Literacy Transforms

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Photo borrowed from the website of

Transformation is big.

Transformation is not just learning something new. It’s not just adjusting. It’s changing a way of being…in life. Like how caterpillars transform into beautiful butterflies.

Most transformations are triggered by an event—some are huge, others not so much. Some transformation catalysts are even seemingly benign, like literacy.

This concept of transformation is the theme of the 2015 International Literacy Association’s annual conference which begins tomorrow (Friday, July 17) in St. Louis, Missouri. Specifically, the gathering’s focus is “Literacy Transforms.” I am attending and look forward to learning all of the ways we can support the transformations literacy so uniquely and powerfully creates.

I believe Literacy Transforms

…Young Children. The change is evident in how children can be prior to learning about books and reading, and how they are once they learn about these simple treasures. After the watershed event of discovering books, children learn to step out of their concrete here-and-now orientation to life and trek more deeply, with every page turn, into a world of new possibilities. That’s transformation!

…Lifelong Readers. Lifelong readers understand that avid (daily, self-selected, joyful) reading displaces their only-for-school experience of required reading of teacher-selected books and texts. They know reading positions them on a continuous growth curve of learning more about what interests and excites them. Lifelong reading leads to ongoing knowledge acquisition and a way to nurture our learning selves.

 …Communities. Literate communities are those where everyone reads, where books and other interesting materials are available every way one turns, where animated conversations about what has been read—from newspapers to best sellers—is a delightful pastime that alters life in substantial ways. In such communities, infants daily read colorful naming and concept books with their families. Babies and toddlers read books with older siblings, adding their own voices to new personalities they discover. Preschoolers read along as they concoct narratives for wordless picture books that invite conversation around the co-creation of new and familiar stories.

School-age children in literate communities are delighted to enter the cool, calm comfort of the local and online libraries. These rarely bored youngsters always have a book going and are notorious for sneakreading between lessons and activities at school, even bringing their current reads to the cafeteria or the family dining tables. They’re often oblivious to the noisy amusements of TV and video games in favor of going on the fuller adventures within the pages of their current books.

Literacy Transformed communities are united in their commitments to creating a culture of reading. They come together to help young families find great books for reading with their little ones or helping older children understand and celebrate their own interests and dreams by reading self-selected books. In these communities, literacy contributes powerfully to all conversations.

I invite you to unite with your family members, friends, co-workers and community leaders to experience the transforming power of books and reading.

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5 Responses to “Literacy Transforms”

  1. Betty Davis July 17, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

    Mark, a well written article explaining the transformation of a child from before he or she could read to the dynamic change a child makes after learning how to read. My question is that 60% of the nation’s fourth graders are reading below grade level. What can we do for them. The children that are struggling to read , guessing and words or reading slowly are unable to transform their knowledge, They are not able to transform from the caterpillar to the butterfly. The butterfly soars through the air with amazing grace. Let’s help all children receive the treasure of knowledge.

  2. Kevin Condon July 17, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    Well said and well-written. I would add that the correlation between reading and transformation needs an analysis of content to assess the quality of the transformation. Inappropriate content leads to character degradation or dilution. Reading good, morally uplifting content leads to benefits to society. Some transformation damages. Take the high road and reach a worthy goal.

    • Mark Condon July 22, 2015 at 9:08 am #

      Yes and no, Kevin. Yes kids need “good” books and support in learning why those books offer such benefit. But they also need to encounter content that will challenge that good. Untested virtue is no virtue at all. Mental muscle is built from the hard work of sorting through the “everything” to find those special somethings.

  3. Byron Harrison July 18, 2015 at 9:19 pm #

    Nice prose, warm fuzzy dreams but it worries the hell out of me when I see the latest buzzword “Transformation”. I have come to associate ‘transformation” with Common Core and with an ongoing push to teach beginner readers to use context and guessing and speculation and all the other trendy adjectives instead of teaching children in line with research.
    Our team’s work is in the area of visual memory and it is now 25 years since we issued a warning that whole word processing requires a memory capacity that is beyond the reach of 49% failing children, 29% average children and 5 % of superior 6 year-old readers. If you rely on the ‘warm & fuzzy’ concepts underlying Whole Language and Common Core, these children will struggle. By the age of 9 they will have habituated bad reading habits that may handicap theses children for life. Once again it will be the publishers who benefit from the latest teaching fad, just as they did when Whole Language was first introduced and before Britain found the greatest peacetime decline in literacy since records were kept and dated the decline back to the introduction of Whole Language. And in the past decade the neuroscientists like Dehaene have also protested about the unscientific basis for teaching reading; he writes “Recent research on the brain’s reading networks proves that it (whole language) was wrong”.
    Loved the poetry Mark but spare a thought for the struggling readers made so by unscientific teacher training and consider the consequences for teaching if, as appears likely, you are called upon to justify teaching based on ideology in a court of law.

    • Mark Condon July 22, 2015 at 9:12 am #

      I can only travel with you so far, Byron. I’m sorry you have gotten Transformation and Common Core yoked in some way. Transformation is about being, not knowing. Being is in fact holistic. If we lose their hearts, we’ll never get their heads. I don’t much care how reading gets taught, so long as when kids finally “get” it that they will still want to DO it.