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Posts Tagged ‘illiteracy’

It’s so easy to take the benefits of reading for granted.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the value of reading is to consider the many disadvantages incurred by those who have reading difficulties.  I found myself considering this when I came across the informative article: Reading skills crucial for juvenile offenders posted in early January in the Statesman Journal.com which highlights a program underway in Oregon.  Commenting on the value of reading, it’s author, Linda Snyder, writes:

More than 85 percent of juvenile offenders have reading problems; studies have shown the correlation between low literacy and involvement in the juvenile justice system. Improving reading skills is a critical part of the process of transition back to public schools. Illiteracy and low-literacy can also lead to poor vocational prospects for youth.

Juvenile offenders and their siblings often have limited access to books. Many juveniles involved with the Oregon Youth Authority meet federal guidelines for poverty, and come from homes where literacy is not a priority. Providing books can foster an interest in reading, help these youth “catch up” with their peers and improve reading skills.

Providing juvenile offenders with access to books and a structured program to overcome reading difficulties is the focus of this article and certainly is one that provides food for thought for us all during this The National Year of Reading.

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Some of the stories I happen upon are truly inspirational!

Consider this story about James Henry of Connecticut, who has just published his first book at age 98!

Taken out of school at the end of third grade to support his family, Henry never learned to read or write and in fact hid his illiteracy from others throughout his life.  It was only after retirement in his mid 90’s, that Henry set about returning to education.  Commenting on the joy of learning to read and write, Henry says: “It’s like I’m born again.”

His book, In a Fisherman’s Language, comprises 29 short stories detailing events and stories he experienced throughout his many years as a fisherman including some harrowing tales of survival and adventure.  Published last November, the book has already sold out its second print run!

Writing about James Henry’s fantastic accomplishment in a recent article Novel approach to literacy published in The Age, Janice Lloyd writes:

Tell Jim Henry it’s too late to keep learning and he’ll let you in on a true story.  ”It’s a big, big, big, big lie,” Henry says. ”It’s never too late to learn.”

US Congressman Joe Courtney sums up James Henry’s remarkable achievement in a recent address to Congress:

Impressive to say the least!

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I came across this video some time ago, but just last week, as I was listening to a pep talk a colleague gave to a Year 9 class about the value of reading, I later that day happened upon this video again.

It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it, to consider that so many children around the world are unable to enjoy the sort of opportunities that our students take for granted.  The United Nations defines an illiterate person as someone who cannot read or write a short statement about his everyday life and estimates that 49% of children in developing countries will never learn to read.

I’ve lost track of how many students I’ve spoken to over the years about the value of reading.  It’s a topic I am passionate about.  Reading is a gateway to the world.   Not only does it provide the conduit to explore concepts and experiences that are otherwise unattainable, but as we read, the vocabulary and sentence structure to which we are exposed soak into our minds and provide us with the fodder for our own writing.   Encouraging our students to write is as important as encouraging them to read.  The two processes go hand in hand.

As we move further into the 21st Century, where arguments continue unabated about the worth of eBooks and whether they will soon replace the books we’ve grown up with, the one constant is that the power of words will remain.   Reading begets writing.  Literacy begets literacy.

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