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  • Real Superheroes: How FSU Helps Improve Literacy Rates

    By Josh Duke | January 29, 2019 | Posted in: Blog

    Reading is closely tied to a child’s development, which explains why so many educators and researchers are wary of the lack of reading time in American homes. According to a 2017 study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 65% of American fourth graders do not read at “a proficient level.” To help address this issue, a group of Florida State University scholars, faculty and alumni have come together to improve literacy rates for students.

    Yaacov Petscher (Sport Psychology M.S. ’04, Measurements & Statistics M.S. ’05) serves as the deputy director of the National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL). Petscher and his team at NCIL evaluated a number of formats, searching for the perfect way to reach students in a relatable, accessible and creative manner. Eventually, they decided on creating a comic. NCIL’s mission is to help students with improve literacy, even if they have literacy-related disabilities such as dyslexia. The comic series, titled A.R. Chronicles, is one of the center’s most successful and collaborative, bringing in a number of artists, writers and contributors, including Nicole Patton Terry, who is the Olive & Manuel Bordas Professor of Education in the FSU School of Teacher Education.

    A.R. Chronicles follows Kayla, a young student who is settling into a new school year. The first issue explores her nervousness of reading aloud in front of her peers on the first day of class. The second issue involves Kayla and her aunt talking about her difficulties reading as they search for a friend’s cat. Both issues incorporate fantasy elements that convey the anxiety and struggle Kayla has reading.

    Growing up, Petscher was drawn to comics, especially the team-up series like Justice League and X-Men. “I love the idea of trying to create something that can be honest about what people are feeling and thinking … in a way that a child could identify with and say, ‘Hey that’s me,’” says Petscher.

    Patton Terry believes that the best comics are parallel to the experiences of students struggling to read. “They’re all about the underdog or unexpected hero,” she says. “They champion the notion that there’s greatness in everyone, that everyone has unique talents and gifts that can be used for the good of all of us.”

    Creating Kayla’s story in comic book form couldn’t come at a better time. Patton Terry points out that interest in comic books has reached new heights, thanks in part to films and cartoons. “Really, comics have always been a really stellar platform for helping kids understand and relate to the world’s most complex issues,” she says. “Today’s comics are continuing that tradition. The characters are increasingly diverse. The storylines are increasingly relevant to today’s headlines. The problems are increasingly complex. And all the while, the medium – the comic itself – is always fun and engaging, leaving the readers always eager to know what happens next.”

    Comic books are also a great gateway into reading and to help improve literacy rates. Researchers like Petscher are interested in how illiteracy and low literacy impact society in other ways, as well. Petscher cites UNESCO studies that show poor literacy costs around $225 billion a year. Furthermore, poor literacy rates are tied to extreme poverty in countries around the world. There may even be a connection between literacy rates and incarceration. Petscher points out that 65% of all state and federal corrections inmates are classified as low literate.

    Inspiring a child to read at a young age can change the trajectory of his life. It is the hope of people like Patton Terry and Petscher that projects like A.R. Chronicles can encourage more and more children to love reading, even if they struggle or have a literacy-related disability. Stories like Kayla’s will hopefully provide young readers with an identifiable and relatable character. Petscher hopes that in the future, A.R. Chronicles can reach even more children, and he is hoping to work with a publishing partner to increase access. NCIL is even exploring translating the world of A.R. Chronicles into literacy games.

    For now, children and parents can enjoy A.R. Chronicles and Kayla’s story online at improvingliteracy.org. The organization also provides other reading resources for parents, teachers and caregivers to support and encourage reading skills. Another great resource is FSU’s Florida Center for Reading Research. Not only does the FCRR provide educational resources, but it also suggests ways to improve literacy in the community.

    Interested in helping the next generation of students love reading? Want to be a superhero in the classroom? Check out the complete list of programs available at the FSU College of Education and begin your own adventure in education!