books about cloth, clothing and more
Listicles, Uncategorized

The Fabric of Our Lives: Books About Cloth, Clothing, and More

August 3, 2018

The Fabric of Our Lives: Books About Cloth, Clothing, and More

Books function as the fabric of our lives: warming us, making connections, and helping to define who we are. Here are some of Mia’s favorite books on fabrics, mittens, hats, coats, jeans, and more!

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How Mia Can Level the Playing Field: A Reading Specialist’s Perspective

July 23, 2018

How Mia Can Level the Playing Field: A Reading Specialist’s Perspective


By Leigh Ellis Beauchamp, M. Ed., Certified Reading Specialist 

Why might a teacher and certified reading specialist like myself want Mia in their classroom? Here’s what I told the author of a recent blog post centered on why Mia is not in some sort of competition with teachers:

As one teacher in charge of 125 wonderful middle school students per year, I’m afraid I’m just not able give each one the level of individual attention that I’d like. I would love to believe that I am somehow able to answer every question they have, provide frequent on-target book recommendations, consistently suss out their reading issues, and provide meaningful feedback on a daily basis, but, sadly, I’d be kidding myself.

You can understand the frustration of knowing how to help students love and succeed at reading but not having adequate time in the school day to give each of them what’s needed to accomplish that in full. That’s why I want a technology like Mia to supplement what I’m already doing: one of Mia’s great assets is that she is so accessible. Practically any child with an internet connection could utilize this resource, and Mia could provide the unique attention they need to grow and thrive as readers. But I didn’t always know what helps to make students into better readers. That knowledge came later.

The basic college courses teachers pursue to become educators must cover a wide range of topics: classroom management, data-keeping, child psychology, and more. Consequently, many new teachers don’t have the opportunity to dive deeply into reading education during their undergraduate training. Once I became a teacher more than a decade ago, I realized I had little idea how to help my struggling readers, how to motivate my aliterate (those who are able, but unwilling, to read) students, or how to challenge high achievers. Determined to do my job better and help each type of reader, I pursued a Master’s in Reading Education. The district where I teach was only able to pay 1/10th of my tuition, and I was lucky to have parents who were willing to pay the rest.

It took me four years and about $10,000 to earn my graduate degree. Many teachers may not be able to invest that amount of time and money into this type of educational program, or they may choose a different subject to pursue. This means that teachers with deep, specialized knowledge about reading are quite rare.

Mia does not cost thousands of dollars, is not a rarity, and has some of the same knowledge at her disposal that a highly-skilled, trained professional would. This makes her an absolute gold mine.

What excites me most about Mia, I think, is her potential to help level the reading achievement playing field. So many families do not have the resources or privilege to pursue educational needs. Asking a teacher for help sounds so easy to most of the people I grew up with, but that behavior derives from a fundamentally middle-to-upper class mindset. For many families living in poverty, or who are English language learners, even the simple act of walking into a school building can be an incredibly intimidating experience. Getting an email or phone call from a teacher sets many parents’ hearts to pounding. I know, because I can hear the fear in their voices when they answer. Contacting a teacher, meeting up with a librarian, or visiting with a reading specialist is something that many parents simply do not have the time, energy, knowledge, or resources to do.

When we expect these families to conform to our middle class expectations, we ensure that in general, only middle and upper class students have the chance to succeed. This is a sad, alarming, and unjust pattern. Here’s where I envision Mia coming in. Providing affordable, quality tools that can be accessed from home could crack that issue wide open – programs like Mia could help ensure that all children have a shot at succeeding. I can think of nothing that I want more, both as a teacher and as a person.

Mia gets that a love of reading is indivisible from the power of choice. It is absolutely essential that students choose their own books. In one of my graduate seminars, a professor told us a story about a group of adults taking a course who had to read three books. The first two books were assigned to them, while they got to choose the third book from a list. “Guess which one they were the most motivated to read?” my professor asked us. I bet you can guess right.

That’s not to say we can’t use classroom texts or have students read books that we’ve assigned. They just also need to have access to quality literature which they’ve had a hand in choosing. People who feel they exert some control, whose opinions are valued, will always be more engaged than those who don’t. So it is with reading, and children are no different from adults in their desire to take an active role.

I’m also encouraged by Mia’s ability to teach children the skill of selecting books for themselves – and make no mistake, it is a skill. I’ve so often seen students struggle with choosing books that are too difficult or too easy, sticking stubbornly to a single series or author, being overly reliant on reading levels, or defaulting to books that someone they know recommended without considering their own interests. Mia helps kids to broaden their reading, reflect meaningfully on their interests, find the “sweet spot” between too easy and too hard, and to recognize that levels can be useful but are not foolproof.

In my follow-up guest post, I’ll discuss some of the more harmful beliefs and myths about reading and the ways that Mia can help to counter them.


Why Mia, Why Now: A Research-Based Path to Self-Motivated and Purposeful Reading

July 11, 2018


Why Mia, Why Now: A Research-Based Path to Self-Motivated and Purposeful Reading

Mia cultivates self-motivated and purposeful readers by supporting choice, ownership, and metacognition

Darren Cambridge, Ph.D.

