Preparing literate children for the 21st century
The beginning of another school year is an opportunity to support our children to become highly literate.
What does being highly literate mean in the 21st century and what might be 21st century literacy outcomes?
According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), literacy outcomes for the 21st century should produce students who construct meaning, elaborate and respond critically, exhibit effective strategic behaviours, know that they know how to read and write and have positive habits, attitudes and values.
Our homes, schools, classrooms and even communities can consider what this means individually and collectively as we start a new school year taking our children with what ever literacy knowledge they bring to us to some place further.
We can begin this new school year with a more holistic understanding of literacy as a problem-solving process.
Our instructional approaches must embrace a balance that views learning to read and write as a developmental process in which children are taught understandings, strategies, and skills that are appropriate for their current stage of development.
We have to know what makes successful readers and writers and what needs to be addressed in literacy instruction.
It would be interesting to ask children at the beginning of the school year what it means to be a good reader or writer.
What do their responses suggest about the approaches and experiences used in previous classrooms or in the home?
Do they see reading as only knowing the words, or sounding out the words? Is writing viewed as having correct spelling only?
Do they see reading and writing as filling out worksheets or using your best handwriting to get things right?
Perhaps they share that reading is about enjoying stories that make you think or writing as messages they want to share with someone.
With these responses we can begin to do a careful analysis of how we can use the information provided against how we are instructing and setting up experiences for children to embrace literacy.
We can ensure that children have experience with literacy and literature.
This means children must be exposed to a range and level of complexity of texts and tasks that include informational, literary, and environmental genres and text structures.
Children must experience texts they can read and write independently, with teacher support and even some written and read for them.
We also have to develop awareness that reading and writing are thinking processes for different purposes including informing, enjoying, and to function in our complex world.
Children must also learn how to connect and reflect as they are instructed in literacy.
This means knowing how to relate their personal experiences and prior knowledge to what is being read or written.
We have to help children understand the author’s intended meaning when reading and to write meaningful texts.
Our discussions with children should allow them to reflect and extend orally; write responses from discussions, use writing for further investigation or exploration of a high interest project.
Children need to call upon and use their prior experiences with different types of reading and writing as they approach literacy tasks.
Knowledge and understandings of literacy includes children’s awareness of the conventions of books and print, including layout, spacing and the relationships between print text visuals.
Also, included is the development of phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge and awareness of letter-sound relationships.
Children need to develop awareness of the language structures and syntax of language, a good working vocabulary, the reading and writing of high-frequency words, familiar words and some specialised vocabulary (needed for sciences, mathematics).
To develop awareness of text language structures with children, oral language development must be understood and enhanced by model adults through lively discussion and reading to children.
When we speak of literacy strategies and skills children should acquire it means we have to support them to pull together the meaning of text including the structure of the sentences and letter sound relationships in an orchestrated and flexible manner.
They should be able to understand the meaning of texts read and be able to retell them with varying perspectives.
When writing we teach children how to conceptualise, draft, revise, edit, proofread and present or publish.
When children believe they are readers and writers they can take on increasingly complex literacy tasks and develop a variety of strategies to use when they meet difficulties.
Ultimately this enables them to be confident and independent 21st century literate beings.
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