every online learning program is the same as any other.

We found what distinguished an exceptional online program was, among other things, live, face-to-face interactions between teacher and student. Of course, this make perfect sense. Research suggests that there is a negative correlation between class size and student satisfaction. That is, as class size increases, satisfaction decreases. A large class size discourages individual discussion, asking questions, and prevents instruction moving at a pace where all students are keeping up. And while large, lecture hall-style courses remain relatively the same when transferred from an in-person to an online format, going from a primary or secondary classroom setting to a group video call can have a very negative effect on how a teacher is able to interact with their class, and how individual students are able to participate in schoolwork.

While the flaws in distance learning offered by most public and private schools this year are obvious and frustrating, it is important to understand the limitations put in place by circumstance due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. We must remember that teachers for the most part are doing their best with what they are given, and want to do everything in their power to create the best learning experience for the kids in their classes. If given the choice, most teachers would prefer to give personalized attention to every child. But good intentions are not always enough.

To that end, many parents have been turning to supplemental education to provide their children with 1-on-1 support. While pod programs and tutoring can be effective to limit exposure of students to COVID while still providing individualized support, they can also be staggeringly expensive. More affordable programs can cut corners by employing unqualified staff who behave more like study hall monitors than actual educators. When choosing a supplemental education program, look for a reasonably priced program which employs certified teachers and utilizes a proven curriculum.

The most important thing to remember as a parent is that you are not alone. You have options, and there are people who are eager and qualified to help you and your children achieve academic success!


How EdTech Impacts the Classroom

Sep-21, 2020

classroom, laptops, chalkboard, technology

With online learning becoming a central component in our children's education due to COVID-19, the Education Technology industry, or EdTech, has been pushed even further to develop and improve various forms of devices, software, and applications to meet this increased demand. What was once a steadily growing trend is now a necessity. Let's take a look at how EdTech impacts the classroom and assists your child in their academic pursuits.

Firstly, technology has made education more accessible. The internet is able to connect every part of the world together, and EdTech leaders had previously been using virtual classrooms to connect students and teachers in ways that had proved too difficult in person. Today, it isn't distance but proximity that is our limitation to overcome. Creating a virtual classroom environment which simulates the real thing creates a sense of normalcy for students, and helps them connect to teachers and peers with less barriers. The virtual classroom can not only provide a 1-for-1 environment for the student, but can even enhance the traditional learning experience. By integrating specially designed software, video tutorials, and other interactive content, the virtual classroom creates a personalized, engaging experience for the child.

Another area of interest to EdTech over the past few years has been integrating artificial intelligence into the classroom. While we may think of AI as a friendly robot or a talking computer, the truth is that primitive AI systems are all around us. Any technology we interact with that can learn from us contains AI elements. Most often we encounter them as suggested content on our various social media feeds or search engines like Google matching our tastes and preferences. Another term for AI is machine learning, and kids encounter it just as much as their parents do. While what we would consider proto-AI technology is all around us, it will be a long time before virtual tutors are conducting classes with our kids. What EdTech companies are looking into now are integrating how machine learning can help educators cater their approach and content to each individual child. Being able to track progress digitally, measure understanding and engagement, and adjust a child's curriculum accordingly is a benefit both to students and to educators.

The last area of EdTech research we'll go over is automation. Since we cannot keep kids at home indefinitely, automation may prove a safe and effective way to limit contact. Technology like facial recognition, data analysis, and robotic kitchens all contribute to a school setting which may be safer and easier to control the points of person-to-person connection. While automation has largely been looked into as a time-saving measure, EdTech companies can also shift their priority to limiting exposure of students. As food ordering services have expanded, automation has also entered the food service industry in new ways to meet demand. Innovations from this sector can also benefit the school setting, and may be a safe and efficient way to continue to provide the meals that so many families rely on for their kids.

Technological innovation can often feel as intimidating as it can exciting. The important thing to remember is that technology is a tool, and the goal of any tool is to improve our lives. If you would like to learn more about how technology can be integrated into your child's education, click here.

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