Combatting the Crisis in Literacy

Leslie Williams helps children love reading.

If you can read this, you are probably not among the 32 million adult Americans who can’t. Adults who read at less than an eighth grade level, have difficulty understanding essential information to function successfully in society. Low reading skills result in lower incomes, lower quality jobs, and low self esteem. But literacy is a journey that starts when adults are young. If children fall behind in elementary school, they never catch up.

Leslie Williams volunteers with first graders as part of the Read2Succeed Program in Orlando, Florida. The program is sponsored by the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools. Volunteers work to improve reading comprehension by building vocabulary.

Leslie introduces three new vocabulary words to her first grader each week. She reads a picture book aloud and her student follows along and highlights the words in the text. Together they craft a sentence using one of the new words. Then the child illustrates the word in his journal. At the end of the session, the picture book goes home with the student. This process is repeated for twenty-four weeks. By the end of the school year the first grader receives a total of thirteen picture books.

“I believe Read2Succeed is a huge benefit. The program gives them one on one attention, and they feel special. This is my fourth year as a volunteer and I love working with the kids.” Leslie commented.

A retired teacher who comes from a family of teachers, Leslie has fond childhood memories about reading. “My siblings and I always got a book from Santa every Christmas. My mom read books to us every night before bed. Charlotte’s Web was her favorite book and became one of ours as well.” Today, Leslie considers herself a reading advocate. She belongs to a book club and reads at least one book a week.

I asked Leslie if she felt if ebooks would make printed books obsolete someday. “Gosh, I hope not,” she responded. “Nothing can replace the look and feel of a new book.”

Leslie agrees the internet and social media have shortened our attention spans for reading. “My daughter teaches first grade and complains that it’s hard for books to compete with video games. However, when she reads aloud to her class the children are engaged because she includes sound effects.”

May is “National Get Caught Reading” month. Many classrooms display posters of celebrities reading a book to encourage students to read for pleasure. This post acknowledges all those who make a contribution to further the goal of literacy. I am thankful for teachers who impacted my life and the many volunteers who work with children.

People Who Can Read, Should

Take time this month to enjoy a good book. Reading is a great way to unplug and relax. Leave a comment and share some of your favorite books.

Have You Abandoned Cursive?

On Father’s Day my family had an interesting discussion about cursive handwriting.  My husband said he practiced cursive with a fountain pen.  This laborious method involved dipping the pen in a bottle of ink. He continued to write in cursive throughout grade school. Now his handwriting is practically illegible. He tells me, “I can read it right after I write it, but if it sits there awhile I can’t understand it.”

As a parent, I forced my son to practice cursive every day for a whole summer, yet none of those exercises improved his penmanship. I remember being embarrassed during a parent teacher conference. A middle school teacher described his handwriting as primitive. Today he’s a successful attorney who signs documents electronically with an x.

Prior to the adoption of Common Core Standards, cursive was a large part of the third grade curriculum. My featured photo is from a worksheet I distributed every year to my third graders. Prior to retiring in 2013, I loved teaching cursive. Most of the children were excited about learning it. I remember spending hours grading their handwriting. I proudly displayed their excellent work on a bulletin board. Today I wonder if any of them still write in cursive.

For most schools, cursive is out and keyboarding is in. My husband and son think cursive should not be taught and view it as a waste of time. I can’t imagine living without cursive. I journal, take notes, make grocery lists, and sign my name in cursive. I think of it as a more efficient way to write.

My mom, age 85, joined our discussion. “What about people’s signatures? Isn’t that important?”

“Not anymore, Grandma,” my son responded. “Who writes checks? I pay all my bills online.”

Grandma shook her head. “Not me.”

In the distant past, cursive was considered a trademark of literacy. Mastering this skill meant you could not only write, but read other’s cursive. If cursive is no longer taught, future generations won’t be able to read historical documents. Journals and letters written by family members who’ve passed on will not be understood by their children. I imagine technology already exists to scan cursive and turn it into print. And the reverse, creating script from print. This seems so impersonal. A person’s handwriting used to say a lot about themselves.

What will become of people who analyze handwriting? According to graphologist, Kathi McKnight, cursive gives a good indication of our personalities. She asks people to write a simple sentence in cursive. A right slant means you’re open to others and like to socialize. A left slant means you like to work alone. No slant at all indicates you tend to be logical and practical.

I guess graphologists will be out of a job. Too bad, Kathi.

I’m afraid cursive has become an ancient artform. Its continuation now relegated for parents to teach at home. By the way, Amazon sells workbooks for adults and children. But what child wants to spend their summer vacation practicing cursive? Ask my son. It didn’t work for him.

Have you abandoned cursive? Do you think teaching it in school is a waste of time? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. I’m growing my audience and would love to have you as one of my followers.