Learn to Read and Write (1)

Learn to Read and Write (1)

Posted on Friday January 20, 2012 at 09:08AM

It seems simple enough: you get to the right age, you go to school a teacher coaches you through phonics, or memorization, or whatever method happens to be in fashion at the time, and by the time you graduate you are a fully literate person. Except, that doesn’t always happen. Take my younger sister for example. When she started school, some bright young thing with a freshly polished ed. Degree began teaching at our school. She promoted (pushed) a wonderful new method of teaching reading that would make Shakespeare’s out of all the precious darling in her charge. By the time my sister graduated from eighth grade, there was only one student in the class who was functionally literate (the daughter of a teacher in another school system).

My sister has always been embarrassed by her lack of reading skills and apologetic about her writing. She needn’t be. She worked her butt off and reads at the average level and writes well above it. But she wanted to learn. I wonder what happened to the majority of students in her class who simply became frustrated to the point of giving up. Who is there to help those adults when the school system fails them?

Libraries with a service goal of providing adults and teens the support they need to improve their literacy in order to meet their personal goals and fulfill their responsibilities as parents, citizens, and workers are stepping up to the task. Good luck. The first hurdle in place is how to reach out to them, when, for the most part, this segment of the population will not set foot in a library. You can have the most effective literacy program in place, but if no one knows about it – it’s meaningless. Posters won’t help, nor will ads in local newspapers. Your best bet is to go audio in your advertising. See if you can get a spot, or even an interview on a local radio station. Word of mouth may work, but keep in mind that most people who are at an age when they are expected to be able to read and can’t are often embarrassed by this. If they are approached by some well-meaning individual, they may feel targeted in a negative sense.

There are other places where public service announcements may be aired that will give your library’s literacy program the exposure it needs. Think of local churches. Your local arena may be willing to make public service announcements prior to games or during intermission. See if your local grocery store would be willing to play your announcements every now and again, to relieve their tedium of their “elevator” music.

The next step is to provide resources that non-readers will be interested in, not just ones that are set for targeted reading levels. Surprisingly, it’s non-fiction that tends to attract non-readers, particularly boys. Also consider format: graphic novels, comic books, magazines, even the World Book online database. When I was teaching I learned that it really didn’t matter what my students were reading, so long as they were reading something – which meant I learned a lot more about skateboarding, particular baseball players and, ocean marine life than I ever wanted to know!

Learning to read and write is a whole lot more than hosting a great Summer (or Winter) Reading Program. In the next Blurb I’ll take a look at programming, partnerships and professional development needed in order to fulfill the goal of Learning to Read and Write.


  • The Board Development workshop is coming soon. For information and to register, go to: http://www.albertalibraries.ca/news/article/2011/12/14/124-library-board-basics-workshop---cold-lake/
  • Annual Report information has all been sent out. There are a few minor changes to the form, but it’s pretty much the same as last year. There will be a training session later in February for those who are having difficulties in completing it. More information to come.
  • The next Library Managers Advisory Council is February 22nd.

Author: Northern Lights Library System


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