A literacy environment should be cultivated by its curriculum. Learning how to read and develop literacy skills is a process that will benefit a child their entire life. It is the foundation for other subjects and a manner in which students learn to communicate and learn about their world, near and far.
The process to teach the required skills necessary is complex and varies depending on the needs of each learner. In my experience, literacy teaching and learning should be a “dream”. A dream in the sense of literacy learning being a priceless gift—and a dream in the sense of having curriculum and teaching practices that address Diversity, Relevance, Engagement, Access, and Motivation (D.R.E.A.M.).
D.R.E.A.M. Literacy focuses on practices being implemented into instruction by educators, as well as encourages at-home support and partnerships in using diverse texts, popular culture and technology, and multimodal resources. D.R.E.A.M. represents several pieces necessary to address and provide quality and equitable literacy instruction for all. When planning literacy lessons, assignments, and making curriculum decisions educators and parents should consider the following elements:
Diversity brings about a wide spectrum of issues that educators can be faced. Willingness to learn, accept, and apply the culture (VERY IMPORTANT: Culture does not just mean ethnicity or race) of students to instructional practices is key. Here are some ways to address diversity in literacy:
- Inclusion and representation of various backgrounds (An array of genres, using texts and curriculum by authors of color)
- Diversity of resources (types of texts, authentic sources)
- Use of books and resources that have a balance of representation in protagonists
Students need to know how to apply the knowledge being taught, and how it applies to them. Students want to feel like they are included and represented in a learning environment. Students want to know why it’s important, and how it is useful. Students need to know why they are developing literacy skills and where they will encounter them in the future. Making content relevant includes:
- Connecting books to the interests of students
- Fostering a culture of literacy being all around/environmental print (various types of text on signs, products, television, digital literacies)
- Letting students explore non-fiction texts (real-world relevant texts, local and regional texts, etc.)
- Exploring cross-curricular connections (Math, Science, History, Fine Arts)
Engagement starts with learning the interests of the students, merged with the academic knowledge needed. Engagement also involves educators utilizing multimodal approaches in their lessons and working with students. Some great multimodal literacy strategies include:
- Interviewing or conferencing with students about what they read or write
- Acting out texts
- Creating visuals or artwork to accompany work
Ease of access to resources and empowering parents/guardians to help build literacy skills at home is necessary for growth. Not all students have the opportunity to have access to books in their homes. If books and reading are left out of the home environment, is it really that important for a child and their family? Insight into how to continue a child’s learning outside of the classroom doors is crucial. The following ideas are recommended:
- Collect donated books (bookstores, sales, retiring teachers, etc.) and hold regular “book swap” events with students and parents/guardians
- Provide regularly updated virtual lists of digital literacy resources (games, apps, videos, activities, etc.)
As far as motivation, our role is to grow our students’ skills and learn what makes them excited to learn—this is very important with students who have so many unique needs that are changing as society changes daily. The main ingredient for motivation in a literacy classroom is choice.
In closing, a literacy environment should thrive on partnerships between the internal and external learning communities. Parents and educators are the essential components that provides students the opportunity to see literacy as a tool of advancement and an escape— teamwork makes the “dream” work.