Developing young readers requires more than just building the skills and strategies on which most educational accountability systems and literacy software focuses. We want children to use reading to understand themselves and the world, expand their sense of what’s possible, and take action to create change. To do so, they need to become self-motivated and purposeful readers. Mia Learning is committed to supporting such reading growth through research-based approach. Extensive research shows that well-supported choice of books combined with ownership opportunities significantly enhances intrinsic motivation to read. Making good choices about reading is a learned skill that Mia supports through offering the right number of choices and modeling expert selection.

Young readers also make more powerful choice through being purposeful. They know what they’re interested in, what they want to get out of reading, and how well their choices about reading are helping them get it. Purposeful readers use metacognitive processes to reflect on their interests, set goals, and track progress towards them. Research makes it clear that metacognitive expertise is key to success as a reader and throughout life. Mia supports metacognition through coaching children as they plan and reflect, expanding as well as embracing their interests.

Cambridge, D. (2018). Why Mia, Why Now: A Research-based Path to Self-motivated and Purposeful Reading. Washington, D.C.: Mia Learning.

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How Deep is the OCEAN?: What to Read Aloud to Your Independent Reader

June 20, 2018

How Deep is the O.C.E.A.N.?: What to Read Aloud to Your Independent Reader

Part of what makes books so magical is their capacity to satisfy so many of our most fundamental human needs.

By Diana Black

Previously, we covered why and how you should be reading aloud to your school-aged children. Today, let’s talk about what to read to them. Remember, Mia is all about helping to empower kids through their reading choices, and this includes what they read with you as well.

One of your first questions might be, “They get to choose what to read on their own, but do I choose what I read to them?” With very few exceptions, we highly recommend that you collaborate with your child when it comes to choosing readaloud books. While they may need some convincing to give a particular book a chance, chiefly you want them to associate reading with pleasure. Therefore, their opinion should at least be solicited and factored in, if not always deferred to. Doing so conveys respect for their personhood and their agency as a reader.

Obviously and most importantly, you want to choose books your child will enjoy, but there’s more to it than that. When selecting books specifically for reading aloud, it helps to remember the handy acronym, OCEAN (with all due apologies to personality psychologists). To the best of your ability, perhaps with help from Mia, a friend in the know, or a stellar librarian, gauge the book on the following five questions before floating it as a possibility with your child:

Will it…

O: open my child’s mind to new ideas, people, places, eras, etc.?

C: challenge them in some way or make them consider something more deeply?

E: …help them to develop empathy for others and expand their notions of what’s possible? 

A: ask more of them than books they might read on their own?

N: …help to fulfill a need for them?

If you think the answer is yes on at least one dimension, then it’s probably a good choice. Let’s dive in (with all due apologies to pun-haters – you monsters!!):

As suggested in our earlier post, take advantage of the fact that your child can comprehend more when listening than when reading on their own. What you read out loud can be more advanced and sophisticated in terms of vocabulary, plot, themes, and more. If your child can read most picture books independently, reading aloud might be the perfect way to introduce them to chapter books.

One of the key purposes of reading aloud to children of this age is broadening their minds, exposing them to new things and opening their worlds. This means prioritizing books that are diverse on multiple levels. A readaloud can also be more demanding of a child in terms of perspective-taking. Challenge them to empathize with characters who are fundamentally different from them in some way. Is the setting utterly foreign to them? Does the book take place in another era?  Do the characters live in totally different socioeconomic circumstances from your family? Is the main character of a different gender than your child? Are they of a different race or ethnicity? (To understand how books can be valuable means of facilitating interracial understanding and self-esteem, we recommend checking out the work of We Need Diverse Books.) Has your child ever put themselves in the shoes of someone of different ability than themselves? Read diverse books to your child that prompt them to perspective-take, think critically, and increase their capacity for compassion.

Diversity doesn’t only apply to settings, authors, or characters – you can also use reading alound as an opportunity to expose your child to books from diverse genres. Discovering a genre they’re passionate about can ignite a lifelong love of reading. Do kids need to know the actual word “genre”? Maybe not, but understanding the names of book types like “mystery,” “horror,” “fantasy,” and “realistic fiction” comes in handy. It’s far more difficult to define or even articulate literary tastes without such vocabulary, limiting kids’ ability to make informed book choices. Remember, part of Mia’s core mission is to expand kids’ toolkits for understanding their tastes. So read books from multiple genres, taking the time to identify them with labels like “poetry,” “adventure story,” or “biography.” Your child will begin to appreciate the dazzling array of options available to them and, rather than being overwhelmed, can start to hone in on starting points for future selections.

Finally, ask yourself if the book you’re considering for a readaloud could serve to address some unmet need for your child. Will it help them process or recover from an emotionally trying time? Can it help them to feel validated? To find their courage? To navigate a complicated social situation? To see the humor in their circumstances or simply feel less alone? Remember, readalouds are the perfect time to introduce weightier themes and subject matter, capitalizing on the opportunity to talk about and unpack them with your child. That’s the kind of substantive conversation they’ll remember for years to come.

