Exploring Literacy

Children reading
Children reading at Wickliffe Elementary in Upper Arlington, Ohio

Hear the series:

Literacy Today - March 19
Teach Our Children - March 20
High Expectations - March 21
End of the Road - March 22

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Today, literacy means more than being able to read a newspaper, a menu at a diner, or the latest mystery novel. Many teachers -- and students -- believe it also means being intellectually, culturally, and electronically nimble: navigating the Internet with intelligence, making complicated decisions about an HMO, understanding the veiled messages in an advertisement, being familiar with the different cultures represented in your child's grade school class. In the workplace, it means not only understanding written and spoken English, but possibly, also being fluent in various computer languages, knowing how to research and solve complex problems, and being able to pursue multiple tasks at the same time.

In four reports, Morning Edition examined the challenges of teaching in a climate where the definitions, standards, and means of assessing literacy are rapidly evolving.

Literacy in the 21st Century
Monday, March 19

audio button What does it mean to be literate today? What is literacy? NPR's Margot Adler asks several teachers and scholars to define their version of, and vision of, literacy in our time. Does literacy include knowing about the increasingly diverse cultures that influence life in our schools and cities? Does it included knowing how to surf the Web? Some say it still means having a core of knowledge based on the tried-and-true classics that many of us grew up with. Adler asks: how do we reconcile the wisdom of the past with the needs of the future?

Teaching Our Children to Read
Tuesday, March 20

Paula Fisher reads to fist grade class
Paula Fisher reads to her first grade class at the Center for Inquiry in Indianapolis
(Photo: Robert Smith © NPR Online 2001

audio buttonNPR's Robert Smith visits two schools in low-income communities, one in Sacramento, California, and one in Indianapolis, to look at two different approaches to teaching reading in the early grades. Both schools claim great success with their respective programs: the first claims to be "child driven," and emphasizes exposure to a rich variety of literature. The second program is one of many popular, packaged "top down" approaches, designed by a text-book company.

Raising the Bar Too High?
Wednesday, March 21

audio button How is testing affecting the teaching of reading in the early grades? Many American schools now face what some critics say is an unrealistic and cumbersome set of standards, goals, and expectations -- many of them imposed by state governments. NPR's Claudio Sanchez explores how grade schools in Columbus, Ohio are changing -- or not changing -- their teaching methods as testing and accountability play a greater role in the classroom.

The End of the Road
Thursday, March 22

audio buttonWhat happens when a student makes it all the way to high school or college, and is unable to write a coherent sentence? NPR's Claudio Sanchez looks at a state university, a community college, and a suburban high school in Knoxville, Tennessee, to explore the question: how do students fall through the cracks, and what remedial programs await them once they graduate from high school?