Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chickens and Eggs

Galleycat's post re the First Book project reminds me of the argument advanced by Freakonomics that while the presence of lots of books in the home correlates with children being proficient readers, such literary wealth does not cause that proficiency, it simply means that reading parents tend to have reading children. That bio-determinated thought also puts the question to the British book labeling scheme I talked about yesterday--even if the prominent display of reading levels cause more parents to buy more books, will that cause more and better literacy?

14 comments:

rockinlibrarian said...

A similar local organization gave my son and I a book in the hospital when he was born, and it was a TERRIBLE thing, literature-wise-- a rather ugly board book with one word on each page to label what was there. My son plays with it as a toy though, looking at the pictures and turning the pages (he is 8 months old), so that IS some basic beginning literacy at work, but I'm sure my own love of reading and books will be what takes his literacy to the next level and beyond, so he learns that books are more than colorful toys.

Anonymous said...

Rockinlibrarian writes: "an organization gave my son and I a book..." Surely anyone who cares about "literacy" should know when to say "me"?

rockinlibrarian said...

Sorry. Typing while doing fifty other things.

Okay, not actually 50. I do care about truth in statistics, also.

Anonymous said...

Gonna have to disagree here. There are kids, maybe just a small minority, who will benefit from any book they are lucky enough to get. And, yes, some parents get all competitive about levels, but some, not being strong readers themselves, feel uncomfortable asking questions in a library or bookstore and really need those labels so they don't leave empty-handed in embarrassment.

I help out in my child's classroom and while my daughter reads pretty fluently at the Dr. Seuss level, I work with a boy who walked into kindergarten last September unable to associate a sound with its correct letter. His social skills are terrible and he smacks other kids when he's frustrated. But he has a good vocabulary and an encyclopedic knowledge of movies as his mother works nights while grandma plops him in front of a video for a babysitter.

I spent the better part of 30 minutes last week helping him sound out the word "forest" as part of his writer's workshop. When he finished it (correctly) he put his forehead in his arms because he didn't want me to see him crying. When the kids were told to read a book every night he said he could read a magazine because that's what grandma had.(For the class "read-in" he brought a toy catalog.) I realize this boy is anecdotal not Freakonomical, but exceptions can change the world. If some organization threw a book to this particular boy, it would be, to quote M. Stewart, a very good thing. --m

Roger Sutton said...

I'm totally on-board with the free book idea, and the idea that "exceptions can change the world" is my guiding light. I just worry about highminded initiatives that sputter out when donors realize that they don't do what they claim to. In my editorial re Freakonomics I asked something like "if you found out reading aloud to children did NOT make them better readers would you stop doing it?" I'm assuming the answer is no but am less confident that somebody else would be willing to pay you to do that.

Anonymous said...

If donors aren't satisfied with results it's because development officers aren't highlighting their results properly (I'm saying this as a former DD, myself.) Funders love a diamond in the rough story.

The one thing in education that we know for certain works is small class size. Yet rather than pay for that we muck around with standards, curricula and high stakes tests. One teacher, even a mediocre teacher, per 15 kids. No exceptions. Now that might change the world.
--m

Anonymous said...

I didn't know that we knew that smaller class sizes were the one true way. How do we know? Last I heard, the rhetoric was that they didn't have much affect, but by god, we were doing it anyway. That's the latest word in California, anyway.
--n

Anonymous said...

Surely, anonymous, you meant "effect" and not "affect"? I'm picturing a small class with no affect. 15 kids sitting there with blank looks. Scary.

Anonymous said...

Affect and California-LOL

Roger Sutton said...

I'm surprised the spelling troll hasn't gone after the sentence in my next post!

nevikmoore said...

I read to both of my children, ages 4 and 9, and I have observed at least two of the positive effects described by read aloud advocates like Jim Trellease. Both children, respective of their ages, demonstrate developing competencies in literacy - spelling, word recognition, growing vocabulary, a sense of story structure - that reflects the reading we do together. And reading aloud provides a great bonding experience between parent and child.

There are other factors, too. Mom and Dad read all the time, there is constant access to books in the home, we make trips to the library, and we encourage creativity in writing (and many things.) My daughter reads constantly on her own and has formed friendships with other children based on a love of reading.

I don't list all of this to toot my own horn, but to show through my own experience that parental involvement and environmental factors strongly influence literacy.

And we still manage to watch a helluva lot of TV. :-P

Anonymous said...

Roger,

You are a most excellent moderator and host. Thank you and Happy New Year.

--n

minerva66 said...

For families that are not readers, access to books can make a huge difference to the kids. Some of the kids will be starved for anything. For others access through school or library (better selection of books) will matter more. Some need a better story to motivate them.

Regarding smaller classes, I would say, most emphatically, it matters. I grew up in a family with 12 children. The amount of attention you have during your development matters. I also homeschool, and I believe that much of the success comes from the one-on-one approach.

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