________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 12 . . . . February 2, 2007


Real Life Literacy: Classroom Tools That Promote Real-World Reading and Writing.

Kathy Paterson.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2006.
128 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-204-3 (pbk.).

Subject Headings:
Reading (Elementary).
Reading (Secondary).
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Elementary).
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Secondary).


Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4


The tasks that drive the real-life literacy lessons in this book represent our culture; they are another form of communication. Direct instruction in achieving them and dealing with their intricacies and even idiosyncrasies will provide students with another way to make meaning of their world.

In Real Life Literacy, Kathy Paterson makes it clear that she believes educators need to go beyond traditional basic language arts notions of reading, writing, speaking and listening. As Paterson correctly states, successfully negotiating the challenges of everyday Twenty-first Century life necessitates the ability to succeed with practical, real life literacy tasks that often go unseen in language arts classrooms. Completing forms, deciphering labels, balancing bankbooks, following schedules and timetables, using address books and constructing resumes are all challenges that many people face without having experienced schoolroom practice with such responsibilities.

     In Real Life Literacy, Paterson includes instructional ideas for having students work with such tasks — what Paterson describes as genuine, purposeful, functional literacy tasks. As an example, writing about medicine container labels, Paterson states that providing children with practice in deciphering these labels is an important, practical activity “well worth classroom time.”

     The book includes 25 real life literacy lessons contained within six themes:
1. Messages (including such things as thank you notes, classified advertisements and instructions);
2. Labels (medicine, food and clothing labels);
3. Money (including things such as ordering products, methods of payment and working with bankbooks);
4. Non-fiction (working with resources like timetables and schedules, phone books, glossaries and entertainment guides);
5. Planning Tools (personal planners, calendars, address books and timetables);
6. Forms (including resumes, cover letters and job applications).

     Each lesson is divided into three sections. The first, preparing, section includes motivational activities to get students ready for learning. The second, presenting, section focuses on ways for teachers to teach the information relevant to the topic. The final, practicing, section for each lesson includes tasks for students to perform to solidify their knowledge and demonstrate their learning.

     I do have some reservations about Real Life Literacy. For instance, Paterson includes vocabulary words as marginal notes. Given the text is intended as a resource for educators, rather than their students, I found these largely unnecessary. For instance, for a professional audience, is it really necessary to define words like legible, expiry, invoice, glossary, memo, catalogue and index? Although it is not stated, perhaps these vocabulary words and definitions serve as indicators of the words students need to know.

     Toward the end of the book, Real Life Literacy drifts away and loses focus. Paterson tries to be all things to all people. I find the last chapter of the book unnecessary. In that final chapter, Paterson writes about being a good colleague and a good representative for one’s school. In the final appendix, she also highlights “possibly problematic” amounts of sugar, fat and salt in food. This loss of focus is unfortunate, especially given that elsewhere, Real Life Literacy is straight to the point. Throughout, Paterson does not spend time theorizing but moves quickly to practical applications.

     Another concern that I have is that, because all forms are so different, it is difficult to say that one is going to set out with the aim of teaching children how to fill out forms. What forms? Having said this, however, Paterson does correctly state that, although different, forms generally have common features, and dealing with these common features is something we can teach.

     Paterson states that the book is intended for use with students from grade 5 to 12. I would suggest some tasks, like writing thank you notes and invitations are more suitable for even younger students.

     Most teachers will find lots of value in Real Life Literacy. It offers a range of useful ideas and black line masters that teachers can use to endow students with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the world beyond the classroom.

     Page 50 reflects the overall theme of the text:

“If, as I believe, the aim of education is not just knowledge, but action, effective living, and personal freedom, then we, as teachers, need to address ordering, labelling, paying, claiming, posting, and financial record-keeping. For educators who want to empower their students with genuine skills for effective living, these lessons cannot be undervalued.”

     I am fond of saying that knowledge is power and that we, as educators, need to share the power. Teachers interested in empowering their students will find Real Life Literacy a useful instructional resource worthy of addition to one’s personal professional library.

Recommended with reservations.

Gregory Bryan teaches literacy education courses at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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