By Tyler Carter
Over the years, we have seen technology take leaps and bounds in the advancement of our society, making things more efficient and less troublesome.
While technology has the ability to solve issues, it also has the ability to mask issues by providing things like an iPAD or the internet at the problem instead.
Today, 36 million U.S. adults can’t compare, and contrast written information, make low-level inferences, or locate information within a multipart document—and, if education and societal trends continue, their ranks will only keep growing, according to Maya Payne Smart, author of “Reading for Our Lives.”
Smart is a journalist, educator and literacy advocate, but most importantly, she is a mother who decided when her child started school to take a deeper look at society’s approach to literacy.
“When my daughter was born, I knew I wanted her to love books and reading as much as I did, but I didn’t remember being taught to read and I don’t remember being read to, so I didn’t have in my mind specific details as to how to actually nurture reading,” Smart said.
After beginning to do her own research, Smart looked at different socioeconomic backgrounds such as low-income households to high-income households and gaps in reading achievement between white and black children.
Smart’s personal curiosity led her to look at ways in which she could help her now 11-year-old daughter in the years before school started to prepare her for reading.
Her curiosity continued as she read academic articles, joined literacy groups and even took a course to learn and share the information she learned.
However, it still wasn’t enough for Smart, especially after discovering some alarming statistics regarding reading and literacy.
“It really surprised me that there are 10’s of millions of Americans who can’t read well enough to complete job applications or navigate using a bus schedule – basic things we use everyday,” Smart said.
According to statistics included within her book, 36 million Americans are facing literacy challenges, including kids, Smart said.
These issues stem from a lack of being prepared, supported, tutoring and interventions to stop these issues before they began.
“It’s a tragedy to be in school for 12 or 13 years and graduate without the basics,” Smart said.
While acknowledging the shortcomings of the educational system, there is also a personal accountability piece at play.
Technology presents many challenges to get the majority of children to read on grade level, Smart believes. With the old challenges that deter children from reading, technology has now introduced a new level of distraction.
“Parents aren’t told in the very earliest years about what they should do to nurture kids to build their brains and get them ready for school and reading, so we have all of the old challenges that contributed to the disparities that we’ve have for decades and then on top of that, we now have phones that are distracting parents from giving kids the attention and conversation,” Smart said.
Just when you thought about placing an iPAD in your childrens’ faces with an “educational” application, according to Smart, research shows children are not actually learning from said apps.
Parents can bridge the gaps now, but it must be enacted in the early years. One of the ways Smart says parents can do this is by utilizing the TALK method.
The method essentially implores parents to talk more than they listen, she said.
T stands for taking turns, A is for asking questions, L is for label and point and K is for keeping conversation going. The acronym allows parents to speak and listen to their children, encouraging their children to ask questions, encourage their curiosity by pointing out things, while explaining what they are through dialogue with their children.
Also within her book are “conversation levers.”
The levers: conversation, book reading, teaching, connecting, budgeting, and advocacy, Smart says will provide parents with much needed information that will assist them in improving literacy for them, their children and key publics.
While Smart says the science behind the literacy aspect can be complicated, parents know the simple things to do the improve these troubling statistics, not only among child, but adults also.
“Everyone needs to know these things so that we can help each other,” Smart said. “So, if you’re in a community group, church or neighborhood, you can make sure every parent of a young child knows that they have this power to positively impact their child for years into the future by doing really simple things when they’re little.”
To learn more about “Reading for Our Lives,” visit MayaSmart.com.