‘We are not where we want to be.
We are not where we are going to be.
But we are not where we were.’
~ Rosa Parks
This quote resonates with me strongly when I reflect on the current state of literacy in Tasmania. Having participated in the Chatter Matter’s Literacy Symposium at the end of 2018 I feel that many other Tasmanians would share this opinion. The positive energy and level of commitment from those in the room that day was inspiring. There were people from nearly all corners of the community present, many of whom I think may have wondered initially why they were there. What could they possibly contribute to raising the level of literacy in the state? By the end of the day, however, the message was clear: regardless of who we are, where we work, or what our belief system, we can all make a contribution and support those who struggle with learning to read and write.
Another quote I have pinned to my office corkboard is: “A goal without a plan is just a wish”. Herein lies the real issue. How can we harness all that energy and goodwill from the Literacy Symposium to create a coordinated, workable, effective and meaningful plan for the future? I am not sure any of us can do that on our own, to be honest. I know many people have tried before. Being an experienced speech pathologist working in schools I know I have the knowledge on effective, evidence-based practices that can help many of our struggling young readers. What my team and I need to continue to do, is to promote opportunities to share this with those who could utilise it within classrooms.
Written language is a representation of spoken language. Spoken language is made up of speech sounds. A basic understanding of the sound structure of oral language is crucial if you are going to teach reading. Some children will learn how to read almost regardless of what method you use. For those who don’t, however, they need to be provided with explicit, systematic teaching, and given support to help them understand and learn how reading works.
If you are in a workplace, think about writing forms and documents in Plain English. Use pictures to support the written words on signs. If you are a parent of a young child, then spend time talking about the structure of words; clap out the syllables, talk about the sounds you hear in the word, think of silly rhymes. Even something as simple as us all putting away our screens for a period each day and talking together more can help literacy.
I have never worked in the same workplace as Rosie Martin, the organiser of the symposium, but we have been colleagues for many years. One of life’s lessons that I picked up from her is this notion of being a ’first follower’. This is the idea that attracting a supporter to some kind of view or initiative is the first step towards beginning a movement which may at first seem adverse or unusual within a culture or population. Once a single person follows the initiative, however, it becomes less risky for others to join in. Eventually, as enough people join, they then share a common view and real change can happen. I will continue to chip away and offer support to the school staff with whom I work and thank those followers who join me along the way. I put the challenge out there to all of you to consider being a ‘first follower’ if someone you know has an effective plan for how to progress literacy in your corner of the community.
It really does take a village.
Linda Williams is a Hobart-based speech pathologist who attended the “Communicating: The Heart of Literacy” symposium at Government House in November 2018.