Foundations of Literacy: Assigning Responsibilities 
by Chase Young

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Foundations of literacy encompass a vast quantity of knowledge related to instructors and students. The teacher is responsible for creating a text rich and user friendly reading environment, understanding reading processes, literate processes, and the five types of literature experiences as defined by a balanced literacy program. Students are responsible for knowing the purpose for reading as set by the teacher, the ability to self select interesting text on an independent level (Laureate Education, 2004), and active participation in higher level discussions of texts with peers within guided reading groups, buddy reading, or literature circles (Tompkins, 2004). 

A combination of interesting literature displayed according to genre, topic, and readability will foster a productive and accessible reading classroom far superior than that of a dentist office. The dentist office, according to Dr. Richard Allington, usually boasts a miraculous display of reading material—carefully sorted by genre, interest, audience, and often displayed in an attractive manner (Laureate Education, 2001). 

Dr. Allington states there should be 500-700 books in the classroom library. There are many ways to expand classroom libraries on a tight budget. A teacher can request funds from PTO or School Budget, use bonus points from book clubs, ask for donations from merchants, or leave a garage sale coupon. The garage sale coupon is an ingenious idea where a teacher attacks garage sales with children’s books, and leaves a barrage of cards containing the teacher’s name, a phone number, and a reminder the teacher would be perfectly willing to relieve the owner of any and all left over children’s books after the sale is over (Laureate Education, 2004). 

Now that a library is built, foundations of literacy need to be implemented into the classroom. Reading processes, as discussed by Dr. Strickland, portray reading as a constructive process based on schemata promoting metacognition in readers. Reading strategies are built upon each other to enable success. Background knowledge and internalized strategies help readers understand new and difficult material with the aide of their schema. Furthermore, readers should be interacting with text. Students need to develop metacognitive processes that alert the reader when meaning breaks down (Laureate Education, 2004; Tompkins, 2001). 

After reading processes are explicitly taught and understood, a variety of literate processes need to be exercised. Students should be listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and visually representing in the language arts classroom. All of these processes promote application and synthesis of literacy. The tasks will be naïve at first, but should gravitate to a novel task where the framework is constant, but the content is ever changing. Teachers should avoid practiced tasks as this requires the lowest amount of brain power (Laureate Education, 2004). 

The balanced literacy program includes reading demonstration, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, and word study. Each of these literature experiences should be provided to the students daily. Each unique part of the program allows for a diminishing amount of teacher assistance (Laureate Education, 2001; Tompkins, 2004). The goal for all students should be to become independent life-long readers. Teacher assistance is necessary and each lesson should be meaningful in the context of the individual experiences while keeping in mind the goal of releasing the learner with a skill set enabling successful independent reading.  

Students also have a vast amount of responsibility to guarantee their successful attainment of life-long reading. Students should understand three important purposes of reading. Students read for literary experience; learners are required to understand the craft of the author, the plot of the story, the emotional ties between the reader and the characters, and distinguish genres and points of view. Another purpose for reading is to be informed. Students need to understand text structure to efficiently locate information, and understand the role of non-fiction in a literate society. Finally, students will read to perform a task. This could be a manual, or a recipe. On a parallel scale, it could be a reader response to any type of text. However, the student must come with the proper mindset, and a different skill set to perform the task (Laureate Education, 2004).

Self selection is a fundamental strategy for students to master. Students need to be reading 45-60 minutes per day. Learners should not lose time by incompetent self selection. Students should be aware of their independent abilities aided by the “goldilocks rule” (just right books), or the “five finger rule” (missing more than five words on a page indicates a frustrational book, yet knowing all the words indicates the book is too easy). Students also need to keep interest in mind. Students mainly choose books based on interestingness. The teacher can help all students make choices by “blessing the books.” Essentially, the teacher chooses a few titles, on varying levels, briefly and emphatically discuss them in a whole group setting. It is a great dialogue to have while students are waiting in line, or if there is a moment of spare time during the day. If students are still unsure, they can always ask a friend for a recommendation. After selection, readers must ask themselves, “Is this a good fit for me?” Once a student makes a correct choice, it is imperative the teacher comments to the student and discusses why the choice was a good one (Laureate Education, 2004). 

Students need to be offered authentic literacy experiences. One such experience—that is highly student centered—is literature circles. The objectives for literature circles are to give students choice, read a variety of books, talk about books, respond differently, and share new learning in a small group based on interest (Tompkins, 2004).  

Creating a successful literacy classroom relies on a solid foundation. In order to explicitly teach exercising each of the brain networks, developing novel tasks, and providing optimal literacy experiences, one must implement the foundations of literacy in each lesson, and do so effectively. The teacher needs to use all resources such as research, literacy experts, colleagues, parents as teachers, parents as resources, parents as teachers at home (Flood et al, 1995), administration, professional development, assessment, and self reflection. Success in the classroom demands that the role of the teacher and the role of the student meet their respective goals in a collaborative approach to literacy learning. 


Flood, J., Lapp, D., Tinajero, J. V., & Nagel, G. (1995). “I never knew I was needed until you called!”: Promoting parent involvement in schools. The Reading Teacher, 48(7), 614–617.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2001). Foundations of Literacy 1-10. Los Angeles: Author.

Tompkins, G. E. (2003). Literacy for the 21st century (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

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