Yvette Gittens, Early Childhood Practitioner and Literacy Specialist
Features
November 4, 2022
Changing the trajectory of children’s literacy levels in the 21st century in SVG

by Yvette Gittens, Early Childhood Practitioner and Literacy Specialist

It is said that literacy plays a vital role in transforming students. It is one of the foundations that is needed for students to become productive citizens and lifelong learners. Adults need literacy to find employment as well as to communicate effectively and with clarity with others.

Our whole world is full of literacy from the labels on our food items, safety and warning signs on sign posts, traffic signs, names of buildings, prescription labels, WhatsApp and Facebook messages and the list goes on.

The question I ask today is “What is the best way to teach literacy?”

It appears from my observation that everyone has mastered this topic; trained or untrained. If so, why are students still struggling to grasp the simplest concepts in literacy?

  • Is the problem for our students – a cognitive problem?
  • Are we as parents/teachers ignoring the learning challenges we observe on a daily basis in our child/students?
  •  Are the struggling readers using level text only to make meaning of print?
  • Are teachers teaching enough strategies systematically and explicitly to students?
  • Are we teaching too many whole language approaches to reading that our children have become guessers?
  •  Are students spending enough time writing so that they express their thoughts openly? And how soon are we beginning the writing process?
  • Are we decorating our classrooms with sight words and sound walls but spend less time teaching our students how to orthographically process these words?

The afore-mentioned questions and more I often ask myself.

I once heard a teacher’s statement that students are taught spelling but still cannot spell words accurately. With this in mind, I ask: are we teaching spelling differently in the 21st century?

With the use of WhatsApp words, games and Facebook we sure need to be teaching spelling differently.

Cognitive psychology research, patterns the science of reading.

It gives insight into how humans learn to read, the skills required and the parts of the brain that are involved in literacy development.

With the use of this research, practitioners of literacy can identify an evidence based best practice approach to teaching what we called structured literacy.

We must also remember that our brain was evolved to serve the purpose of speaking and not wired to read and write.

Therefore, every effort must be made to ensure that the circuits of the brain are utilized by reading.

Orthographic mapping is what all readers should use to become fluent readers and spellers.

According to Sedita (2020), “through orthographic mapping, students use the oral language processing part of their brain to map (connect) the sounds of words they already know (the phonemes) to the letters in a word (the spellings).

They then permanently store the connected sounds and letters of words (along with their meaning) as instantly recognizable words, described as “sight vocabulary” or “sight words”.

Orthographic mapping is a cognitive skill process that students must use when it comes to learning how to spell words. Students need to see patterns in words.

Children need to have skills in: Phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, vocabulary (morphology), Listening Comprehension, Print Awareness, Alphabet Knowledge, Phonics, Alphabet Principle,

Reading Comprehension and fluency which is the ability to read with automaticity, enough speed and expression.

These skills do not come naturally and need practice to be mastered.

Also, children need a lot of support within the home, mind you, some of our parents are teachers. I say to you parents, step up and become teachers for your children.

Some of you parents are too busy to find time for your children. Compel your children to develop a love for reading and writing. If you can’t assist them, find support. Buy books as gifts and find time to read and discuss stories using comprehension strategies like prediction, inferencing and context clues.

Allow your child to share his/her experiences with you. Reinforce strategies that they have learned in school. There are too many educational sites on phones and tablets that can be accessed using the Internet.

Your children’s mission to success does not lie only with teachers, it also lies with you as parents.

Teachers I implore you to continue to improve in your craft. Take the advice from those who are more knowledgeable than yourself and do better for all of your students. It was Maya Angelou who said. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

It was Jesse Jackson who coined this quote “You cannot teach what you don’t know. You cannot give energy if you’re not on fire on the inside.”

We must be determined to do some introspection of what doesn’t work so we can use research-based intervention and what has proven to work so that we can give our students the best experience.

We may not be able to have all of our students become fluent readers but we can have most of them learning to read at a level so that they can be understood. Remember what we do, how we do it and how we feel about what we do is very important.

We do not know everything We make mistakes, we get confused at times but we must never stop learning and growing. Let’s come together and change the trajectory of children’s literacy levels in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Let’s begin now!