by Kimberly Tyson, Ph. D. of learningunlimitedllc.com
Literacy-rich environments, as endorsed by the International Reading Association, have a significant impact on what goes on in the classroom and set the stage for interactions with a wide variety of genres. In the past several years, I’ve supported many teachers and administrators as they work toward creating literacy-rich classrooms across schools and districts that allow for increased interaction with print and literacy learning for students.
Much attention is being spent preparing for the Common Core standards and the call for increasing the amount of nonfiction and informational text in classrooms. Perhaps we should begin by focusing attention on the classroom environment and making certain that it is a place that supports and encourages literacy learning. A literacy-rich environment not only supports the standards set by the Common Core, but also provides a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways – through print & digital media.
A literacy-rich environment is not only important for early literacy but supports content-specific learning as well. I’ve been promoting this idea for years, and was recently reminded of its importance when reading a recent article featured in ASCD in support of content-area literacy-rich classrooms. Depending on student level and the content area, elements of a literacy-rich environment include, but are not limited to:
- classroom libraries that include a variety of genres and text types
- content posters
- anchor charts – teacher-made and co-created with students
- word walls
- literacy workstations
- writing centers
- display of student work
- displays of books & information
- bulletin boards, and
- plenty of opportunity to read, write, listen, and speak
Unfortunately, many classrooms lack an environment that supports engagement with text in the form of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Cold, hard chairs carefully aligned in straight rows do little to encourage student interaction and engagement with each other or text. Walls that are barren, except for exit signage, and classrooms that include few books and materials for students to read won’t help us meet the new standards nor do they support student learning.
Students need access to interesting books and materials – both in print and online. When students are provided with well-designed classroom libraries, they interact more with books, spend more time reading, exhibit more positive attitudes toward reading, and exhibit higher levels of reading achievement (NAEP, 2002). Additionally, classroom libraries support balanced literacy instruction. Teachers can provide instruction in literacy skills and content-specific reading skills; however, if students are not provided with access to interesting books that they want to read and can read with success, they will never reach their full literacy potential (Gambrell, Malloy, & Mazzoni, 2007).
This post is not intended to serve as a plug for classroom libraries (though I’ve done that here and here and here), but rather as a recommendation that teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators slow down and take a look at classroom environments. As you observe K-12 classroom settings, ask yourself if they support learning as defined by 21st century literacy demands and the new standards? If not, what are your next steps to support teachers in creating literacy-rich environments that foster student learning?
The infographic below summarizes Key Characteristics of a Literacy-Rich Environment. Use this with colleagues as a means to create conversation and movement toward creating print-rich environments that support student learning, the Common Core Standards, and provide for equity and access across classrooms in your school and district.
Gambrell, L.B. Malloy, J.A., & Mazzoni, S.A. (2007). Evidence-based practices for comprehensive literacy instruction. In L. Gambrell, L.M. Morrow, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best Practices in Literacy Instruction, 3rd edition (pp. 11-29). New York: Guilford Press.
National Assessment of Educational Progress Report. (2002). 1992-2002 NAEP Report. Princeton, NY: Educational Testing Service.