As infants, the first language we begin to develop is our listening vocabulary. Long before we are able to speak in cohesive sentences, read our first words or write our names we are able to understand the people surrounding us. As toddlers, we begin to learn to speak. Next, we learn to read and finally, we learn to write. It is through the words, pages and books that we read that we develop the writing skills required for success in both school and our careers. In a 2005 study, 70% of 300 surveyed college instructors felt that students were unable to comprehend college-level reading or complex written materials.1 Thus, it is imperative that we encourage a higher level of literacy in children and maintain the development of our students’ reading brains.
Literacy begins from the moment we enter this world, from the first book our parents read to us, to our very first “I Can Read!” books, to the complexities of literature studied in college. Reading literacy is a life-long project that is imperative for our success as adults. As was noted on the findings of the National Adult Literary Survey, “Literacy can be thought of as a currency in [this] society. Just as adults with little money have difficulty meeting their basic needs, those with limited literacy skills are likely to find it more challenging to pursue their goals — whether these involve job advancement, consumer decision making, citizenship, or other aspects of their lives.”2 We must ensure that our children are equipped with this “‘currency’” to excel in society. Instilling an active reading habit promotes students’ literacy, and in turn, their capacity to “think, feel, to infer, and to understand,” thus, creating successful individuals.
As our technology-driven society advances, we are presented with new challenges in literacy development. Maryanne Wolf writes, “[reading] contributes to our capacity to think, feel, to infer, and to understand other human beings [it] is especially important today as we make the transition from a reading brain to an increasingly digital one.”3 Sound-bites are replacing in-depth, full-length reading. We have become too reliant on Google “quick results” for information; trusting far too much in the instant gratification that online media has provided us and failing to seek the details and deeper meaning that turn information, studies and news into knowledge. While digital literacy is an integral skill in today’s society, it is vital that students continue to read full-length texts in order to reach their full intellectual potential.
While it may seem a daunting task to pry our children away from technology, there are steps we can take to make this transition smoother. We must ensure that our children are reading at appropriate reading levels, promote literacy development and prevent the frustrations they may feel when confronting a text that is far beyond their abilities. Further, it is important to provide a balance between what is assigned to a child and what they have chosen for themselves; allowing them to read topics and genres which are of interest to them and thus, exposing students to the joys of reading – developing a life-long habit of reading and literacy.
The first step in promoting student literacy is identifying the students reading ability. At HEROES Academy, we utilize the NWEA MAP test, a computerized assessment in math and reading. The NWEA MAP test results correlate to Lexile reading scores. Further, test results identify the student’s reading weaknesses – inferences, vocabulary acquisition, etc. We utilize these test scores, in combination with a paper-pencil writing placement, to (1) place students into classes and (2) provide personalized reading recommendations based on student reading ability and interests. When presented with reading material that is both appropriate to the child’s reading ability and interests, students begin to find joy in reading again.