Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Samuel Johnson 300th Anniversary

There's Never a Last Word on Spelling
As Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster can attest, the test of time can be rough on dictionaries.
LA Times: May 27, 2009 by David Wolman

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Johnson, and were the master wordsmith alive today, I suspect he would be both a fan and a critic of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, taking place today and Thursday. Johnson penned the first annotated dictionary of the English language. At 3 million words in length, with 43,000 entries, it is one of history's greatest lexicographical achievements. As it happens, Johnson also believed that no word should ever end with "c." Had he successfully persuaded the public of this sentiment, today we would be writing not just "publick" but also "gothick," "pedagogick," "musick" -- you get the idea.

Johnson would appreciate the celebration of words inherent in bee mania, and likewise this week's etymological feast. But he (by which I mean I, using Johnson for cover) might also ask: As dramatic as the big bee may be, with its multimedia medley of spinoff movies, books and musicals, does it suggest a capital-C Correct English that paints a false impression of fixed orthography and a strict constructionist view of language? Is English at the bee more rigid than the real thing?

Two generations after Johnson's dictionary took the (literate) English-speaking world by storm, a fiery patriot and obsessive word nerd from Connecticut published his own magnum opus, "An American Dictionary of the English Language." Noah Webster nixed all those extra "k's" -- few people other than Johnson had paid them much attention anyway -- while leaving his own orthographic mark on the lexicon.

In the United States, "gaol" became "jail, "masque" became "mask," "centre" became "center" and "humour" became "humor" -- all because of Webster. He was particularly adamant about purging the "u" in words like "humour" and "colour," a spelling convention that he called a "palpable absurdity." READ MORE !

David Wolman is the author of "Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Education Levels & Health

Gaps in Health Strongly Linked to Education Levels, Report Finds
Reaching America’s Health Potential Among Adults: A State-by-State Look at Adult Health: May 2009 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Washington, DC —Across the country and in every state, adults with less education are more likely to be in less than very good health than college graduates. Adults in every state fall far short of the level of good health that should be achievable for all Americans, says a new report released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America. The report is the first to rank states on differences in adults’ health based on their levels of education, and it shows that while people with more education are healthier, in some states these differences are much more dramatic than in others.

Almost 1/2 of all adults ages 25 to 74 in the United States report being in less than very good health, and that rate differs depending on level of education. For example, adults who have not graduated from high school are more than 2.5 times as likely to be in less than very good health as college graduates, according to the report. Those who have graduated from high school but not gone to college are nearly twice as likely to be in less than very good health as college graduates.

In the United States, 45% of adults reported being in less than very good health.
~ from a high of 53% in Mississippi to a low of 35% in Vermont.

Early Life Experience
The effects of socioeconomic adversity on young children, however, are probably the most dramatic. Socioeconomic disadvantage in childhood has been linked repeatedly with worse health not only in childhood but later in adulthood as well. Child poverty often leads to lower educational attainment and therefore to lower income in adulthood, with strong health effects. Socioeconomic adversity in early childhood can lead to physical changes in brain development limiting children’s chances to succeed and be healthy; high-quality early child care can markedly improve the mental and behavioral development of children, especially those in less favorable socioeconomic circumstances.

Education has profound health effects. More schooling in general – not just health education – can lead to greater knowledge about health and greater ability to apply that knowledge to change behavior – one’s own behaviors and the behaviors of one’s children – in healthy ways. Education is tightly linked with income and wealth, which in turn are tightly linked with health; for example, more schooling yields opportunities for more rewarding jobs with healthier working conditions.

A Mom's Education, A Baby's Chances of Survival
Babies born to mothers who did not finish high school are nearly twice as likely to die before their first birthdays as babies born to college graduates.
Less Education, Worse Health
Less education is linked with worse health. Compared with college graduates, adults who have not finished high school are more than 4 times as likely to be in poor or fair health.
Lower Income Is Linked with Worse Health
Diabetes decreases with increasing income. Diabetes is twice as common among poor adults as those in the highest-income group. Lower-income adults are also more likely to have heart disease. The prevalence of heart disease is nearly 50% higher among poor adults than among adults in the highest-income group.
More Child Poverty in America
The U.S. has higher rates of child poverty than many other countries. In 2000, 1/5 of American children were poor—a proportion that was 9 times higher than in Denmark.
Parents' Education, A Child's Chances for Health
Children whose parents have not finished high school are over 6 times as likely to be in poor or fair health as children whose parents are college graduates.
Parents' Income, A Child's Chances for Health
Children in poor families are about 7 times as likely to be in poor or fair health as children in the highest-income families.

Friday, May 15, 2009

John Corcoran: The Teacher Who Couldn't Read

It is never too late to learn how to read.

Watch John Corcoran share his story live on-stage at The Moth !

Over the last 20 years, John has had the opportunity to speak to millions of people as a literacy advocate. In New York, however, he had the unique experience of sharing his life story in an artistic venue from a first person point of view, to an audience of theater-goers.

Part 1: Introduction through high school.

Part 2: Life at college.

Part 3: High School teacher.

"I'm a university graduate," I began, "with a bachelor's degree in education and business administration and over 90 additional graduate units. I attended school for 35 years, half of them as a professional educator. In acquiring these experiences, I could not read a textbook or write the answer to an essay question. This is the first public acknowledgment that I have ever made, that I have been a functional illiterate for almost 50 years.”

