Archive for July, 2009

Moving Beyond Awareness of Literacy Issues

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Thursday, July 2, 2009

by Hildra Tague
Source: Suite 101

It is time to face a painful reality – that many are growing up illiterate. There is much discussion of the problem. The next step is to do something about it.

Many talk shows dissect the illiteracy problem and brim with awareness. Watching such programs makes it obvious there is a need to move beyond awareness into doing something about society’s literacy needs. This can be done by getting past the grief to look for solutions, getting individuals motivated to make a difference, recognize that literacy is not defined by grades, and work to make a literate society.

Get Past the Grief to Look for Solutions to Illiteracy

Blaming and bemoaning has questionable value. It is time to do more than define the problem. There is a need to emphasize finding solutions. Criticisms probably had their place in bringing about awareness, and sharing mutual grief, but their value is beginning to wear thin.

When the only concept of the illiteracy problem is awareness there is a tendency for the issue to become stagnant by oversimplification. For the most part, it is not brought about by a lack of dedication but a lack of skills, situations, or experiences conducive to a particular person’s learning needs.

Motivate Individuals to Make a Difference for Literacy

Before a system can change, people must change. Many earth-shaking improvements in society were made by individuals (not ‘the system”) who had an idea and acted, rain or shine, long enough to make a difference.

It would be wise to let awareness be and move on to making a difference lest the next generation turns out even less literate. No doubt very few people want to fail–whether they be students, teachers, or parents. How fine it would be to seek success together with respectful teamwork.

Recognize that Literacy is not Defined by Grades

There are still students who “fall out of the net” of literacy and learning. Some of them are making passing or even better grades, yet something isn’t happening for them. There is a crucial point in a child’s life where an identity choice is made: to use what has been learned and continue learning, or to resist and steer toward a life of functional illiteracy.

For some people who do have access to education literacy, in the end, is defined by intention. There are far too many students who actually have skills, yet never read voluntarily on their own. Efforts are being made to help students connect their learning with their own lives. This enables them to become lifetime learners.

This doesn’t always mean someone is doing something wrong. It may mean that more is needed, or specialized focusing is needed to help them find the best way they learn. Given the causal relationships between literacy rates and poverty, caring citizens would be well-advised to do something to help.

Work to Make a Literate Society

Doing something about it sometimes lacks the excitement and thrilling appeal that the awareness activities put forth.

Yet, becoming literate is brought about by daily efforts, caring relationships, and specific skills applied over a consistent period of time. Sounds boring? At times. Sounds like work? Always. But the results are both possible and exhilarating!

Many schools work toward literacy goals by the intervention process which occurs before referral for special services. However, there is a serious challenge with children who don’t qualify for special help. Even “at risk” children could often use more help although the schools do work very hard with them.

The illiteracy problem can’t be solved by working only with adults in “after the fact” programs. It will require participation across the board, all ages and professions, and will be solved more quickly if we go beyond awareness into proactive measures.

It isn’t just the job of the schools and parents. Find a role in becoming part of the solution. Mentor a child who could use a bit of guidance and encouragement. Do what can be done to make learning fun and important for children in the neighborhood and family. After all, their literacy is truly the future.

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Attack Poverty Through Literacy

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Thursday, July 2, 2009

by Jason Fitzpatrick
Source: Lifehacker

“What the hell, you got a room in your house just filled with books? That’s stupid,” was one of the many memorable quotes from my first semester teaching in a school filled with at-risk and impoverished kids. Right now you’re reading a productivity and technology blog. You’re no stranger to literacy and you read for enjoyment. All day every day you process thousands upon thousands of words to make meaning of and enrich your world. As an educator both at the high school and collegiate level, I’m confronted again and again with children and adults who are only semi-literate nearly drowning in a world they can’t process the way you and I can. Somehow, every year I find myself with hundreds of students that regard reading a book the same way they regard getting kicked in the groin. If a student makes it out of their formal schooling only semi-literate, their passage into adulthood is painfully crippled. All the social programs in the world won’t be able to stabilize that person’s life as much as the confidence that being a competent and literate adult would.

You would be hard pressed to find an organization that has done more to advocate and foster literacy than Reading Is Fundamental. It isn’t a new charity and it won’t win awards for being trendy. It has, however, consistently won awards for being extremely efficient with its funding, receiving an A+ rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy and being ranked among the best 100 charities in the country according to Worth magazine. Consider the following spattering of facts about the state of illiteracy in the US and the economic impact of it:

  • Nearly 50% of the adult US population reads at a 7th grade level or lower. Nearly 25% has reading proficiency so low they cannot read instructions on medication bottles, the manual that comes with a piece of machinery, or a newspaper. This means roughly 40 million Americans cannot do something as simple and critical as read the handout a pharmacist gives them that warns them of lethal drug interactions.
  • 62% of parents with high socioeconomic status read to their children every day. 36% of parents with low socioeconomic status read to their children every day.
  • The average lifetime earnings of a person holding a Master’s degree or higher is $1,500,000 higher than that of a non-highschool graduate.

Reading Is Fundamental sponsors more than 20,000 programs in the United States, which fall into several categories to meet the needs of different segments of the population. The following are three types of programs offered by Reading Is Fundamental that I strongly support and feel have the biggest impact on the communities in which they are implemented.

Books For Ownership

Books for Ownership is a program that encourages children to take ownership of their literacy by giving them ownership of books. Many of my students over the years have told me that they’ve never owned a single book. How can a child be expected to feel any sense of ownership over their own reading ability or growth if they don’t even own the most fundamental tools involved in the whole affair? Books for Ownership puts books into the hands of children and their families, and sponsors community literacy activities to encourage engagement with books.

Shared Beginnings

If you grew up in a literate household, you learned how to pass on literacy just like you learned how to tie your shoes or prepare your own food, by watching the adults in your life. The best time for a family to break a generational chain of illiteracy is with a new child. Shared Beginnings is a program that helps young parents foster literacy in their growing children. In a helpful and compassionate setting parents are helped to overcome their own reservations about reading and encourage a love of reading in their children through reading sessions, songs, reading related games, and other activities that help to stimulate a young mind and form a positive association with reading. Shared Beginnings is a wonderful solution to a problem I have often encountered as an educator: a student who thinks that reading and education is stupid because their own parents have passed on their own trauma from school and illiteracy onto their children. One of the most wonderful things about the Shared Beginnings program is watching a parent experience the excitement of reading through their child, recapturing the excitement they may have never had themselves.

Family of Readers

Family of Readers starts at birth like the Shared Beginnings program, but continues even longer into the elementary years. There is a heavier emphasis on encouraging growth and independence among the adults in the Family of Readerprogram than in Shared Beginnings. Parents are involved in forming committees to select reading material for their children and communities with the guidance of a literacy counselor. They are trained on how to educate other parents about the importance of literacy, recruit them into the programs, and how to plan activities that are book-centric.

So what can you do? Money goes a long way towards staffing programs and filling delivery trucks with books. Volunteering in a local literacy program goes even further. A child you share a love of reading now can be one less student sitting in front of me giving up on before they even begin because the words on the page make no more sense to them than cracks in a sidewalk. When you sponsor literacy both through your money and actions you sponsor another person entering into a world of potential.

For more information about Reading Is Fundamental, from its half century history of successes with literacy to how you can become involved in literacy programs in your community check them out at rif.org.

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