A big hello to all of the friends of the English Skills Learning Center! We know it’s been awhile, and we are so excited to be relaunching our quarterly newsletter. We recognize, now more than ever, the importance of staying connected and sharing all of the wonderful news, activities, and events taking place at the English Skills Learning Center (ESLC). With this relaunch, we are introducing a new name for the newsletter as well: Print Awareness. Now, if you are familiar with foundational literacy skills, you might immediately understand the witty nature of this title. If not, that’s okay. Despite being told multiple times that if I have to explain it, then it’s not very clever, I still want to take the time to explain this one to you! We are an educational institution, after all.
Earlier this week when I was going through the bedtime routine with my soon-to-be two year old, she grabbed a book, opened the first page, pointed to the words, and asked kindly, “Mama, please?”
After I took a minute to recover from my heart exploding, I realized, SHE POINTED TO THE WORDS. She has never pointed to the words before. This was new.
She is establishing print awareness. She knows that the tiny markings on the page mean something. She knows that I look at the tiny markings on each page and make noises, sounds, and words that result in her enjoying a tale of a shiny fish who shared with his new friends. Of course, that’s about all she knows at this point. She doesn’t know any of the letters or their sounds or that multiple letters put together create different sounds, which then create words. She just knows these *things* on the page mean something.
Kaiya is learning these concepts as a young child because I take the time to read to her every single day, make sure that there are many books in our house (possibly too many? Is there even such a thing?) for her to explore, and actively make it a point for her to see me reading by myself often. I am teaching her and modeling for her through each of these actions.
For many adults who enroll in ESLC programming, this hasn’t been the case for a variety of reasons. Annually, between 15-25% of students have had no formal schooling prior to their enrollment in ESLC classes. This often means that they have never learned to read or write in their native language. It is also estimated that there are nearly 7,000 living languages in the world and only ~4,000 of them have a writing system. Meaning, for both of these student groups, they are learning to read and write for the first time as adults in a new language.
Just like with children, one of the first steps in teaching adults to read and write is establishing print awareness. Though with adults, we aren’t using books about lonely fish and dancing dinosaurs since that isn’t age appropriate or relevant to their lives. We can establish print awareness a number of ways, but the Language Experience Approach (LEA) is one of our favorite classroom activities at the ESLC. LEA asks the students to speak about a shared experience while the instructor acts as the scribe. The instructor writes down word for word what the students say. The text that is created as a result is then read and repeated in order to make the connection between speech and writing. Students’ real life stories are used, which allows them to be represented in classroom materials. The text created by student speech is then used in other classroom activities as a well. There are so many possibilities for using this approach in the classroom, and it is effective in establishing a link between speech and writing.
When it comes to literacy, print awareness is the first step. This is the foundation of everything that comes next. So, why name our newsletter Print Awareness? Because I love a good
play on words! What can I say? I am a linguist at heart. The newsletter’s purpose is to keep you “aware” of what’s happening at the ESLC. We do that through writing (i.e., print) in hopes that we can create a foundation of community engagement and support. Hence, Print Awareness.
In addition to being witty, we wanted this title to represent both our goal of keeping you up-to-date through the newsletter, and our goal of establishing foundational literacy skills with students.
We are counting down the days until we can see all of you in-person, but until it is safe to do so, we hope that you will stay connected through our mailing list and social media. The past year has been challenging in a number of ways, and, during this same time, we have been able to take a step back, tap into our creativity, make strides with digital literacy efforts, and brainstorm some exciting changes for the upcoming year.
That said, we hope that you stick around for our “print” newsletter in order to become more “aware” of the remarkable work being accomplished by students, volunteers, and staff at the ESLC.
All the best,
ESLC Executive Director