Toronto Discussion Reflections

Yesterday’s public consultations in Toronto helped to crystallize a number of themes that will influence the content of the NSEL:

Teacher training: The vast majority of teachers across the country receive little to no training in reading instruction in university or college.

Presenters shared with us a range of perspectives on the efficacy of systematic phonics and the balanced literacy approach.

Scott Murrary shared with us the policy implications of not raising literacy levels and the need to both stem the tide at the early literacy level and intervene with programs to help raise the literacy levels of adults. When asked the question, “If you could focus on one area, which would it be?”, Scott responded that focusing on the early years would have the longest-term pay-off.

Libraries as Partners: The infrastructure and programming of the Toronto Public Library make it a primary example of a key partner in improving literacy levels in children and adults. It would seem to be self-evident and yet, across the country, library representatives and family literacy programs have expressed the readiness of libraries to partner for program delivery. One of the key areas of coordination in the literacy system must include the role that libraries can play.

A key question from Toronto that emerged in other cities: “Why is the School Librarian the first position to be cut in School Board/Government negotiations?” Librarians and educators across the country shared with us evidence that the position of school librarian is disappearing nation-wide.

Spider Jones, of Radio CFRB, shared with us some of his personal story and the work that he now does in the school system. A high-school drop out and former gang member, Spider learned to read at 26 in jail. Upon release, he entered college. He has recently written his second book, and speaks eloquently on the central importance of literacy to leading a meaningful life and reinforcing self esteem.

Mary Jean Gallagher, CEO of the Ontario Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat reinforced the importance of systematic testing of students and a systematic application of interventions to raise literacy scores among students at the individual school level.

Two organizations from the deaf community spoke about the importance of bilingual learning: ASL and English Print learning and need for supports to deaf children to ensure full literacy in this community.

One final comment from an educator involved the appeal to reintroduce mandatory hearing and vision testing for all children in K or Grade 1.

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3 Responses to “Toronto Discussion Reflections”

  1. Sheilah Currie & Jill Bever Says:

    We attended the Toronto consultation and had hoped to say a few words during the scheduled open discussion, but were upstaged by a pesky fire alarm—so here goes in printed form.

    We’ve reviewed online many of the NSEL policy papers, and have watched the video presentations from other cities. What a daunting task it is to synthesize all of this information and create clear, well delineated policies to improve literacy rates in our nation. We’ve noticed, though, that one vital component is seldom discussed. Books.

    For many years, we have worked as educators to help children learn to read. We understand the necessity of reaching kids early in the process, and providing opportunities for them to have successful reading experiences at this crucial stage. At school, books are available that meet the needs of children whose literacy skills are starting to develop. But if they are to become proficient readers, it would help immeasurably if they also practised at home.

    There is strong empirical evidence that home support is a key facet of children’s literacy learning. Yet books that are dubbed ‘beginning readers’ in bookstores and libraries are far too challenging for kids whose literacy skills are just emerging. There’s plenty out there for those who are already on their way, but for that child who has yet to learn the simplest of words like “the” or “is”, there’s a dearth of level-appropriate material. Children love stories, and as authors of children’s books we know how challenging it is to create a story that both appeals to kids and helps them learn to read. Theodore Geisel thought he would be able to complete The Cat in the Hat in about a week, but it took a year and a half. He compared the process to being “lost with a witch in a tunnel of love”. Regardless, we need to send more writers into that tunnel to create readable texts for emerging readers.

    In our work, we’ve seen that successful first-reading experiences can have an extremely positive and lasting influence on children’s motivation and performance. Putting the right books into the hands of kids who are just starting out is paramount.

    If this early literacy tale is going to have a happy ending, maybe a good place to start is at the beginning.

    Sheilah Currie & Jill Bever

  2. Diane Allen Says:

    Having worked as a JK teacher and raised 3 children of my own, I absolutely agree that books are a vital link in helping complete the process of literacy. For beginning readers the challenges of new words are only worth persevering with if the book seems interesting to children.
    We all know that Dr. Suess books are favourites with almost all children. Primarily that’s because he combined repetitive vocabulary with a rollicking, silly story line & illustrations which piqued the interest of readers.

  3. Doretta Wilson Says:

    The reflections again are ignoring a key theme that I have noticed voiced across the country and the point of holding these panels is that the research is being ignored and teachers are not being trained in how to teach reading effectively based on that research.

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