aha! Process opened my eyes to the hidden rules of social class, and my education and personal experience with hidden rules changed my perspective regarding literacy. When educators think of literacy, the needs of students come to mind. I’ve learned that a student’s reading level extends to that student’s entire household.

When my sons were young, Dianna was gifted in organizing. Her house was always spotless and perfectly decorated for every holiday, and she often had a spectacular dinner cooking even after she worked for minimum wage eight hours per day. Remaining organized was my weakness, to say the very least.

Dianna and I both had young children and spent a great quantity of time together watching our children play and grow over many years. Dianna taught me how to fold my kids’ clothes so perfectly that their drawers looked like a department store display. I taught her how to write checks to pay her bills. Dianna had a great work ethic and was gifted in many areas, but literacy was simply not one of them. She was raised in an orphanage, and her opportunities for learning were limited. While she found success in life, including adopting a child from the same background, Dianna simply never became a strong reader or developed writing skills. Decades later, when both of us were older and when technology had developed text-to-talk functions, I found myself adjusting my language via text to communicate with her.

My postsecondary education included coursework in writing to accommodate varying literacy levels. The basic principle is to write using few words that contain more than three syllables and to minimize word count. This premise is easily recognized when comparing primary school reading material to a middle school reader. In early education, we expect to see texts that consist of single syllable words, such as “see Jane run.” By middle school, student reading material has developed to challenge student reading capacity. In higher grades, reading material has a greater word count and more multisyllable words. This is basic knowledge for educators.

Dianna’s children thrived to read well beyond her ability, but her limited education, resulting from a lack of opportunity due to social class, continued to impact her family. This is where educators and institutions can fill a gap in communicating with families. While we recognize the varied literary capacity of students at different grade levels, we rarely accommodate for the possibility of parents’ ability to read and comprehend packets and emails that communicate important information for child success.