Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Time to Read

A few posts back we threatened to write about our experience doing a keynote talk at the 20th anniversary conference of Time Warner's Time to Read literacy program. The time has arrived.

"Time to Read" is the largest corporate-sponsored volunteer literacy initiative in the US. The program matches targets struggling readers with volunteer reading mentors. It targets readers in three age groups – children in grades 3 to 6, teens in grades 7 to 12, and adults – using Time Inc. magazines, videos and other reference materials. Many Time Warner employees act as tutors. In addition, 10 campus literacy programs currently offer adult, ESOL and child literacy programs in their communities, supported by the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education .

Our friend and colleague, Don Leu, had suggested us as possible keynote speakers, and we duly received an invitation from the Time to Read co-ordinator, Allison Burns-Ferro. Our job was to say something about some of the new electronic literacies that teens are especially engaged in. We were sharing a session slot with Jacquie Moen, CEO for AOL's kids' service.

While we only had to speak for 30 minutes or so (although we went a bit longer), we were more challenged by this assignment and more nervous in approaching it than any other talk we have ever done. Had we known that we would be talking after Mawi Asgedom, recently interviewed by Oprah and named by Essence magazine as one of its 40 most inspiring African Americans, we might have thought twice about taking the task on.

We spoke about instant messaging, with particular reference to the kinds of 'disorders' that literacy prudes identify as being caused by coming into contact with IM. These are things like bad spelling and grammar, inability to write long sentences and to generate complex and sustained thoughts, and so on. We did our best to redress a balance.

The sessions we attended were very interesting, and we came away with a fresh perspective on corporate initiatives of this kind, and are keen to follow up the possibility of closer contacts with the program.

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