LITERACY rates are a major concern across the world today, especially here in South Africa. Therefore, it is very important that we understand exactly what we mean when we talk about literacy.
Any confusion over the term ‘literacy’ is probably brought about by the fact that the definition of ‘literacy’ has evolved over time. Let’s start with what is traditionally understood by the word literacy.
The traditional / conventional definition of the word literacy.
Traditionally, literacy refers to the ability of an individual to read and write.
A long time ago it used to be as simple as that. If you could read from a book and write a letter, you were regarded as literate. Being literate was part of being educated and education was also once reserved for the wealthy elite only. Thankfully things have changed and over time school education and literacy have become accessible to many more people, to the point where it is often taken for granted.
Not so here, in sunny South Africa, where due to history and poverty we are still fighting for the right to quality basic education and fighting to improve our literacy levels.
We could call this traditional type of literacy ‘language literacy’. Language literacy usually begins with the development of speaking skills in young children. Speaking skills should then lead on to the development of reading skills and subsequently to writing skills.
Speaking skills appear to develop organically, without too much effort, because the child assimilates and absorbs spoken language through the environment with relative ease. This is due to daily exposure to the sounds of speech around them. They mimic those speaking around them, get corrected by experienced speakers and experience success as a reward for their communication attempts. Picture the cute toddler gurgling out ‘mama’ incoherently for the first time, as everyone claps and cheers with broad grins and shiny eyes, giving the child lots of attention.
There are very few home environments where a young child is not exposed to language. However, there are many home environments in South Africa where children are not exposed to reading and books.
We must keep in mind that key to the development of language literacy is the development of reading skills. Reading skills evolve in a less organic way than speaking skills do, which requires greater effort. The development of reading skills depends heavily on environmental influences and the availability of resources. It is more likely that a child will end up in an environment deprived of reading, rather than a home environment where they are deprived of spoken language.
This is why many children in South Africa do not learn to read well or do not develop high literacy levels, even though they commendably speak several different languages fluently.
Developing reading skills requires an
where reading is modeled as part of daily life.
which is print-rich (in other words there is reading material available).
where the skill of reading is actively encouraged in the child through exposure, participation, enjoyment and routine.
where there is already some development in the understanding of the spoken word.
where the development of the ability to decode the written word is encouraged and fostered on a daily basis and not just left up to the school environment.
that does not encourage rote learning (learning by memorising) of whole words but rather through the application of the decoding skills that have been taught.
where there is an understanding that reading skill development takes place on a progression, over time and takes work.
where lots of opportunity for practice is provided for.
where encouragement and praise is given, just like it is given when we clap for a toddler who utters his first few words.
where it is understood that over time the deeper meaning and subtleties of the language will develop through repeated exposure to vocabulary, which is seen in different contexts through reading.
All of the above leads to an improvement in…
the understanding of and correct use of spoken language for the purposes of communication,
as well as an understanding of and the accurate production of written language for the same purpose.
The coming together of this awareness results in high levels of understanding and comprehension, which then results in greater reading fluency. Thereafter, the more you read the more exposure you gain to the written word and this leads to improved spoken and written skills. Overall this means an improvement in general literacy levels.
We have to understand that schools can only do so much and therefore the exposure and work has to continue at home. For further information on developing a culture of reading and why it is so important to read every day please click here and here.
modern definition of the word literacy
We have all heard of computer literacy ordigital literacy. These terms are widely used and we understand these concepts well. The traditional definition of the word ‘literacy’ has became outdated or at least not inclusive enough.
Experts at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting proposed defining literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts”. (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy). My understanding of the meaning of ‘contexts’ is as a reference to platforms or technologies. So what the experts are saying is that literacy is now all encompassing of platforms and contexts. It involves being able to read, listen, speak, understand, interpret, identify, compute and communicate through speech and written text within various contexts or technologies.
Once again the focus is on understanding information in the written / printed form and producing coherent information back in the written / printed form, regardless of the context, technology or platform used. So believing that children do not and will not require traditional literacy skills in today’s world or the future, is completely unfounded.
