Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Reveal: What We Value in Literacy

The way we teach and assess literacy in our classrooms provides a window into our own beliefs about literacy. Each teacher holds his own philosophies about what children should learn, and how they should learn it. This combined with the institutional state and nationial standards creates a great dilemma. How teachers react and respond to this dilemma reveals the true values held about early literacy experiences and development.

Consider a first grade classroom. A teacher designated a time for free writing, where children can collaborate in groups, or write individually. They are allowed to draw pictures, but only for a few minutes before starting their sentences. A student begins very intricately drawing his picture, using different types of utensils for specific portions of his work. Just as his picture begins to come to life, the teacher interrupts and redirects him towards sentences about his picture: "That's enough drawing. Now write me some sentences about that wonderful picture you drew!" The child knows his picture is incomplete, with many more layers of complexity to the story in the picture. This teacher knows that writing is not included in her state standards, which are strongly upheld by her administration. She fears embarrassment, judgement, and possibly even job loss. So, the kindergarten teacher tries to show her value of drawing pictures as a literacy development and process, but her compliance with requirements conflicts with her age-appropriate philosophy.

This teacher chooses to ignore her better understandings of children's literacy acquisition and development, and chooses to focus on the standards that hold her instruction and class environment back from its fullest potential. Instead of fully believing in her own methods and ideas about writing, like her initial idea that pictures have great value, she caves and forces her students into unenjoyable literacy practices. As teachers, we will always be faced with this dilemma: our philosophies will not match the standards we are required to meet. The way we react to this conflict will reveal our true values. Instead of succumbing to dry and inappropriate mandated literacy practices, believe in the experiences you provide your children. We know that literacy is a complex process, and it cannot be defined by a check-list of developmental markers. Children are unique, and their literacy development will be just that. Teachers can empower their children by standing strong by their beliefs and knowledge about literacy, and providing the most enriching experiences possible.

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