Literacy in the Modern World

Recently, my mind has been bombarded with ideas and thoughts around literacy. How is it defined in a modern, technology-based world? How do current changes affect the way literacy should be taught in the classroom?

I was lucky enough to find a twitter chat, #ntchat, focusing on literacy this week. It was a great opportunity to share ideas and collaborate with other educators to discuss what literacy looks like in the classroom today. Below is a brief summary of the chat.

Question #1: How do you define literacy? Being well-read, being able to read, or something else?

Question #2: How do we support students to acquire it – literacy?

https://twitter.com/mscdeguzman/status/436313798048096256

Question #3: What about writing? Should reading and writing be taught together? How do we accomplish that?

Question #4: What web 2.0 tools or digital tools do you use to promote literacy?

https://twitter.com/mscdeguzman/status/436316834430586882

From this chat it became clearer to me that yes, the definition of literacy is changing. Although the core values still exist, the meaning is evolving and changing because of the implications of technology, and also the need to adapt to today’s world. The overall arching theme that stuck out to me from this chat is the importance of modeling and being involved with reading and writing, the need for students to make connections to the things they are reading, the things happening in their lives, and across the curriculum, and the opportunities and abilities that we have in a technology-based school system to use incredible tools to create literate students.

Has Literacy Been Redefined?

balanced-literacy1

Thinking about the definition of literacy, it is easy to find the meaning in the dictionary explained as: “The ability to read and write.” You could think that this is correct, as reading and writing could define someone who is literate, but does literacy encompass more than simply reading and writing? How do you define a literate person?

I believe that literacy is more than being able to read and write fluently, but rather the ability to understand through questioning, making connections, learning new concepts and vocabulary, and applying those skills to writing and other texts that one reads. It’s not only books, but other sources of texts, and for me, technology has played a major role in redefining literacy. I recently came across an online book titled, Learning to Read in the Computer Age, and read a passage that helped to clarify the meaning of literacy. Below is an excerpt from chapter 5 in the book written by Anne Meyer and David H. Rose

Computers are causing us to rethink both our definition of literacy and our approaches to teaching it. We are in a transition period, beginning to move away from print-dominated classrooms where literacy learning focuses almost completely on tasks related to dealing effectively with text — learning to decode text, learning to understanding text, learning to write text. New technologies and new media are broadening our perspective on the goals of teaching literacy, shedding new light on the learners we are trying to reach, what we should teach them, and how they should be taught. Even the ways we talk about the simplest goals and tasks are beginning to change. “Write your name on your paper” no longer covers all the options. Saying to students “identify the piece of work as yours” could result in them typing their names, making a digital recording, pasting a personal logo or a scanned photo of themselves into a document, or creating a link to their home pages.

Some visionaries are already reframing our traditional idea of literacy into a subcategory called “letteracy” to make way for a more expansive definition of literacy in the modern age (Papert, 1993). Our concept of literacy has been based on the assumption that print is the primary carrier of information in our culture and that the most important skills are those that enable students to understand and express themselves in text. The new definition of literacy is based on a different assumption: that digital technology is rapidly becoming a primary carrier of information and that the broader means of expression this technology makes possible are now critical for education. Text literacy is necessary and valuable, but no longer sufficient.

How does a teacher adapt to teach the new literate student? What changes does this create for you in your own teaching practice?