The Many Forms of Literacy
*please play this song before continuing with this section
You may be wondering what a crudely thrown together song has to do with the topic of literacy. Quite a bit, actually, but if you still don’t believe me, then it is my hope that this short blurb can change your mind.
As educators today, we have seen a significant shift in what a “literate” student looks like. There are, in fact, many other types of literacy than what we might traditionally think of. These words are seldom treated as equally important to the traditional definition of literacy, yet I could safely state that they are just as important to our students in today’s society as morphology and phonology.
Here’s a list with some brief definitions:
1. Digital Literacy- Cognitive skills that are used in executing tasks in digital environments
2. Computer Literacy- Ability to use a computer and software
3. Media Literacy- Ability to think critically about different types of media
4. Information Literacy-Ability to evaluate, locate, identify, and effectively use info
5. Technology Literacy- The ability to use technology effectively in several different ways
6. Political Literacy- Knowledge and skills needed to actively participate in political matters
7. Cultural Literacy- The knowledge of one’s own culture
8. Multicultural Literacy- The knowledge and apperciation of other cultures
9. Visual Literacy- The ability to critically read images
With this list in mind, it’s simply irresponsible to continue to teach our students based off of the old definition of literacy. This is where the song at the beginning of this blurb comes in.
When you first pressed play, all you heard was drums. It set the rhythm, built a structure for the song, but it was pretty basic. This is what teaching traditional literacy does for your kids. It provides a gateway to accessing more levels of literacy needed to successfully be literate in society. After a while of the drums, the bass came in; it added more of a foundation, while also giving the song the start of a voice. For each additional voice that was added to the song (IE guitar and vocals), the song started feeling a little bit more complete. Moving away from the metaphor, for each type of literacy that your student can utilize, the closer they are to being completely literate.
However, we don’t want to sound like we’re being too righteous here. It’s easy to say on paper that, as a teacher, you are going to teach all of these literacies to your kids and that everything will go smoothly and according to plan. This simply isn’t so. It’s a huge concern of ours that this important part of student education is dauntingly huge. It should be worrisome to all educators, future or present. Literacy is not just a topic needed to be addressed in English. It’s something that every subject matter needs to address- at least in some small part.
But unfortunately we have no solutions for those other contents, as we are focused steadfastly on our own English concentration. What we do have for us English-y types, is a somewhat new pedagogical teaching approach: Critical Literacy.