Episode 45 - The Role of Background Knowledge and Literacy in the Community with Susan Neuman, EdD
Susan Neuman is a Professor of Teaching and Learning at New York University specializing in childhood education and early literacy development. Previously, she has been a Professor at the University of Michigan and has served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. In her role as Assistant Secretary, she established the Early Reading First program, the Early Childhood Educator Professional Development Program and was responsible for all activities in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Act.
She has served on the IRA Board of Directors (2001-2003), and other numerous boards of non-profit organizations, and served as Co-editor of Reading Research Quarterly (2011-2018), ILA flagship research journal. Her research and teaching interests include early childhood policy, curriculum, and early reading instruction, prek-grade 3 for children who live in poverty.
Dr. Neuman has received two life-time achievement awards for research in literacy development, and is a member of the Reading Hall of Fame, and a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. She has written over 100 articles, and authored and edited 12 books.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: [00:00:00] Welcome to READ, the Research Education and ADvocacy podcast with me, your host, Danielle Scorrano. Before we talk more about READ, you are about to hear this amazing, inspiring leader in education. I am joined by Dr. Susan Neuman. Dr. Neuman, welcome to the READ Podcast.
Dr. Susan Neuman: Oh, it's so delightful to be here.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Oh, it's so delightful to have you. And for all of our READers tuning in, you know that we connect you with researchers, thought leaders and educators like Dr. Neuman, who share their work insights and expertise about education and child development. So we're both, I think, recording from New York City. We're New York City neighbors. Can you set the scene for us, Dr. Neuman, where are you today? How are you showing up to this conversation?
Dr. Susan Neuman: So I'm in my office, at NYU and surrounded by me are all these students who are graduating today. So it's a sea of purple. It's beautiful.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: I hear you're the violets right? Yeah, that's right. A Violet. My [00:01:00] fiancé is an NYU grad and I was talking to him I guess yesterday, and he said, yeah, just tell her Go Violet. So when you mentioned the purple, I remember you know your mascot. Is it mascot? The mascot is the violets?
Dr. Susan Neuman: I guess so. You know, I always kid that if you look for NYU football team, look again, no mascot other than the flower.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Oh, I love that. And what a perfect day, right, to celebrate commencement, especially for educators. It always just grounds me in that sense of purpose. I'm sure for you it is too. So for those of you eager to learn about Dr. Neuman, she is a professor of teaching and learning at New York University, and you specialize in childhood education and early literacy development. Previously, Dr. Neuman has been a professor at the University of Michigan and has served as the US assistant Secretary for elementary and secondary education. In her role as assistant secretary, she established the Early [00:02:00] Reading First program, the Early Childhood Educator Professional Development Program, and was responsible for all activities in Title One of the Elementary and Secondary Act. She is also served on the IRA Board of Directors and other numerous boards of nonprofit organizations, and served as the co-editor of Reading Research Quarterly, the ILA flagship research journal. Her research and teaching interests include early childhood policy curriculum and early reading instruction from pre-kindergarten to grade three for children who live in poverty. Also, Dr. Neuman has received two lifetime achievement awards for research in literacy development and is a member of the Reading Hall of Fame and a fellow of the AERA or the American Educational Research Association.
She's written over 100 articles and authored and edited 12 books. I mean, I was getting so excited just reading all about your work and researching all you've done. I mean, I've learned from you for years since I joined an [00:03:00] education, and I'm so excited to talk to you as we read your formal bio. Can you tell us more about your area of expertise and more importantly, your story? What's your path in your professional career?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Well, my passion is about helping children, particularly those who've not had a fighting chance achieve in literacy. So I began as a fifth grade teacher in a small area in Vallejo, California.
And I went into that classroom and I said to the principal, how do I teach reading? The principal looked at me and say, oh my gosh, do I have a problem? And in fact, what I recognize is, despite the fact that I had schooling, I had my master's degree and whatever, I really didn't know how to teach reading. I didn't know how to help these children.
I loved them so much, but I didn't think I was doing. As well as I could for them. So I [00:04:00] went on into education. I got my doctorate in education and then I went on to teach at the higher ed institutions. And I love working with teachers, but I still maintained my passionate interest in helping young children learn how to read.
