One, Two, Three How Many Literacies?

As a Literacy Consultant, I have long been rethinking the traditional notion of Literacy as simply reading and writing.  Because I am also involved in a Board wide initiative to support teachers with technology enabled learning, I have been thinking about the concept of Digital Literacy which I have understood to be the technical skills needed to navigate the connected, digital world in which we live.

This week,  as part of a Digital Literacy course I am taking through UOIT, I realize that there are various terms that are out there that educators (including myself) often use interchangeably when talking about Digital and other literacies.

It seems that today many adjectives are placed before the word literacy.  In my readings this week alone I have seen: Media Literacy, Visual Literacy, Multiliteracies, Multi-modal literacies, Critical Literacy, Games Literacy, Web Literacy, and Information Literacy.  Even as my understanding of these terms was swirling around in my head, George Couros shared an article on Twitter by Amy Erin Borovoy in Edutopia, about News Literacy  which more narrowly defines what I would have otherwise called, Media Literacy.

David Buckingham wonders if “Literacy comes to be used merely as a vague synonym for “competence” or even “skill”.   He also suggests that the term “literacy” carries a degree of social status which may be why we associate some other terms with it. (Buckingham, 2008, p 75). Does this then mean that we dilute the term?  Does it really matter what we call it?

He uses this organizational framework which I think can apply to anything:Digital Literacy Components

Then, I watched Doug Belshaw’s talk and realized that perhaps Digital Literacy really should be plural.  Belshaw outlines the essential elements of Digital Literacies in this TED Talk:

But what is essential to everything?  What do our kids really need to do to understand the world?

If I had to choose one (and though I’m sure I will rethink this again next week) I think it’s Critical literacy which can currently be found in the English Language Arts Curriculum 1-8 and the English Curriculum 9-12 in Ontario, as well as in the front matter of every curriculum document. Critical Literacy is about questioning and contextualizing text: a skill students really need today.

Critical Literacy Curriculum

The Adolescent Literacy Guide  provides a good framework for teachers.  Consider some of the questions found there:

Critical Literacy Questions Related to Text

  • Who created/produced the text?
  • What does the author want me to know, think, or feel?
  • What assumptions does the author make about my beliefs?
  • What voices, points of view & perspectives are missing?
  • How significant is their omission?
  • What information does the author leave out?
  • Who will likely benefit from this text?
  • Is the text fair?

Critical Literacy Questions to Prompt Action in Response to a Text

  • How can I find out about other perspectives on this topic?
  • How have my attitiudes changed? Why?
  • What action might I need to take to address a concern?
  • How can I use literacy to support those who are treated unfairly?
  • How can I use literacy to make a difference in the world?

What I really like is that there is the authentic call to action; students don’t just ask critical questions but recognize that they need to do something as a result of their new understanding.

Below is a Mindomo I’ve created around the topic of Critical Literacy.  In particular, consider how easy it would be to incorporate Critical Literacy questions into day to day instruction for any subject.  And how essential that skill is for learners today!

Would love to hear your thoughts as l continue to refine my thinking further.

Leave a Reply