Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

It’s Time to Acknowledge and Address Students’ Declining Linguistic Skills

June 10, 2014 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Christopher L. Doyle’s Commentary “Education in a Post-Literate Age” resonated with me. Mr. Doyle clearly identifies the specific higher-order thinking and literacy decline he has witnessed in his classroom. As a linguist, I would suggest the emerging problem is much larger, though, and even more basic.

Speaking and listening—essential preliteracy skills—are also declining. Sitting in any Starbucks, you can easily witness this—parents regularly checking their phones, reviewing messages, texts, etc.; small children sitting quietly in their strollers with iPads. Who is talking to whom? Initial preliteracy skills of listening, speaking, turn-taking, and negotiating are almost nonexistent in these moments.

I recently took part in a staff-development activity in a relatively wealthy suburban Chicago community. The kindergarten and 1st grade teachers there, by acclamation, acknowledged this decline in recent years in all of their students’ overall language and preliteracy skills. Perhaps Mr. Doyle’s warning is merely an emerging indication of where, as a society, our linguistic skills are headed.

I find this ironic as we aggressively roll out the Common Core State Standards, which include significantly increased linguistic demands for all language skills—especially listening and speaking for all grade levels (consult your math colleagues, they know). Anticipating where all of this is headed and confronting the linguistic realities we face is critical.

It is very clear the “Post-Literate Age” will not be one with satisfactorily achieved common standards unless the literacy (and linguistic) deficits of our children are directly addressed.

Raising standards, in light of Mr. Doyle’s revelations, without recognizing the realities of declining linguistic skills and their broader instructional implications is almost irresponsible. Explicitly acknowledging Mr. Doyle’s warning and addressing the emerging declining linguistic skills of all students is a far greater priority.

Dennis Terdy

Glen Ellyn, Ill.

The author has worked in English-language learning for more than 40 years, as a teacher, administrator, and consultant.

A version of this article appeared in the June 11, 2014 edition of Education Week as It’s Time to Acknowledge and Address Students’ Declining Linguistic Skills


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