As a student, I’ve had a hard time thinking about what to write about for this blog. What sort of insights might I have into the topic of teaching literacy? As my semester has gone on, I have tried to keep this in mind, thinking of what I could write about but, inevitably, other classes and things have taken up my time and brainpower. Then it dawned on me – teaching literacy is something that can easily become overlooked and pushed aside, much like writing for this blog became for me.
It’s easy to think that students will learn literacy skills without explicitly teaching them, and to an extent, that may be true. Some students will naturally pick up the skills they need to have good or even excellent reading comprehension, writing, speaking, and understanding of language, technology, or even parts of the broader definitions of literacy such as visual art or music without explicit literacy instruction. However, many students need more guidance and support.
I think the single most important thing anyone who works with or cares for children and young adults can do to encourage literacy skills is to expose them to a wide variety of texts and make sure they have opportunities to appropriately interact with them. That may be as simple as reading story books to a five year old or taking a ten year old to the library once a week. It may mean modeling making time for reading by setting aside time to sit quietly together and read a few times a week. It also means providing a space for children and young adults to talk about what they have read, especially if it is technically difficult or dealing with a topic that they may not fully comprehend.
As teachers, I think it is important to introduce comprehension strategies and even explain to students how they are useful. I know that some of the strategies that I have learned about in my college classes, I can recall using in my K-12 years and thinking of them as busy-work and a waste of time. I think that, had my teachers told me why they were asking me to do these things and talked about how they might help me better understand or remember the information we were covering, I would have been more likely to put effort into the activities and may have even used some of them when reading on my own.
It is also important to talk to parents about what they can do to help their children develop good literacy skills. Since most parents will not be educators, there is a good chance that they have never considered how to build literacy. Many of them may have little or no post-secondary education and may struggle with literacy themselves. By making ourselves available to parents when they feel like they don’t know how to best support their children, we can improve the support they receive outside of our classrooms and outside of school hours, which is especially important for the students who are struggling.