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Why General Literacy Matters: Part Two

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. The first part of this entry can be read by clicking this link.

How can it be possible that in a great modern nation such as ours, only 86 percent of our adult population is literate? There are a number of impediments that learners can encounter en route to full literacy, as noted in the “Speed Bumps on the Road to Literacy” graphic to the right.

These are not excuses, just speed bumps some youngsters have to overcome. As teachers of all stripes, we can each work to decrease the possibility that hundreds of thousands of youth will continue to enter adulthood, year after year, ill-equipped to read the instructions on a bottle of medicine prescribed to save their mother’s life, or their own.

Literacy Creates Individual Opportunity

Literacy opens doors to individual economic opportunity. In 2011, the average annual income for a high school dropout was $25,100, as compared to $35,400 for a high school graduate, and $56,500 for those with a college degree (Baum, Ma, and Payea 2013). On average, in her lifetime, a college graduate today will earn $1 million more than a high school dropout.

Almost 85 percent of those tried in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate; more than 60 percent of inmates of all ages are also functionally illiterate (Blankenship 2013). There is a positive correlation between illiteracy and crime, and a similar positive correlation between literacy and economic opportunity.

The nature of jobs is changing; while our grandparents’ generation could earn good wages in stable manufacturing jobs with a high school diploma or less, the fastest growing professions today have far greater than average literacy demands. Meanwhile, the fastest declining professions have lower than average literacy demands. In order to be prepared for the jobs of the future, students need literacy skills.

Literacy Promotes Economic Development

According to The Economist (“Counting Heads” 2004), a 1 percent increase in literacy scores leads to a 2.5 percent increase in labor productivity. Businesses in America currently spend upward of $60 billion annually on employee training, the greatest portion of which is devoted to remedial reading, writing, mathematics, and computer skills (ProLiteracy 2014). Supporting all learners in developing proficient literacy skills while in school will create far-reaching economic benefits: High school graduates are less likely to commit crimes, to depend on government health care, or to use public services such as housing assistance or food stamps. Economists estimate that cutting the nation’s high school dropout rate in half would save the federal government $45 billion each year (Levin, Belfield, Muennig, and Rouse 2006).

Literacy learning, in general, is highly prized. Some students enter our math classrooms each year with basic literacy skills already in their backpacks, while others somehow missed picking them up along the way. As mathematics teachers attending to the literacy needs of learners, we can not only enhance their mathematical understanding but also prepare them for lifelong success.


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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