Fifth graders examined the essential question, “How is illiteracy a problem in our country and what can we do to help?” To understand illiteracy, students began their inquiry in their science classes by trying to understand how the human brain learns. Through games and research, students began to understand that learning occurs when new neural pathways are connected within the brain.
Students also learned that brain development starts at a very early age and is driven in large part by the development of language pathways that form as adult caregivers talk to children and then children work to respond back to their caregivers. Students then had the opportunity to hear from several speakers within the community who work to prevent illiteracy or to teach people how to read later in life.
Through these discussions, students began to realize that often illiteracy is tied to poverty within our society. In families living in poverty parents may work multiple demanding jobs to provide critical resources (food, clothing, and shelter) for their family, but as a result often lack the ability to spend time interacting with their children.
Families in poverty also have less disposable income with which to buy books that are a critical tool for encouraging word and language development within their homes.
From these discussions, fifth graders quickly realized that the best way to combat illiteracy in society is through prevention – and the best means of prevention is finding ways to encourage parents to read to their children on a daily basis. Armed with their desire to be part of the solution, fifth graders set to work by volunteering their time in the community. The class went to Smart Start of Central Oklahoma and packed Early Bird Learning Kits.
Each one of the kits contained books and toys designed to encourage new parents to interact with their children, which hopefully helps to give their children a great developmental start in life and thus prevent illiteracy.
The fifth grade Read-a-Thon took on added significance this year based on the work the students had done to learn about illiteracy. As reult the class was able to raise more than $3,000 for Smart Start and Reach Out and Read in Oklahoma City. Then, as a culminating activity the class brainstormed a way to encourage reading to young children, so they created mini-libraries that were installed at the Homeless Alliance and at a laundromat near the school.
Students realized that at each of these locations there may be children or parents of children that have limited access to books, so they envision that people now will be able take a book, return a book, or add a book all in the effort to promote literacy for children in our community.