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ReadTennessee Aims to Help Parents, Community Help Kids

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Engaging parents in helping their children learn can be done virtually, as a website called ReadTennessee demonstrates.

The site offers early grade learning toolkits in reading (and math!) for teachers, parents, and community members. Operated under the aegis of the state Department of Education, development of the site relied on expertise from the University of Tennessee's Center for Literacy, Literacy, Education, and Employment—and input from other organizations, according to Jan Bushing, director of the Office of School-based Support Services at the Tennessee Department of Education and project manager for the site. She said the site was "precipitated by the state's receipt of Race to the Top funding."

Constance Clark, a policy analyst at Education Sector, a Washington, D.C.-based independent think tank that challenges conventional thinking in education policy, lauds the creators of the site for its video tutorials, articles and activities to help young children at home.

"The toolkit ... demonstrates how states can help boost reading achievement, even outside of the classroom. Other states should follow Tennessee's lead, combining at-home and in-school efforts to give struggling students a shot at higher achievement in reading," Clark writes on The Quick and the Ed blog.

A good place for families to start exploring ReadTennessee is on the Introduction to the Family page.

Individual toolkits can be accessed here, where there is an overview with links to toolkits for math, reading, writing, speaking and listening, thinking, and feelings and behavior, among others. A "BrowseAloud" feature reads selected portions of text aloud to the audiences with vision problems or reading difficulties.

The site also links to "Brain Hero," a three-minute video from The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, which depicts how actions by a range of people in the family and community can affect a child's development.

"The active participation of parents and caregivers in providing interactions and activities to stimulate brain growth and development is crucial for school readiness," Jan Bushing, director of the Office of School-based Support Services at the Tennessee Department of Education, says. "We encourage all parents and caregivers of young children to use ReadTennessee.org as a resource for information regarding physical and mental development and ideas to stimulate appropriate growth in cognitive skills, including social emotional skills."

Beyond that, she points out that "the support of our communities is vital to meet the learning needs of all children." In the Advice for the Community section, community members are "challenged to volunteer in schools as tutors and mentors by the United Ways of Tennessee 'Raise Your Hand' initiative. ReadTennessee.org supports the initiative and provides information and access to training modules for tutors and mentors," according to Bushing.

The site was launched in July 2011, and Olga Ebert, Research Leader at the Center for Literacy, Education, and Employment at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn, says they are in the process of tracking its effectiveness by collecting feedback from families and from community organizations. "We have received positive comments such as 'easy to navigate,' 'clean design,' 'a lot of information,'" she says.

ReadTennessee also attempts to bootstrap on tutorials and information from a U.S. Department of Education website that's called, "Doing What Works." Ironically, that site has not been working for months. It is expected to go online again in April, according to information posted on the ReadTennessee site.

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