By Allen Bauman
Recently, parents and students alike have asked me how can a student best improve in Year 6 English? There is a gremlin in my mind that would blurt out: read read read! Humor aside, this is a serious question that has been incubating for a bit.
Now in the relative calm of the new year, promising new opportunities, affording some time for reflection, it appears that this is the essential question to which our literacy program must answer. Our vacation not only afforded us a much-needed rest from an academic year rigorously completed; abundant pecenica; and time spent with loved ones - but also a space to think about this matter. Among other things, I was preparing to read myself into quiet oblivion.
But I found that mulling over strategies that students could undertake to perform better in English prompted an even bigger question. How can our students deepen their literacy? Said another way, what does it mean for our Year 6 English students to leave the classroom, noses out of books, coming out with a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them? For many of us, literacy might mean the ability to think and read well - but you might agree this is at best an incomplete picture. UNESCO’s unfussy definition of literacy is a superior one. They define it as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute” across varying contexts. In this way, students are not just reading out of notebooks, answers primed to please an inquisitive teacher. Nor are they asked to read stories for the sake of “comprehension” - whatever that means. Rather, I have been pleasantly surprised to see how our readings inspire students to draw connections between the real world and their own lived experiences.
To illustrate, a recent reading of a fictional letter exchange inspired stimulating conversation on the over-heated topic of climate change (could not help a pun). Students learn that it is OK to have differing opinions, but most importantly, we are in the business here of developing our ideas and working towards drawing conclusions that read closely to the text. Evidence is not circumstantial in Year 6 English; it is required in our writing. Still, at times, I cannot help but wonder how aware some students are, barely plunged into this complex world around us, bringing the richness of their lived experiences into our discussions. By the same token, I cannot help but marvel when they suddenly present themselves as keen observers of their own lives - awakening to the fact! Here lays the satisfaction of drawing conclusions in class after examining and discussing our readings; again - here lays the satisfaction of observing students becoming aware of their own latent critical reading skills.
In our earnest pursuit of increasing reading and writing, we must remember that these skills serve a greater organizing principle. Working towards literacy invites us to draw connections between what we have read and lived. Moreover, being literate persons moves us towards an awareness of cultural, social, or even environmental realities. It also means that we can, at the same time, challenge our thinking in class discussions; listening attentively to peers reading their writings aloud. In this way, the class experience teaches students to become more socially literate. As we move towards deeper literacy in class, we hope your child deepens their observations of the world beyond their books.