And one of the things that always strikes me, Is that many of these children, oh, the bulk of these children are just so bright and so willing to learn and eager to learn, but there are structural inequalities in our society that for some reason have just stopped their progress over time. So, Much of what I do is try to figure out what is going on in communities and how can we create additional supports so they can be successful.
So I work in school as well as out of school to try and make that happen for kids.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. Thank you for sharing [00:05:00] that. I actually started my career as a fifth grade teacher before I joined Winsward. And similar, I think, you know, when I've talked to people on the READ podcast and I've talked to other educators, there's this drive to want to do best for our kids and for teachers. It's really difficult to find that path where we could get the necessary resources. We talked a lot and guests on the READ podcast have talked about focusing on improving Higher Ed Institutions, improving pre-service programs, focusing on professional development. I also appreciate how you talked about targeting those structural inequalities.
I've talked to a number of researchers and in my own work understanding all of the community factors that may inhibit a child from being successful, even when all of our kids just so desperately want to read and achieve what isthe joy of reading and the joy of the written word.
So thank you for starting with that. With all of your experience from [00:06:00] reading education to education at large to policy, you are that researcher, that leader that encompasses the research education and the research advocacy.And I started this type of format in my episodes where we would focus on the research education link first. And so I would like to know more about your work in connecting research and education, starting with your work on the early literacy skills. And I'll sit a little side note, I was looking you up on Twitter a couple weeks ago, and I happened to just see a tweet from Dan Willingham about you, and it was actually from October, 2022.
And he says in his tweet, You: Science of Reading is not just phonics. I get it, but where do I start with comprehension, especially in early grades. Me: Did you know Susan Neuman at NYU has been working on this issue for years and he capitalizes years as YEARS, years! Of course. So you've been focusing on early literacy skills on this comprehensive framework, and how do you conceptualize the code focus skills and the meaning [00:07:00] focus skills that educators should be focusing on?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Well, that's an interesting question, and in fact, I just had a meeting before this podcast to talk about that. We know that children need code-based skills. It is absolutely critical. For these children, it is an opening to literacy development and being able to be independently reading on one's own, but that's only part of the story. The other part of the story is what we call language comprehension, and that has been a very amorphous term. In other words, it's hard to pin that down and I think Hollis Scarborough did a beautiful job years ago in talking about the reading rope, and essentially she said, this is what language comprehension is. It is vocabulary, it's background knowledge. It's the ability to use oral language development. In other words, oral language and [00:08:00] vocabulary are different things. It's being able to reason using language and I think that both of those skills are absolutely critical. You can't have one without the other. It's like love and marriage. And so what we want to see is we want to see equal amounts of attention devoted to those particular skills, both helping children decode and understand how decoding works, but also to understand what reading is all about and what language is the basis of reading. So those two are really important.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Thank you for outlining that. You said in the beginning that the meaning-focused skills with vocabulary, background knowledge and oral language are outlined, but it's still a little amorphous. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Because I think they're harder to measure. One of the things that I do with teachers is I say, first thing we need to understand oral [00:09:00] language. We need to talk with children and to engage them in conversation. The more they use language, the better they get at language. But oral language is often colloquial. We know that, for example, we will tend to use easier words when I'm communicating with you than book language, for example.
Vocabulary is often the language of schooling, and you'll notice that if you take an average book and you say, what words should I directly teach children? That's a very hard task. You can't really figure it out so easily, and even more so it's difficult to measure. The problem is that if you don't have that vocabulary, vocabulary and background knowledge are very tightly connected. So if I know words and I know their deep meaning of words, I'm likely to have some background knowledge about that and that will aid [00:10:00] comprehension. So one of the things I feel very strongly about is we've often attacked comprehension as a generic skill. You either have it or you don't, you know main idea, or you don't.
