Dividing and Conquering

I’ve been thinking about books and literacy for a while now, thinking I better master a new tech tool before returning to the same ol’ job and finding effective ways to implement and teach … new literacies. I have developed and action plan quite yet, but Librarian by Day has got me thinking.

You don’t know this about me, but not too long ago, I was functionally illiterate. I was unable to read, write and even speak, in the culture in which I lived. I lived in Taiwan but couldn’t read or speak enough Mandarin for it to matter.  I could successfully live on the fringes of the culture by using the Internet to find sites that had been translated into English and by having friends write useful phrases for me but I knew nothing about what was in the news, what the weather forecast was or even what students had to say about the day’s lesson.

 I was reminded of that existence when Will Richarsdon wrote about his children being illiterate because in their classrooms they’re not meeting the National Council for Teachers of English definition of literacy which says they should be “designing and sharing information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.”

Remember when literacy simply meant being able to read and compute at a 4th grade level? I would call that basic, functional literacy at best today. The term ‘literacy’ has been attached to cultural-, science-, health-, financial-, math- and other terms to promote the essential information we need to have to survive in society.

For me, the essential literacy is ‘information literacy’. I think children need to be able to acquire knowledge from a variety of sources, that they should have the ability to learn from/to read from a variety of platforms, but I’m still working with that concept.

Here’s where it begins to get tricky for me. Students should learn how to read text, right? Some read it by sight, some by feel and some even within those two basic categories have a variety of ways they perceive information which makes reading text a challenge. So, we have audiobooks which provide the exact same information, but requiring a while new skill set. Rather than decoding letter combinations, they’re listening for inflections and speech patterns. Are they giving up something by not reading text, I mean they’re still acquiring information and isn’t that the important thing, that they acquire information?

This is another definition of literacy from Ed Social Media.

The definition of literacy is dynamic, evolving, and reflects the continual changes in our society.  Literacy has, for instance, expanded to include literacy in information and communication technologies and critical literacy (Cunningham, 2000; Harste, 1994; Leu, 2002; Mol1, 1994; Paris, Lipson & Wixson, 1994; Yopp & Singer, 1994).

I think this expands the definition a bit to say it’s not enough to know how to read what’s on a webpage but we need to know how to access it as well. There’s a discussion of ‘digital literacy’ and knowing how to use cameras. I would ad being able to ‘read’ an image for information.  If we don’t know social networking, are we becoming illiterate?

I think my response found clarity on TheYoungandtheDigital which discusses the digital divide. While some think the numbers which indicate high usage of cell phones among African American and Latino teens for Internet access seems to indicate a closing of the digital divide, this article keenly points out not so! No, not if they’re not using the more expensive smart phones instead of feature phones and not if they’re not creating innovative learning experiences.

The issue, of course, is not that young people’s adoption of mobile phones causes an achievement gap that began long before any of us ever heard of the Internet or mobile phones.  Rather, what is the potential for learning and engagement with mobile media in closing the learning divides that exist between low and middle income students?  The mere adoption of mobile phones is certainly not the solution to the achievement gap.  Technology—social network sites, laptops, smart phones, games, tablets, interactive books and maps—alone will never close America’s learning divide.  This is the myth of the “digital native” narrative, the notion that youth can thrive in the digital world without any adult support, mentoring, or scaffolding of rich learning experiences.  While a greater diversity of young people are using digital and mobile platforms than ever before not all media ecologies are equal.  Thus it’s very possible that if poor and working class students adopt technologies like mobile phones in environments that do not offer adult engagement and scaffolding the potential benefits in terms of learning and empowerment may not be realized. 

It’s back to my rant about blocking access rather than teaching how to use web services responsibly. Too many urban schools tell students they may not bring phones to school, may not use FB or Twitter under the guise of keeping them safe. Actually, they’re intensifying the digital divide and adding to our children’s illiteracy.

I don’t think we have to be overly careful in defining ‘literacy’. I do think exploring the term with educators, parents and students may begin getting more of us to see the ways education needs to change. While developing more literate students is critical, it’s more important to kindle the flame, to have young minds that want to learn! Maybe they already want to learn and maybe the students already know some of the literacies they need, or maybe they just know the ones they don’t need.

Can you believe people teach just for the paycheck?!

Don’t forget I’m still giving away a free book!