In fact, if anything, there is even more demand being made on their traditional literacy skills as they are required to process a much greater volume of written information, on multiple platforms and at a faster pace than ever before.
Matthew Lynch at The Edvocatehighlights and explains 13 different types of literacies.
You can read the full article here. The solid foundation for the development of these literacies he refers to lies in traditional literacy, namely speaking, reading and writing.
Below you will see two further examples of some of the different types of literacies talked about today.
The point is that the development of these other forms of literacy in no way diminishes the importance of being able to read and write fluently, or the fact that traditional literacy is a foundation that needs to be built solidly. Our language fluency and literacy levels can have a direct effect on our ability to further develop certain other types of literacies.
Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen, and use numeracy and technology, at a level that enables people to express and understand ideas and opinions, to make decisions and solve problems, to achieve their goals, and to participate fully in their community and in wider society. Achieving literacy is a lifelong learning process.
I appreciate the fact that Literacy Advance highlights that achieving literacy is a lifelong journey, which allows one to make effective decisions, solve problems, achieve goals and to constructively participate in community and society.
What we take away from this is that being LITERATE no longer means that you can read, write and speak adequately. It can now refer to how solid your reading, writing and speaking foundation is, and how this foundation enables you to further develop other literacies that allow you to participate effectively in society in various ways.
A legal guardian must accompany a child who wants to join
Children will need to show their birth certificates
If you have all the correct documents
A library card will be issued to you.
In some provinces you have to wait for 5 days after application before you can collect your library card.
For those wishing to take four or less books at any one time, membership is FREE.
For those wanting to take more than four books, it will cost +/- R30 per year for membership.
The librarian will explain the rules to you.
Libraries improve community literacy levels
Libraries are community hubs that allow for leisure & education, giving community members access to books, magazines and in some cases audio-visual materials. In communities where residents are unable to afford books, the local library can play a very important role in developing and improving literacy levels within the community. Libraries are an invaluable resource and they are often under-utilised.
When you join a public library you will discover that many libraries run reading and storytelling sessions on a weekly basis as well as during during the holidays. Find out where your local library is and what activities they offer.
I’d like to tell you a bit about some of the wonderful libraries I have experienced.
I personally love the Sandton Library, located on Nelson Mandela Square. It is a beautifully lit, multi-storey space with lots of interesting nooks and crannies. A variety of seating and tables to work at throughout the building, make it the perfect place to spend some down time or do some research.
There is a separate section for children. Pre-school children have their own enclosed room with a conveniently located bathroom right there.
The staff are wonderfully friendly and helpful. As libraries go it is well worth a visit. They do run special events for children during the holidays, which they advertise on their entrance boards.
Johannesburgs public library – known as the Johannesburg Main Library – is based in the city centre, in Market Street. It has over 1.5-million books in its collection and has a reported membership of over 250 000. It was first opened in 1935. Due to planned extensive upgrades it closed in 2009 for three years, and was opened again in 2012.
When visiting you will see a beautiful, Italianate structure sitting across the road from the ANC’s Luthuli House. There is a coffee shop located on the premises. The toilets, lifts, electrics and air-conditioning were upgraded in 2009. The new library contains three floors. Of the three floors, the first two floors are a literacy and numeracy centre. There are desks to work at and free internet access is available.
This library is one of my all time favourites. I spent much time here as a student and later as an adult, mainly because I loved the building so much. Each time I return to Port Elizabeth I make a point of popping in.
Unfortunately, for now, it is being renovated, and renovations should be completed in 2021. It is the only historic building built as a public library that is still operating as a public library today.
Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 3 of 10
Developing a culture of reading in your home is one of the greatest gifts that you can give your children. If a child develops a love of reading, everything from that point onwards, in terms of their education, is that much easier. Experienced teachers will tell you that those children who read daily, and who read for leisure, are usually academically stronger than their peers.
No book and no reading taking place!