But the problem is that comprehension is so dependent on background knowledge and vocabulary so that it is a very particular skill, and as a result, we need to teach that content knowledge and background so that children can comprehend. It's tougher.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Right. Yeah, that's a good point. And I think background knowledge has, I don't want to say achieved the limelight. It is in the limelight in popular discourse right now. And truly it's been something that has needed and has been an area of focus and a lot of your research and a lot of research communities with the science of reading for decades. So, for those of us who are just, perhaps introduced to the importance of background knowledge and vocabulary through Twitter or popular [00:11:00] discourse, what are those things that you could share with them to better inform why they're so important, and how we really get to teaching background knowledge and vocabulary in the classroom?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Well, you raised really interesting questions. The first is, why is background knowledge so important? So, I'll give you an example from my own work. I can read a fourth grade science text. I can tell you that I may not comprehend it because I don't know very much about science. And so when I read it, I can read every word. I can basically read it fluently, in fact. But do I understand what I'm reading? Very often, not, it's fourth grade. What is wrong with me? Well, one of the reasons and one of the problems is I don't have the prerequisite knowledge that enables me to take that text and really understand it. And the problem about background knowledge is that many of our [00:12:00] children are coming to school with different levels of background knowledge.
So we just did a study in one of our schools and we did a study on the content knowledge and learning about insects. And it turns out that many of our children don't know that insects have three body parts, six legs. And as a result, they will often misconstrue a particular animal as an insect because they don't have the background knowledge that other children will have. And so the question is, how do we build it? And that has been the big question in much of the research. The easiest strategy, I say, is to read informational texts to children. So, reading informational text and reading narrative nonfiction texts, if we do that well, can build that background knowledge [00:13:00] for so many children, some of which have a great deal of knowledge, some of which have less so, but it builds a shared community and a shared body of knowledge from which we can all begin to build more comprehension and inferencing skills from that as well.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, that's a really good point. And I've read some your work, is that something that you talk a lot about is, content rich reading instruction and curriculum?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Right. There is no reason why we should give dribble to children. They deserve better. These children are so eager to learn.
So what we do with our World of Words curriculum that I developed is we stay on a particular topic for two or three weeks. So let's say we'll take the issue of wild weather. Children love wild weather, you know, all lizards and volcanoes and eruptions, they love it. [00:14:00] And so what we'll do is we'll do read aloud text in information, narrative non-fiction for two or three weeks.
By the time they're done, they really have a deep understanding of weather. They have many of the words so that they can converse about weather. And so what we're doing is creating a language that they can use to really develop concepts, comprehension, and then inference beyond the text.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, that's an interesting example. I like how you talked about your creating language because all of these facets of the science of reading, whether it's the code-based skills or the meaning-based skills are integrated in a language rich environment. I even drew the connection the underpinnings of cognitive science, that background knowledge is continuously making networks of schema, where we create these mental representations and tying [00:15:00] language to that. And so that's really exciting that you're focusing on two to three weeks on a topic to really continue to build that work What about vocabulary? So you said that background knowledge and vocabulary are very tied. So how do we continue, or how does this operationalize or become applied in the classroom?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Well, we're very careful in the vocabulary we teach. One the things that we know is that children will need explicit definitions of the words in which we are going to teach before they encounter the text. So one of the things we always tell teachers, I always tell teachers is we don't start by saying, what do you know about wild weather? Because what inevitably will happen is there's one child that will raise their hand aggressively, and all the other children will feel silent. Now, I have to tell you that as a very young child, I was very shy.
So I would [00:16:00] never have been that child to raise that hand. I would always keep my face down and just hunker. And a lot of our children do that. So what we do is before any kind of reading, we'll provide a couple of explicit definition. A cave, we're learning about a cave. A cave is a hole in the mountain. And so we give a very simple definition of a few words. We focus on nouns because nouns create mental imagery for children, right? So they can envision what a hole in a mountain might look like, and then we might have also pictures and sometimes videos. So we'll share some background knowledge that way with children.
Then when we begin to read, they begin to hear some of those words, and it becomes embedded in meaningful content. And then what we do toward. The end of [00:17:00] reading is we talk about it. We'll do turn and talk with the children and ask them what they've learned about caves and the holes in the mountains and what might be in those holes.
