Literacy is about more than just reading
Do you remember ever reading something that changed your life? Once you know how to read, you don’t think of the parts of reading. Actually the road to literacy is more complicated then we think.
If asked “Are you literate?” you might stumble in your answer. If asked “Are you able to read?” you may answer more easily.
Literacy is more than reading, but that component alone is valuable core. Reading allows us to live a thousand lives rather than one. It allows us to succeed and fail without damage.
What we often don’t acknowledge is how a community partners in reading. We inspire each other. Reading is a meaning making activity.
Richard Steele claims, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
Maybe reading came easily and maybe it didn’t. Hopefully you have some good memories of reading. Those memories are worth examining. What I hope to examine in this column also is how we are all on a road to literacy that starts actually before birth and continues to death.
We may choose to stop for periods of time, but usually something or someone spurs us to get active on the road to literacy. You may have done the spurring and didn’t realize it.
You read a road sign to your two year old on the way to the grocery store; you give a book to a friend’s six year old; you pick up a newspaper over a cup of coffee in a restaurant and look away long enough to catch a 4-year-old stranger imitating you.
If you’ve done any of these things or numerous others, you’ve added to the literacy of a nation, our nation.
All of us want our children, grandchildren, all children to read well. After all if children read well, then they will read well as adults, and reading promotes better communication and often more understanding. Our world definitely needs more understanding. A community of readers helps build understanding.
We are in this literacy journey together.
Every adult caught reading or writing by a child is a potential reading model. By the time a child gets to school, he/she is already a reader even though he may not read words. The school system can help him improve, but the real basics are already in progress.
Society often blames the school system for children’s lack of reading ability, especially if he graduates from high school unable to read. Parents alone also can’t make Johnny or Jill a good reader. There are many factors involved, but parents and society as well as Johnny or Jill are the most important elements. The educational system is a support system for Johnny or Jill, for parents, and for society to enable America to be literate.
One purpose of this column is to give you an insight on how you can influence a Johnny or Jill to become a better reader. My assumption of course is that you want every child to become literate, or you are just interested in literacy in general. Most of us care about literacy.
So where do you begin? What do you do? How can you get it all done? These are a few of the questions we ask.
First of all accept that as a teacher, a parent, a volunteer, a concerned citizen, you can’t do it all. Together, though, we can make a difference. We can be a literacy resource for a child, our child, the child of a friend, or the child of a neighbor and have fun doing it.
If you haven’t heard the illustration of an old man throwing a starfish on the beach out into the water and having a young man ask “why bother,” you know the importance of every reading encounter. The man said, “It might not make a difference to all the star fish; it does make a difference to this star fish.”
Reading gives a new lease on life; it opens imagination; it spurs possibilities; it leads somewhere important.
Literacy is an emerging set of knowledge and skills. Thankfully, we get more than one shot at developing these skills in our self, or in our child, or in the children of others. Literacy begins in infancy or perhaps in the womb and continues throughout life.
How well it continues depends on some biological factors and many environmental factors. Exposure to oral language ignites the literacy process. All children become literate in some ways. The joy is helping them become literate in many ways and in enjoyable ways.
The younger you set the scene, the more you enable a child to become literate. Young children learn from whatever gets their attention.
We want to encourage children to be self-activated learners. It isn’t nearly as complicated as you might think. Whenever the printed word enters your life, make it real to the child by bringing it to his/her attention.
You might say, “I think I need to write that on our grocery list, or put it on our “to do” list so I don’t forget it.”
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Actually, it is simpler than you think. In future columns I’ll explain how you and I, the community, can travel the road to literacy, so that each can and will read to better himself/herself.
You might want to know why I would even try to share ideas about the link of reading and literacy. Who am I and should I be talking about literacy? Maybe, maybe not.
Anyone who loves the written word can talk about literacy. My name is Christine Pauley and I moved to Newton a year ago after I retired from my second profession. I was a reading specialist for many years and I taught various language art subjects from Reading to Humanities; from English to Developmental Reading and Developmental Writing.
So reading is important to me. I was inspired by many people, but my Granddad believed in me. He opened up his library to me and said I could read anything in it as long as I put the book back where it belonged when I was through.
There were many interesting experiences from that promise, but it worked. It challenged me to see the written word as an adventure. I’ve had many life experiences and I hope I can share with you some ways that you can help a young or older person meet challenges and learn through the written word.
There is no age limit on learning to read or enjoying reading. There are no certain subjects you should read; it depends on need and interest. Reading is a relationship with the written word, with the author, with each other.
Literacy opens windows of opportunities, so what do I hope will happen?
This is an opportunity for the community to share their ideas about reading and literacy and though I have ideas as to what I’d like to share, I hope you will send in questions, issues, etc. that you might want to know more about.
If I don’t know the answers, I have colleagues who do.
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