National Center for Family Literacy Interview

Ella Rain
Donna Elder
Donna Elder, Family Literacy Specialist

The National Center for Family Literacy is dedicated to helping families improve their lives while developing a love of learning. Donna Elder is a reading specialist, and a driving force behind the nonprofit organization, who has taken time to offer expert advice on sparking interest in reading.

Donna Elder and the National Center for Family Literacy

LoveToKnow (LTK): What inspired you to become a family literacy specialist?

Donna Elder (DE): I have always loved sharing my love of reading with my students! I have spent my career as a teacher-of children and adults. I have taught in the elementary grades and in a community college setting which included adult learners who hoped to earn a GED certificate.

I heard Sharon Darling, president and founder of the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), speak at a professional conference in Illinois more than 20 years ago. Little did I know then that I would have an opportunity to work with her!

Her presentation about family literacy and the four component model-adult education, children's education, parent education and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time helped confirm that my work in reading was important to and could have an impact on the entire family. The work of family literacy is a fantastic way to change lives and foster a love of learning.

LTK: Tell us about the National Center for Family Literacy.

DE: The National Center for Family Literacy is a nonprofit organization that is the worldwide leader in family literacy. NCFL's mission is to inspire and engage families in the pursuit of education and learning together. Sharon Darling envisioned family literacy as an "intergenerational approach to help families escape poverty through education."

NCFL is involved in providing training and technical assistance to instructors and developing tools to help parents and children learn together. We have seen parents and children raise their educational levels, and parents learn how to help their children as well as learn work skills.

LTK: What role do you play in the NCFL?

DE: I came to NCFL as a reading specialist to work on a research project with adult educators. I was involved in training and providing technical assistance to instructors and developing resources for adult learners. My experiences as an elementary school teacher have allowed me to have a part in other projects since those first two years. I have been involved in writing resources for parents and teachers as well as continuing to provide training and technical assistance to in-service teachers.

Get Kids Interested in Reading

LTK: Some children may feel inept at reading. Do any children's books stand out as tools for building confidence?

DE: There are so many great books for children! For a child, or for anyone who wants to improve their reading skills, finding a book that is interesting is key. When the book is interesting to the reader, he wants to read it and practice helps build reading skills. It can be difficult for a parent, teacher or tutor to do, but it is important to let the reader choose what he wants to read. I always told my students that if they wanted to be better readers, they had to practice in much the same way that they had to practice a musical instrument or a sport to improve.

LTK: What is the difference between high interest, low vocabulary books and typical books for young readers?

DE: High interest, low vocabulary books are written at a lower reading level but have a storyline or are about a topic that would interest someone older. These books might have more illustrations to help the reader and they will have a controlled vocabulary and simpler sentence structure. With fiction, the plot would be more straightforward and would avoid flashbacks and confusing changes in the point of view.

Improve Comprehension

LTK: What characteristics do novels for kids with reading comprehension problems have?

DE: To improve comprehension, we must encourage children to read. The best thing to do to encourage them is to help them determine what they like to read. Once we get them reading, then it is important to talk with them about what they are reading.

Talk with them about the characters, about the problem in the story and how it was resolved. Ask them to retell the story and help them think about the sequence of events that took place. Can the story be tied to something that has happened to them or that is happening in the world today?

When children are interested in and can relate to the topic or story they may be able to read at a higher level that what was expected!

LTK: Why is it important for readers to relate to the story on a personal level?

DE: When we are interested in a topic or can make a personal connection to a story, we find ourselves wanting to read-in fact, eager to read. When a reader can relate new information to familiar items or events, this helps the reader learn and remember. It is important that children have plenty of opportunities to read if they are going to become good readers. To do that, we need to be sure they have reading materials that interest them. We can help a child with comprehension when we show an interest and talk with them about what they have read.

Quick Tips for Reluctant Readers

LTK: Any quick tips for choosing books for reluctant or struggling readers?

DE: Let children choose what they want to read! We may have our own personal favorites that we want children to read, but first we need to get them hooked on reading and later we can share our favorites. We need to remember that our goal is to encourage reading and that does not have to be reading only books. We need to consider magazines-there are many written about different topic areas-and graphic novels which may be more appealing to the struggling reader because of the abundance of pictures and a smaller amount of text.

Learn More about the NCFL

LoveToKnow thanks Donna Elder for taking time to answer questions about family literacy. Learn more about the National Center for Family Literacy and its free resources by visiting the organization's website.

National Center for Family Literacy Interview