John Corcoran, October 1987

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Literacy Tribune: May 2009

Literacy Tribune: May 2009

United Literacy, a non-profit organization, provides resources and support to adult literacy learners in the United States. Its aim is to make literacy education accessible and worthwhile for adult learners.

Main Story: Protect Yourself from the Flu
~ The current outbreak of swine flu has everyone thinking about the flu
A Learner's Poem:
~ I'm a Silent Old Tree by Rodolfo Diaz
Member Spotlight:
~ When Juan Munoz, 28, counsels a student with a learning disability, he understands what they are going through.

Technology Watch:
~ Mac OS X Desktop Basics
A History Lesson: The Civil War

Call for Writers !
Are you an adult learner ?
Do you want to write ?
Do you want to publish your writing ?

The Literacy Tribune is looking for adult learner writers.
You can write about:
Literacy resources you like
Your literacy organization
Your road to literacy
You can write book reviews, poetry, short stories
You can write articles about health, finance, or technology
You can write just about anything

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jobs and Literacy

Economy Spurs Demand For Literacy Programs
All Things Considered - NPR: May 11, 2009
by Matt Shafer Powell – WUOT, Knoxville TN

Since the recession began in December 2007, more than 5 million jobs have been lost. Callers are inundating literacy agencies because they realize they can't compete in this difficult job market without a GED. At the same time, many of those callers are forced to recognize and admit their inability to read simple documents, including a job application.

Listen @

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

NAAL Supplemental Studies: ALSA - FAN

Basic Reading Skills and the Literacy of the America's Least Literate Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) Supplemental Studies: NCES 2009481

The 2003 NAAL assessed the English literacy skills of a nationally representative sample of 18,500 U.S. adults, age 16 and older. It was the 1st national assessment since the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS).

The Adult Literacy Supplemental Assessment (ALSA) was given to adults unable to successfully answer the core literacy tasks. Instead of completing the main literacy assessment, these adults completed the ALSA. The Fluency Addition to NAAL (FAN) was given to all adults who participated in the NAAL project following the completion of the main literacy assessment or the supplemental assessment.

The Adult Literacy Supplemental Assessment [ ALSA ] and the Fluency Addition to NAAL [ FAN ] look at the literacy strengths and weaknesses of the least literate adults, those whose literacy level would prevent them from completing the "main NAAL."

ALSA measured basic, word-level literacy skills. It consists of 31 tasks such as letter identification, number identification, word identification, and word reading, and 13 tasks that assess higher literacy skills, such as text searching and inference. There also are 35 tasks related to background knowledge.
~ What letter is this?
~ Please read this [number] for me.
~ Please point to the word "water."
~ What does the label say people should do if they take too much of this?
~ What kind of information does this section provide?
~ Have you ever seen this before? [to determine participants' background knowledge]

FAN measured oral reading fluency: reading aloud, in English, from letter lists, digit lists, word lists and text passages. Directions and questions are provided in English or Spanish.
~ total words read correctly
~ total words read per minute (whether correctly or not)
~ words read correctly per minute
~ words read correctly as a percentage of total words read

Some Findings:

~ ~ 7 million adults, about 3%, could not complete even the most basic literacy tasks in the main assessment and were given the supplemental assessment.
~ ~ Adults who took the main literary assessment were able to read, on average, 98 words correctly per minute (wpm), in comparison to 34 wpm by those in the supplemental assessment.
~ ~ The average Basic Reading Skills [ BRS ] score for adults in the
supplemental assessment was 64 points lower than the score for adults in the main assessment population.
~ ~ There was a higher percentage of older adults, 65 and older, in the supplemental assessment.
~ ~ The % of adults living below the federal poverty threshold in the Below Basic prose and supplement
al assessment populations was also higher than the percentage of adults in these populations from other income categories. Among adults with Below Basic prose literacy, 44 % lived in families with incomes below the poverty line, as did 58 % of adults in the supplemental assessment.

Educators, policymakers, and others can also use this previously unavailable literacy information to develop programs and materials that aid the least-literate Americans in such areas as employment, health, and civic participation.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Adult Literacy - California

Small Good News: Extra! Extra! (Help Someone) Read All About It. Huffington Post: May 4, 2009 by Karen Stabiner

If you can read this, imagine for a moment that I'm using the Cyrillic alphabet. A couple of letters here and there might seem familiar, and you might be able to guess a word or two. But mostly you'd be out of luck, which is how illiterate adults, one in seven Americans, feel all the time - 3.4 million of them in California alone.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 23% of California adults lack what the Department of Education calls "prose literacy" skills. They may be able to decipher prescription instructions or a DMV application, but they will not be reading their kids to sleep any time soon.

I mention California because we're broke, hanging onto our statewide bank balance by the slimmest of threads, 5,000 teachers fired and counting, and under those circumstances it is depressing but not surprising that the state intended to eliminate adult literacy funding from the budget. And yet at the moment statewide programs are still alive, because advocates have fought back to make sure they got continued support -- because people like Kristi Breisch feel that teaching adults to read is both an honorable and a practical thing to do. Breisch has worked for several regional offshoots of the California Library Literacy Services program, as well as for ProLiteracy Worldwide; for fifteen years she's been involved in what is essentially a save-the-word campaign, to ensure that adults to want to learn to read can find a place to do so. READ MORE !