Friday, November 04, 2005

Lots in the news today....

Okay - Interesting new study out (see first article) and then lots of commentary on the Demers' Biography.

DATE: 2005.11.04

Study says parents' bedtime reading to kids doesn't improve literacy

TORONTO (CP) _ Parents take note: Reading to your preschoolers before bedtime doesn't mean they are likely to learn much about letters, or even how to read words.

A new study shows that while storybook time has developmental benefits, preschool children pay very little attention to the printed words on a page, the Globe and Mail reported Friday.

``There are all kinds of parents who are reading to their children believing that it's going to help their children to learn how to read,'' said Mary Ann Evans, a psychology professor at the University of Guelph and co-author of the study.

``That's true to an extent in that reading to your children will help them develop an understanding of story line. But it's not necessarily helping them to learn how to decode the words on the page.''

Reading to children is considered a valued home literacy activity. But Evans said that few studies have looked as its link to children's literacy skills.

To learn how to read, children must pay attention to the letters and recognize words. But her research, published in this month's issues of Psychological Science, the journal of the American Psychological Society, found that preschoolers were focused elsewhere.

Evans, along with Jean Saint-Aubin of the University of Moncton in New Brunswick, conducted two studies of four- and five-year-olds.

The preschoolers wore special headbands with three cameras that tracked eye and head movements.

In the first study, five preschoolers sat on their mothers' laps as the adults read stories on a computer screen. Each child was tested for about an hour with five storybooks.

Three books had rich, colourful illustrations. The other two, which included Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, had simple black-and-white illustrations.

The researchers found that children rarely looked at the text. They focused instead on the pictures, no matter how simple they were. In fact, the preschoolers spent, on average, five seconds per book fixated on the text and three minutes on the illustrations. And the more words on a page, the longer they looked at the pictures, the study found.

In a second study, another group of nine children had the same books read to them by their pre-school teacher. They showed the same pattern as the first group, the researchers found.

Although Evans acknowledges that reading to children has its benefits, she cautions parents on expecting too much.

``It's hard to see how they're learning a lot about the appearance of print, and how to read words or learn words by sight ... because they are not looking at the print,'' said Evans, who has been studying parental involvement in children's literacy development.

``Unless parents do something a little bit more explicit, I'm not sure that it has a major impact.''

(The Globe and Mail)


PUBLICATION: The London Free Press
DATE: 2005.11.04
SECTION: Opinion Pages


How sad that former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers has lived his entire life trying to keep his illiteracy a secret. How tragic for us that he is just one person in a national -- and silent -- epidemic.

World Literacy of Canada statistics indicate 22 per cent of Canadians have serious problems understanding printed materials.

This stunning figure comes with a steep cost to society: Those who can't read and write will fail far more often in the job market. Canadians with the highest literacy levels have a four-per-cent unemployment rate, compared to a rate of 26 per cent for Canadians with the lowest literacy skills.

Our national shame lies in our inability and unwillingness to get help to those who need it -- and to do so in a dignified manner. Perhaps Demers was right to keep his disability a secret. Surely no hockey team would have employed him if the truth came out.

But illiteracy should not be grounds for dismissal. We shame ourselves by perpetuating our silence and indifference.

DATE: 2005.11.04
SECTION: Letter to the Edit

Literacy and smarts

JOHN D. O'LEARY president, Frontier College Toronto Many people seem surprised to learn that someone as accomplished as Jacques Demers cannot read or write (Celebrated NHL Coach Devised Complex Ploys To Hide Illiteracy -- Nov. 3).

Most of the 40 per cent of Canadians with low literacy skills are active, employed people. They are intelligent and capable but, as is the case with Mr. Demers, they suffer immeasurably from embarrassment and anxiety and frequently they cannot fully realize their personal or professional potential due to illiteracy.

But illiteracy is not a matter of intelligence. As Dr. Roby Kidd, one of Canada's leaders in literacy education, once told me when I was a young teacher: "Remember, John. If you don't have an education, you really have to use your brains."
PUBLICATION: Montreal Gazette
DATE: 2005.11.04

Coach Demers creates golden opportunity

The Literacy Foundation in Quebec has been looking for years for someone as famous and articulate as Jacques Demers to come along and say out loud, in public, that he can barely write his own name.

That is exactly what Demers, the former coach of five different NHL teams, did this week. He acknowledged living his whole life with the stress of having to hide a near-total inability to read and write.

"This is going to have a huge impact on people who also suffer from illiteracy and who are isolated," Sophie Labrecque, president and director-general of the Literacy Foundation, told La Presse. "This will demystify the problem of illiteracy and give it a warm, human face, because Mr. Demers is someone who touches people emotionally and many people will recognize themselves in him. For us, it's a gift from heaven."

Both the federal and provincial governments should also treat Demers's admission, which came in his new book Jacques Demers en toutes lettres (Jacques Demers From A to Z), as an opportunity to act. Illiteracy is a crushing burden, borne not only by individuals but also by the whole of society and our economy.

In Quebec, about 612,000 people age 15 to 64 have fewer than nine years of education. This is low enough to put them in a barely literate category, considering they live in an economy that requires an ever rising level of literacy and numeracy.

While a large number of Quebec's illiterates are older people, for whom education past Grade 9 was not always available, there are still too many young people leaving school without the literacy skills needed to get rewarding, or any, work.

The causes are many - dyslexia, hyperactivity, illness, intellectual handicaps, in some cases - but a skilled and sensitive teacher or reading specialist should be able to figure out what is wrong. In Demers's case, the chaos caused by his violent, alcoholic father was at the root of his illiteracy. "I couldn't sleep at night," he said. "I'd go to school and I couldn't learn anything."

On average, the Quebec Education Department allocates $20 million to literacy training in school boards, plus another $10 million to literacy training given by independent community groups. Is this enough? If there are, as literacy specialists fear, thousands of people like Demers, afraid to step forward and admit they have a problem, those sums are not adequate.

The government should seize the opportunity this popular, well-known Quebec figure has handed us on a silver platter, and let people know where they can go to get help. Relieved of his burden, Demers said, "I've been carrying this all my life. I succeeded, and I'm telling people 'You're capable of doing something in your life even if you have some big handicaps.'"

True. But think how much more these people could do if they were literate.

The Literacy Foundation offers an information and reference telephone line, the Info-Alpha Line at (800) 361-9142. Those in need, or those close to them, can also turn to a second option, Adult Learnline: (888) 488-3888.


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