Where Does Literacy Begin?

by Ana on May 15, 2008

Well, according to Esther A. Jantzen’s article in the LA Times, literacy begins at home, and I couldn’t agree more. She had this to say about the study which found that Bush’s Reading First program is not working:

I doubt if anyone with experience in urban education is surprised at the announcement. We’re disappointed that, once again, a generation of public school kids didn’t get whatever is needed in order to learn to read well.

But we’re not surprised. We’ve been barking up the wrong tree a long time.

I’ve actually been watching and waiting for the inevitable finger-pointing that was bound to happen once the news spread about the lack of success the Reading First program has had in improving student performance in urban schools. It should come as no surprise that the blame be tossed around and passed down from office to office before finally landing in the laps of the schools and teachers. While I knew the finger would also eventually be pointed at parents, I didn’t expect it to be done this quickly.

Although I think some blame belongs to the schools and the administration of the program in general, I completely agree with the author’s views in regards to the importance of starting literacy in the home. She goes on to share the findings of an eye-opening study that was done on children’s vocabulary and literacy; an important one that most parents (and many educators) are sadly, unfamiliar with:

They found that by age 3 children of welfare parents heard 10 million words, those with working-class parents heard 20 million words, and those with professional parents heard 30 million words. In addition, with children 13-18 months old in welfare families, almost 80% of the feedback to the child was negative, in working-class families about 50% was negative, and in professional families more than 80% of feedback to the child was affirmative.

It turns out that verbal development is not so much about IQ, parental love or socioeconomic status. These skills are related to how much a child is talked to and the tone of the communications. Literacy is founded on words heard and words used. What this means is that the critical place that literacy develops is the home, not the school, and that the crucial intervention period is very early in the life of a child.

This is powerful information for any parent to have and act on! I wish every parent would make it his or her personal mission to assure that their child gets the best start possible by simply following what this study suggests: talking and interacting with your child in a positive manner as much as possible! Jantzen goes on to supply several realistic ideas for parents, companies, and the community at large to make this change happen in homes across the country. Having worked at a couple of urban schools myself where parental involvement meant calling a social worker, I can only hope that her message is heard.

I can at least help by spreading her word and by providing parents the knowledge to teach their kids to read at home through our site! Read the whole article here to find out more about her ideas.

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