Improving the Literacy of America Through Our Classrooms
Reading and writing are two of the most important functions performed on a daily basis by individuals. One problem in America is that a significant amount of the population can not perform one or both of these tasks. These two tasks are commonly referred to as literacy. What encompasses a literate individual is a controversial topic. For example, if someone can read a sentence and decipher what it means does this mean the person is literate. Or should the individual be able to interpret a sentence as well as write and respond to a given situation to be considered literate. Due to this vagueness in what encompasses a literate individual, I will not state statistical information about the state of literacy in the United States. The statistical information is not important, rather the way the literacy rate can be risen in the U.S. is what is important. A general situation that has to occur to raise literacy rate is the situation where an individual has the desire to read and write and does not do so solely because of instruction from authority figures. This certainly is not occurring today, as exemplified by the event that "even a best-selling book in this country might reach 5% of the population" (Castell 38). Perhaps a better way to influence the literacy in America is to examine the classrooms where primary education geared toward literacy takes place. This refers to elementary and middle school classrooms. An examination of what processes in a classroom context help develop literacy in individuals is an important aspect of the literacy of the children in America. Three aspects of a classroom that affect literacy are: the power of the teacher, community with peers, and access to tools of literacy.
Power, in this case, refers to the power of the teacher and the extent to which this person expresses this power. The teacher serves to regulate the activities of children. One of the most important things that he does is to foster the interest and learning of the pupils. In this way the teacher has infinite power over his subjects. He can assign work, manipulate exactly what the student has to know for his class, and alter his teaching styles for different subjects. Traditionally little power is given to the student in the classroom setting. Often times students regurgitate memorized information in order to perform in a well in a given class. This allows for little interpretation by the individual and hinders their ability to think and reason for themselves.
Another example when students' ability to think and function academically on their own is hindered is when the teacher uses his power to interpret texts, provide analysis, and validate learned information while giving students little opportunity to express their ideas and opinions on a given subject. This idea is summed up when David Bloome states that literacy and cognitive thought
". . . requires students to learn to reflect, not only on what they are writing and how they are writing, but also on the role and function of writing within a community and how a community will use, interpret, and understand a written text. It is not that teachers give up power to students, but that power is vested in the classroom community of readers and writers of which the teacher is an experienced member(24)."
The teacher is certainly a key part of the teaching of literacy, but some of the teacher's power needs to be dispersed to the students in the classroom as well. In essence the move toward students conducting more actively their own analysis of presented material needs to be established in American schools.
Another aspect that affects the learning of literacy is community with peers within the classroom. Members of a community are often times encouraged to use language on the same level as others in the community, which can serve to ignite learning. The way in which...
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