Literacy Today

Our topic this week in EC&I 832 is to consider literacy. What is literacy today? Does being literate today mean the same thing as it did a hundred years ago? Or even a decade ago? Traditionally, literacy has tended to be referred to as the ability to read text.

This begins with our kindergartens learning their alphabet, and as they progress into grade one, they gain strategies to apply their letters and sounds to decoding unknown words. They learn how to physically read text. Students begin to realize what sentences are, and string words into sentences to generate meaning.While learning to read, our young learners simultaneously learn how to write down these all important letters and, eventually, begin to construct their own messages and meaning in on paper

Indeed, according to thefreedictionary.com, literacy can be defined as:

1. The condition or quality of being literate, especially the ability to read and write.

As an LRT, a large amount of time and energy is spent problem solving students who do not progress with these physical literacy skills as we believe they can. And rightly so. The importance of these skills is extremely important, and will continue to be.

That said, I think our view of literacy, and what it truly means, is changing. Has already changed, actually. Consider, The government of Saskatchewan defines literacy as: “…the set of knowledge, skills, practices and behaviours that allow all of us to interact with each other”

I much prefer this definition, and believe it reflects the wide (ening) array of skills that encompass what it means to be literate.

Technology Assisted Reading

To begin with, as I discussed as part of my blog post last week, a student not progressing with the physical decoding and reading skills mentioned a moment ago will no longer be at a standstill in terms of participating with our curriculum. No longer do our most challenged students, with reading, need to rely on a supportive adult to scribe their thoughts.

Software with the ability to accurately read text has proliferated, and is now as easy to set up as as a quick installation of the Google Read&Write. Written expression is likewise easily supported with a plethora of speech-to-text software choices for dictating thoughts spoken aloud directly onto our screen.

The usefulness and convenience of these applications and software have rendered them as general use, for everybody. How easy is it to send a text by voice as you cook dinner? Any remaining perception of these tools being specifically designed only for those with literacy learning disabilities have vanished.

What is Literacy Then?

What does it actually mean to be literate, then? I find myself going back to the definition provided by the government of Saskatchewan. “…the set of knowledge, skills, practices and behaviours that allow all of us to interact with each other”

This certainly feels bigger than simply reading text off a page, no? This is where we find ourselves talking about literacy in terms of the age we live in. We don’t live in an age of print on paper. We live in an age where we are bombarded with media from all directions. We participate in social media where we potentially interact with millions of people.

We live in an age where there is so much readily available media, that it is not physically being able to read the text that is most important, but understanding the meaning behind what you are reading. Dr. Rob Williams speaks directly to this point at this juncture of his TED Talk, embedded below. He talks about “blowing up” and “expanding” the old definition of literacy. We need to consider the power of images to persuade us.

Media Literacy

In her vlog on media literacy, Erin Wiley shares Dr. Williams one word definition of media literacy: skepticism. She further talks about the idea of deconstructing media; knowing that all media is created by somebody, and being created for some reason.

In her video, Staci Senger also discusses literacy as encompassing many skills, like media literacy and digitally literacy. Like Erin, she succinctly discusses the importance of being able to decipher who created a message, and for what purpose.

As I see it, being literate, in the sense that the government of Saskatchewan defines it, means being skilled in interpreting these sources of media, which are such an important part of our daily interactions.

Fake News

Anybody following political discourse over the past few years will likely bed fed up hearing about fake news. The term gets thrown around, a lot.


Annoying as one may be (maybe just me) the rise of fake news is a very real, and dangerous phenomena. The dangers of fake news are described in great detail Ali Velshi in his Tedtalk:

Fake news isn’t an annoyance. It is the very real, and deliberate effort to peddle misinformation in order to distort and cloud the truth. I get it… when we are saturated with as many as 10 000 media messages per day (Thanks Luke), the idea of being able to decipher fact from fiction, truth from lie, becomes daunting indeed.

Intimidating, actually.

And if it’s intimidating for me, as a more or less matured adult, who selectively partakes in social media…. how hard would it be to separate news from fake news for the youth in our schools who immerse themselves in social media from the moment they wake to the moment they drop to bed?

A study on fake news concludes, with depressing clarity, that fake news proliferates much easier than true news. They point to the chilling notion that fake news, not encumbered by the burden of reality, tap into and evoke strong human emotions, leading them to be shared more widely and quickly.

We’re not talking about kids here. We’re talking about our adult population…

So, Again, What is Literacy?

As we head into a discussion on fake news this week, I feel very strongly that we need to broaden our definition of literacy. Well, I guess it’s already been broadened… it’s worth pointing to the Government of Saskatchewan’s definition of literacy once more:

“…the set of knowledge, skills, practices and behaviours that allow all of us to interact with each other”

I think they’ve hit the nail right on the head. With the effect of fake news becoming clear, it only adds a sense of urgency to this message that we, as teachers, need to take the lead on.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

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