Musings While Traveling Down The Literacy Road…

“…it is crucial for me to never forget that it is my responsibility as a leader to ensure we all reach our full potential.”
Mark Federman, The Literacy Principal

“Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.”
UNESCO, 2007

“The 25 fastest growing professions have far greater than average literacy demands, while the fastest declining 25 professions have far lower than average literacy demands.”
Barton, 2000

This afternoon Dr. Paola Uccelli shared that there are over 6800 different languages (not dialects), at least, around the world, which I think is utterly amazing. Linguistic diversity can be a challenge of assuring excellent education and an opportunity to understand and improve instruction for how we work with language learners. Our society has ever increasing literacy demands in order to access not only information but learning as well.

Imagine a single language speaker like myself… I find it fascinating being here in Massachusetts at Harvard University, taking in the culture and differences, trying not to get hit by cars, listening to all the Boston (Bahhston…) accents and others from around the country. Yet I can speak the language and communicate with locals.

To put it in perspective, what if my family moved to China and that there were very few English language speakers to draw upon for support. Imagine:

  • Getting off the plane
  • Getting a cab
  • Finding a restaurant
  • Signing a lease
  • Registering my kids for school
  • Anything involving a form in an oriental language where I do not understand the characters in the least basic sense

I would be in trouble! I would not even be able to identify the word “Name” at the top of a form, never mind understanding a piece of text…

Comprehension becomes extremely complex, as it is not a set of finite skills, as is memorizing the sounds of 26 letters. Because of prior knowledge and understandings, the same people can read the same piece of text, and interpret it extremely differently and construct their own meaning. Unfortunately, we often expect “correct” answers when interpreting the text, so that thinking is not part of the process…

Reading Comprehension: A Definition

The process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language

Control and comprehension in the language of school is a requirement for success in schools, especially around academic language. It is different from storytelling, and different than the informal language we use outside of school. There are very abstract concepts and densely packed information, written in a perspective, which is not used outside of academic forums. Students are used to conversational language forms that are ever-changing and developing, even as the child’s language development is growing. Being a skilled language user in some social contexts does not guarantee adequate language proficiency in other social contexts.

Plus, language does change and evolve…

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man (Shakespeare)

Groovy (60s)

Hey Man… (70s)

Yo, know wha I’m sayin’ Holmes? (Ghettospeak)

LOL… OMG… (Texting)

This is not easy work… I think we need to instill a love of learning, reading, language, and thought. I think we need explicit instruction in how we learn to read and write. Like me, kids need to learn how to use “speech to text” to COMMUNICATE, not just to write… Why do I write this blog? I am “writing” more through this blog than I ever have before, because others can see it, it is not just for me.

Can we do the same for students and their learning?

Work hard, learn tons!


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