The Future of Literacy

As Maine enters the next decade, strong levels of literacy are increasingly necessary.  Keeping in mind Maine’s needs, current data related to status of literacy among Maine’s population, and current research related to literacy education, Literacy for ME 2.0 will continue to advance its original priorities but will also place an intentional focus on several key aspects of literacy education, including:  

  • Attending to the development of language and foundational literacy skills in the early years.  Ensuring that young children build language and literacy skills from birth through the early elementary years provides a foundation from which to build a lifetime of strong literacy abilities (Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K., 2018). Language leads learning and is the underpinning for comprehension and expression.  Although not ends themselves, explicit and systematic instruction in foundational literacy skills (e.g. phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, etc.) is essential to students’ ability to access and understand text in many forms across disciplines as well as their ability to fluently compose text.  

  • Promoting the significance of explicit instruction related to written communication.  Not only is writing an essential tool for expressing ideas used across disciplines and workplaces, but it is a vehicle for deepening comprehension, critical thinking, and retention of learning (International Literacy Association, 2020).  When seeking to communicate through writing, individuals think more deeply which enhances their understanding of the content.  Further, writing and instruction in writing also enhances students’ ability to recognize and decode text (International Literacy Association, 2020).  

  • Recognizing that literacy education not only unlocks opportunity for learning across disciplines but is enhanced when well-integrated within disciplines.  Inter-disciplinary literacy instruction enables application of literate abilities for purposeful and richer learning, often motivating learners through engagement in disciplines and topics of interest.  Additionally, embedding literacy instruction within disciplinary study helps illuminate for learners the literacy structures and strategies utilized within and across disciplines (International Literacy Association, 2017).  Outside of school, people do not differentiate reading from listening to gain information or draw a solid line between scientific knowledge and literacy skills. To be knowledgeable and responsible citizens, to engage in the workplace independently and advance strategically, students need strong and flexible literacy skills that activate whenever and wherever needed.  

  • Engaging in culturally sustaining literacy education practices. Between 2009-2019, Maine was one of six states that has seen the largest increase in its African-American child population (Maine Children’s Alliance, 2019) as well as significant increases in immigrant populations. The increasing diversity of Maine’s population provides opportunity to invest in culturally sustaining pedagogies as a pathway towards accepting, supporting, and sustaining pluralistic approaches to learning so that students’ diverse cultures, histories, and literacies are strengths rather than deficits (Paris and Alim, 2017). Leveraging literacy instruction to provide students with experiences that act as “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” (Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990; International Literacy Association, 2017) helps them to deepen their knowledge of self while developing the desire to know more about others, appreciate diversity, build empathy, and strive toward cultural proficiency (Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990; International Literacy Association, 2017).  Further, shifting perspective around language learning to embrace bilingualism as an asset is also a critical step toward building cultural proficiency.  

  • Employing high impact instructional strategies for literacy learning. John Hattie’s meta analyses (Visible Learning, 2009, Visible Learning for Teachers, 2012) clearly demonstrate evidence of which instructional strategies, when implemented with fidelity, lead to stronger literacy achievement over time.  Purposeful, timely, and contextually appropriate use of highly effective literacy instruction practices can lead to more impactful instruction (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2016).  

  • Shifting the digital literacy emphasis from teaching students to use digital devices to fluidly moving between digital and analog worlds. Literacy instruction should equip students to produce, communicate, interpret, and socialize with peers, adults, and the broader world (International Literacy Association, 2018).   In Maine’s updated English Language Arts Standards (2020), digital literacy is both explicitly and implicitly represented in the reading, speaking, and listening, writing, and language strands.  Resource materials for instruction, inquiry, and projects include printed text, digital text, audio, video, and visual media. The movement between different media is essential to both learning and navigating the wider world that digital literacy is no longer treated as a distinct learning activity, but standard practice. Accompanying the need to address digital literacy in any literacy development program is the need to also develop digital citizenship which is addressed in the standards with a call to engage in conversation, in person and in digital forums, with integrity and respect, to understand opposing views, and to support thinking with evidence.        

  • Utilizing assessment systems that include multiple measures and timely, actionable data to inform decisions about curriculum, programs and instruction. Tracking the growth of students’ literate abilities cannot be reliably accomplished, nor will ongoing instruction be appropriately informed, by overreliance on standardized, summative measures.  The use of formative and interim assessments more powerfully impact literacy learning over time by providing actionable information about student progress (International Literacy Association, 2017; Fisher, Frey, Bustamante, & Hattie, 2021) .    

  • Attending to motivation and engagement as key aspects of literacy learning. Learning occurs much more readily when students are engaged in purposeful and motivating experiences.  This is no less true for literacy education efforts.  Ensuring that literacy education efforts are well-connected to experiences and topics about which students are motivated and engaged leads to improved literacy growth. Motivation and engagement for literacy-based activities is cultivated when students have choice, such as about what and how they are reading and writing, and when they are provided with ample time for reading and writing for pleasure and for purposeful endeavors (International Literacy Association, 2019, Barber & Klauda, 2020).  


The Literacy for ME state literacy plan is organized around six critical components of literacy education:  

  • Shared and Strength-based Leadership 

  • Standards-Aligned, Evidence-Based Instruction  

  • Multi-Tiered Systems of Instructional Support 

  • Balanced Assessment Systems 

  • Job-Embedded Professional Learning 

  • Supportive Family and Community Engagement 

Each of these components is described and includes key state level efforts that will enhance their implementation. Matrices are included for use at the local level by school and community partner teams. The matrices provide guidance for developing robust literacy education efforts that address each component and include links to research-based tools to support this ongoing work.  

Building children’s literacy is not the responsibility of a single individual, a single subject area, or even the 13 or more years a student spends in public school. It involves the determined efforts of many individuals and organizations, starting with the parents, grandparents, older siblings, and caregivers who engage in rich conversations and spark a love of books. Outside of the home, literacy is the domain of the pediatrician who encourages new parents to read to their children, early educators who provide intentional learning environments that support language and literacy instruction and promote a culture of inquiry, and the community library where children learn that reading can open up a world of possibilities. It is also the PK-12 educators who teach students not only to read literature and a wide array of informational texts, and think critically and write about their understanding, but to navigate and make sense of today’s diverse media landscape and rapidly expanding body of information. Acquiring literacy skills does not end with the completion of high school; it is a process in which the individual continues to be involved right into adulthood, from the community education classes that teach new immigrants to master the English language, to adult education programs that encourage caregivers to plant the seeds of literacy in their children.  

Helping all Maine residents develop strong literacy skills is a task that transcends schools and includes everyone in our communities.  For Maine to prosper culturally and economically, Literacy for ME must be a priority.