The Literacy Collaborative is one of the largest and most promising initiatives to address literacy instruction. It is used in almost 600 elementary schools in 200 districts across 26 states. It builds on some 30 years of systematic research and development on early literacy learning. This is an IES-funded “Goal 2 Study” that involves original measurement development on teacher practice, construction of a development metric from component reading skill inventories, social network measurement, and, of course, all of the logistical and technical nuances associated with systematic education field trials. (
Our school just found out that it has acquired a Literacy Specialist, one of our own English teachers. The federal grant amounts to 70 million dollars and touches, as you can see above, 200 districts in 26 states. What the duties will be for that specialist is still a mystery that should hopefully be cleared up before the new school year begins. Now the big question is “Why do we need to spend so much money on literacy and will it make a difference?” Most high school teachers, this one included, have questioned the abysmal level of reading comprehension and writing skills of our incoming freshmen. It seems, I am sorry to say, that elementary and middle schools are not doing a very good job at teaching English (one of my pet peeves). So why involve high schools in this project?
Linguists and psychologists in child development know well that there is a short window of opportunity to learn a new language easily. It lasts approximately 4 years between the ages of 2 and 6; the ability does not disappear completely all at once. It simply fades with time and by the age of 12 it becomes much more difficult to learn a new language, as adults can attest. However, it seems that bilingual children, those who learn two languages at the same time at home, have an easier task when faced with learning a third one. Apparently new connections in the brain open up and facilitate verbal acquisition. Still, the question remains: Is learning two languages at home a help or a hindrance? Does it affect the child’s ability to become highly proficient in both?
Among students who were born in this country we, the teachers of English, have observed a steady erosion of reading comprehension and writing skills. The main cause, we believe, has two facets: Children don’t read as much, actually many don’t read at all, outside school. Many homes don’t even have books and/or magazines; the all-pervasive television, video games and now smart phones occupy the time formerly dedicated to reading. Kids as young as five are seen holding a cell phone and chatting away. The second aspect is the language curriculum. We have stopped insisting on intense grammar classes at an early age and we have done away with Latin and Greek roots which compose so many of our words. The shift has been away from language to focus more on math and science, ignoring the obvious fact that both subjects rely heavily on the first.
|bathy-, batho-||deep, depth||Greek||βαθύς (bathús, bathýs)|
|EXAMPLE OF GREEK ROOTS||WIKIPEDIA||actual Greek letters|
|batholith, bathyscaphe||English words|
The new literacy grant sounds wonderful as it means more money for our schools, but an additional class on writing, which is what they recommend for next year, is not going to solve the tremendous verbal deficit for our bilingual students. It would be better to modify the curriculum at the elementary level to emphasize the joy of reading and writing and add Latin and Greek roots in middle schools. It would also help to fund better libraries and extend their operating hours after school. Finally, invite parents with their children to participate in reading classes and discover a whole new world of excitement and fantasy. A few significant door prizes might motivate more attendance.
Hopefully the grant money will solve part of the literacy problem; I somehow doubt it!