Every now and then, we hear, see, or experience something that makes us go "uh-huh" - one of those moments that sinks in, makes an impact, and stays on your mind for a while. Recently, I had one of those, and it related to the importance of reading and literacy. For my entire career in education, I have strongly believed reading is the foundation for everything else we teach in schools; if students struggle to read, they are going to struggle in school and oftentimes in life.
My background is as a secondary vocational teacher and high school principal, so I admit I have learned a great deal about the importance of teaching various aspects of reading and literacy to elementary and even pre-school students. Teaching reading is more complicated than one might think! It involves teaching vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness, and phonics. My "uh huh moment" happened a few weeks ago when a presenter shared eye-opening data about reading. Two of the items that caught my attention and stuck with me were that approximately 40 percent of high school graduates lack the literacy skills that employers seek and that 46 percent of American adults cannot understand the label on their prescription medicine.
A variety of research supports the importance of students reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade - if this does not happen, the challenge of getting those students up to grade level becomes increasingly difficult. The Minnesota Department of Education states, "Reading well by third grade is one of many developmental milestones in a child's educational experience." The emphasis has shifted from "reading" to a more comprehensive approach of "literacy." The MDE places so much emphasis on this that they now require every school district to develop a literacy plan and to post that plan on the district's web site. ISD 769's plan can be accessed by clicking on "Literacy Plan" at www.morris.k12.mn.us.
Additional research (from Kelly Gallagher) shared during the presentation that caught my eye stated, "Time spent reading correlates strongly with higher test scores; the more students read, the higher they score on standardized reading exams." For example, students who are at the 10th percentile (lower than desired) read an average of less than 2 minutes per day, which correlates to about 51,000 words read each year. Conversely, students who score well and are at the 90th percentile read an average of 40 minutes per day, correlating to nearly 2.4 million words read each year.
Our district has a locally developed literacy plan that we are following. We have restructured support that students receive when they struggle with literacy. Staff and administration continue to dedicate time to reviewing data (local and state) and make instructional decisions based on what the data shows. We are continuing to help all of our teachers recognize that every one of them is a "reading teacher," although they may be teaching a math, social studies, or vocational course, and we have been providing resources and information about what we call "Content Area Reading Strategies." Finally, staff continues to strive to provide both individualized learning plans for students and also use flexible grouping with students to help take students from where they are currently learning at and grow to where their literacy potential can be.
Many of us - even those not in education - spend time around young children and have opportunities to help them improve their literacy skills. Some of these children are already good readers, yet some struggle to read. If we want to help them, it is beneficial that we read to them, read with them, and/or listen to them read and assist them when they struggle. We can all be partners in helping our children develop the literacy skills they need. It is especially important for our district and parents to do the best we can to help students read as many minutes per day as possible.
If you have questions or need more information about the Morris Area School District, please contact Scott Monson at 589-4840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.