Setting up a strong literacy program that will build and support student reading skills in a school or district is absolutely vital to student success. If a student cannot read at a proficient level, he or she will likely not be able to keep up with the coursework in any subject. After all, if a student cannot read, he or she cannot study, read assignment prompts, or complete work efficiently. The standardized tests are nightmarish for students who cannot read them.
A literacy program should be flexible enough to help students on many different levels to improve their reading skills. A literacy program for low level readers, whether primary or under grade level readers, should contain reading materials that improve phonemic awareness. Beginning readers need access to materials that teach them letter-sound connections, and how letters come together to create words.
Reading comprehension is as important as phonemic awareness. It is not enough to just be able to piece together letters to form words; students must eventually learn how words come together to form ideas. When students reach this level, they can begin to use what they are reading to synthesize their own work, based on the ideas they have gleaned from their reading. A good literacy program will include reading materials that show students how to use decoding strategies such as "sounding out" and context clues to make sense of the words, and how to make inferences and ask and answer questions about what they have read.
Research shows that schools and classrooms wherein the instructors have the students read and write for a substantial portion of the day, in all subjects, produced stronger readers than those that kept reading and writing to an isolated portion of the school day. These students are exposed to new vocabulary words that are used repeatedly so that they students create a context for the words and learn how to remember their meanings. These students also experienced guided reading, which helped them learn strategies that helped them figure out the meanings of new words they encountered while engaging in independent reading, and how to use these words in their own writing and discussions later.
Solid literacy programs help to build strong lifelong readers, who use their proficient reading skills to excel in all subjects, and later in their college lives and careers.