When a learner’s family and community commit to developing full literacy for everyone, there are at least two principles that guide efforts in that development:
- The community must ensure its literacy learners have ready access to abundant good books to read (“good” meaning relevant to each learner’s life).
- Those closest to literacy learners must ensure they are enthusiastically encouraged to self-select from the spectrum of available book choices.
And it’s important to note that full literacy doesn’t develop in learners who don’t have an interest in reading. Learners certainly can be dragged forward in attaining measurable reading skills by family members and teachers dedicated to that goal. However, if others are the only ones with any interest in an individual’s reading development, meaning that the individual learner is uninvolved in her own reading, then the development of that person’s literacy to full proficiency is only a remote possibility. For full literacy (avid reading and the lifelong learning that results) to become part of who a learner is, a strongly felt value of reading must be intrinsic. The value is evident when there is a willingness to independently select material to read.
We see this personal motivation dynamic most clearly in public performance where individual athletes, artists, musicians and engineers show up as talented youths, and begin to blaze their own trails to excellence and beyond. Unlike these talented few, however, the conventional wisdom is that every kid can and should grow up to be an accomplished reader. Why? It is because literacy alone provides the most predictable and enduring path to lifelong learning—the ultimate goal of education. Proficient reading, however, is not accomplished for someone else’s approval. Proficient reading reflects a learners personal satisfaction in doing it.
Simply stated, kids who don’t get anything from reading won’t care to do it and so quite predictably won’t get any better.
Most children who become infatuated with skateboarding or playing tennis or building rockets find there is a ceiling on personal fulfillment with these delights and over time they move on. Reading, on the other hand, in the presence of expanding choices of potentially appealing books, presents no ceiling for growth…for anyone.
This idea undergirds what is often termed a culture of reading. This culture provides the social context within which readers are constantly taught by example and invitation to love reading. This occurs through consistently being offered personally compelling reading engagements. The presence or absence of this culture of super choices will above all else determine whether those new to literacy either do or do not grow to become fully proficient in reading.
Each of us may contribute to the culture of reading by generously displaying our personal examples of reading’s value and, of course, by ensuring that the young learners we know never run out of exciting choices to read.
The result will be self-determined learners who grow into living fully literate lives…cuz they just wanna.