Literacy establishes crucial link to society

By Susan Kovalik, Think About It

Literacy: The ability to read and write, a simple definition underscoring a vast range of skills and talents needed to navigate our print world.

A literate person is defined as a well-informed educated person.

Education has seen an increased focus the past six years on raising literacy in our schools. Commercial programs designed to meet that goal have grown and now number in the thousands. Programs provide strategies to make a reader proficient, capable of high-level questions, making connections to themselves and others, drawing conclusions and synthesizing information.

Some familiar programs are Success for All, Open Court, Distar, Direct Instruction, Reading Recovery, Read 180, Lindamood-Bell, Accelerated Reading, Leveled Reading and SRA. All of these programs come with a wealth of materials to assist and support the teachers in preparation of their students to be able to read and comprehend — and all of them cost a great deal of money.

After 30 years in education, I would like to present a different kind of literacy program for grades K-12. Literacy should open the doors to becoming an active and competent member of the immediate community and the community at-large. I believe that reading under supervision of the teacher should all be content-specific nonfiction, enlarging a student’s knowledge base about the world around them and the greater world. Two novels a year should be read as a whole class to foster cultural literacy, and fiction should be the choice of the students and they should select as many books as they want to read each month.

These suggestions are designed to make students literate in the true sense of the word. Think about it.

• Kinder-garten: Discover the magic of words through poetry of all kinds and levels. Committing at least a poem a week to memory empowers students of their own capabilities and many are remembered for a lifetime. Rhyme is a natural foundation for learning to read.

• First through third grade, neighborhood literacy: The living world that surrounds us including books on bees, ants, snails, slugs, sow bugs, birds, moles, snakes and every other creature that they could find in their natural environment. Additionally, books on cars, trucks, trains, buses and other equipment we see every day has high student appeal and examples are everywhere.

• Fourth grade, geographic literacy: Where in the world, a study of ecosystems, starting with their own — wetlands, Puget Sound, rain forests, oceans, ponds, lakes, rivers, bays, islands, mountains, volcanoes, woods, farms and cities.

• Fifth grade, community literacy: Navigate the phone book; the introductory pages include area attractions from symphony performances to ballet to museums to science center and NW trek, plus a calendar of events for the year including arts, crafts, ethnic celebrations and farmers market. Community service from abuse hotlines to help for senior citizens, parks and recreation by city, county, state, national and national parks, the tide tables, public transportation, airports, ferries, buses, metro, seating charts for all major venues in area, location maps by city and street. Newcomers guide to refuse, water, recycling, sewer, gas, electric, post office, chamber of commerce. U.S. government offices, city, county and state.

• Sixth grade, inspirational literacy: Speeches or music or books that have influenced history, biographies of at least 12 individuals (some living, some not) whose lives contributed to making the world a better place.

• Seventh grade, survival literacy: How to prepare for earthquakes, floods, ice storms, avalanches and other natural disasters, plus inventions that have changed the world — past, present and future.

• Eighth grade, citizen literacy: Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution designed to protect the rights of all citizens, residents and visitors on United States territory. Identify and follow their application through the year in newspapers, periodicals and Web sites.

• Ninth grade, economic literacy: Economic issues affect all families every day, so understand the language of contracts starting with cell phones, credit cards, warranties (from appliances to automobiles), and loans for college, car and home.

• 10th grade, media literacy: Examine and understand how media messages are constructed, how they reflect social values and influence teen behavior. Explore the business side of media including advertising, commercial interests, media and democracy and career options.

• 11th grade, civil literacy: Examine the laws and regulations necessary for millions of people to live, work and survive in a society starting with school rules and then city, county, state and federal. Look at them first and foremost as they impact a teenager

• 12th grade, national literacy: How to interpret a ballot at the local, state and national level. Understanding the impact of how your state senators and congressmen voted on issues and review current Supreme Court decisions and project their effect on your life.

Literacy is the life link to critically important decisions we make every day. Imagine if each year in school we became more knowledgeable about the world in which we live and what it takes to navigate and be a contributing member of society.

Think about it.

Susan J. Kovalik is an educator, consultant and author in Federal Way. She is founder of The Center for Effective Learning in Federal Way: skovalik@kovalik.com.

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