The basics. Learning to read. Phonics and word concepts. Sentence construction. These essential literacy skills are reinforced by teachers and educators everywhere. Experts have identified six skills that children need to become successful readers. These skills are:
Vocabulary– knowing the names of things. Most children will know between 3000 and 5000 words upon entering school.
Print Motivation– enjoying and showing interest in books. Children will often pretend to write, play as if they were reading, and want to have a book read to them.
Print Awareness– understanding the way words are read, from left to right and top to bottom. Children will point to words in order to identify them individually.
Narrative Skills– being able to understand and tell stories. Children will exhibit this skill by telling you about a party or trip. They can be encouraged to create their own stories based on pictures.
Letter Knowledge– learning the letters, their names and the sounds they represent.
Phonological Awareness– hearing and making sounds and differentiating them from each other. Children begin making rhymes and silly word creations.
There are a couple of disturbing statistics that make literacy a national problem that needs addressing immediately. One is that most books read by students in grades 9 – 12 for the 2010-2011 school year were at a reading level a little above fifth grade. (Renaissance Learning “What Kids Are Reading: The Book Reading Habits of Students in American Schools”)
The other is a Dec. 7, 2012 recent San Jose Mercury News article which analyzed standardized test results, showing that California students rank fifth-lowest in the U.S. when it comes to vocabulary. The article, titled “Shortage In Word Power” can be found by inserting this headline into the search box at the San Jose Mercury News archive page. In this article, Sharon Noguchi writes:
“California ranks fifth-lowest in the nation in students’ vocabulary — a critical part of reading, according to results of national standardized tests released Thursday. Overall, California fourth-graders in 2011 scored below all states except in Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico and the District of Columbia. But Asian, African-American and Latino fourth-grade scores improved, compared with 2009, the only other time that vocabulary was tested and scored separately from reading. California eighth-graders also scored fifth from the bottom, just above Hawaii, Mississippi, Louisiana and the District of Columbia.”
There certainly seems cause for concern when the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is also called the Nation’s Report Card, shows that most U.S. students are reading below grade level.
Librarians are at the forefront of literacy efforts for children and English learners. Not only do we help with print literacy, but we now have a role to play in Information Literacy, which has its own standards. More on that later.