APU Online Learning Opinion

Reading and Encouraging the Development of Literacy

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Growing up, most of my books came from my local library. Using the Dewey Decimal System, my class was given time each week to go to the library and check out books to be returned the following week. There were even contests to encourage reading over school breaks and during the summer.

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My favorite book was “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein. It was a book of poetry, and there was always a waiting list to get the book. I remember seeing the words jump off the page as I engaged in the stories highlighting ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It made me dream about the walls beyond my classroom and made reading fun.

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind. — Shel Silverstein

Fast forward 30 years, and reading is still a constant component of my everyday activities. From reading recipes, to social media feeds, to instructions on “how to,” and emails (both work- and non-work related), no day passes without me reading something.

What Is Literacy?

Literacy, defined as the ability to read and write, is essential for youths and adults at all ages. As clichéd as it sounds, reading is fundamental. The stark reality is that about one in five U.S. adults (21%) have low literacy skills, translating to about 43 million adults. That’s why there are multiple efforts during the month of April to us all aware the importance of written communication.

Literacy Awareness Days

Here are just a few literacy awareness events in April.

April is National Poetry Month. This annual celebration is entering its 25th year and encourages schools, local businesses, libraries, and recreation centers to promote and encourage poetry writing and reading.

According to the Academy of American Poets, “poetry reminds the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events, curators, publishers, families, and, of course, poets, marking poetry’s important place in our lives.”

National Library Week

The first full week of April, April 4-10, is National Library Week. This year, the theme is “Welcome to your library,” emphasizing the importance of utilizing library services.

It’s important to understand the services that are provided, even during the pandemic. According to The American Library Association, “during the pandemic libraries have been going above and beyond to adapt to our changing world by expanding their resources and continuing to meet the needs of their users. Whether people visit in person or virtually, libraries offer opportunities for everyone to explore new worlds and become their best selves through access to technology, multimedia content and educational programs.”

Drop Everything And Read Day

April 12 is Drop Everything and Read Day (D.E.A.R. Day). This day was chosen for its special significance; April 12 was the birthday of beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary, who was named a living legend by the Library of Congress. Cleary died on March 25, 2021, at age 104.

On this day, families are encouraged to take at least 30 minutes to put aside all distractions and enjoy books together. Teachers encourage their students to “choose their favorite book and read silently, curl up, and listen to quiet music. When the teachers announce that it’s D.E.A.R. time, students are instructed to grab a favorite book and begin reading on their own. They quickly discover that time flies when they’re having fun.”

World Book Night

World Book Night is April 23. This date was chosen because it marks the death of Shakespeare on April 23, and also the death of Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes one day earlier, on April 22, both in 1616. This year is the 10th anniversary of this event, which brings people from all backgrounds together for one reason, to inspire others to read more.

Why Is Reading Important?

Why do we need to bring a greater awareness to reading and resources? Reading is Fundamental offers these statistics about literacy:

  1. 93 million adults in the U.S. read at or below the basic level needed to contribute successfully to society.
  2. By three years of age, there is a 30-million-word gap between children from the wealthiest and those of the poorest families.
  3. 34% of children entering kindergarten lack the basic language skills needed to learn how to read.
  4. 65% of fourth graders read at or below the basic level.
  5. 47% of fourth graders from low-income families read below the basic level.
  6. During the summer months, all children are at risk of losing some of the learning gained during the school year. This is especially true of children from low-income families.
  7. More than 80% of children from economically disadvantaged communities lose reading skills over the summer because they lack access to books, learning resources, and such enrichment opportunities as trips to the library, bookstores, or museums.

Reading Advocacy

The reality is reading (or lack thereof) is directly related to learning. Once a student falls behind academically, it’s hard, if not impossible to catch up. That can have a lifetime effect on people from secondary to post-secondary education.

So what can you do to bridge the gap?

  1. Read. Children should read for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.
  2. Utilize free resources. Local public libraries, school libraries, and university libraries are all indelible resources to learn in a fun and engaging manner.
  3. Spread the word. Use the hashtags associated with these celebrations via social media to support these endeavors.
  4. Support. Support the activities planned and when possible, donate to continue these efforts.

Technology Makes Reading More Accessible

Technology has made reading even more accessible. Ebooks are growing in popularity as well as audio books. In addition, many authors have taken their books to video platforms such as YouTube to engage readers in new and innovative ways.

So while I can’t remember all of the poems in my favorite book as a child, I still remember how the rhyming story of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” made reading fun, and I have continued the trend with my own children’s books that focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM).

Yes, we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends. — Shel Silverstein

So let’s encourage literacy in all forms by engaging in poetry, visiting libraries, and dropping everything and reading. Let’s connect by realizing the awesome power of reading.

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor at American Public University with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). A global speaker, STEAM advocate, and STEM communicator, she holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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