Literacy Redefined

Literacy is not just reading and writing

“Literacy continues to evolve as the world changes and its demands shift and become more complex.  Literacy is not only used for reading and writing, but also to increase one’s understanding of the world.”

–Adolescent Literacy Guide, Ministry of Education (Ontario), 2012

I am in the process of writing a report itemizing the ways in which I have provided literacy support to administrators, teachers , and students in my District over the course of this school year and I’m thinking about how much my role has changed in the last four and a half years.

When I came into a Literacy support position (first Program Resource Teacher and now Consultant), the most significant part of my job was to help teachers and administrators prepare students for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT).  I poured over statistics and data  and I shared it.  I created practice tests and resources.   I was also involved in co-planning, co-teaching and debriefing with teachers specifically around reading (to support our District-wide goal for continuous improvement).  I still do this, BUT…

Two years ago, I became one of the lead learners in a District-wide initiative to integrate technology. I know that a few people might look at what I do and see this as two separate job-descriptions.  I have actually been asked, “Are you working on Literacy today or 21C?” And certainly, in those early days, I too thought that the work to support teachers to use technology in their classrooms operated separately from the literacy support I provided.  Today, I see it as the same work: multi-dimensional, multi-modal, and very necessary.  Thankfully, I work with people who support this modern approach.

Consider the NCTE definition of Literacy as seen in this wordle:

Literacy

Read full Definition of 21st Century Literacies, National Council of Teachers of English, 2013 here.

This is the kind of Literacy Consultant I’ve become.  When I’m co-planning with teachers and the focus is on students using metacognition when reading, for example, I have found it to be very powerful to capture their voices using Google Forms, or Todays Meet.  It also makes sense to offer students the choice to do a close reading of text on paper or by using Explain Everything or Read and Write for Google.  I am mindful of the fact that  helping students to communicate effectively in today’s world also means showing them that they can read text using devices (that we provide or that we allow them to use) using the accessibility features on the iPad or a Chrome browser.  Students do not seem to see this accommodation as a stigma as they have in the past.  I’ve had great success having students share their metacognitive reflections and the strategies they find most effective by offering the choice of using paper and pen (or electronic doc), as well as tools like Garageband, iMovie, or other digital storytelling tools to demonstrate their learning.  When combined with the high-yield, face to face collaborative strategies that we know work with students, the literacy learning becomes even more powerful.

And how do we define text?  This video, “Effective Instruction in Reading Comprehension”, from Learn, Teach, Lead shared by Donna Fry speaks to many of the questions I’ve been asking myself.

Effective Instruction in Reading Comprehension – VIDEO – LearnTeachLead.ca
Are we defining “text” too narrowly?  How can we support students to be critically literate when they read, write, create, view, represent, etc…, if our notion of text consists only printed text or the canon?  

      • How does your District or school define literacy?
    • What are the implications of looking at digital literacy as separate from Literacy? Numeracy? Assessment? vs the benefit of integrating it (both at the District level and at the Ministry level)?
  •  What courageous conversations need to be had to open up the definition in order to truly support our students to make sense of the world around them?

     At the time of writing, George Couros’s #EDUin30w7 question asked:

There are lots of great submissions to the #EDUin30w7 hashtag that are worth taking a look at!  Would love to hear about your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Literacy Redefined

  1. Timothy

    I absolutely agree with your implied idea that we must teach technological literacy if we wish to prepare our students for the future. Of course to do so we must first become technologically literate ourselves. I would think that a first step in this process would be to understand how the web and computing affect our students lives.
    If we are interested in democracy we might ask who controls these powerful tools? In your example I wonder if teachers and students are aware of how Google uses the information it scrapes from the interactions you describe? I wonder if an awareness of Richard Stallman’s observations about proprietary software and person freedom might change educational practice in more helpful and more decerning ways? https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/who-does-that-server-really-serve.html It is important that teachers be educated in how orchestrated and manipulative proprietary software and Server side software substitutions are. And it is extremely important that we begin to understand there are alternatives to the purposefully limiting iThings. https://medium.com/backchannel/why-i-m-saying-goodbye-to-apple-google-and-microsoft-78af12071bd
    Yes, let’s start teaching a deep and meaningful technological literacy that is bigger than simply using proprietary software. Without teaching a technological literacy, as Professor Kostas Terzidis of Harvard asks, “When are we going to see a community of [student] – programmers sharing common source code, for their own advancement?”

    Reply

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