Concerns about Literacy

I’ve been involved for the past 9 months or so in quite a lot of stuff to do with literacy. It began with a Language and Literacy course, funded with ESL (English as a Second Language) money, dealing with Functional Literacy. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the course, and was involved in presenting the results of the unit of work I designed as a part of this program to other teachers of ESL. I was part of a team that did the course, and two other teachers and I did the presentation. At this session, a couple of mentions were made of Stephen Graham, an apparently well-known expert of literacy issues. He is in Adelaide at the moment, and today I attended a workshop run by him, dealing with literacy in the Middle and Senior Years. That is, High School. Steven used to be a Primary School Principal, but has worked for several years with a publishing company and University research team on literacy in Australia, and overseas. Apparently, Australian children are the second-most literate in the world, behind only Finland. We have around 93% literacy, compared to around 55% in the USA. However, there are still large improvements that can be made to our literacy programs. Basically, the crux of the problem is that children leaving primary schools have quite good skills at reading and interpreting narrative (story) texts, but not so much at the varying types of factual texts. And around 87% of secondary school texts are factual, rather than narrative. A lot of the problem needs to be dealt with in primary schools. And hopefully, we will start to see them teaching more factual texts, and how to interpret them. This will help to improve the baseline literacy levels of students as they enter secondary schools, enabling us to work them to a higher level by the time they graduate. Having said that, there is still a role for secondary teachers to play in improving literacy. Especially in terms of critical literacy, but even in general. Teaching literacy explicitly is something that every teacher can do, and in some cases, whilst it may seem that teaching how to read and interpret a text may impinge upon the time that said teacher can spend “teaching content,” in the long run it will improve the efficiency of the uptake of the information. That is, the information will be absorbed in a shorter time, resulting in better gains in knowledge. But more so, this effect will be cumulative. And it will (hopefully) transfer across learning areas and subjects, so the effect will build even more over time. Graham was adamant that 10 minutes out of 50 will result in a huge gain in literacy for all students.