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Children's Literacy Round-Up: Reactions to Recent Reading-Level Studies

Here are some recent children's literacy and reading news stories that caught my eye. I'm publishing the roundup early this week because there's so much going on that bears thinking about. Thanks for reading!

  • Education World has a must-read article for teachers, about using "shared reading" (reading aloud, while kids have the option to read along in a book themselves) for kids in older grades. Several teachers are quoted about their experiences, including a social studies teacher. One thing that particularly struck me was that a couple of them mentioned that when they were reading something that really worked with the kids (Bud, Not Buddy was one example) class attendance improved. Another teacher said that her students read more after she read aloud with them, and that she even "received several letters from former students who were (in jail), asking her to send books similar to those she had read with them." Thanks to the Big Fresh newsletter from Choice Literacy for the link.
  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes about new in-class libraries installed in all kindergarten and first and second grade classrooms this fall. The headline says: "Small school libraries aim to make reading fun and easy." "The old method of choosing one book for the entire class to read at a time doesn't work well, because there's often a wide range of reading abilities among students in a single class, teacher Mary Correa said." The idea of the libraries is to provide easy access to books at a variety of reading levels. Coincidentally, I happened to speak with a first grade teacher this weekend, and she mentioned the same issue of the breadth of reading levels in her class, from kids reading Harry Potter to kids just learning to read. I don't think the gaps were as wide when I was in first or second grade, but they sure exist now.
  • It seems that every week there are articles in the major UK newspapers about the state of children's literacy. This week there is particular concern because UK reading levels dropped significantly (from third to nineteenth) in the IEA PIRLS international reading levels study. According to The Telegraph, there is particular concern that "pupils are ditching books for computer games." The Telegraph opens the topic up to discussion, asking "How can we boost our children's literacy?" Many people have commented, with an array of both suggestions and complaints. The Guardian also weighs in, asking "Is our children reading?". There are lots of comments on this article, too. See also this opinion piece in the Sunday Herald. The Prime Minister's wife has also spoken up and asked parents and teachers to do more to encourage kids to read. Although the UK's reading level news isn't good, I do find it encouraging to see such a high degree of public attention to the issue.
  • See other responses to recent studies on literacy levels from South Africa, Hong Kong, Russia, China, Malaysia, Trinidad & Tobago, Israel, and India. Studies mentioned include the IEA PIRLS 2006 international reading levels study and a UNESCO report on literacy.
  • Dolly Parton is planning to extend her Imagination Library program to the UK. According to the Times, however, there is some conflict over this because local councillors in Rotherham pushed back a scheduled meeting so that they could meet her. The article notes that "The Imagination Library involves posting children a reading book every month until the age of 5. Funded by the singer’s Dollywood Foundation, it has spread to 45 American states, but Rotherham is the first place to implement the scheme in Britain."
  • According to a news release on CNNMoney.com, "More than 135,000 children's books (are) en route from Scholastic to 2,746 Reach Out and Read hospitals and clinics across the U.S. thanks to the efforts of kids nationwide... They are the first delivery of a quarter-million-book donation Scholastic Book Clubs, a division of Scholastic, the global children's publishing education and media company, is making to Reach Out and Read, a national non- profit organization promoting early literacy and reading as a standard part of pediatric care. The donation is part of Scholastic Book Clubs' ClassroomsCare program, which donates 100 books to children in need for every 100 books students read in participating classrooms nationwide -- up to 1 million books annually." I love the idea of kids giving reading books to give books to other kids.
  • Scholastic is also working with Room to Read to donate books to children in developing countries. According to another news release, "Boeing, Cathay Pacific Airways, Room to Read and Scholastic Inc. came together yesterday for the historic, inaugural flight of Literacy One, carrying hundreds of thousands of children's books donated by Scholastic Inc, aboard a new Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to Hong Kong and onward to Room to Read libraries in Asia." Don't you love the idea of "Literacy One"?
  • According to LiteracyNews.com, "Tucsonans value literacy so highly that they are willing to increase their taxes to ensure that opportunities to learn are available to all – but particularly to children. That is a key finding of the third Community Voice survey, sponsored by the Tucson Regional Town Hall. An overwhelming 83 percent of the 429 respondents believe raising literacy levels is critical to Arizona's success". Now, I do wonder about the sample size of the survey relative to the population, but it's still nice to see such strong support for children's literacy programs.
  • The Enquirer (Cincinnati) asks, in light of the recent NEA reading study, whether books still matter. Some provocative quotes are included, like this one: ""Text has kind of hijacked what we think learning and thinking are all about," said Andrea Saveri, research director at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif. "Text-based literacy is only a blip on the horizon, historically. Look at cave paintings, song lines telling stories about physical places, and other oral traditions. Those are literacy, too."" The article doesn't come down with a strong conclusion one way or the other, but explores arguments about the important of the concentrated thinking that people do when they read vs. the "new edge of literacy" that includes music, video, and hyperlinks. 

And there you have it. Lots of responses to generally discouraging news about the decline in reading for pleasure, especially in the US and UK. Personally, it just makes me feel more strongly that we need to take action. Some ideas:

  1. Starting a public service announcement campaign focused on encouraging parents to read aloud to their kids;
  2. Helping teachers to find time in their schedules to read aloud (despite the relentless pressure to teach to standardized tests);
  3. Bringing authors into schools for visits; and
  4. Increasing funding for libraries

The first item on this list was inspired by a talk that I attended by reading advocate Jim Trelease, and the last two items were inspired by recent discussions (including the comments) with Colleen Mondor. What do you all think?

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