Monday, July 17, 2006
LIVE WRITE Column for this week
BE WELL…BY READING WELL
I’m certain my teenagers developed their love of reading at a very young age. They were read to a lot – every night at home and weekly at local library programs. Today they prefer books to television.
I remember stretching out in bed with them, reading Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are for the fiftieth time. They drifted off in their imaginations with Max, King of the Monsters, while their tired dad drifted in and out of a semi-conscious state, eventually muttering words not even remotely related those on the page. A tiny sharp elbow and a cry of “Dad, that’s wrong!” brought me abruptly back.
According to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, there are early experiences that are likely to produce readers, who then become literate citizens. Some of these experiences include seeing adults read, acting out stories, being read to aloud, finding books around the house, visiting the library with a loved one, owning books and setting aside time for reading.
Why is it so important to read? I would argue that reading is itself a gift and enriches life beyond measure. The Public Health Agency of Canada would add that print literacy is a significant contributor to a good life and to good health. In fact, recent research shows that people with low literacy skills are more likely to suffer chronic health problems and to die younger.
The scope of the problem becomes apparent, knowing that as many as a fifth of all adults in Canada have serious difficulty dealing with printed material at all. Another 25 percent are only able to deal with material that is simple and clearly laid out, including health-related information.
Just where does literacy fit in the big picture of health? Researchers have known for a long time that a healthy population is not based simply on individual choices. While it’s clear that not using tobacco, maintaining an active life (and healthy weight), eating nutritious food and avoiding injury are all important to health, it’s also clear that there are underlying factors that greatly affect our well-being.
I once heard a public health doctor put it this way, “If you want to live a long healthy life, there are some things you should take care of. First, choose your parents wisely. Then live in comfortable housing in a safe community, obtain a great education, be affluent, have a meaningful job and enjoy strong social networks.” He was making the point that to have a healthy society, these social needs must be addressed for all.
The Canadian Journal of Public Health recently published findings that make it clear that along with adequate income, housing, food, employment, social inclusion and education – we can add literacy to the list of determining factors for good health. In fact, evidence indicates that it may have more impact on the quality of our lives than education does.
This makes it important to support adult learning, to invest in early childhood development, to fund our libraries, to ensure strong universal education and to create documents in plain language.
Oh yes, and remember to read to the children at bedtime.
You have produced a wonderful article indicating the importance of literacy, and its effect on our wellbeing, but I fear for many of your younger readers and the world at large the magic of the written word is fading fast.
Like a fading dream to future generations who have already developed a new media language and a new culture !! a new cultural landscape away from what was yours.
Notwithstanding this trend there is activity across the western world to raise literacy standard. In Australia a national year 3 reading benchmark has been set. Assistance is provided to children who were below the benchmark with assistance through the delivery of $700 worth of one to one new tuition in reading, outside of school hours, which identified 17,500 needy students.
But today I ask the question are literacy standards falling universally across the world because you can communicate through other means. You would have noted reduced circulations of quality magazines and the better broad sheets.
Readings considered boring by most who would rather watch TV. Check out the Text mobile phone culture and can you tell me of anyone, under the age of 30 who writes letters ?, when they can call or send text messages instead.
A new media language is developing, and a new culture !! !
The best approach as you say is with parents and their children, and to support teachers so they are able to develop a love for the written words in their hearts of their students which will sustain them in later life.
But does success depend as much as previously on literacy ? I doubt it !!
You might love watching a grand production of a famous novel on the BBC but now many people will read the Book ?
Is there danger(or maybe not for some )we are know entering a cultural shift back to a more oral Society ! Will students work be orally given rather than in a written form in the future ?
yes, it's one of those seemingly simple skills that once learned we can easily take for granted. i've more than once been reading a book and stopped to marvel at how it works! odd little shapes on a page, just 26 of them in our system, yet they unlock so much information and ideas. and the phenomenal speed of processing those squiggles into meaning.
it's hard to put yourself in the mind of a person who can't decipher his own written language. I mean, it's not like spending a bit of time in a foreign country, is it? it's not like hearing strange sounds, it must be more like being deaf!
the ''learning curve'' is exponential; once reading is mastered, at the lower end of the curve, education has the potential to climb very rapidly indeed!
I'd like to suggest that the internet is a better incentive to read and write for kids than schooling and books.
Ian and Lindsay - this is a good discussion...is literacy losing relevance or changing? The research I looked at was all about reading literacy, but there are other kinds as well - computer literacy, oral literacy, cultural literacy and more. For oral cultures for example (probably includes Australian Aborigine), there is a strong need to renew or maintain that approach to learning, while supporting written word literacy.
One interesting thing I read regarding health, is that most health information for the public is written at a Grade 12 level (last year high school here). Simply re-writing it to a Grade 7 or 8 would improve the population's health.
I think I'm with Ian on the internet being a place where the written word is being learned. Now as for the use of the language, that's another post!
The under 30s in the western cultures with internet presence is a mixed bag however - compared to 30 years ago, there certainly is an enormous amount of info, but it is a 2 faced sword with many unable to research and sort out wheat from chaff.
There is decline in literacy however and I think we are going through a change, the question I ask is should we be concerned? Or maybe should we more concerned that we are not adapting to different forms of communication? Time will tell!
New media has spawned a new coded language only just related to English as we once knew it ....but are we still dreaming in an outmoded way based upon past assumtions as to how we should commnicate ? Theses are social questions to be asked of society !!
I have sadly thought that literacy was losing its place in the world, and being pushed aside because of modern technology. Personally, I don't like the face of new media and the evolution of plain language into what is now being dubbed as instant messaging language. But as you said, that's another post entirely!
Reading together is much more fun than watching TV together. We can stop and talk and laugh as long as we like. One thing I've noticed since beginning to work with children is that although some appear to read fluently, their comprehension is not always good. They can speak the words, but they have no idea what they're reading. My son comprehends what he reads very well, and I think that comes from reading together, reading a variety of types of books (fiction and nonfiction), and discussion of ideas. Reading aloud is one of the most important things you can do with and for your child.
We're going to pick up a volume in the original Boxcar Children series Friday.
I love Where the Wild Things Are! I remember just reading it to myself a couple of times.
And Jublu - for my son's 7th birthday he only wanted 3 friends and me and we went and acted out the Boxcar Children all day. We had a tent for the boxcar, they each took on personas and I had to be the doctor friend. The only food allowed was bread and milk (cake at home later). It was a delightful day and at one point, a dog from somewhere nearby made an unschedule visit and became a key actor in the day.
I loved to read as a kid and read verociously. My oldest sister (who incidentally emigrated to Canada and lives in Vancouver) made me read Anna Karenina at 14 (when I was visiting her in North Van she somehow found a dutch copy for me to read)..gee, only Goethe's 'das leiden des jungen Werthe' could top that one, talk about depressing! I remember reading 'the idiot' by dostoyevsky when I was 20 (having moved to Canada myself so it was in english) and I remember being so impressed by his writing style and the book over all that I gave up the idea of wanting to become a writer because I felt I could never write like that. silly isn't it? Now, I read OUT LOUD Harry Potter to my son.. man, it makes for great reading but out loud yaawn..makes you sleepy! Still, it's our time together and it's a great thing to share. I am still trying to get my husband back to reading and to turn off the damn tv..
great post Gary,
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