The Future of Early Literacy

Literacy expert Lucy Calkins has recently made headlines by revealing changes to her popular Units of Study for Teaching Reading program. This early literacy curriculum is known for its reliance on the “three-cueing” approach.

Also known as MSV, three-cueing encourages children to read an unfamiliar word using a combination of meaning, structure, and visual cues. In other words, children are not necessarily required to decode the words on a page. They can make guesses by using context clues, studying pictures, or deciding whether the word “sounds right” in a sentence.

Critics argue that three-cueing has no basis in reading science because it relies on so much guesswork. It could even be detrimental for children’s literacy development, since it pulls attention away from the word itself. That’s why many educators are pushing for direct phonics and decoding instruction in early literacy programs. Education Week breaks down the controversy in this article.

It is unclear whether Calkins is rethinking the three-cueing approach altogether, or if Units of Study will just have minor changes in order to appease critics. However, the sudden shift has sparked a lively discussion on the future of early literacy instruction. Educational publishers will need to revisit their existing programs accordingly.

Further Reading


Standards, Testing, and Pandemic Learning

Children and teachers across the country have been dealing with disrupted learning routines for the better part of year. Is it fair to judge their performance by the same standards and assessments we’ve used in the past? Tim Shanahan explores the issue in a recent blog post.

How do you think schools should approach standards and testing in the coming years? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Stockvault/Geoffrey Whiteway

Is it Time to Reinvent Early Education?

In this opinion piece from The Atlantic, educator Erika Christakis argues that the U.S. should rethink its traditional approach to early education. School has remained largely unchanged over recent decades. Even during pandemic-era learning, the fundamentals are the same:

  • Students are grouped in classes by age.
  • Teachers lead short periods of instruction on standalone subjects.
  • Few opportunities exist for independent learning.
  • Most school time is spent indoors.
  • Schools overburden educators by also asking them to guard children’s mental and physical well-being.

The author cites several recent studies suggesting that this model is outdated and is even detrimental to young children.

What would a new model look like?

Christakis believes early education should be more engaging and less test-focused. More time would be spent outside, and mixed-age learning could be curiosity-driven. A shift in community responsibilities would also allow teachers to focus solely on teaching instead of having catchall “custodian functions.”

What would this change mean for publishers?

Publishers would likely need to overhaul existing resources in favor of:

  • Cross-curricular units that teachers can customize
  • Digital tools that support student inquiry and collaboration
  • Performance assessments or portfolio-building support instead of traditional tests

Are U.S. schools ready for this kind of change? What other resources would educators need?

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Remote Learning Resources for Parents

Remote learning may be here to stay, at least for a while, according to a recent article in The New York Times. That’s not good news for the many working parents who are burned-out from guiding their children’s education at home. But educational publishers could help parents make the most of their children’s at-home learning.

Many publishers already offer family letters or home-school connection features to keep parents informed. But what about expanding these features to address the remote-learning issues parents are facing? Here are some ideas.

Explain What is Taught and Why

The problem: Unlike teachers, most parents aren’t used to interpreting educational standards or curriculum. They might look over an assignment and wonder why their child has to solve a problem a certain way or write about a specific topic.

The solution: Create parent resources that explain how a lesson or assignment fits into the big picture of grade-level skills and content. Parents can better help their child if they know where their child’s learning is headed.

Help Parents Prioritize

The problem: Although schools may not like to admit it, remote learning often has practical time constraints. If parents have only one free hour a day to help their child with assignments, what should they focus on?

The solution: Parent resources could highlight the most important takeaways from the lesson, unit, or assignment. Publishers could also provide a few different options for activities with varying time commitments. This flexibility would allow parents to reinforce key skills in whatever time they have available.

Provide Quick Refreshers

The problem: Without steady access to their teachers during the school day, who do students turn to when they have questions? Their parents! Unfortunately, parents might be a little rusty when it comes to multiplying fractions or identifying adverbs.

The solution: Parent resources could include quick refreshers on skills and content to jog parents’ memories from long-ago school days. Publishers should also provide helpful links parents can turn to when they are stumped by their child’s work.

This pandemic has shown that teachers are irreplaceable, and everyone is eager for students to get back into the classroom once it is safe. Until then, many families will continue playing a role in their children’s day-to-day schooling. That means educational publishers must be doing all they can to support students, teachers, and parents.

Getting Ready for Fall 2020

If you watched the recent Senate hearings on COVID-19, you are well aware of the conflicting opinions about schools reopening in the fall. Many medical experts caution that they do not fully know how the virus affects children. They argue that schools must have adequate measures in place to prevent staff and students from spreading the virus.

However, some government leaders argue that children are at low risk for virus complications. They believe children will face greater setbacks if they don’t physically return to school.

One thing that most people can agree on is that students are currently experiencing learning loss. Unequal access to resources and support is widening the learning gap between socio-economic groups.

With all of these perspectives in mind, school officials must now answer the challenging question: “How do we proceed?” Assuming physical buildings will reopen, their plans must include:

  1. health and safety procedures
  2. guidance for addressing social-emotional concerns
  3. strategies for assessing and recovering from learning loss

The transition will not be easy. Once again, teachers will be tasked with adopting new instructional approaches. And after months at home, students must readjust to classroom expectations and cooperating with peers.

Which resources could help K6 teachers navigate these uncharted waters? Here are some ideas!

