First Illiteracy, and now Aliteracy

A main focus of this blog will be the importance of engaging students in reading (and writing for that matter). Blame the “self-proclaimed literacy geek” title, but I think fostering a culture of readers is an extremely important component of a literacy program.

In my classroom days, I promised parents at Back-to-School Night that I would make each and every one of their children a reader.  I’ll admit– I was given many skeptical looks.  But I did not waiver. Literacy is just too important.

Classroom teachers  in upper elementary and middle school are facing a difficult challenge– a world where reading a book might not seem like the most interesting thing to do for a student who is bombarded with tweets, text messages, Instagram posts, Facebook updates, and online gaming challenges.  The decline in time spent reading can be seen in data from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report (2015).

Percentage of Children (Ages 6-17) Who Read Books for Fun 5-7 Days a Week

Decline in Time Spent Reading

Percentage of Children (Ages 6-17) Who Do Activities 5-7 Days A Week

Increase in Time Spent with Electronics

These technological distractions do not even factor in the vast amount of sports and after-school activities students are involved in.  Couple student disinterest with the pressure classroom teachers feel to “cover” material before the administration of high-stakes tests, and it’s easy to see why creating a culture that builds life-long readers has fallen to the wayside or been put on the back burner.

So, where we used to contend only with illiteracy  for a select population of students, now teachers must contend with aliteracy in a vast majority of students.  The National Endowment of the Arts even warned us of a world where the amount of aliterate individuals would surpass the amount of illiterate individuals in the report To Read or Not to Read, which was published in 2007.  

To understand the term, aliteracy, I would like to use Steven L. Layne’s explanation of a complete reader from his book Igniting a Passion for Reading (©2009 Scholastic), where he explains his idea using a circle visual.

Complete Reader visual

The left side of the circle is comprised of the skills necessary to be literate. The inclusion of the right side allows affective or will-driven components to be factored into one’s literacy as well.

In Layne’s description, a complete reader is one who has the skill and the will.  One who can and wants to read.

So, in accordance with this:

  • An illiterate student would be one who does not have the skill to read.
  • An aliterate student has the skill to read, but does not have the will/want to read.

Classroom teachers are confident in the imparting of skills to students in order to promote literacy.  We’ve been doing this all along.  The left side of Layne’s circle is an important aspect of the literacy process; as without skills, one physically cannot read.

But when do we address the will???  How do we bolster students’ intrinsic motivation to read and create life-long readers out of all who pass through our doors?  These are the questions we need to continue to attend to– questions that I will try to provide some answers to as we take this journey together…

Let’s keep the conversation going-


2 thoughts on “First Illiteracy, and now Aliteracy

  1. I really enjoyed this post! I work with Kinder and 1st students with low literacy scores and this post will definitely make for a good conversation/ brainstorm with my coworkers about how they boost their student’s will to read.


    1. That was exactly my intention when writing! I would love to hear some of the topics/ideas you come up with after you’ve discussed with your colleagues. I’ll be posting ideas as well, so stay tuned!


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