Karla Hayashi says literacy is not just about language and composition, it’s about how to use skills and knowledge to make effective change for the better.
By Lauren Okinaka.
The director of a peer-tutoring program at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is a contributing writer to the Hawai‘i State Literacy Plan (PDF) published in October 2020.
Karla Hayashi, director of Kilohana: The Academic Success Center, believes literacy is a lifelong endeavor that crosses all disciplines and is important in the development of critical thinkers and lifelong learners.
“We want our residents in the state of Hawai‘i to be literate in ways that not just allow them to function, but to be able to go beyond that and to use skills and knowledge in order to make effective changes for the better,” Hayashi says.
Hayashi was born and raised in Hilo. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English from UH Mānoa. She began her career as a faculty member in 1992 in the English departments at UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College, becoming the writing coordinator at Kilohana in 2009 and the director in 2012.
She currently represents UH Hilo on the UH System’s university-wide writing committee, which addresses policies and procedures for writing-intensive programs, courses, and articulation.
The Hawai‘i State Literacy Plan
The literacy plan, entitled “Lifelong Literacy for All,” aims to coordinate Hawaiʻi’s statewide efforts to build knowledge of best practices and expand learning opportunities for students of all ages and abilities, including English language learners, adult learners and those with learning differences. Through the mastery of skills, the goal is for all students to become motivated, effective readers, writers and communicators.
The plan is also designed to support a common understanding across many organizations and increase partnerships to support literacy learners in all settings, from families to schools and community organizations. Hayashi joined experts from 59 education organizations and institutions in providing guidance for developing literacy instruction and programs for a comprehensive literacy system in the state. Participants included the Executive Office on Early Learning, the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education, the University of Hawaiʻi System, Hawaiʻi P–20 Partnerships for Education, and numerous community organizations.
Based on the belief that being literate empowers individuals to achieve economic success and achieve their aspirations, the plan follows the International Literacy Association’s definition of literacy: “the ability to identify, understand, and communicate visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context.”
Specifically, the state plan covers literacy practices and literacy development, literacy assessment, instructional leadership and professional learning, and effective community partnerships. Hayashi’s contribution focuses on the role of higher education in professional preparation, especially in designing curriculum to train student teachers to become literacy coaches for their own students. She says every teacher should be concerned about their students’ literacy.
“Student teachers need to know from the first day of their program that each and every one of them is responsible for helping students to become more literate. It’s not just an expectation of the language arts or the composition teachers.”
Higher education faculty can teach curriculum and have discussions with student teachers that reinforce the concept that literacy is the foundation of everything they do, regardless of the academic subject they’re going to teach, Hayashi says.
Literacy is more than reading and writing
Hayashi considers the state’s literacy plan to be an educational foundation that recognizes the complexity of literacy and its application.
“When we think about what literacy means, the simple definition is what comes to mind, but it’s so much more and much more challenging in terms of how we teach somebody to become literate.”
She says it’s not only about teaching people how to read and write, but also taking that information and evaluating it. “It’s to think about ‘What is this information?’, ‘How do I use it?’, and ‘Is it accurate?’,” she says. “More than ever, I think this plan is necessary.”
Bringing people together
The collaboration on the state plan was the first time people from various organizations came together to determine the importance of literacy and how to help the community become literate. This is one aspect that attracted Hayashi to work on the plan.
“There was a literacy focus program that had a connection to the Hawai‘i Public Library in Hilo,” she says. “I had a vague understanding and awareness of other groups in the community, but this is the first time I actually met people and learned about what they did.”
Hayashi learned about the difficulties each group faced and this expanded her awareness of literacy challenges in various communities.
“I think that’s what the opportunity to work on this plan did, it made us more aware of the spectrum of work that’s going on,” she says. “Anybody here in Hawai‘i has opportunities to improve their literacy, but it’s not easy to navigate.”
“Working with people who share a common concern about wanting to help people become more informed and the skills they need to do that makes me feel like I’m part of a much larger effort.”
Story by Lauren Okinaka, who is earning a bachelor of arts in communication with a minor in English at UH Hilo.
Photo by Kirsten Aoyagi, who is earning a bachelor of arts in communication at UH Hilo.