Fostering Literacy for All Students

Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, will be speaking at the Literacy Leaders' Institute (San Diego, CA, September 22-24, 2016), presented by Scholastic and ASCD.

The important work of closing literacy gaps for all students yields the most powerful impact if begun before students start the new school year. Yet, engaging students with accessible, relevant texts, and bringing families into the literacy community will support students with ongoing literacy-rich experiences when reinforced throughout the academic year.

Below are some strategies that were developed for students living in high-poverty communities, but which will work for families in any environment.

Engaging Students and Families with Literacy 

Both parents and teachers should begin this work before the fall. Parents should be given information about ways to prepare students for a literacy-rich culture before the school year begins. By the same token, educators should learn as much as possible about the students they will serve and their levels of literacy before students return to school.

Below are five ways to begin establishing this community of literacy, and strategies to cultivate it throughout the year.

  1. When possible, conduct literacy assessments before students begin school. Assessments and can be part of open house events, registration events, or literacy nights for students. 

  2. Personalize learning by gaining information through home visits, calls and through reviewing past student records. Developing materials tailored to students’ interests can help them establish an immediate connection to the school or classroom. As a superintendent, I have found that effective school leaders complete home visits, and send letters to parents to learn about what kids have to read at home, as well as about students’ hobbies and interests.

  3. For families with internet access, post online resources to reach both parents and students at home

  4. Develop classroom libraries based on students’ interests, and based on the various genres and types of grade-level text students need to be exposed to. 

  5. When possible, open classroom libraries before the new school year begins to expose families to resources that students will utilize. Host a school literacy night before the first day of school and help families learn how to support their child’s literacy at home.

Making Literature Accessible and Using Print-Rich Spaces

In Jennings, Missouri, where I served as superintendent, our community did not have a public library, and families had limited access to reading materials.  

In an effort to compensate for the lack of available texts, we provided the following resources:

  • Literature—books, magazines, magnetic letters, leveled readers—were given to families and daycare centers attended by many of our students.

  • We partnered with nearby libraries and newspaper services to offer book mobiles, newspaper in education activities, field trips to the library, and library mobile stations.

  • We provided to families the literature, activities and online web resources that our teachers planned to use during the first month of school for students to read at home over the summer. The pre-exposure to literacy is essential before students begin the school year.

  • We used online resources such as free ebooks and online reading assessment resources, as well as word study and other activities that allow students to practice comprehension and fluency. 

  • We encouraged families to have students keep a journal or write, and provided families with the information and support they need to help kids to accomplish this task. Writing—and reading their own writing—supports students’ development as readers in an ongoing manner.

  • We created the print-rich environment that is so important in PreK-12 instructional spaces. Students should be surrounded by words, letters, vocabulary, decoding strategies and visual literacy in all content areas when they enter school. The connection between speech, visual literacy, writing and reading are all supported in print-rich environments, and students foster deeper levels of learning when schools are print rich.