Can you share with readers how you developed LitWorld and what was one or two things you have learned about Global Literacy that most surprised you?
I visited a school for HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya to do teacher training work and saw most profoundly how much children themselves so believe in the power of education not only to change their lives but to save them. They are hungry to learn, so hungry. When I came back home, I started to think about how in this new era literacy is going to be the one way every child can open every door for his or her dreams and how we can best make that happen.
I stated LitWorld three years ago to campaign for this dream. One of the most surprising things I've learned is that while I love schools, they cannot be the only solution. We have to cultivate all families and everyone in the community as literacy leaders too. I think there are going to be lots and lots of ways we can imagine to help all people learn to read and write, whether it's via a mobile phone or by a roving LitWorld Ambassador. Although school was designed to give kids a chance, around the world I too often see kids piling into schools but nothing much is happening there. We cannot rely on schools alone. I want LitWorld to be about learning to read transformationally.
The other surprising thing I learned is that the numbers of illiterate people worldwide are staggering, even more so than I had ever imagined. The official number is 774 million, which is huge to begin with, but I have traveled a great deal in these past three years and both here and everywhere I meet hundreds of people who may be able to decode the aplphabet but are still not reading anywhere near what it would take for them to use reading as a powerful force for change in their own lives. The numbers are unacceptable. We can change this problem, if we all join together and see this as the Human Rights issue of our time.
What advice would you give to teachers and librarians who would like to develop joint community literacy initiatives or activities?
I love this; collaboration is the key in this new era. The internet is powerful but can also be confusing. Please visit us at Litworld.org and we can help you organize for joint community initiatives. Our World Read Aloud Day is in its third year and we need your support for that one!
In a day and age of scripted Language Arts programs and high-stakes testing, some teachers and administrators are hesitant to branch out or deviate from what has been given to them. Yet, for many urban schools, improvement in reading scores are still slow. Where would you advise a teacher or school to begin in supplementing required reading programs in order to support children in developing personal reading habits at school and at home?
The main problem is that children are never given an opportunity to actually read and to build stamina, fluency and enjoyment. They are constantly asked to do activities and responses to reading, which does not improve stamina, probably the key and most underdiscussed aspect of a personal reading life. Teachers simply must give kids more time to read in school. It's actually that simple, truly. Even ten minutes a day of independent reading levels in books they really love, about topics that matter to them, is going to improve test scores, and best of all, give them the idea that having a reading life matters.
With decreasing/disappearing funding for school libraries and librarians - and even public libraries - the classroom library is becoming even more essential. What suggestions or tips would you have for a teacher in creating a basic functional classroom library that can grow over time and address the diversity of his/her students?
Invite your students to help you build the library. Ask them what motivates them as readers and build baskets, bins and on-line resources around those passions. Also, I co-authored a book The Great Eight (Scholastic) that has tons of really cool photos of classroom libraries. These should help in setting up your own! I believe the classroom library is truly essential and should change over the course of the year to reflect our students as growing readers. Access to powerful texts that inspire us as readers and writers is so crucial.
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From July 1-7, 2011, you also have a chance to win a copy of Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys. For details, click here.