Super Readers Become Literacy Leaders
Pam Allyn, literacy expert, award-winning author and Executive Director of LitWorld.
Today, on the International Literacy Association’s “Leaders for Literacy Day,” I am excited to enroll you in our movement to empower every child as a super reader. Often when literacy leadership is mentioned, the discussion centers on professional development at the teacher or administrator level. This is wonderful and essential, and I am honored to work every day with dedicated and tireless educators who champion their students 365 days a year. However, to mark “Leaders for Literacy Day” this year, let's focus on how to strengthen children themselves as literacy leaders. Here are some top tips.
Create a Year-Round Wraparound Literacy Community
Strong literacy networks play a significant role in the development of young super readers. It is essential to build bridges that connect young people, families, and communities around literacy. When enrolling parents and caregivers in the work of building a literacy culture at home, it is important to keep in mind their needs and the realities of their daily lives. Communication over email or text message may work best. Sending home read aloud guides and fast facts about the benefits of daily read alouds at home can give parents an entry point and the confidence to build healthy reading habits at home.
LitWorld, my 501(c)3 non-profit organization, launched the LitWorld Family Text Message Program last year with Detroit Public Schools to send out literacy best-practice “text message nudges” to increase family literacy and strengthen the connection between home and school. The program supports families with school-aged children at any grade level and is accessible to parents and caregivers who may have lower reading levels. By supporting parents on devices they are already using each day, we can integrate seamlessly into their daily routines.
Model the Heart of Literacy
Making visible the joy and comfort that you find through reading and writing is enormously powerful for children who are soaking in what it means to be a reader, a storyteller, a leader and idea-maker. (It’s also a great reminder for you to nurture and tend to your own reading life!) When children can witness all of the ways their literacy mentors interact with text, from talking about what they read to writing a letter or blog post in response, they replicate and develop these skills in a natural way. Demonstrating a deep connection to stories will help the children around you do the same.
Create Spaces for Children’s Voices to Shine
It is crucial that our super readers not only embrace the stories of others, but feel comfortable sharing their own as well. To become a true literacy leader, children must feel that their stories are worth telling, and that they have an audience that will actively listen to their ideas and experiences. The LitClub, LitWorld’s signature program, creates a literacy community for children that feels comfortable, praise-centric and safe to share stories with friends. Through sessions that tap into children’s literacy and social-emotional growth, they come to see themselves as agents of change within their lives and communities.
Focus on Strength
Taking a strength-based approach with young super readers is key. It is often the case that in traditional education settings, there are a lot of goals to reach and students to monitor. Children who are striving readers, working towards tackling grade-level text and writing fluency often hear more about what they can’t do than what they are doing well, and what they are capable of achieving. LitWorld created and uses the 7 Strengths curriculum in all programs to illuminate the skills and invaluable experiences of every child. Belonging, Curiosity, Kindness, Friendship, Confidence, Courage, and Hope. These core ideas are essential for helping young people feel fully ready for healthy interpersonal relationships, successful higher education, a robust work life, and more.
Put these strengths at the core of reading and writing activities by centering read aloud selections and discussions around all of the ways a character showed confidence. Ask children to write about a place where they feel they belong. Create weekly wonder lists to honor a child’s curiosity, and build in time for them to investigate their wonderings by reading relevant blog posts online, and giving them the power to choose topics for their independent reading time.
Let’s commit to celebrating the power of children’s own voices and stories today, on Leaders for Literacy Day, and every day. By affirming every reader’s unique identity and the small and big ways they grow along the way, we can transform their relationship with literacy so that it becomes a tool for personal empowerment used to shape the future, and to share stories with the world to impact us all.