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Literacy Main Page

Overview of Approaches to Literacy

Differentiating Literacy Instruction for Culturally, Linguistically and Ability Diverse Students

Case Study


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Building Literacy Knowledge
for Education Professionals


"Literacy is the foundation for all other learning, the means by which youngsters develop critical thinking skills. It is the vehicle through which humans can make sense of our world and ourselves." (Raphael, 2000)

Many educators of elementary and middle school children realize too late that literacy development is critical in a student's academic development, as students with weak literacy skills often don't show severe academic problems until upper elementary or middle school. Literacy is "both broader and more specific than reading. Literate behaviors include writing and other creative or analytical acts and at the same time, invoke very particular bits of knowledge and skills in specific subject matter domains (e.g., history, physics, mathematics, etc.) (Anderson and Pearson, 1984, in Snow, Burns, and Griffin, 1998)."

Less obvious but of equal importance, literacy development is also a critical factor in a student's cognitive development and capacity to learn. A student who has developed a strong foundation in literacy has also developed a strong foundation to learn and is better prepared to tackle more rigorous and complex subjects in middle school and beyond.

Literacy development can be a challenging and difficult process for some learners and their teachers. This is because literacy is

"a set of complex skills, as well as cultural practice, that both determines the skills that comprise it and the values placed on how the skills are employed. This requires a literacy curriculum for all readers-those who struggle as well as the avid and proficient-a curriculum that engages students in meaningful literacy events in which they see the value of the skills, strategies and dispositions directly and indirectly taught. It also underscores teachers' need to understand the depth of literacy practices and ability to adapt instructional programs to insure students can and do participate in literacy practices." (Raphael, 2000).

So important is literacy that the education world is replete with approaches to its instruction. At the same time, distinct camps of philosophy governing literacy instruction divide education professionals, causing confusion, aggravation, and frustration. The most conclusive and recent research to date tells us that although there are ways to help prevent reading difficulties for some students, particularly those most at risk for learning problems, there is no magical solution. Determining what instructional strategies and methods are best is not a simple task. As described above, literacy is a cultural and personal process, unique to each student. The "right" formula for one student may not be the most appropriate for another. However, some key principles may guide the creation of appropriate curricula and development of literacy plans.

This on-line resource is intended to summarize principles from the most recent and conclusive research, providing a springboard for ideas and resources that may support educational endeavors.

To learn more about Literacy, click here: Literacy Icon

To go directly to the Reading Instruction product,
click here:Reading Icon

To go directly to the English as a Second Language product,
click here:

To go directly to the Deaf Literacy product,
click here:
Deaf Literacy Icon

We would like to offer our deep appreciation to the individuals who reviewed the information related to Study Skills and provided invaluable suggestions for improving the content. Thank you to Dr. Virginia Collier, a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginaia and to Ms. Diana Kellner, a teacher in Granby, Colorado.

We also welcome your feedback on the information, as well as any comments that would help us enhance the content. Please send us an email - emstac@air.org.

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