And so what we're doing is we're not focusing on many different words. We say about three words a session, but what we're trying to do is give them explicit meaning and then using that meaning in context and then getting children to talk about that. And it becomes their own at that point.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: As you're saying the children are creating mental representations, I'm creating mental representations of the classrooms that you're describing. I love that. That reminded me of some of the work that we're doing in terms of helping teachers to decide whether they need to activate or build background knowledge with the students.
And it sounds like in some of the definitions you're providing and the imagery and the videos, it's a great way to build background knowledge [00:18:00] and then motivate the students to create this engaging environment so that when they are interacting with the text that they've already have and build background knowledge through those visual images, through perhaps some notes on the board so that they can refer to in order to continue to activate the knowledge and then interact with the content that they're learning.
Dr. Susan Neuman: Can I just interrupt? I think you said it really well. Build and then activate rather than activate and then try to build later on. So the building is really important and then what you're doing is you're activating that extant knowledge, and that's really important.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Background knowledge is so interesting because there's so much that you could do with it and make lessons engaging by bringing the world to the students. The other question is, teachers have precious time in their reading instruction, so [00:19:00] what are some other implications for instruction that they should be really intentional about? What about something like distributed review or creating some intentional opportunities for more knowledge and language building?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Right. So you mentioned a couple of things that I want to highlight first. What we do is we vary teacher questioning, and we do it very deliberately. So in the beginning when we work with students, we often use a column response kind of technique. And what we'll do is we'll say, a cave is a hole in a mountain. What is a cave? A hole in the mountain. So what we want to do is get the children to talk a lot, to co-construct with us and we do it. I use my hand motion. My turn. Your turn in a very call and response technique. It's choral reading in some ways.
But then what we'll do is, we'll also at various points, carefully done, we'll [00:20:00] ask some questions to make sure that they really are understanding the topic. That going back to your notion of schema, that we're on the same schema with the students. And then at the end we ask open-ended questions. And we don't ask open-ended questions too early on because with open-ended questions, very often teachers will ask an open-ended question and the answer will be wrong. Our dear children, how they'll go off in various ways. And so what we'll do is we make sure that the open-ended questions that the children have enough background knowledge now to really ask and answer those open-ended questions in a way that is more targeted and really extends what they are learning.
So we're really careful about that. In addition, you mentioned review and one of the things that we note that's really important is that a lot of [00:21:00] times we as teachers teach and then we assume children know, but we neglect to review and then distribute that review over time. What we do is initially re review what we've learned, those three words, and then additional three more words. We'll review those words, and then what we'll do is space that review over time. So it might be over a month that we will introduce that word all over again and see that children are remembering it and developing an even more enriched understanding of that word. So, distributed review has been shown in research to have tremendous impact, and really leads from short-term memory to long-term memory and to deeper learning.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, I'm glad that you explained that. I think that's one powerful strategy that teachers [00:22:00] can use or an instructional implication beyond just what we see in reading, right? That point of distributed review is showing just how comprehensive reading instruction is – that you're pulling in reading, research and cognitive science and all these other elements to not only teach, but to support retention. And I think that's really powerful. I think it's one that's been really interesting for me, particularly with review and retention and as children continue to get older. But even in the example you cited, you are very intentional with how you can include that with younger children.
And the other piece that I wanted to highlight was the questioning piece. When I started teaching, I didn't learn that it had to plan questions or how to pre or even think, okay, I'll create a lesson plan, but I don't need to create my questions. And it wasn't until I came to Windward where I was taught how to be intentional with writing questions and comments [00:23:00] and thinking about what was going to facilitate discussion and comprehension and checking for understanding and incorporating vocabulary in a language-rich environment. And so these are the things I think that are really tangible for teachers.
