Literacy for ME: Maine's Comprehensive State Literacy Plan

IV: Key Components of Comprehensive Literacy Planning

To develop and strengthen language and literacy skills, students must be engaged learners who have access to high-quality instruction and strong models of language usage by peers and adults, have multiple and purposeful opportunities to practice their skills, and receive frequent constructive feedback. Parents, teachers, and other adults must encourage literacy skill development from birth through adulthood, across settings and content areas. As Catherine Snow, eminent early language and literacy researcher, explains, “We should be thinking of reading (literacy) as weight lifting: you need to keep at it.” (Snow, 2010) As they encounter challenges, learners at all levels need quality instruction and supports (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2011).

The years from birth through age 5 are a critical time for children’s development and learning, particularly with respect to early language and literacy. Oral language, vocabulary, background knowledge and concept development, comprehension of conversations and simple stories, alphabet and print knowledge, and phonological awareness are all foundational skills that develop during the early childhood years and have strong relationships with learners’ later literacy skill development, such as reading and writing (NIFL, 2008). Parents and caregivers must understand the power of language and its impact on later school success, and attention to language development must begin in the early childhood years before formal schooling. Early childhood curriculum must be intentional and embed strong language and literacy components and strategies. Frequent conversations with adults, reading books and talking about them, and exposure to letters, letter sounds and rhymes in engaging ways are some of the ways in which young learners come to understand language and build foundational literacy skills (National Association of the Education of Young Children, 2009).

As learners progress through elementary school, literacy development must focus heavily on explicit reading, writing, and spelling instruction with particular attention placed on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000). The goal is that elementary students develop independent reading and writing proficiency that enables them to apply their reading and writing skills more effectively as they learn. Learners begin to explore a variety of genres, both literary and informational, through reading and writing experiences. Opportunities for rich conversations about learning extend the learner’s critical thinking and build vocabulary and comprehension.

Moving into middle and high school classrooms, literacy development is no less important. While many learners may have acquired the ability to read, write, and converse about content and texts at basic levels, they will now need explicit instruction in how to extend these skills to a variety of increasingly complex literacy activities across multiple content areas. Ensuring that adolescent learners develop content-specific reading and writing strategies is paramount, including through the use of sophisticated vocabulary, effective listening and speaking skills, comprehension of a wide-variety of texts, written composition for multiple purposes, the use of inquiry to build understanding, and the application of technology to extend and enhance learning.

Comprehensive literacy plans must also be responsive to the growing need to develop digital literacy. Learners need equitable access to digital resources for literacy tasks, such as reading and writing, and they also need explicit instruction in how to use these resources effectively, including how to address the challenges presented by online reading and writing. These challenges include evaluating sources, integrating informational sources, and navigating and using links, graphics, and other interactive features. Literacy instruction must also address using internet resources to answer questions and solve problems. Students are surrounded by digital information in the form of text, images, audio, video and combinations of these media. We must teach them how to locate, evaluate, and use this digital information effectively, efficiently, and ethically. For our students to be literate in a digital world, they must become effective consumers, producers, and critics of digital media in all its forms.

In order to ensure that learners at all ages have access to this high-quality instruction, we must focus our efforts on increasing parent and educator capacity through ongoing learning, as well as wise use of data and evidence-based findings to inform systemic reform in our birth-to-adult learning communities. These types of reform cannot take place in isolation, but need to happen across learning communities so learners can transition across age and grade spans, as well as between learning communities, and be assured of high-quality literacy learning opportunities. As the shared responsibility of parents, educators, and community members, helping all individuals achieve high levels of literacy proficiency is of paramount importance to the well-being of not only each individual, but our State. Literacy for ME calls for local communities, in partnership with the Maine Department of Education, to take on this responsibility by developing and implementing comprehensive literacy plans that will lead to increased literacy among all Mainers.

Literacy learning is a lifelong process from birth through adulthood. Research indicates that appropriate and necessary components of comprehensive literacy plans that help individuals develop their literacy abilities include:

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Strong leadership to coordinate and sustain the effective components of comprehensive literacy programs and partnerships;
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System-wide commitment for wide reaching, collaborative, and ongoing partnerships among parents, caregivers, educators, and agencies to promote literacy development from birth through adulthood;
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Standards and aligned curriculum for literacy learning that are rigorous and relevant, with careful attention to implementation from birth through adulthood;
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Explicit, systematic, and engaging instruction, combined with tiers of intervention to enable individuals to attain their highest levels of literacy;
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Ongoing monitoring and assessment of literacy development, and use of this information to guide instruction; and
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Ongoing professional learning to continuously improve literacy teaching (Biancarosa, G, and Snow, C.E., 2004; Im, Osborn, & Sanchez, 2007; Torgesen, Houston, Rissman, & Kosanovich, 2007; Carnegie Corporation, 2010).

The components of comprehensive literacy plans listed above should not be foreign to Maine educators. These are the same components recommended in other ongoing initiatives, such as public preschool programs; Response to Intervention planning; Title I Continuous Improvement Plans; and Standards-Based Learning.

Maine’s comprehensive statewide literacy plan, Literacy for ME, is organized around these components, and calls for local communities to develop and implement comprehensive literacy plans that support literacy and language growth from birth through adulthood. Guidance for how local learning communities such as public schools and school districts, community-based early childhood providers, and other literacy related organizations can develop their own comprehensive literacy plans is provided using each of these components. Recommendations for statewide and regional activities that extend and enhance support for local plan development and implementation are detailed as well. Finally, an electronic toolkit containing resources to support the design and implementation of comprehensive literacy plans will be provided to support comprehensive local plan development.


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