This December, I completed a continuing education course presented by Vicki Reed, Ed. D., CCC-SLP, BRS-CL, which discussed literacy, the many skills involved, and its importance in academic success. Reed defined literacy as “more than basic reading and writing,” as it requires the ability to think about language. Literacy entails higher level skills, such as reasoning and inference, which aid in our comprehension and expression of written text. For example, a writer must consider the prior knowledge that the intended audience would have on a topic and select appropriate vocabulary. Likewise, the reader or listener may have to rely on previous knowledge to discern figurative from literal comments or “read between the lines” to gain the author’s perspective.
During this course, Reed highlighted the fact that many children present with difficulty with expository language, in particular. Expository discourse is found in elementary textbooks, beginning in the third grade. It is also around this time that we see a switch from reading in class or to a parent to independent study. Children are not only asked to read and comprehend this challenging discourse, but they are often asked to use higher-level thinking skills to respond by summarizing, paraphrasing, and making inferences about what they have read.
Reed stated that children who are not solid in their foundational language skills (i.e. vocabulary, decoding, spelling) will quickly fall further and further behind their peers. As parents, educators, and SLPs, we must take an active role in preparing children for this “switch” by instilling a love for reading and helping them to build a strong foundation (i.e. alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, reading comprehension). It is important that parents remain engaged in their child’s academic development. Parents can support literacy development by asking school-age children to read aloud to a parent once in a while, asking questions and/or for an explanation of printed material in the child’s own words, and asking the child to make predictions and/or hypotheses about the text.