Culture, oral language in relation to culture, and identity are an integral part of the reading process; they cannot be treated separately. Models of reading theory often leave out these components potentially reinforcing the concept that students are a ‘blank slate’ and need the same teaching. Equity, diversity and inclusion must always be included in models and conversations regarding reading.
Thinking and researching for a presentation on ‘Orton-Gillingham and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP)’ (Orton-Gillingham Academy Conference 2022) brought to light the disconnect between the student, their identity and reading models. CRP centers the student: their heritage, language, intersectionalities. Every part of the ‘Simple View of Reading’ and ‘Scarborough’s Rope’ can be connected back to culture and oral language (which itself is directly related to culture/heritage). Teachers of reading must understand these connections because it informs how best to teach the student and what they need to learn to be successful in school. This is especially critical because school uses Standard American English, both in its oral language and in its medium for reading and writing. Not all students come to school with a background in Standard American English; but they do come with an asset background from their own oral language. These students need to be taught the phonemic awareness, phonemes, phonics skills, etc to be successful decoders. School focuses, for comprehension, mostly (exclusively?) on texts written from a White European Colonial stance. Many students come to school with assets from different heritages and worldviews. Readings must be diversified to include representative texts, so students see themselves and their identities positively reflected in their literacy experiences. CRP is not filling in background knowledge on the White Colonial Worldview to facilitate comprehension of those texts. Students must have their own identity validated and honored. The literacy class offers a rich space for students to learn about themselves, the world and other heritages to foster understanding and a global citizenry.
The ‘Culture View of Reading’* is a way of thinking about these pieces and how they can be put together. It takes a step forward to connect various components of reading theory and links them to what comes from culture and what comes from oral language. The educator must reflect as they move from culture and oral language to teaching literacy with CRP to truly meet the needs of the unique students in their classes.
Not connecting literacy teaching and experiences to the identities of students will only further marginalize the marginalized. Literacy instruction cannot be presumed as something isolated from identities, both for decoding and comprehension. These identities inform the starting points. To truly teach the student, it is imperative to teach the ‘whole student’ through CRP: asset-based thinking, high expectations, developing and honoring student identity, engaging in criticality. Concepts like equity, diversity, and inclusion are only worthwhile if they result in equity of outcome for ALL students. Achieving competence at grade-level literacy sets a student up for future success in life. This is the equity. Literacy is a Human Right.
- ‘The Culture View of Reading’ is the intellectual property of Cheryl Urbanczyk & Learn Literacy. The graphic and concept can be used, without change, but must be referenced/attributed to ‘Learn Literacy’. Thank you for keeping the goodwill of sharing intellectual property that is properly attributed.
- Go to the 'Culture View' page for more information.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) Right to Read Report uses many terms to describe best practices in literacy instruction. Dr Garforth (Garforth Education and Right 2 Read Initiative) and I discuss many of these terms: what it means, what it looks like, why it is important. Clear understanding of the terms is critical to ensuring change in literacy instruction to meet the recommendations of the OHRC Report. Listen here!
The Ontario Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (ONBIDA) hosted a webinar titled ‘Race, Class, Reading’ on Jan 26, 2022. It was an honor to serve on the panel with such other distinguished experts. The webinar was full of straight-talk and many gems for thought. While listening to the others, I took notes. They are snippets of ideas, points to ponder, and even kernels of outrage.
-The current pedagogy in reading is like flying a plane without knowing its parts. A print-rich environment combined with the whole-language concept that children learn to read naturally exemplifies this analogy. Children learn to read (ex: fly the plane) without being explicitly taught how to read in a structured sequential way. Students need the tools of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency etc taught through direct instruction to read in the same way that a pilot needs to know how to use the dials, levers, and other instruments to fly the plane. When children cannot learn to read through current pedagogy, usually the child and not the method is faulted. Phrases like ‘late bloomer’, ‘does not like to read’, ‘not trying hard enough’ put the onus on the child, rather than on the pedagogy. We can do better: students must be taught to read through direct explicit instruction following a scope/sequence with practice to fluency.
-Barriers to support and learning come in many forms. One major one is racism: anti-black racism, Islamophobia, low/different expectations for different diverse groups, over- and under-identification in special education for the wrong reasons (behavioral rather than academic). This must be named. ELL families are further marginalized when parents may not have the language skills to advocate. There are documented differences in equity of outcomes (ex: TDSB data) amongst diverse groups that point to structural racism in education. School boards must work with their local community partners who specialize in literacy for best interest of the children. Each should not be working in isolation. Wrap-around services and supports strengthen what each brings to the table. Another barrier mentioned was that special education is not set up with ‘intervention’ in mind. Students with IEPs receive accommodations and modifications to the existing program, but where are the actual interventions that will help them achieve grade level literacy? We can do better: 1) Equity policies must lead to equity of learning outcomes, 2) Find local community groups who are supporting literacy initiatives and become equal partners with them to support students, 3) IEPs must document the skills students need to learn and how those skills will be learned so that intervention is provided to remediate to grade level.
-The current Ministry of Education definition of ‘learning disability’ as stated in PPM8 further privileges the privileged and further marginalizes the marginalized. If that definition were strictly followed, then any child who is from a low socio-economic status, has cultural differences, an ELL learner, and/or is lacking motivation or effort due to years of failure because they lack basic literacy skills would not receive a diagnosis of a learning disability. Outrageous! This must be changed so that concepts of equity are centered in supporting vulnerable students. As well, the term ‘dyslexia’ must be used. Naming things matter. We can do better: support the OHRC ‘Right to Read’ inquiry, advocate for change to the definition so that equity/diversity/inclusion are centered, use the term dyslexia.
-There are many things in this world that we can’t fix, but literacy isn’t one of them. The research and knowledge is out there. We know what needs to be done. It should not be on the parents to fix the system, but the system to fix itself. There is no justifiable reason why students are not proficient in literacy (75% achievement is still way too low!). Literacy is the equity and social justice issue of our time. Systems and schools need a ‘re-culturing’ to put literacy and the right to read at the forefront of everything it does. Our students deserve no less. We are in a knowledge economy. Without sufficient literacy skills to engage meaningfully and competently in discourse, schools will be the ‘great perpetuator’ of inequity and status quo, rather than the ‘great equalizer’ it claims to be.
WE CAN DO BETTER!
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