Intellectual needs are also compelling reasons to choose a readaloud: Maybe your child is hungry for more knowledge about a subject, but not quite ready to read more demanding fare independently. Part of what makes books so magical is their capacity to satisfy so many of our most fundamental human needs.

Many parents prize sharing books with our children that we loved when we were kids, and this is undoubtedly a compelling reason to consider a book for reading aloud. Your childhood favorite can be meaningful to both you and your child and give a satisfying sense of continuity. However, if your child rejects a book you’re nostalgic about, try not to take it personally. Maybe you just have different tastes.

Does your child has difficulty sustaining attention during readalouds? Please, don’t give up! Consider a graphic novel or a picture book as a potential “way in” to readalouds, or give your child more say in book selection – you may find they’re more receptive after just a few thoughtful adjustments on your part. When you engage them in discussion, you may also discover that a child who insists on walking around the room or playing with legos is actually deeply engaged with what you are reading. 

Be on the lookout for Mia-recommended books for reading aloud which pass the “O.C.E.A.N.” test swimmingly–yes, another pun, which we hope isn’t salty humor–over the coming weeks. Please let us know on Facebook or Twitter what you and your children’s favorites are and send Mia your questions. She’s here to make sure you don’t feel like you’re in over your head. 

Good luck, and happy readalouds!


Picture of a sculpture of a brain lit many colors at night

Literacy Experts Deepen Mia’s Knowledge About Reading

April 30, 2018

Literacy Experts Deepen Mia’s Knowledge About Reading

By Darren Cambridge 

From its inception, Mia Learning has been committed to combining the best understanding of how children read and the best ways to support them in their reading.

Our product reflects a rigorous analysis of educational and psychological research findings, as well as numerous interactions with teachers, librarians, researchers, and parents. Mia Learning’s Literacy Experts Taskforce is taking this commitment to the next level.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Mia Learning has brought together experts who represent both the forefront of literacy research and a deep knowledge of practice. The group joins faculty from top research universities with teachers and librarians who help children grow as readers every day. Led by Dr. Peter Afflerbach, Professor of Reading at the University of Maryland, and Dr. Darren Cambridge, Mia Learning’s CEO, they are mapping the territory through which Secret Agent Mia guides young readers.

The Literacy Expert Taskforce is validating Mia’s existing AI domain model and creating the blueprint for its next generation. Mia’s domain model determines that she knows about readers, reading, and books. It guides what she asks kids about their reading, which books she recommends, when she asks them to reflect, and how she coaches them on making increasingly powerful choices.

Literacy Expert Taskforce Members

Peter Afflerbach
Professor of Reading,  Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Maryland
Dr. Afflerbach investigates individual differences in reading development and is a member of the Standing Reading Committee of the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the International Reading Association’s Reading Hall of Fame.

Susan Brown
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Language, Literacy, and Special Education, Rowan University
Dr. Brown is an expert on multicultural children’s literature, reader response, and urban education, as well as an award-winning poet and coordinator of the Children of the Sun Literary Club at Bushfire Theatre of Performing Arts.

Nell Duke
Professor in Literacy, Language, and Culture and in the combined program in education and psychology at the University of Michigan
A prolific author of award-winning research on early literacy development, especially of children in poverty, Dr. Duke has been named one of the most influential education scholars in the U.S. by Education Week.

Merna Fam
Teacher, Teacher, Kensington Parkwood Elementary
Drawing on her graduate training as a reading specialist, Ms. Fam teaches kindergarten in a diverse school that integrates the arts throughout the curriculum.

Leslie Garcia
Teacher, Cooper Lane Elementary School
Ms. Garcia teaches reading, writing, and social studies in an overwhelmingly low income and minority school where many students are English Language Learners.

Jennifer Graff
Associate Professor, Department of Language and Literacy Education, University of Georgia
Winner of the 2009 Dissertation of the Year Award from the International Reading Association for research concerning young girls’ book choices, Dr. Graff is chair of the NCTE Children’s Literature Assembly.

Christopher Hils
Program Director, Tree House Books
Before become a leader in after school programming serving the North Philadelphia community, Hils has taught at and helped found multiple elementary schools with a focus on improving early literacy education.

Kathryn Mitchell Pierce
Assistant Professor, Educational Studies, Saint Louis University
Now a faculty member focusing on classroom talk, children’s literature and collaborative assessment, Dr. Pierce spent a decade teaching at the elementary school level and another decade teaching literacy at the middle school level.

Genelle Schuler
Program and Partnership Librarian, Arlington Public Library
Now building partnerships between the Arlington Public Library system and community organizations, Schuler has served young readers for two decades in the Alexandria and Fairfax County public library systems and as an elementary school librarian.

Rachel Vecloth
Lead Teacher, Creative Minds International Public Charter School
A Center for Inspired Teaching Fellow and former lawyer, Vecloth teaches second grade and piloted the Mia Learning platform with her class in Spring 2017.

Spring 2017 Literacy Experts Taskforce 
The current version of Mia was informed by an earlier experts taskforce that was instrumental to our Spring 2017 pilot. It consisted of Ms. Schuler, Emily Utigard (Estes Park Elementary), Sarah Sweetman (Centreville Elementary), and Allison Sauveur (Deer Park Elementary).