If ‘Literacy’ is the Answer, what’s the Question?

If ‘Literacy’ is the Answer, what’s the Question?

If “literacy” is the answer, then what’s the question?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher, parent or principal, there’s no doubt you’ll have a good answer to this question…or question to this answer. In fact, there are probably hundreds of excellent questions we could ask that would qualify “literacy” as the right answer.
Here’s just a few:

 

  • What has been directly correlated to school success and student achievement over time?
  • What factor greatly contributes to students’ vocabulary development?
  • How can we increase student progress across all subject areas?
  • What could we focus on to build our students’ interest in learning?
  • What is one area of teacher development that will have a high return on investment?
  • How can we accelerate our BMLs’ learning, vocabulary and language development?
You see, reading and writing are critical keys to almost all our students’ success when it comes to academic achievement. As students become proficient readers and writers, they continue to gain from the benefits of literacy. This includes increased comprehension, language development and of course, vocabulary. Struggling students on the other hand, experience the reverse effects. While the “rich get richer (in literacy)”, these students actually get “poorer (in literacy).” In other words, their already-weak literacy skills form gaps that continue to widen over the years. We refer to this as the “Matthew Effect.” 
So you can see now that “literacy” really is a powerful answer to so many of our complex questions about school success. How our students, especially BMLs, function independently with complex academic tasks is a direct reflection of their vocabulary and their literacy levels. The more schools create powerful literacy priorities and goals, the better their students will ultimately achieve. They’ll not only increase their reading and writing levels, they’ll be able to understand and use more advanced vocabulary. Their independence will also increase and you’ll see students better able to research, break down information and cope with their subject assignments. 

 

 

How to Make Literacy a Priority Across the School for All Students (Not Only BMLs)
  • Ensure you know all students’ baseline literacy levels and make that information freely available to all teachers so they can consult the information for supporting and differentiating instruction. Use a shared drive or network. 
  • If you’re interested in actually accelerating your students’ literacy levels, dedicate 20 minutes of independent reading and writing EACH DAY for EACH GRADE/YEAR. Make sure all students have access to books at their individual reading levels and ensure that BMLs are reading books that are at their “easy” or independent level when reading on their own. Consistency over time will yield excellent results.
  • Be sure that all your classroom and English teachers are trained to support students with literacy strategies. They should know how to help students build personal connections as they read and interpret inferences, for example. Students’ progress should be monitored at least once every 4-6 weeks, not just before report card time. Struggling students need to be supported quickly, so that their gaps can be closed rapidly. Schools need to have a plan of action to accomplish this and they should also have trained staff to do this.
  • Don’t waste BMLs’ valuable time with low-quality “ESL support.” Far too often, we see BMLs pulled out of class for grammar instruction or for “help” with no clear objective or understanding as to HOW the ESL staff can begin to make an impact. ESL Staff should focus on “enrichment” instead of remediation. They must place a heavy emphasis on literacy and on differentiation of grade/year-level learning. All staff require high-quality training to help them understand BMLs and their specific needs. 
  • Focus on reading and writing DURING school time. Don’t make parents responsible for one of the most important learning skills. They’re not the experts. While students should always be encouraged to read at home, this should really be considered “extra” since many parents simply can’t follow through due to their work commitments or other priorities. Don’t leave your students’ literacy-learning to chance. Always plan and program for quality literacy instruction and practice within the school day.
For a more comprehensive look at literacy with BMLs, feel free to download our E-Book, Getting Results with your Bilingual & Multilingual Learners: High Priorities and Action Points for Principals, ESL Teachers and Educators. You can also learn more about our courses here
 

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