Q&A About the Jacob's Ladder Reading Program
Our best-selling Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program offers educators a wonderful tool for increasing reading comprehension and critical thinking skills among students. Whenever Prufrock Press exhibits Jacob's Ladder at education conferences, teachers ask questions about how the program works and whether the program can be used with all students in a mixed-ability classroom. I've prepared this blog entry in hopes of answering some of these questions.
Does Research Support Using the Program With All Students?
Emphatically, yes. Jacob's Ladder was developed at the College of William and Mary as part of a federally funded Department of Education research grant. Although there are many reading programs focused on developmental readers, there are very few research-based reading programs designed to teach advanced reading comprehension skills. Jacob's Ladder fills this gap.
Research conducted using Jacob's Ladder in Title 1 schools shows that the program increases reading comprehension skills for all students in a mixed-ability classroom. The researchers concluded, "when compared to students who used the basal reader only, those students who were exposed to the Jacob's Ladder curriculum showed significant gains in reading comprehension and critical thinking."
For an overview of the research supporting the use of this product, please download What Works: 20 Years of Curriculum Development and Research for Advanced Learners.
What Skill Sets Do the Ladders Represent?
The program is organized around the metaphor of ladders. There are six types of ladders representing different types of reading skills and each ladder has "steps" that represent increasingly difficult variations of the skills represented by the ladder. For example, Ladder A focuses on sequencing, implications, and consequences. At the lowest step of Ladder A, students sequence information found in a reading. At the highest level, students are asked to identify the short-term and long-term consequences of actions and events in a reading.
The types of reading skills addressed by each ladder are listed below:
- Ladder A: sequencing, cause and effect, and consequences and implications;
- Ladder B: identifying key details, classification, and generalizations;
- Ladder C: literary elements, inference, and interpretation of theme or central idea;
- Ladder D: synthesis of information through paraphrasing, summarizing, and creative synthesis;
- Ladder E: understanding emotion, expressing emotion, and using emotion; and
- Ladder F: planning and goal setting, monitoring and assessing, and reflecting.
How do the Readings and Ladders Work?
Each book in the Jacob's Ladder program contains between 8-10 short stories, 7-10 poems, and 4-6 nonfiction selections. Following each reading, a series of activities from the ladders are presented to students. Teachers may choose to have students complete all activities on the ladders or limit students to only certain activities presented. For example, emergent readers may be assigned activities from the lower steps of a ladder, while more advanced readers may be assigned multiple activities from the ladders.
Let's look at an example from Jacob's Ladder: Level 1: After reading one of Aesop's fables, students first encounter Ladder A, which includes the following tasks:
- list the events that occurred in the fable (Rung A1—sequencing),
- build a chart showing the various cause and effect relationships in the fable (Rung A2—cause and effect), and/or
- discuss the long-term consequences of one of the main character's actions (Rung A3—consequences and implications).
Next, from Ladder B, students would be asked to:
- discuss the mental images the fable created in their mind and list the specific details from the tale that supported the images (Rung B1—details),
- identify the actions of one character that could be characterized as helping another character (Rung B2—classifications), and/or
- determine the moral or "lesson" the fable is attempting to deliver (Rung B3—generalization).
Can I Use the Program With Cooperative Learning Groups?
Yes. Although the activities and readings can be done by students individually, Jacob's Ladder is ideal for small groups. The readings and activities may be used in a number of different grouping patterns. The use of small groups provides excellent opportunities for student discussion of the readings and collaborative decisions about the answers to questions posed.
Does the Program Include Assessment Tools?
Yes. Pre- and postassessments are included. The pretests should be administered, scored, and then used to guide student instruction and the selection of readings for varied ability groups. Both the pre- and postassessments, scoring rubric, and sample exemplars for each rubric category and level are included along with exemplars to guide scoring.
The Future of Gifted Education through Technology
Teachers, parents, and students should pay special attention to the learning options listed below. Technology is revolutionizing the world of education by replacing familiar classroom tools and making new strategies possible. It’s no longer just through computers that students are exposed to technology; instead, it’s through all devices that are out there. There are resources and schools that are already using these revolutionary methods and tools effectively.
is one such resource. This site explores the many possible dimensions of the future of learning. These changes will benefit gifted students immensely as they make possible global education, project-based learning, and interest-based learning.
Digital Delivery—Barseghian includes numerous websites that extend learning beyond textbooks, including Schmoop’s, the Kahn Academy, and many open education resources. Even though I consider myself quite knowledgeable about resources, many of the sites that are listed here are new to me.
Interest Driven—Individualized learning technology creates a platform for tailoring education to the interests of children, beginning in elementary school. Links are provided that describe some schools that already incorporate this type of learning.
