Put all your money down on literacy intervention

After reading Reading and Writing: The Golden Ticket, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my role as both teacher-librarian and Literacy Lead in my job.  The article is very stimulating if you’ve got a minute.

I really felt motivated by the article from the Globe and Mail, and although I know this course is about writing, my current passion for helping students in my school become proficient on the OSSLT, is to focus on their reading.  Very often we put our attention on the output, writing, but the really tricky part for secondary teachers in particular, is to focus on reading, or the input of language ideas.

 I’m the Literacy Lead in my school and this is a fairly new role for me in that I’m taking this lead position for the 2nd year..  What that looks like is that I’m designing the literacy interventions that we’re going to make happen for our grade 9s and 10s this year.  We know that we’re hitting a fairly consistent 81% success rate with our test results (above board and province average) but this doesn’t seem to make a difference for the other 19%.

19%.  19%.  19% .

I say that over and over again because that’s nearly 1 in 5 of our students.  The administration seems to only be concerned with looking good on paper and we’re 1 of 3 schools in our board who raised a % in our success rate.  The rest is up to me to make happen.

We have an early intervention course, similar to what is described in the article that is run in grade 9 who are deemed at-risk by their grade 8 teachers. Unfortunately this course is often taught by brand new teachers or teachers who lack the commitment to the continuity of this crucial piece because they’re LTOs.  I wish that someone like the senior English teachers, would teach it instead.  I asked if I could teach it and they gave me creative writing grade 12 instead.  Not that it’s a horrible trade-off but you have to go where you’re needed, right?  More on creative writing in another post.

 I had the blessing of funding and support to do a research project about 7 years ago which allowed me to test my hypothesis that grade 9 literacy intervention would prevent behaviour and lack of school engagement later in high school.  This is about the time when school to age 18 became mandatory in our province.  So what I did is I took aside students from a data point of view and thoroughly examined their Ontario Student Records (OSRs).  I found that the one thing they were most likely to have in common is that there was some sort of family trauma around grade 4 or 5.  A divorce, a death in the family, an illness, or an injury that derailed that poor kid in grade 4 or 5 affected their literacy path for the rest of their academic career.  Not surprisingly then, when we were able to do a Woodcock-Johnson test on 20 of these students, they came out as having reading skills stunted at about a grade 4 or 5 reading level.  As the teacher-librarian in chief at my school, I developed relationships with these students and peppered them with literacy attention from my end. That could be individualized help on their assignments, or simply convincing them that reading all 25 volumes of The Walking Dead was a worthy pursuit. Many of them shook my hand as they walked out the door upon graduation.  It was very satisfying.  In fact, I think I’d say that it has changed the way I think about literacy forever.

If I had to pick a winning bet on where to put the most money in Ontario’s education system today, I’d put everything down on literacy in Ontario at the intermediate level. It is the golden ticket.

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