“Flor now knows how to read; she says that the letters, which to me look like complicated drawings to understand and put together, are counters of things and that when you learn to read, it’s like stories are being told to you.” This excerpt is from Letras en los cordones (Letters on Shoelaces) by Cristina Falcón Maldonado and Marina Marcolin. It is a picture book that tells the story of Flor and her six siblings’ experiences at school. It illustrates how reading and writing can shape complete educational trajectories and open opportunities to overcome poverty and exclusion.
Reading and Writing In Latin America and The Caribbean, In Numbers
According to ERCE 2019, 44% of Latin American 8-year-old students (third grade) cannot comprehend what they read. In the lowest quintile, corresponding to students from the lowest socioeconomic background, the proportion rises to 55%.
Furthermore, in PISA 2018, 51% of 15-year-olds (on average tenth grade) have low reading performance, although enrolled in school. The proportion grows to 72% for the lowest income quintile.
Likewise, PIACC 2018 identified that 61% of adults in Latin America are at level 1 or below in reading proficiency.
What Is The “Matthew Effect” and How Does It Impact Reading and Writing Skills?
Data shows that instead of decreasing, the initial gap widens. This is called the Matthew Effect, meaning that those with incipient experiences or difficulties when reading and writing tend to maintain them and accentuate them over time. Something similar happens to those with certain privileges or advantages: children who already know how to read will learn more than their lagging peers.
Teachers and the Challenge of Consolidating the Foundational Skills of Reading
“Letters on Shoelaces” was the common thread for 60 teachers from Colombia, Panama, and Brazil to review strategies and plan actions to develop and consolidate foundational reading skills such as oral language, phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.
The event included two good practice and experience panel discussions with teachers from Panama City, Bogotá, Cali, Barranquilla, Manizales, and São Paulo.
The first session focused on integrating the Let’s All Learn to Read (ATAL, in Spanish) materials into classroom practices and the contributions of teachers to implementation.
What Do Teachers Highlight About Let’s All Learn to Read?
- A change in the teaching method as a challenge. Incorporating the materials into practice has been a challenge because it involved changing the way of teaching reading and writing, learning how a reading brain works, focusing teaching on student learning, and reteaching skills that were considered minor or unimportant, such as phonological awareness and correspondences between graphemes and phonemes in increasing order of difficulty.
- Access to quality materials. Materials with an attractive graphic design help the teacher create a fun and playful learning environment to have each child master the writing system and enjoy reading different types of texts.
- Implementation has enabled a more significant percentage of boys and girls in their classrooms to learn to read and write, leading to smoother transitions between grades because the learning milestones of each course are achieved. This includes mobilizing precursors in preschool to develop and strengthen fundamental skills such as fluency, comprehension, and writing different types of texts.
- The materials explain the activities in detail. These guidelines aimed at the teacher constitute an essential guide to energize the explicit and systematic teaching model, with clear learning objectives that seek to promote effective classroom practices, becoming a structured route that offers children the necessary support to progress in mastering the writing system.
- The book’s content, characters, and other narrative aspects are a pretext for mainstreaming work in other areas. They also help engage families to develop artistic and motor skills, among other things.
- The contribution to understanding the science of reading. The methodology proposed by ATAL allowed teachers to update their knowledge about the science of reading, learn what critical knowledge each child should achieve per grade, and how to create a literacy classroom using tools such as activity cards, word builders, children’s productions, a new vocabulary word wall, songs, and rhymes, shared reading, and oral exchanges.
- Teachers who use it recommend it. The invitation from teachers to their colleagues is to take the opportunity to get to know the material, explore it, and perceive it as a support that facilitates classroom work. To achieve this goal, teachers mustn’t fear change and let the material help them tear down myths or false beliefs about reading and writing.
Four Ideas For Training Literacy Teachers
The second session sought to delve into teacher training strategies, expectations for mentoring, and tracking conceptual, pedagogical, and didactic elements that the program has contributed to teacher training.
Some key ideas from this discussion were:
- Closing gaps occur when systematic work on literacy is promoted in preschool, a stage known as emergent literacy that involves addressing precursors such as phonological awareness, reading different types of texts, increasing vocabulary, and enriching oral language exchanges, among other things.
- A training model should cover the theoretical basis that brings scientific evidence closer to the classroom and teaches about good practices from other teachers and regions. Another possibility is accessing a platform to answer questions and delve deeper into aspects that generate many phonological awareness and fluency questions.
- The ATAL teacher’s guide is a training tool that guides the teacher toward conceptual notions that clarify reading and writing processes.
- The challenges presented by teachers for the program are concentrated on strengthening their training and classroom practices aimed at developing the skills inherent to writing. In addition, opening spaces to share experiences to promote evidence-based learning and exchange of best practices.
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Changing The Reality of Literacy in The Region: One Classroom At a Time
All these reflections suggest that a program with results and progress in children’s learning works if there is fidelity in implementation and the underlying conceptual and didactic scaffolding is understood.
Teachers play a unique role as classroom change agents by strengthening the pedagogical, theoretical, and didactic foundations, applying what they have learned, and enriching their work of teaching their students literacy with their experience and complementary resources to help them access the written culture.
The event also included ATAL Regional Perspective, in which Ximena Dueñas, Renan Sargiani, Libertad Rivera, and Gina Loaiza discussed the materials and recommended successful regional implementations.
“Together we are stronger, which is why the materials are called ‘All’ and that includes all the boys and girls in Brazil, Panama, and Colombia and all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that want to use the materials, as they are free and available on the web. In addition, to achieve the task of teaching literacy, we need the help of parents, mothers, the whole family and all teachers, school administrators, all together to ensure that children have access to quality education and schooling with learning.”Renan Sargiani, during ATAL Regional Perspective.
A Story That Is Just Beginning
This event demonstrates IDB’s interest in opening training and discussion spaces to enable teachers to take ownership of ATAL. For this reason, during 2023, it will continue working hand in hand with allies such as UNICEF, Fundación Carvajal, Fundación Luker, MEDUCA (Panama), the Ministries of Education of Bogotá and Barranquilla to contribute to the professional development of teachers in the region with a monthly digital mentoring strategy.
The methodology seeks to promote the presentation of classroom practices or expert interventions in which didactic discussions are established based on exploring activities and tools and using resources or documents to create a community of practice around reading and writing.
The meetings are:
|July||Introduction to reading and writing skills|
|August||Phonological awareness and the alphabetic principle. Fundamental predictors for learning to read and write|
|September||From sounds to strokes: Lower-level writing skills|
|October||Written composition: The challenges of planning, textualizing, and revising|
|December||Families and literacy environments|
We invite you to participate in these digital meetings and join efforts to guarantee access to written culture so that girls like Flor and her siblings find stories in letters, formulas to banish poverty, and learning opportunities throughout life.