Dr. Susan Neuman: Absolutely.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: My other question though. Yeah, go ahead. I have so many questions, I'm so excited. The other piece you said, I want to return back to what you talked about in the beginning with your story. You had talked about one thing you're interested in is understanding was the structural inequalities and examining what's happening in the community. And so we spent a good part of the first part of this interview on educators and classroom implications, and I'd like to know more about your insights on the community. So let's start with families and caregivers. What should they be thinking about, particularly in early childhood to support literacy?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Well, I love those [00:24:00] questions because I often deal with, families and caregivers in community settings. So, I'm always on parents’ side. I'm a parent myself. I know all the complexities of raising two wonderful children. But parents are very busy in this day and age, and so I think as a teacher we have to be aware that the parents are bringing their children, their loved ones to the classroom. These children are very loved, but parents may not have a great deal of time to work with them at home. And I think that we should be cognizant of that. They live in a busy world, and we need to respect these families in what they do.
I can talk about some of the things that we do to support families in communities. First, I think we recognize that all families live in [00:25:00] communities. And neighborhood is very important, has a very important role in children's development, and I think we underestimate that. We underestimate it because we think of the parent child relationship. But we don't often think about the parent child in the community, in the neighborhood relationship. So, for example, we've been focusing on the fact that many of our neighborhoods in poor communities have very limited access to books, especially during the summer months. We're coming up to summer and what we're finding is that many programs shut down. You know, head starts will close, and early programs will close for the summer, and many families are left with very few resources and very few opportunities to really help and engage their children. And so, one of the projects that we've been doing is to make sure that they are books in [00:26:00] communities and to work in various places in those communities. So some of you on this podcast might know about my work in laundromats. We know that parents, for example, bring their children to the mats two hours a week.
And so what we've done is we've created literacy related centers in laundromats to engage those children in literacy related activities. We bring in trusted messengers. Sometimes volunteers in the community, librarians who will read to children while their parents are doing laundry.
We recognize that parents are terribly busy, and they may not have opportunities to read to their kids, so we provide other strategies to do so. We also have programs in barbershops so that our little guys are, while they're getting their haircut, we have barbers who talk about literacy with their children and try to help them understand the importance of early schooling and why it's [00:27:00] important to read to kids and the importance of reading diverse stories, which have images of themselves in it. I have this notion of a 360 surround that children should be surrounded with books and print in their community. And this ensures that whether it's the grocery store, the laundromat, the bank, the car dealership children have access to print. And that goes a long way to really beginning the process of loving to read.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. Again, I'm like in a trance. I’m in this mental imagery of what you're describing in the community, and what I hear you talking about is it's an integrated approach. When I think about some of the work, we had spoken to Dr. Lakeisha Johnson a few months ago and she had cited ecological models and where I hear you saying is this ecological [00:28:00] framework to thinking about reading beyond a classroom. And that it's involved in the community, that there are systems of support for kiddos. And that brings me to some questions on research advocacy link, and that, READers and Dr. Neuman, is a part where we're focused on now. What we can do now as leaders in our community? What should policymakers be thinking about, spanning from the classroom to the community, to research institutions and perhaps institutions of higher education?
And I want to follow up with what you just talked about with this “360 surround,” and my initial question was to myself, well, who's responsible for that? And then I started to think back, I said, okay, in this integrated approach, there are many different people, stakeholders who are responsible. It's not just one set of stakeholders, that it's many. Can you help me in my thinking understand how various stakeholders can be responsible? Or if [00:29:00] someone's listening to this and said, that's a great idea, how do they get started in something like that of these certain community programs?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Good question. I like your notion a lot about, it's a shared responsibility. It is not just about teachers in classrooms. I see teachers in New York City all the time, and they're doing a marvelous job on the whole, but they can't do it alone. They need support from our community and so, I think that one of the ways in which we started with laundromats and barbershops is they began to realize that what's good for business is good for the community.
If they can create family centered materials and approaches, the community will develop loyalty to that dealership or that barbershop or that laundromat. We have [00:30:00] parents who say that they come to a specific laundromat because they think the manager cares about them and their children. What we begin to do is we spread that word. We say what is good for the community is also good for business and we're beginning to get gain traction. The other thing that we've often underappreciated is our wonderful public librarians who are doing so much outreach in the community and really getting outside the public library itself and beginning to help and other establishments in the community. So I say the way to get started my perspective is to begin to realize that there are trade organizations that are trying to do good. Let's give them some good ideas to help them along.
