Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Literacy Needs to Begin in the Home at Birth, Experts Say

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Literacy Needs to Begin in the Home at Birth, Experts Say

Article excerpt

It all starts at home.

With one in four Alabamians being illiterate and 60 percent of children across the U.S. not reading on grade-level, children need to start learning vocabulary, word comprehension and reading at birth, top educators from across the state and country told about 250 Alabama educators Thursday. They spoke at "Lifting Literacy, Lifting Lives: A Statewide Summit to Discuss Literacy Issues in the Education of Early and Emergent Readers."

"They need to learn a minimum of seven words a day," said Lesley M. Morrow, a professor in Rutgers University's Graduate School of Education and one of two keynote speakers at the event held at the Bryant Conference Center.

She said if children miss this mark, it's highly likely they'll fall behind in school. If the problem isn't fixed by third-grade, most students will never catch up. The consequences of which can result in dropping out of high school and facing a higher likelihood of committing crime.

"Children in economically privileged homes entering kindergarten have heard 30 million more words than the economically disadvantaged children," she said. "That's why elementary teachers have the biggest job."

The summit was hosted by the University of Alabama's College of Education, the Alabama State Department of Education and AdvancED.

Peter Hlebowitsh, dean of UA's College of Education, said the inaugural summit's goal is to raise consciousness about the issue of literacy.

"We're trying to get people to think a little bit harder and deeper about how to move forward and how to teach kids to reach," Hlebowitsh said. "The linguistic environment in the home is fundamental to creating the kind of apparatus that one needs to have good language skills in the future.

"One of the things that we know about good readers is that they typically come from a home that has an enriched linguistic environment. This is one of the insights that we're trying to propagate, especially to families across the state. That if, in fact, you spend more time reading to kids, talking to kids, using language, even more sophisticated language, it is all a very good investment in reading."

Alabama State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice, who gave the afternoon keynote address, said the state department of education has made and is in the process of making several changes that should increase early literacy in school-age children. …

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