As teachers, it is often reported to us by children that there are no books in their homes – none owned and none on loan from a library. In addition, they also report that no one in their family reads, and more importantly, that no one reads to them. It breaks my heart to hear this. Read! Read anything and everything you can lay your hands on and let your children see you do it. Even if you struggle to read – let them witness it – they will respect you more in the long run. By watching you face up to the challenge they will know that reading is something worth struggling over.
Foundations for a love of reading
The foundations for a love of reading and reading fluency are set when a significant adult regularly reads, or tells stories, to a very young child. This is why, in so many families, it is called a bedtime story as it forms part of a nightly routine for approximately 365 days of the year. See my article on ‘Why you CAN’T skip reading to your child for 20 minutes per day‘ click here.
If you have not been doing regular bedtime stories, do not fear, as research tells us that it is never too late to start. If you do not have a book in your home right now, start making up stories as part of your nightly routine.
I know of families who write and illustrate their own stories on paper, folding them into books. The whole family gets involved and the stories grow and evolve through the laughter, imagination, knowledge and creativity that is brought to the table after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon. They treasure these family creations along with the few books they have, re-reading them every so often.
Another activity which has proven to work well for generating stories is this game:
Each family member gets a scrap piece of paper to write on.
Each person writes down 10 words.
Of these 10 words at least one word must be a name, one a place, one an animal and 3 words can be objects. The rest can be random words.
I always try to introduce one made up word for a bit of fun e.g. Oligonk.
When the lists are complete, put them in a hat and take a draw.
You have 20 minutes to write a story based on the 10 words provided.
These stories can then be read aloud, passed on or read silently and provide a variety of reading material.
Young children can work together with a parent. Older children can work independently.
For a fun additional activity, each person can illustrate the main character of their story e.g. What do you think an Oligonk looks like?
Read by example
If South Africa is going to improve its literacy levels, as it needs to, we have to start introducing regular reading into our homes as a matter of urgency. With a family culture of reading, children will start to read by example. They won’t feel that reading is only a school activity or a homework chore. I believe that reading is supposed to be fun, exiting, comforting and stress free. It should be one of a child’s favourite activities. Think of stories around a campfire in the old days.
In order to feel motivated to read for themselves, children should see adults reading around them on a daily basis. Things such as…
A child who sees the adults around him / her reading will know that reading is important and that literacy is important. A child that never sees people reading will believe that reading is only a school activity and is only for children. Unfortunately, if none of the adults in your family are book worms, you’ll just have to fake it. The school curriculum of today does not allow as much time for reading in the classroom as my generation had growing up. Therefore, if you want your children to be literate and fluent in reading, you had better start playing your part.
South Africans spend twice as much on chocolate each year than they do on books.
Before you mention that books are unaffordable in South Africa, as a reason for why we lack a culture of reading, consider this: South Africans apparently spend twice as much money on chocolate each year than they do on books (see Further reading – Literacy: Once upon a time, parents taught their children to read). Based on this alone, I think we as South Africans can afford to start a culture of reading. Buy books, instead of sweets, and save money by not paying the dentist.
Libraries are an underutilised resource in South Africa
There is a library of some variety in every community in our country, which is practically free. I’ve looked up libraries across Johannesburg on Google Maps for my students, in an attempt to prove to them that there is a library on their doorstep.
As a child I visited the library every week, along with my mother and my two sisters. It was just something that we did and we never questioned it. The expectation that we would read was no different to the expectation that we’d would brush our teeth, take a bath or do our homework. My mother spent hours reading to us, until we could do so for ourselves. It paid off as we are all avid readers today. Our family culture of reading is stronger than ever. My retired parents read for a minimum of 6 hours a day on average, sometimes more.
Advantages of reading
Reading and a family culture of reading leads to…
a wider vocabulary
greater exposure to good grammar, spelling and punctuation
improved visual memory
improved writing skills
development of the imagination
improved analytical thinking
improved verbal skills
greater general knowledge
being able to educate yourself on any topic
What’s not to love about reading?
No matter your own level of literacy, find things to read and read them in front of your children. Be the example!
Read with your children whenever you can.
