This Thing called Literacy

I bet you have heard the term literacy and thought ok this teacher is talking about reading and writing. If we are looking at the bare bones of literacy that is exactly what it is, reading and writing. But more than that it is really how we as adults and how our students or children interact with language. When I was going to school I would sit in class and do these workbooks, we would have to read a little story like Mr.Mugs (which I have on my shelf) and then do some questions. At the time I think this was thought of as “engaging” literacy work. My friends kids took some of my Mr.Mugs antique work books home and spent days working with them and loving it. I think that if I was to use those in my classroom still many a teacher would give the side eye because I was not doing all sorts of acting and shared reading, and readers theatre, tableau, different hats, visualizing, summaries, tough questions…the list goes on and on. You can do a million different things to exercise your literacy muscles but what I am finding more and more is that for most kids 2 things are true.

1.Kids like to read– Read without interruption, without all the extra stuff that shows how much they “get it”. They love to be in the books and relating to the characters they are reading about. They love to imagine their own endings, talk to a friend after they have read the book and maybe even write down ideas for their own sequels. Having to read a chapter and constantly show their thinking interrupts what some refer to as the “reading flow” (Gallagher). My students this year proved my little theory when I gave them more time to just read and less time to have to tell me everything they understood or “connected” to. More time to find a great book and less time cold reading some story that is uninteresting while I mark down their every error. More time having a conversation about the books they are reading and less time answering convoluted questions on a computerized reading test. Kids like to read and if you give them a chance to get into the reading flow and love a story, talking about it is no longer work, it becomes fun.

2.We choose what we read so they should too– There is not an adult I know that is told you must read this because, “You are not the best reader, so this one is a good fit for you” It is appropriate to make sure your child or student is reading a text that they understand and can read with minimal errors but more than that it is important they get to choose a book that appeals to them even if it is a little hard. I think they try harder to understand the text when the text is one they want to read versus one they are assigned. I had two students this year choose to read the first book in a great series Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. Technically this book was more difficult a level than either of these girls were assessed at and it took them a long time to read it but they used every free moment they had to read to each other, help each other through the hard parts and their confidence and motivation to read increased dramatically. I like the practice of them having an “any level” text at their desk and a “good fit” book so they can work on skills and also have a book they really want to explore.

6 years in to teaching I am still learning a lot on what exactly “literacy” is and how to teach it better but I have not worked with anyone that I would consider an expert in the field because the field seems so different when looking at the individual student. Imagine telling your child who can relay all the twists and turns of the most recent RPG on their Playstation or the child that will read graphic novels and write their own, or the child creating websites or youtube videos in their room that they need to work on their literacy because you have not seen them reading enough. I have to work on this more in my classroom. Literacy includes so much more than just reading a book or writing a story but it does include just reading a book and thinking up an amazing story. We can’t let ourselves get so caught up in the technicalities of what literacy is or what literacy instruction is because if we do we will forget the magic that comes with reading and it all becomes so mechanical.

Back to the beginning I think so many established teachers and parents are told the “old” ways of doing things are not good enough anymore but for some they are. Literacy should be an individual exercise in how we interact with language if that is the quiet reader in the corner or the aspiring actor who wants to perform scenes from his book my job is to foster their desire to read and that is what I intend to do.

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