Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Benefits of Reading-Aloud

In my role as Title I Director I help to oversee our important work with our students in mathematics and literacy.  We spend hours identifying the students who need interventions, collecting data to help us best serve their needs, and then assessing their growth based upon these interventions in order to measure our own success in helping our students learn. 
Students are offered strategies for close-reading and writing and they practice answering questions and searching for context clues.  But what about the pure joy of reading?
I recently attended a keynote presentation that featured a topic that mesmerized me.  Lester L. Laminack, Professor Emeritus from Western Carolina University, presented on his book, The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource.  Professor Laminack shared many ideas throughout his presentation.  He cited the research.  He suggested new strategies.  But the most important thing that he did for us was sharing a simple story.  He just read-aloud from a picture book to a room filled with teachers.
The story he chose to read was a book entitled In November by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Jill Kastner.  Professor Laminack read us the story, and savored every word.  The large auditorium was so quiet that you could hear the flipping of every page.  It was a wonderful book and an even greater experience.  And his point was well-made.
In The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource, Laminack (2016) writes:
I hear the demands to raise scores in our schools.  I see the impact of the pressure to get more done in less time to meet standards.  And I wonder.  I wonder what we lose when we let go of those small moments…will we       lose the intense natural interest children bring to the worlds of their imagination? (p. 19)
With so many concerned with the “fake news” flooding social media and the picture books written solely to sell toys there has never been a more important time for us to share the great works of art with our students.  I encourage all parents to share the experience of reading-aloud with their children.  This could be in the form of reading a picture book at night or even just taking thirty seconds to share a great line from a novel, movie review, or historical biography.  
For the month of December I will be sharing via Twitter some of the greatest lines from the most amazing stories I have encountered and I encourage everyone in our school community to do the same.  I will use the Twitter hashtag #ReadNR and I hope that we can engage as a community to share those lines from anything that we are reading aloud to our children, encountering in our favorite novels, journals, or newspaper articles.  It could be a line from a picture book or the closing words of a short story.   If you are not on Twitter please email me the line, up to 140 characters, at and I’ll be happy to post it for you.
My first tweet is from a story I first read in the third grade.  It’s a book with opening and closing lines I’ve committed to memory.  It’s a story I read as a child, and again as a young adult, a college student, a new teacher, and now to my children.  It’s a book that is filled with language that makes me excited about reading.  Here are the final lines of Charlotte’s Web.
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” - E.B. White #ReadNR

You can follow Dr. Daly on Twitter @nrschools

School Start Times

One of the most pressing concerns for the well being of our students is the lack of sleep that many of our teenagers are receiving.  The National Sleep Foundation has recently presented information following a two-year world-class study that our teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night.  Studies have shown that, on average, teenagers receive about 7.5 hours each night.
The reasons for these sleep needs are rooted in biology.  According to the coalition group School Start Later (
Sleep research shows that adolescents have a different—and later—sleep cycle than younger children and adults.  This is not a matter of habit, lifestyle, or stubbornness. It’s a matter of biology and natural circadian rhythms. The hormones that regulate sleep make it difficult for a typical teenager to fall asleep until after 11 pm and to wake up and be alert before around 8 am. Making them get up as early as 5:30 a.m. to catch the bus – right when they are in the deepest part of their sleep cycle - robs them of the deep sleep they need to grow and learn.
There are many possible implications for students who do not receive the proper amount of sleep. According to the School Start Later site:
Lack of sleep has serious repercussions on teenagers’ physical, mental and emotional health.  Sleep deprivation among teens is linked to depression, anxiety, susceptibility to illness and injury, irritability, car accidents, stunted growth, and even obesity and diabetes.  Researchers found that sleep deprivation in adolescents leads to increases in so-called risky behaviors, including substance abuse, suicide ideation, suicide attempts and suicide.  Sleep deprivation also lowers impulse control and reaction times (important for those driving).  Student athletes who do not get at least 8 hours of sleep per night are at greater risk of sports-related injuries – 2.3 times higher risk for each additional grade in school.  Lack of consistent sleep also negatively affects students’ ability to think and learn.
Our district has been exploring this topic in several ways.  Our Superintendent, Jon Bernard, has led the way in the Cape Ann League by hosting several conversational meetings with other district Superintendents about the possibility of changing the school start times.  There are many logistical considerations involved with a change of the school start times that would impact busing, athletic and extra-curricular activities, and other events in the communities.  These meetings and conversations are the first step in exploring the possibilities for adjusting school start times.
Our social and emotional committee P.A.U.S.E. (Public Awareness and Understanding of Social Education) and our Wellness committee has also been exploring this topic in greater detail over the past several months.  One team focused on the topic of sleep and has been lead by parent member Marci Bailey, Middle School Principal Cathy O’Connell, and Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Cynthia Conant.  I have also had the pleasure of working closely with this group to develop a survey that was shared with high school students in the spring of 2016.
 This survey contained questions about the sleep habits, stress-levels, and well-being of our high school students.  The results of the survey have been collected and analyzed by our team and we will be sharing the data with the high school faculty, students, and school committee in the near future.  We believe there are many things that each member of our school community (teachers, parents, students, administrators) can do to help our students and we hope that our presentation will advance that conversation among all stakeholders. 
In addition, we will be forming a School Start Times committee to look specifically at the benefits and concerns generated by adjusting the school start times.  Many of the logistical obstacles, including after-school jobs and child-care, need to be considered.  There are several districts who have overcome these challenges and we will be looking to those case-studies as we explore the best decision for North Reading.

More specific information about the school start times committee will be forthcoming, however if you have interest in participating please contact me via email at at any time.