Even if your own reading fluency isn’t perfect, never be shy to try reading to younger learners. You can use pictures and voice animation to tell the story. They’ll love every minute.
Reading pictures is part of the pre-reading strategies that need to be encouraged in young children.
When children see adults trying to do something that they are not good at or find difficult, they start to believe that it must be important and that they should also try. There is never any shame in trying and this is a life lesson that children should learn.
Ask older children in your family to read stories to the younger children or even to the whole family. It is good practice for them and they can play a part in developing your family’s culture of reading.
Join your local library and visit regularly, along with your children.
Teach your children how to take care of books. Have a special place in your home where library books are safely kept.
Collect free magazines from stands outside the shops and scatter them around your home.
Bring home the newspaper if possible.
Create a print rich environment.
Ask friends, family and work colleagues to collect old magazines for you.
If there is someone in your family who is unable to read, ask them if they would be willing to make up stories for the children – it will help to spark their imaginations and will go a long way is helping you to develop a culture of reading and storytelling in your home. Old people are usually very good at this and as such they are a great resources.
Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 2 of 10
Today I want to discuss why you should always speak positively about your child’s teachers, the school they attend and the education system, despite what you REALLY think. Today’s children need to value their education more than ever in order to improve their chances of success in such a competitive world. However, significant adults in the lives of children might be hindering them more than helping.
Complaining has become a national sport.
South Africans have a tendency to be very negative and critical these days, often with good reason. Weekend after weekend we sit around our braais, with our families and friends, and furiously complain about the lack of service delivery, the increase in crime & corruption, the state of local municipalities, the desperate state of our education system, potholes that are so prolific that people put pot plants in them as a warning, the dropping of educational standards, how there is no value in today’s education, how inept, pathetic, lazy, worthless and over paid teachers are – and on and on it goes. All of this takes place within earshot of the children. Some can sing this song better than our own national anthem.
I once sat in a beauty salon listening to a woman and her daughter bore the poor childless manicurist to death, for TWO hours, with complaints about her child’s teacher and school. It was apparent that she saw no value in her child’s education, despite the fact that her child was at what is generally known to be a good school. In the name of self-preservation, I shuffled off before my nails were dry, and went and bought a teacher a gift.
Children are sponges and will spill the beans
Children listen to and absorb everything we say, especially when it has anything to do with school life, juicy details about teachers or themselves. Not much has changed since we were growing up.
Let’s be fair, children do not always know what is okay to share and what is not. In the same way that teachers get to hear about your marital problems, botox injections, drunk driving and financial woes, they also get to hear what you say about them. Teachers overhear children telling their friends what their dad said about Miss G last night. Sometimes, what you say gets flung at at their teachers angrily, as an excuse or as a threat. It is apparent that what they are overhearing is damaging to the teacher-child relationship. Let’s face it, it is very hard for your child to behave respectfully towards an educator that is openly and regularly devalued at home.
South Africa is a tough country to live in. Each individual is already faced with umpteen obstacles and challenges in their daily life. Is there really a good enough reason to burden our children with even more negativity?
The greatest impact of these overheard discussion is on the child and not the teacher. Wake up! You are modelling that it is okay to have a lack of respect. By doing so you are hurting your children, their education and their relationship to the other significant adults around them.
Seeing value in education is key to motivation
In order for our children to value themselves, and feel motivated at school, they need to hear that what they are applying themselves to – their school life – is worthwhile and valuable to their family and their community. This is fundamentally important, as this is their whole world.
We force them to dedicate twelve years of their life to school. To get through these twelve years, and be successful, they are going to need a positive attitude, truck loads of motivation, a strong work ethic, tenacity, dedication, diligence, a sense of humour AND support from home.
If a parent is constantly criticising and tearing apart the system within which their child is trying to achieve, how can the child have any faith in the fact that their hard work is going to pay off? How can they believe that what they are striving for is going to be of value one day? How can we expect them to dedicate themselves to something that we obviously think is rubbish? Food for thought.
Are you hampering success? Ask yourself…
Am I unintentionally sending the message to my child that I do not value the people or the place I send them to for approximately 7 hours a day, 5 days a week?
