Friday, June 8, 2012

Literacy Thoughts


My sister has been an avid reader since she was little.  She loved to visit the school library while my parents were never interested in local public library which was too far away from our house any way.  They didn't like "borrowing" the books from someone.  I don't remember enjoying books in the library.  I didn't dislike reading, however, the library was the last place I would visit.  When I saw her book the Little House on the Prairie, I grouched, "Why do I have to read it while its show is on TV at 6 p.m.?"   I was busy dissecting a frog in the outdoor lab with fellow assistants (neighbor kids) until the show began.  I don't know how my sister learned the joy of books that I have never felt it as pleasant as she did.  Only time I read the book was during the National Book Review Contest time. I was very motivated towards the prize I could get.  I wouldn't get any prize from the reading, but writing the review.  I won the contest in the regional level every year.  My question is here.  Why did I win the writing contest while I didn't prefer reading?

Japanese teachers don't praise their students for reading.  Reading is acknowledged as a natural subject in which nobody doubt about its difficulty.  Hard work and patience are believed in as successful tools.  Although it seems like Japanese language is complicated because of three different characters such as Hirakana, Katakana, and Chinese characters, versus, English has only 28 characters, once you master 48 Hirakana, you could read 80% of first grade reading materials.  Adding 48 Katakana, it will raise up to 95%, the last 5% is covered by 80 Chinese characters for that grade level.  How do the Japanese six-year-older master these many characters in order to read the text?  There is no trick.  They drill hard every day at school and home.  Read same words over and over.  Write same words over and over.  Unlike American kids, Japanese students don't have to learn how to sound out every year.  Once you get the characters, you can read pretty much everything.  From second grade to sixth grade, averaged 180 Chinese characters are introduced and expected to be mastered in each year.  Most kids and parents wouldn't argue about this expectation.

My sister's writing has been full of rich vocabulary that most often I don't even understand although she doesn't show off her writing like me.   Looking at my students and their reading data, the greatest reader has a bright potential to become  good writers as long as they receive the quality of writing instructions.  The explicit writing lessons are essential in the U.S.  Once they develop and apply decent writing strategies, their language experiences from reading help them take a huge leap upon their craft.  Writing entries I have composed in the elementary school won without rich reading experiences and  strategic writing lessons.  One thing I could tell is that I had a passion to express.  I was one strongly opinionated individual.  I wanted to speak up and to be recognized, in which not very many people would try around my school life.  People don't prefer being different and try to remain quiet and same.  My strong personality made me write something passionate which happened to be strong enough to cover the literal experiences.  The passionate writing is important but has a limit as you get older and the theme becomes complicated.   In fact, I haven't yet been a professional writer as I wished in sixth grade.  I urge to catch up my reading time that was lost from the past, while dissecting a frog. 

My sister wrote me back to reply to my email.  Sure enough, she pointed out something I forgot about for a long time.  Her physical activities were limited in her childhood due to her frequent knee injuries.  The long indoor time gave her a lot of time for reading.  It became a habit, then, a hobby.  As you can see disability sometimes unexpectedly would trigger the amazing opportunities that the formal education cannot.  For example, it created a great reader like my sister who enjoys literal beauty and amazing facts.  I have to step back and see the world from the different point of view.  Variety of experiences, emotions, and quality of reading help develop individual studedents' literacy foundation.  And of course, each child would comprehend and apply these elements in the different times and different ways.