All In: Literacy Is a Critical Component of Student Success
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
I grew up just outside of a dusty little town in Eastern Washington State during the 1960s and early ’70s. I attended the typical public school. In school, no one paid much attention to me. I was quiet, did most (or at least some) of my schoolwork, and spent as much time as possible reading.
Reading expanded my world beyond my small community. And while I did not know it at the time, I now know that learning to read was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. I owe my elementary teachers a debt of gratitude.
During high school, two English teachers—Art Fuller and Ann Clark—took an interest in me, encouraged me and challenged me. By engaging me in the classroom and in after-school activities, they helped me learn to think critically and write well enough so that going to college became a possibility. Before this, college was not part of my life plan.
It is little wonder that I became an English teacher.
When I started teaching high school English right after college, I had a lot to learn. I still do. There is one thing of which I was and am quite certain, though—nothing is more important than helping students be skillful readers, writers and thinkers.
As Frederick Douglass noted, literacy was an avenue to success during his lifetime. This is still true today.
My first job involved teaching four periods a day of Basic English and two periods of College Prep English. Basic English was the course that students had to take when they had failed the previous year’s English course. (In Washington state, a student had to have four credits of English during high school in order to graduate, just as they must have in Montgomery County.)
I have learned a lot from all of my students, but I learned some particularly important lessons from the students taking Basic English. First, they know more than we give them credit for. While they may have gaps in their literacy, they also have strengths, skills and talents. Second, they want to be successful; they want to graduate. We just need to find the right strategies to help them. Third, they don’t always have the social and emotional self-regulation skills needed to cope well in a classroom environment.
I know that if we see each student as an individual with specific needs and goals—if we build relationships; support their social, emotional and psychological growth; and fill learning gaps—all students can graduate with options and choices for a successful life after high school. If we can support them in their quest to walk across the stage and receive a diploma, they will be college- and career-ready and have the opportunity to be contributing members of their communities.
Literacy is critical in order to function in today’s society. I benefited from the work of teachers in elementary, middle and high school. I have had the opportunity to help students at all levels of learning, from those at real risk of drifting away from school with limited skills and no diploma, to those with high levels of skills and learning and a wide array of opportunities in front of them. It is all worthwhile and satisfying work, and it needs to be done.
Full literacy in English is essential for all students to be successful, and, considering our global society, literacy in multiple languages is even better.
Good Read/Good Listen
As we all know, learning doesn’t stop when you become an adult. I am constantly learning about new ideas and exploring new perspectives. I do this through books, articles and podcasts. Each blog, I will share a few of the most interesting ones with you. Some have made me ask questions, some have irritated me; others have made me smile or frown. I hope they make you think critically and open doors to new information and ideas.
- The Layers by Stanley Kunitz | Poetry Foundation
- The Sense of Style: Psycholinguist Steven Pinker on the Art and Science of Beautiful Writing – “Every generation believes that the kids today are degrading the language and taking civilization down with it.”org