Skills 2.0—The ability to teach collaboration, innovation, critical thinking, and communication are becoming easier with the technological revolution. Interactive abilities are broadening the reach of students and teachers to a global perspective. No longer is one’s learning confined to the classroom. Examples are given with links to more information. Tech companies are also looking for additional ways to develop new learning methods.
Be sure and check out other sections of the MindShift website. I especially recommend clicking on the Online Learning link near the top of the page for innovative ideas. We are truly living in an exciting time. Technology is reforming education in ways that could not be imagined a decade ago. In the not-too-distant future, I believe we will look back in disbelief at the ways that we learned. They will seem quite primitive and inefficient.
Exercising the Minds of Gifted Kids through Questioning
Bright students often come to class thinking they must know all the right answers. What they (and many adults) may not realize is that thinking is not driven by answers, but by questions. It is the sense of wonder and curiosity that drives understanding. As the old saying goes…The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. The more you learn about a subject, the more you realize there is to know. Perhaps having students list thoughtful questions at the conclusion of a unit would be a better determiner of knowledge gained than taking a test.
Young people learn to develop inquiring minds when they hear their parents and teachers ask thoughtful questions of themselves and others. One way to do this is to use Socratic Questioning
. Socratic questions help to
Divergent questions are also useful. They usually begin with words or phrases such as
Reflective Thought, Critical Thinking
presents a model for generating problems or questions. One example is given for young children in kindergarten or first grade after reading and discussing Jack and the Beanstalk
Q. What did Jack do when he got to the giant's castle?"
A. Jack hid from the giant, found the goose that lays the golden eggs, was discovered by the giant, fled, reached the bottom of the vine, and then chopped it down. The giant, of course, tumbles down, breaks his neck, and Jack lives happily every after with his mother and his newly found wealth.
Q. Did Jack trespass illegally? (In kindergarten terms, "Did Jack go into someone's house where he did not belong?"
Q. Did Jack steal the goose that lays golden eggs?"
Q. Did Jack, then, refuse to give back what did not belong to him?
Q. Then did Jack escape down the bean vine and cause the giant to be killed?"
Q. If Jack trespassed, stole, and murdered the giant, why is the giant the villain of this story?
Theme Park and Ride Design for Gifted Learners
What child doesn’t enjoy an amusement park? How many people have fantasized about creating rides and theme parks? There are many gifted characteristics and abilities that go into the actual jobs required for this field, including physics, creativity, project management, art, architecture, and film. Here are some ideas for developing these interests.
has developed an interactive resource titled Amusement Park Physics
. This website helps students learn the forces behind the fun. Young people find out what principals of physics make the following rides work, how the dynamics of physics control the safety of the rides, and considerations that need to be factored in by ride designers.
Free Fall Rides
Walt Disney Imagineering
is the master planning, creative development, design, engineering, production, project management, and research and development arm of The Walt Disney Company and its affiliates. Representing more than 150 disciplines, its corps of Imagineers is responsible for the creation of Disney resorts, theme parks and attractions, hotels, water parks, real estate developments, regional entertainment venues, cruise ships, and new media technology projects. Be sure and check out the Student and College Programs
on the left side of the page.
Free Guidebooks to Help Exceptionally Bright Children
The Davidson Institute
serves profoundly gifted young people under the age of 18. As part of its mission, Davidson Institute professionals have written a series of guidebooks
designed to assist families in finding the most appropriate educational settings for their exceptionally bright children. The guidebooks are excellent resources and can be downloaded at no cost. While the guidebooks are written for parents and students, teachers should also become familiar with them so that they can effectively advise families.
Advocating for Exceptionally Gifted Young People—What should you know about your child? What should you know about gifted education? How should you formulate a plan? How should you approach your child’s school? How can you monitor your child’s education?
Investigating Early College Entrance: A Guidebook for Parents and a Guidebook for Students—How does one assess whether a student is ready for early college entrance? How might early entrance impact the family? What about scholarships and other financial aid?
Investigating Gap Year Opportunities—A gap year is a “break from formal education to become more immersed in another culture, to volunteer domestically or abroad, to gain experience and maturity…” It is becoming more common in the U.S., especially for students who graduate early from high school. This guidebook discusses possible options for a gap year, the pros and cons of taking a gap year, and what colleges think of students who pursue this option.
Volunteerism and Community Service—This guidebook provides resources, strategies, and valuable information to think about when considering the who, what, where, when, how, and why questions associated with volunteering.
Mentorships—How does one search for a mentor? What types of mentoring relationships are available? What characteristics should a great mentor have?