The changing role of literacy today, part 2

How to get student to read on grade level

We know we must teach children to read proficiently, yet the age-old challenge of getting a child to read on grade level still persists. Fortunately, science and technology are providing a roadmap.

Science tells us that when we are born, we house all of the tools to learn to speak. On the other hand, we must learn the skill of reading. There is no corresponding “reading center” to the language center in our brains. Instead, every child must go through the meticulous task of learning to read; through the amazing adaptive abilities of the brain we can acquire a skill that was invented only a few thousand years ago.

According to Professor Maryanne Wolf, John DiBiaggio professor of citizenship and public service, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research, and professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University, “It took our species roughly 2,000 years to make the cognitive breakthroughs necessary to learn to read with an alphabet … our children have to reach those same insights about print in roughly 2,000 days.” Those 2,000 days are roughly from birth to about first grade—in other words, at a fairly fast pace.

But what of the child who, for numerous reasons, can’t get this monumental task done in 2,000 days? Whether because of external circumstances or different learning modalities, for some children it may take longer, and we must teach these children, too.

Literacy today is a story of both great promise and deep concern. Children who are proficient readers have the world in front of them. From classic literature to computer coding, today’s young reader has the ability to gain knowledge at a pace that wasn’t possible even a generation ago.

For children who face poverty, language barriers, or learning challenges, the story is much different. There are currently 25 million children in the country who do not read proficiently and their fate should concern all of us. This is where technology can, in some instances, lend a hand. One such solution is Reading Is Fundamental’s flagship digital product, Literacy Central, a suite of free technology-based tools that promote and support literacy. Literacy Central provides digital support materials for the books that educators use in the classroom.

(Next page: Resources for helping students learn to read)

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