"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Literacy: Reading, Thinking and Writing

The cover page of a report from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Alliance for Excellent Education caught my attention this morning:

Downloaded from http://carnegie.org/fileadmin/Media/Publications/WritingToRead_01.pdf
The magnifying glass correctly reminds us of what literacy means. It is not just about being able to read. Being able to write is an important part. Wikipedia expands literacy further as reading, writing and thinking:
Screenshot from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy
Literacy is one of the main goals of basic education. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to understand what literacy really entails. Efforts in basic education must address all three basic components: reading, writing and thinking. Catherine Gewertz recently wrote an article on Education Week, "Writing Undergoes Renaissance in Curricula". This article is among those posted in the Rethinking Literacy section of Education Week. In the article, Gewertz cites the report "Writing to Read"
"For all intents and purposes, 'literacy' became synonymous with 'reading,' and writing became the stepchild of literacy rather than an equal partner," said Andrés Henríquez, a program officer at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which underwrote a string of studies on reading and writing, including "Writing to Read." 
Students still spend little time writing in school. Teacher surveys by Steve Graham, the author of "Writing to Read," and colleagues show that students spend less than half an hour writing each day in elementary school, and much of what they write is lists and fill-in-the-blank answers to questions. Even at the high school level, seven in 10 teachers reported that their preservice training had not prepared them adequately to teach writing, and nearly half did not assign a single multiparagraph writing task per month. 
"What we have, typically, is kids not writing more than a paragraph of text, all the way through high school," said Mr. Graham, a professor at Arizona State University in Tempe. "It's not very promising for writing or for writing instruction."
For education leaders in government, it is imperative to recognize the importance of writing in basic education. A classroom of students can easily read aloud together. Learning to read, although is challenging, requires less time and effort than learning to write. Thinking occurs between reading and writing. Otherwise, the writing is simply "copying". It does require more from the student. What the government needs to realize is that it requires so much more from the teachers. Teachers need time and effort to help students write. This is highly individualized and a teacher must pay attention to each student. Reading and correcting what students wrote require additional time. This part of literacy is where the class size really matters. Grading twenty five essays is so much easier than grading twice as many. Evaluating a pupil's writing skill goes much further than just putting red marks and comments on the student's paper. To communicate effectively, a teacher must sit down, one-on-one, with each students, to discuss the paper. Clearly, recognizing that literacy goes far beyond reading, makes us realize why quality basic education is heavily dependent on the quality of working conditions of teachers. When we neglect our teachers, we are basically reducing literacy to just a small part, reading, and our students will fail to think and write.

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