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Literacy Leadership

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November 2011

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Today is Leaders for Literacy Day.  The International Literacy Association has set this day to get professionals around the world discussing the importance of literacy.  You can read more about their work directly here.  This has led to today’s AprilBlogADay prompt questions:

  • How is literacy critical to the advancement of society today?
  • What is needed to advance literacy rates around the world?
  • How can governments, businesses, NGOs, and community leaders work together to advance literacy?

As an educator (and elementary teacher by background), I couldn’t possibly stress enough the importance of literacy.  There has been so much research and evidence that supports how literacy rate directly impact other areas.  I am not going to talk about those (frankly b/c reading research papers bore me, and I don’t want to bore anyone here).  I’m going to speak from personal experience.

A few years ago I noticed a trend in my previous school district of literacy schools decreasing as the students progressed through middle and high school. This was alarming to me, a former primary-grades teacher.  We had a very rigorous program in place in the elementary grades and over 90% of the students would leave fourth grade reading at or above grade level.  Then we saw a huge dip in fifth grade assessment data.  This was when our student transferred to the intermediate school.

I did a lot of cross-referencing, data analysis, and talking with other educators (in and outside of our district).  What I discovered is that it wasn’t an issue isolated to my school corporation.  This was a trend seen in schools around our state (I’m sure I would find similar results on a national scale, as well).  What we noticed was as student got older teachers controlled their reading more and more.  Students didn’t know their reading levels (were actually only assessed on reading level once a year), weren’t allowed to read anything unapproved for their “pleasure reading”, and were provided almost no time in school for reading.  We started benchmarking all students for reading level multiple times throughout the year.  The students were told their levels.  All books in the school library were labeled so students knew quickly what level a particular book was.  There were strategic times throughout the day that were set aside for pleasure reading.  Students were allowed to read almost anything (magazines, books, newspapers) during that time.  There were more incentives and recognition for the students in place, as well.  These changes were easy, and cost next to nothing, but made huge differences in how much our students in junior/senior high school read.

In addition to the reading initiative that I just briefly touched on:

  • I think it’s imperative that writing and reading instruction are meshed (or better yet, interwoven among all subjects).  They shouldn’t be taught in isolation, as we rarely use any one subject in isolation.
  • Reading instruction should continue to be taught beyond primary grades.  Students have to be taught to comprehend at deeper levels, how to read like scientists/mathematicians, etc.  This is the responsibility of all teachers.
  • Teachers should never stop reading aloud to students.  Kids love a good story, and we can be the ones to bring them to life.

 

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