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Why General Literacy Matters: Part One

The following is an adapted excerpt from the book Developing Literate Mathematicians: A Guide for Integrating Language and Literacy Instruction into Secondary Mathematics, written by PEBC’s Wendy Ward Hoffer.

**Click here to read part two of this series.**

As a mathematician, let the following statistics propel you to take up the charge of literacy instruction with gusto. Evidence clearly indicates that literacy has the power to save lives, transform the social order, and uplift a nation.

Literacy Facilitates Health

Literacy is a stepping-stone to school success and a prerequisite to high school graduation, which paves the way to healthy living. On average, high school graduates live longer, are less likely to become teen parents, and are more likely to raise healthier, better-educated children (Alliance for Excellent Education 2012).

Alternately, students who do not complete high school, often because of low literacy skills, encounter greater health challenges and incur significant costs. In a 2002 research review, medical professionals Andrus and Roth found that “[f]orty-nine percent of patients with hypertension and 44% of patients with diabetes had inadequate functional health literacy” (Andrus and Roth 2002, p. 292). Colorado alone, according to statisticians’ estimates, would save more than $280 million in health care costs over the course of the lifetimes of each class of high school dropouts, had they earned their diplomas (Montelores Early Childhood Council 2013).

Illiterate individuals are at risk of poor health, may require expensive medical care, and might shorten their own lives because of their inability to understand doctors’ instructions or follow written prescriptions.

Literacy Promotes Social Justice

Literacy is a gateway to student achievement and high school graduation, yet literacy rates differ along racial lines. Longitudinal data produced by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) demonstrates that, in reading, the achievement gap between white and black students and white and Hispanic students has narrowed since 1973. Still, in 2012, thirteen-year-old black students trailed their white peers by an average of 23 points, while Hispanic students scored 21 points below the average of their white counterparts (National Center for Education Statistics 2015).

Literacy is not the only predictor of high school graduation, but it is a significant factor. Nationwide, 70 percent of all students graduate from high school on time, yet the racial disparity in graduation rates is striking:

  • 80 percent of Asian American students graduate from high school
  • 76 percent of white students
  • 58 percent of Latino students
  • 53 percent of African American students
  • 49 percent of Native American students (Alliance for Excellent Education 2012)

To close this achievement gap is to facilitate greater equality of opportunity for all children. A critical step in closing this gap is increasing the literacy rates of traditionally underperforming students. Literacy, therefore, is a social justice issue.


Learn More at an Upcoming PEBC Institute

In 2018, PEBC is offering several institutes where you can build on your knowledge and learn new strategies to impact student learning. Register to attend today!

Cultivating STEM Identities
January 23-24, 2018, Denver, Colorado
In this institute, participants will explore why learners’ STEM identities are important, and how we as adults can structure learning experiences to enhance students’ enjoyment of and engagement with thinking as scientists and mathematicians.

Essentials of Argument Writing Institute
January 23-24, 2018, Denver, Colorado
In this highly interactive institute, we will explore how to engage students in developing necessary critical thinking skills to create evidence-based arguments in their writing. As students read and talk they gain knowledge and discover new contexts for their ideas—skills that are essential for life and for passing new standardized tests. This is not a “sit and get” workshop; instead, you will be an active participant in the kind of learning we want for students.

Winter Thinking Strategies Institute
January 29 – February 1, 2018, Denver, Colorado
In this institute you will learn how to explicitly teach, support and plan for deeper thinking with the thinking strategies within in the context of instructional best practices. You’ll visit PEBC Lab Classrooms where teachers and students use thinking strategies on a regular basis. We’ll explore ways to promote deep learning by fostering engagement and understanding, and how the workshop model, rich student discourse, and thinking oriented classroom communities provide time for teacher modeling, student practice and self-reflection.

Science Institute
February 13-14, 2018, Denver, Colorado
In this institute you will learn to create engaging, inquiry-based learning experiences that generate interest in and understanding of the big ideas of science. Participants will learn how to develop learning experiences that integrate the Next Generation Science Standards’ Science and Engineering Practices, along with thinking strategies that increase student engagement with scientific ideas.

Minds on Math Institute
March 6-7, 2018, Denver, Colorado
In this institute you will learn how to address all eight of the common core standards for mathematical practice within workshop model instruction—we will explore how explicit thinking strategy instruction can promote students’ deep mathematical understanding.

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