Through the opinions that I express, am I hampering or helping my child’s ability to succeed at school?
With my words am I creating a bridge or a barrier to my child’s success in school?
When attending school, young children have the right to feel safe, nurtured and free of worry of the things that they have no control over. By this I mean the things that should only concern adults.
Children naturally feel stressed when they sense that confrontation between home and school is imminent. Why burden them with that? Feeling safe and secure ensures that their minds are free to focus on the job of learning – learning to read, learning to write, learning to speak, learning to calculate, learning communications skills, learning organisational skills, playing, fostering friendships – and all the other important childhood concerns that should take precedence over everything else.
If they do not trust and respect their teachers, their school and their education system, how can we expect them to be motivated to learn? If we devalue their achievements by devaluing the institutions they attend, how can we expect them to have the necessary self-worth to achieve great things later on?
Pride in one’s school is one area where private schools seem to have an advantage over public schools. This is an area where parents of public schools can play a very important role.
Always speak positively and respectfully about your child’s teachers and the school that they attend.
Have adult conversations out of earshot of your children.
Don’t burden your children with your worries and concerns about their school.
Help your child to value their education.
Approach the school directly if you have any concerns.
Follow the appropriate communication channels set out by the school.
Always keep communication channels open with your child’s teachers.
When the school and parents work together, the child wins.
The idea for this article comes from a poster I came across on Pinterest that blew me away. Finally, I had come across an infographic that hammers home the point that reading to your child daily is NOT negotiable. It easily outlines the accumulative effect of reading to your child from early on, and highlights how disadvantaged your child could be if they are only read to for half – or less than half – of the time of their peers.
Take a look at the poster below and you’ll see what I mean. Click here to purchase posters or to download a PDF version from the creator.
In this poster you can see that by the time James goes to nursery school he has been read to for 28,800 minutes, an accumulated 20 minutes per day 5 days a week. Travis, on the other hand, has only been read to for 5760 minutes before he goes to nursery school, an accumulated 4 minutes per day 5 days a week. The difference between 28,800 and 5760 minutes is significant.
The questions then posed by April Greerwho created the poster are…
child would you expect to know more?
child would you expect to have a better vocabulary?
child would you expect to be better prepared for school?
child would you expect to be better prepared to learn to read?
child would you expect to be more successful in school?
do you think each child will feel about himself as a new student?
These are profound questions.
They force us to consider the fact that doing something, that some consider irrelevant, such as reading a bedtime story to your child for a mere 20 minutes a night, can have such a significant impact on…
their exposure to words and vocabulary development,
and their ability to achieve success with greater ease.
While some children are still busy with the struggle of learning to read, your child could move on to reading to learn.
So the next time you consider putting your child straight to bed, without a bedtime story, you may want to reconsider.
Tips for bedtime reading:
Make bedtime stories part of your nightly routine.
Try to read in the same location if possible.
Cuddle while you read. It helps you to bond.
Toddlers love reading the same books over and over, which is appropriate for their developmental level.
Often they will only want to read the pictures – which is part of the pre-reading strategies they need to learn.
They will sometimes want to go back a page or two, or even back to the beginning of the book when you’re only half way through the story. Try not to get frustrated as this is also age appropriate and is perfectly fine.
NEVER take storytime away as punishment or as a form of discipline. You don’t want to sabotage your own efforts to turn your child into a lifelong reader.
Aim to keep reading time relaxed, calming, positive and enjoyable.
Some adults take to reading aloud like a duck to water. However, there are those individuals that feel as awkward as a fish out of water, especially when reading in front of other adults. Here are some pointers to help you get on.
In the video clip below Michael Rosen, an English children’s novelist, poet, and author, gives some wonderful tips on how to engage your child more while reading.
Richard at AbeBooks.com gives us fantastic tips for reading to children.
Are you up to the challenge of reading nightly bedtime stories?
To explore working with Lianne in Johannesburg (Fourways, Strathavon & Bordeaux South), contact her to find out how she can meet your needs.