“Even infants get profound cognitive and behavioral benefits from sharing a vivid story,” says Ms. Gurdon of the Wall Street Journal (18 January 2019).
If you are a parent you simply must read this article I came across in The Wall Street Journal. It is written by Ms. Gurdon who writes the WSJ’s “Children’s Books” column. The magic and power that lies behind the picture book has been expressed so well by her that I cannot help but publish the link here so that you can read the original article.
I read aloud to ‘M’ three times a week. This is one of the most precious times during my week and I wish I had more time to offer her. We are currently reading a book about Sawubona animal sanctuary that is being taken away from the family that founded it. It is about the relationship between a young girl, her grandmother, a game warden, the animals they care for and the man who is trying to take away everything that they have built. I read this story aloud to her.
As I read ‘M’ is riveted, entranced, filled with wonder and oozing need. I feel it pulling at me. I don’t think anyone has ever read to her before. Can you imagine that? Watching her unfold as we go through this reading experience together is magical to me. Although she is a woman, not a child, she generally sits facing me and while I read she does not take her eyes off me. I realized this the second time I read to her. I looked up after two long pages to find her frowning in concentration and focus, leaning forward, her eyes intense and wanting, pulling at me. By the end of our reading session she stretched as if coming out of a long dream. She was grinning uncontrollably and could not stop saying how much she had enjoyed it. She did not want to stop.
Over time, her intensity and anxiety around understanding has lessened and now I find her face more relaxed and fluid, her expression changing along with mine, her comprehension growing. I stop every now and again to check that she understands or to explain a word or phrase that I feel needs clarification. We move on.
Hooked on books
To this day ‘M’ still watches my face like a hawk, for any change in expression, trying to eek out every bit of understanding that she can. But now there are added emotions – WONDER, ANTICIPATION, BREATHLESSNESS for what comes next, PLEASURE and JOY. This is where I wanted to be with her. In a place where she experiences the sheer PLEASURE of reading and storytelling – the MAGIC and the DESPERATENESS of needing to know what comes next. This is what turns people into readers. She is hooked. For life. After years of teaching, I know the signs.
‘M’ is a young South African woman who did not finish her education. Sadly, she was forced to drop out of school very early due to family circumstances. We all know this South African tale very well and we know, even better, the consequences thereof.
‘M’ moved to Jozi a while back and has just started her working career, following in her mother’s footsteps. The only problem is that she struggles a great deal with communication, which means she will always struggle to get work and to keep a job. I decided to offer her reading classes as she lives in close proximity. I have discovered that she is very keen to learn and to perhaps complete her schooling at a later stage.
‘M’ has turned out to be an avid learner. She practices reading at home even when she hasn’t been given homework. We took a trip to the library, a first-time experience for her, and she became a member there and then. She has been a bit intimidated by the staff, as the librarians are quite stern, but I think she is now feeling confident enough to visit on her own. She loves the fact that she can go shopping for books for free.
Playing it forward
What is important to note though is that in teaching, reading aloud & doing remedial reading with ‘M’, I know that I am not teaching just one person. She is young and does not yet have children, but I know that when she does have children she will ensure that they also join the library. She will set an example by reading herself. She will be a mother that passionately reads to her kids. I know that she will read to them every single day that she possibly can. I know that she knows that this could change the trajectory of a person’s life. What we are doing in our lessons now is going to seep into the future, develop a life of its own, and have a positive impact on more than one individual’s life. ‘M’ knows the value, magic and joy of reading to someone and the power that it has. She will use that power going forward.
Many people regard reading aloud as something that you only do with very young children. This is absolutely not true. Research tells us that there is much value in reading aloud to older children – even those in their late teens. Truth be told, we all enjoy a good story.
The benefits of reading aloud
Reading aloud to someone develops their auditory skills and builds and grows vocabulary and comprehension. It is an integral part of becoming a fluent reader and a literate person. Therefore, if an adult has not learned to read it is really important that they are read to by someone. This way they can be exposed to words and phrases that they are not yet able to read for themselves. Having opportunities to build & expand vocabulary is just as important and being able to read. This together with Buddy Reading (Phono-Graphix terminology advocated by Jenny Taylor of Read for Africa), where you support a learner who is reading aloud, you can make a world of difference to a persons literacy levels in a short space of time.
The befits of reading aloud to children, tweens, teens and adults
Positive modeling of pronunciation
Positive modeling of tone, intonation and expression
Improves listening skills
It helps with discussing difficult issues with older kids
It’s a way to work through the classics with older kids
It’s a way to introduce different genres with older kids
It sparks curiosity
It contributes to a thirst for knowledge & learning
It’s good for bonding
It is very satisfying and enjoyable
It is a stress relief for older kids
If every literate person in South African could take on one fellow illiterate or semi-literate South African in their immediate environment, and humbly dedicate 1-2 hours a week to improving their literacy levels by reading to them, we could, despite our Government and a broken education system, make an enormous change in our country. Building a literate nation cannot be left up to our teachers and a few volunteers. The task is too great for them as this requires many many hours of one-to-one time and teachers in South Africa do not have that luxury, unfortunately. It needs to be done on a massive scale, with everyone who is capable of reading, playing their part.
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.