So years ago, for example, JetBlue came to me and they said, we want to do good. We have a social [00:31:00] responsibility. We're an airline, but we're supposed to do something good, what could we do? And so we established vending machines that are in grocery stores with free books so that when parents are waiting in line to check out, they, oh my gosh, there’s a book vending machine. I can get a book from my child. It's a feel good experience and it's also good for JetBlue, frankly. So I think that forging relationships with organizations is one way that we can begin to really make a difference.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. Oh, I love that. Those are some great examples. What about school leaders? And so, you and I are both sitting in New York City. I know that you are active across the country and world, frankly, on different policies in reading. But you know, it's not lost on me that we are sitting in a city that is putting a lot of attention into reading education. And I think [00:32:00] sometimes I feel like the whole world is watching New York, and that might just be like my own insular way of thinking about this, but it’s true that the New York City DOE has hit headlines. So even just beyond policy in general, other cities that are looking towards New York and other states that have already made progress. So what should these school leaders in these cities be focusing on right now?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Well, you know, we've just done an analysis of 220 bills across the United States, all focused on reading reform right now. And I'd say, some exciting things are beginning to happen. I think that one of the things that we're recognizing is that evidence matters. And that we have a bulk of evidence on literacy, and we need to use it. We need to ensure that our children are getting the best programs, possible.
But one of the things that does scare me, Is that when I hear some people talk about [00:33:00] reading reform, I hear them talk about phonics, as if phonics were the vitamin pill that is going to change everything in life. And so I think what we have to do is be careful in our rhetoric to focus on and to recognize, as I said, the very beginning, that reading is comprehension. And if we only teach phonics, what we're going to do is we're going to be sadly behind. We're going to have spent a heck of a lot of money and not get the results we really want. So what I'm hoping for New York and what I'm hoping that our other cities follow is, I think we're beginning to recognize that reading is a comprehensive skill, that it is complex, that the teachers are working very hard at the science of reading and understanding that the many pillars of reading that [00:34:00] need to be addressed. I think we're also beginning to understand that some children will need additional supports.
Many of these bills also focus on the importance of culturally responsive instruction that is sensitive to the many wonderful identities and variations we have in our beautiful city. I think we are recognizing that language is so critically important and that we want our children, if we could, possibly be multilingual, not just bilingual, but multilingual, so learning from other languages to enhance our skills in language is ideal. Finally, I see that many of these bills that are coming out are more sensitive to parents and community, and they recognize that the community can and should help, and that parents [00:35:00] need to have a very vocal role in this reading reform. We can't do it without them, but we also need their expertise because they know their child best. And they can help us so dramatically in what we do. So I think, understanding that will be critical for policy.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, I like that last piece too. We've been doing a leadership series called LEAD on READ on the READ Podcast, and some of the insights I've been gaining are these qualities of empathy and compassion and bringing mutual respect and shared ownership, and celebrating all the expertise, like you said, into reading. And I appreciate that last piece too of the partnership work. Because it's not just one entity alone, it's this shared responsibility and frankly, like this, like we both said, shared expertise, shared efficacy, that we could support our kiddos.
And so thank you for talking about that. I'm so curious and so inspired by you [00:36:00] and all the work that you're doing, and so I would like in the last question to know more about what you're working on, that you're excited to share, that perhaps no one's really asking you that you're just like be on the lookout for this project. Or, where are you invested right now?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Well, I've invested a few things, but I guess one of the things I'm invested in, number one, is community. And we've talked a little bit about that, but I'm also invested in working in media. And I'm working with groups that are producing media that is much better than we've done in the past. In our work, we're doing eye tracking technology and using eye tracking technology to basically understand how children comprehend media and then to design the media in ways that really support children's learning. So one of the things we've learned is that, we call it a synergy, a theory of synergy, and [00:37:00] that many of our children will learn through print.
We're certainly hoping that print is very important in their lives, but sometimes offering other media like video really engages them in such a way and bring us these ideas together more vividly than before. So our theory of synergy is about using multiple media or using cross-platform learning to really enhance children's opportunity to learn and their joy in learning. I mean, these children are as you know, digital natives and they learn through those medias. Those are some of the things I'm interested in.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: That is so exciting. I'm really looking forward to learning more about that as the project continues. Where can we learn more from you, Dr. Neuman? Where could we connect with you? How do we find you on this worldwide web of the internet?
