What is a Culture of Literacy and Why is it Important?

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The essential resource for children to become literate is a culture* rich in reading and writing. Children reared inreading culture 1 such a culture will naturally grow to become lifelong readers and writers. Those who grow up in a culture devoid of reading and writing may be taught to read and write on demand, yet are not likely to fully master literacy as independent readers, writers and learners.

Growing up in a culture of literacy, most often referred to as a culture of reading, means children get time to learn about age appropriate books, about people who write well, and about adults who read for work and for pleasure. These lucky kids also are provided with generously long periods of time during which personally delightful books can be discovered and fully enjoyed. Further, and early, they also are given abundant opportunities to create and deliver personal messages to those they most care about.

As with all human learning, children who are new to literacy need a person or group of people who show them how they value and use reading and writing. And children must be shown that reading and writing allow them to engage with those they care about across time and space. Without such demonstrations of value and skill, it is exceedingly difficult for children to become lifelong learners.

Reading Culture 3Just about any child can learn to read and to write in some basic way, but to become fully active and fulfilled readers and writers takes years of immersion in a rich culture that constantly displays the fulfilling centrality of literacy in their lives. It’s very similar to learning a new language by  immersion in that language and in the culture of that language.

Additionally, we must keep literacy learning enjoyable because the primary mode for children learning to love pretty much anything is through play. For literacy, that looks like relaxed, playful discovery of the magic of books and books’ messages, first with the help of someone reading to them and then by reading on their own.

Given the prominence of picture books for novices, a natural path toward literacy includes children creating artwork to share with someone important to them. Eventually, children will discover the powerful combination of art and text for reaching larger and larger audiences. Reading Culture 5

I read every day about things to do with and for children and others new to reading to make their reading better. Yes, some more structured lessons are critical for children to provide the help needed for each of them to develop the nuts and bolts for what print, books, writing and reading actually are and what personal needs they meet for the children. However, in the absence of immersion in a culture of reading, instructional lessons alone are likely to arrest children as kids who can read and write at some fundamental level, yet who won’t.

*For a comprehensive description and support citations for a Culture of Reading,  https://www.slideshare.net/ThroughtheMagicDoor/growing-a-reading-culture-1647123

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4 Responses to “What is a Culture of Literacy and Why is it Important?”

  1. Susan Chenelle May 3, 2019 at 7:19 am #

    I am a lifelong lover of reading; I grew up in a household that exemplified the ideal, book-filled culture of reading promoted above. I also appreciate that this post highlights the value of connecting art and text and recognizes that students need time and opportunity to discover, not just structured lessons. However, I find it disturbing that this post doesn’t acknowledge the fact that all students bring literacies to school with them; they’re just often not those that are recognized and valued in the classroom. Failure on the part of educators to recognize, respect, and build on the language resources our students bring to school is often what turns students away from a love learning from a very early age.

    • Mark Condon January 24, 2020 at 12:01 pm #

      Susan, I apologize for not responding sooner. Sometimes we get a tidal wave of Spam and somehow you got caught in that mess.
      But more to the point. You are absolutely right. Helping children build upon their personal and cultural strengths is critical to ensure success across the board for our kids. All good wishes and thanks for this contribution.

  2. Dr Deborah Hollimon May 9, 2019 at 7:12 am #

    Mark Hi!
    We’ve texted off and on for years. I’ve retired but am still active in my community etc.Wondering if or how I could help you or your organization?

    You preach it. We teach kids how to read but not to love reading. There are fewer and fewer lifelong readers, and technology is taking their very souls. Alarming yes, but mostly just sad. Sad for them and for us.

    How can I help?
    Deborah Hollimon debnhollimon@gmail.com

    Google “Enacting the ACTS of Reading” from the ILA Daily Blog. See if that’s useful. I wanted to write a short guidebook/manifesto with the same title but could not get any traction. The ACTS of reading are the foundation of any vibrant reading program! Not the silver bullet boxed set etc….

    Ok rant for the day. Thanks for all you do!!!!

    • Mark Condon January 24, 2020 at 11:53 am #

      Deborah, please, PLEASE accept my apology for not answering immediately after you wrote your piece in May 2019. My excuse is that sometimes we get BOMBED with over a hundred smutty spam messages and cleaning up that mess takes a long time. Somehow your sweet note got lost in that teeth grinding work. I’ll be contacting you today.