Annie the Movie Perfectly Shows Literacy Challenges in Urban Schools

The day after Christmas, my family went to see the movie Annie, which I had been waiting to see since September. The very talented Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx presented a modern day spin on the classic with creative new beats and lyrics while also addressing a very relevant challenge for children nationwide, illiteracy. As soon as little Annie admitted to Mr. Stacks on the big screen that she couldn’t read, my sisters eyes darted right at me since urban literacy education is my passion, purpose, and career.

Children innately want to learn to read just like they want to learn to tie their own shoe or ride a bike. Once children learn to read, they can be even more successful in school and in life. Unfortunately, the National Assessment of Education Progress reading test showed that 66 percent of American 4th graders scored “below proficient.” 80 percent of students from low-income backgrounds score below grade level in reading.

In my position, I travel to inner city and urban elementary schools from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Washington DC, New York City, and Los Angeles and work with children, parents, teachers, and administrators to improve reading instruction. In the movie, Jamie Foxx’s character hired a tutor to work one-on-one with Annie, which I was so glad to see. While there is an extreme emphasis on technology in schools and a number of websites and software developed around reading, it’s important to understand that most of these programs do not actually teach reading. In fact, no program (traditionally printed or technology based) teaches children to read; parents and teachers teach reading to our children.

Children need access to real books and teachers who can provide one-on-one or small group reading instruction to students. Research shows that children who do not read on grade level by third grade often fall behind in school for the remainder of their educational career if they do not drop out in middle or high school. I taught third grade reading one year for 75 students, whose reading levels ranged from kindergarten to fourth grade. Every single one of them were reading on grade level by the end of the year and 86 percent of them passed the state reading test. How was this possible? I used small group instruction and text on their reading level and interest level to both motivate and instruct them.

This is exactly the format (along with specific skills and strategies) that I coach teachers on in urban elementary schools nationwide to increase their students’ reading performance level. All children want to learn to read and should be given the opportunity to do so. Mr. Stacks opened a literacy center to provide this opportunity for the children in his community. I will continue to work with teachers, schools, organizations, centers, and corporations nationwide to put an emphasis on quality reading instruction for all children in our schools.

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