Dr. Susan Neuman: Well, I probably, I do a little [00:38:00] Twitter. We have a website that I'm happy to share where we really tried to bring all of our work together. If I said, in essence what I do, it's really a content focused approach to literacy, where I think that learning and learning about literacy and learning about content is the answer to creating joy in learning generally. So we all want to be smart in this world and the best way to do it is to embrace both content and literacy together.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. Thank you so much. And I think what we, the two of us have, or at least what I'm learning from you is this continuing to engage in this active dialogue and this partnership across schools and communities and other leaders in the policy space. So I appreciate you bringing that to the forefront, really this active dialogue and this shared ownership.
Dr. Susan Neuman: Well, thank you. It's been fun to talk. I love talking about these issues.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: [00:39:00] Yes. Me too, and it was so great to talk to you. Thank you so much for lending your time with us, Dr. Neuman.
Dr. Susan Neuman: Oh, I’m happy to do so.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Thank you and thank you all for listening to this episode of the READ podcast. To learn more from this episode or from any of our previous guests, you can access my free READ bookmarks, or top moments from each episode by visiting readpodcast.org.
I continuously strive to connect you with and learn from inspiring leaders like Dr. Neuman, and advocates in research and education. If you have any thoughts, questions, or ideas of topics and speakers, feel free to reach out via email at email@example.com. I also invite you to like, subscribe and share the READ Podcast with friends and colleagues, and you can also follow The Windward Institute's social media pages to find out more about upcoming speakers, episodes and events.
Dr. Neuman, I always have a sign off that says, until next time, READers, I would be honored if you said, until next time READers.
Dr. Susan Neuman: Until next [00:40:00] time, READers.
Susan Neuman, EdD, joins the READ Podcast for a discussion on integrating rich content, background knowledge, and language into literacy instruction. She breaks down code-based and meaning-based reading skills and explains the importance of background knowledge, language, and vocabulary within a comprehensive lens of reading instruction.
She discusses her work and passion for building literacy in communities through what she calls a “360 surround” approach to ensuring students have access to high-quality and diverse print outside of school. Dr. Neuman offers practical implications for educators and community members to educate and empower young readers in their classrooms and communities.
Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”
The Role of Background Knowledge
Listen to 10:51 – 13:16 to learn more.
“Many of our children are coming to school with different levels of background knowledge.”
Dr. Neuman explains a comprehensive approach to reading comprehension, citing frameworks like Scarborough’s Reading Rope (2001). Background knowledge is an essential component for literacy development.
“We want to see equal amounts of attention devoted to both helping children decode and understand how decoding works, and also to understand the language-basis of reading.”
Content and language-rich instruction helps children build knowledge and vocabulary while they also learn to decode and read accurately and fluently.
Effective Classroom Practices to Try Now
Listen to 18:54 – 23:15 to learn more.
- Integrate rich content in reading instruction such as building in intentional instructional opportunities from across content areas (i.e., social studies and science)
- Carefully choose and “deep teach” vocabulary that is connected to, or present in, the text students are reading.
- Vary teacher questioning.
- Review previously learned content and skills through a distributed, spaced nature over time.
“Distributed review has been shown in research to have tremendous impact and leads from short-term memory to long-term memory to deeper learning.”
Building Literacy in the Community and Beyond
Listen to 24:54 – 27:35 to learn more.
Dr. Neuman’s work in the community focuses on neighborhood factors to support childhood literacy and development.
“Neighborhood has a very important role in children's development.”
Dr. Neuman approaches her literacy work in the community through a “360 surround” by partnering with other stakeholders in the community to provide children with access to print.
“A 360 surround ensures that whether it's the grocery store, the laundromat, the bank, the car dealership children have access to print.”
Dr. Neuman on the current movement in reading…
“Some exciting things are beginning to happen. I think that one of the things that we're recognizing is that evidence matters. We need to ensure that our children are getting the best program possible.”
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About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.