  • Handbooks or worksheets with appealing characters who provide simple explanations of health measures, such as wearing a mask (For young children in particular, equating wearing a mask with being a superhero may ease their apprehensions.)
  • Short videos or science experiments that visually demonstrate why social distancing and washing hands help reduce the spread of germs
  • Social-emotional activities that include emoji cards for identifying and expressing emotions, puppets for role-playing social interactions, and sensory objects for practicing self-regulation
  • Grade-specific support materials to help the many teachers who will have to review or teach large chunks of another grade’s curriculum (Some schools will ask teachers to reteach parts of the previous grade. Other schools may have teachers loop with their 2019—2020 students and continue with the next grade’s content.)
  • Fun enrichment activities for advanced learners to complete independently while educators provide additional help to the learners who suffered most from the extended “summer slide”

Resource Spotlight: Writing Central

Check out Sundance’s Writing Central! A supplemental program for grades 3–5, Writing Central is one of the many high-interest, passage-driven products Jump Start Press has developed with Sundance/Newbridge. Mentor cards and practice cards help students engage with the writing process across genres, and lesson plans offer a variety of support for the teacher.

Visit the Sundance/Newbridge website to learn more!

Pandemic Pedagogy

The abrupt shift to online teaching caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged teachers as they educate students remotely. It’s a time of “pandemic pedagogy,” notes educational technology professor Natalie B. Milman.

Teachers across the nation are finding creative ways to use both digital and analog materials as they move online. Publishers must take a cue from these innovative educators by providing new methods of supporting students remotely.

Check out these engaging ideas for K5:

  • Games, puzzles and fun quizzes, which prove useful in motivating students as well as teaching them
  • Online reading logs, which help children keep track of material that they have read or listened to and write about it
  • High-interest reading passages that inspire opportunities for interesting conversations
  • Short, bite-sized passages, photo galleries, and videos instead of long presentations
  • Platforms and software for small-group use so that children can work together online
  • Digital and print resources that allow for commenting so that children can read and comment on other students’ work
  • Art projects, experiments, and other activities that students can easily do at home
  • Assignments combining creativity and online tools that enable students to create podcasts, slide shows, graphs, and the like
  • Printable workbook pages and instructions for activities that can be sent to students by mail
  • Graphic organizers and other self-assessment materials to aid students in tracking their own progress

We’d love to hear from you! What kinds of materials are proving most useful as you craft your own “pandemic pedagogy” experience?

Jump Start Press’s experience in producing engaging, standards-based content inspires our development of educational products for clients. Helping teachers and students celebrate learning remains our goal, whether that learning is remote, in person, or an intriguing blend.

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

People have proven this adage to be true again and again in response to COVID-19 needs. Distilleries and perfumeries have retooled to make hand sanitizer. Students have used 3D-printers to create face shields. Individuals and clothing manufacturers have produced facemasks, gowns, and scrubs. Dyson and NASA have designed new ventilators.

Perhaps the most remarkable demonstration of ingenuity is how teachers, students, and parents have transitioned from brick-and-mortar schools to remote learning. The transition has not been—and is not—easy. There are inequities in access to the Internet and personal computing devices. Different homelife situations also present challenges. Some students have adults at home who are available to answer their questions and help them stay on task, while others have limited support.

New Timelines, New Concerns

Now, as we approach two months of stay-at-home measures, most states have decided to keep schools closed for the remainder of the 2019–2020 academic year. New timelines bring new concerns as teachers, administrators, states, and publishers address these questions:

  • How do we transition from remote review and enrichment to remotely teaching new content?
  • Should we provide students with learning opportunities through the summer months?
  • Will schools reopen in the fall? If so, how do schools and buses maintain social distancing to ensure the safety and well being of staff and students?
  • Will schools employ face-to-face learning in tandem with remote learning to reduce in-school occupancy? How will students adapt to this new model of learning?
  • What print content can translate to digital content and vice versa?
  • How can we better support parents or guardians tasked with guiding their children’s at-home education?

Jump Start Press is keeping these questions in mind as we work with our clients to develop educational products for the 2020–2021 school year and beyond. Though circumstances have changed, our focus remains on helping teachers and students make the most of learning—together or apart.

We’d love to hear from you! How are your local school districts planning to transition to in-person learning? What obstacles and opportunities lie ahead?

Developing Content for Online Learning

Educational publishers face unique challenges as the world responds to COVID-19. With children across the country now attending school from home, publishers are rapidly digitizing their materials or supplementing their existing online offerings.

As an added complication, content development staff who are used to collaborating in an office are now working remotely—many while supervising their own children’s education. These elements combine to make an already stressful situation even more difficult.

Jump Start Press can help! Our content developers are experienced in K–8 reading/language arts, math, social studies, and science. We can support your team for projects big or small—

  • producing new student and teacher materials to supplement the current curriculum for at-home learners.
  • repurposing your company’s existing material or creating new standards-aligned material to ease the transition into the 2020–2021 school year.
  • providing teachers and parents with instructional support and at-home lessons to combat the anticipated academic slide from the disrupted school year.
  • editing print-based content in preparation for digitization (e.g., replacing references to write-on lines, page numbers, and so on).
  • proofreading web-based content for any errors that might have arisen in the digitization process.

Jump Start is used to working remotely with clients, colleagues, and freelancers. We are well equipped to help your team develop meaningful resources in these unusual circumstances. If you are interested in learning more about our services, please contact Mary Pearce at

We wish good health and comfort to all of our publishers, educators, and learners!