Developing Literacy

May 31, 2008 at 1:17 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy, literacy, Technology | 16 Comments

The first weekend of this class we started off examining what NYS identifies as essential ELA standards for reading/writing/listening/speaking K-12. Since then we’ve built bridges by implementing literacy strategies into the content areas to strengthen student learning and understanding. Learning to effectively use literacy strategies in the content areas is challenging in itself for new teachers. Now think about the larger picture of 21st century literacies. Click here to read what The National Council of Teachers of English writes on the subject. To further examine the changing view of literacy, go to the K12 Online Conference site and watch the presentation by Clarence Fisher entitled, “Globally Literate” and read the comments about the presentation.

How have these or other sources further changed and/or challenged your thinking about 21st century literacy?



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  1. “Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.”

    While I agree wholeheardtedly with this statement, I believe it is important to point out that many of the students in the 21st century only have technological literacy. In many instances, our students can run circles around us. I know that is the case with me. These students have gone so far as to create a technological language that has spilled over into their actual written work. I think it is of utmost importance that the expectations are clear in what we look for in student discussions. The use of language the students use online is scary in my mind. The kids end up speaking like they write and it really makes them sound uneducated, a trait that is frowned upon when interviewing for a job, for example. Articles such as Digital Kids give parents a wake up call about the happenings in their own home.

    After listening to Clarence Fisher’s presentation, he says we need our students to be creative and innovative. I realize that students have been creative and innovative, however, we need to channel their creativity in order to get effective results. This is done by modeling for our students.

    Even in my math class room, I have to be aware of different literacies. Sometimes, current events require us to step back and let the students learn. Prior to September 11, 2001, how many of our students truly understood what the Taliban regime was? Prior to September 11, how many of our students had any appreciation for Arabic languages? Prior to September 11, how many of our students understood other religions that their own? I believe topics such as these need to be discussed and explored. One source of information is simply not enough. With the introduction of technology, our own students thoughts can be heard and read globally. This is powerful stuff!

  2. Oh yeah, I love what Wesley Fryer has to say here!

  3. In Clarence Fishers presentation, he talks a lot about how much more complicated now with all the various forms of tools that literacy is connected with today. I think it is much more complicated however having all the different options available to us can help us a lot if we are willing to use them. In expanding on what Jason was saying on how the kids are starting to speak as if they were talking online and it making them sound uneducated. I was reading a blog on Washington vs. Clinton and one quote from it that really grabbed my attention was, “Our literacy has changed so much in the last few centuries that I doubt George Washington could be elected today.” It was an interesting blog actually that I encourage others to read comparing George Washingtons inaugural address with that of Bill Clintons.

    I also agree with the quote Jason cited in how important it is to possess a wide range of abilities and types of literacies. In order to stay ahead of the game, we constantly need to be on the offensive and utilizing all these different types of tools. One wesite I found that seems to be very proactive in 21st century literacy is 21st century literacy I went through the website and it has many features they are trying to push in their effort to educate students in the 21st century some of which I’m familiar with and other I am not and need to get more information on.

    Reading these different sources and listening to Clarence Fisher, I realize how much more I still need to learn and hopefully I don’t get overwhelmed by all this new information in the process.

  4. Jason,
    I’m curious about your thinking regarding the statement in which you wrote, “…many of the students in the 21st century only have technological literacy.” This could be a post in itself and elicit quite an interesting exchange of ideas!

  5. Shaun,
    Thanks for sharing the great links – I especially enjoyed reading Pete Reilly’s blog post, Changing World, Changing Literacy that you linked. Pete writes, “If we want teachers, students, and administrators to change the way they do things, we need to provide them with the context for why change is necessary. Make no mistake, when we talk about utilizing new technologies in the process of teaching and learning, we are talking about serious change.” What is amazing about this class of 10 grad students is that each and every one of you has demonstrated the open-mindedness that is critical for taking the steps towards using technology to make the necessary change in the classroom.

  6. My first instinct was to look up the definition of literacy in the dictionary and remembered to search in the wikipedia.
    “The traditional definition of literacy is considered to be the ability to read and write, or the ability to use language to read, write, listen, and speak. In modern contexts, the word refers to reading and writing at a level adequate for communication, or at a level that lets one understand and communicate ideas in a literate society, so as to take part in that society. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has drafted the following definition: “Literacy” is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society.” In modern times, illiteracy is seen as a social problem to be solved through education.”

    The bullets from the resource and the definitions clearly indicate the need for blogging to communicate (or to be “literate”) in today’s society. After listening to the presentation by Clarence Fisher, one of the first things presented was the meaning or definition of literacy today. It was interesting to note how the history of “text” has changed. I had never thought of reading the text on the computer compared to how a page in a book is read. It is instinctive to go from left to right and top to bottom, but when reading text online on a website—–where do you start? What comes first? One of the biggest challenges in becoming “literate” is to learn how to read text electronically and decipher out the information that is not needed. This is not an easy task for someone who pays a lot of attention to detail.

    The presentation also made the distinction between searching for information and finding information. And, once found, is the information reliable? Being able to determine the validity of information from the internet also involves being “information literate”. After reading some articles from the American Educator and going to their website, I discovered that ETS has created a new standardized test that measures how well high school and college students can use computer software and judge the validity of information they find online called the ISkills test The MST Literacy class has opened my eyes as to what it means to be literate in the “modern day”.

    Our group project is to research how cell phones can be used as an educational tool in and out of the classroom. There is a wealth of information about this from Wesley Fryer I text my son’s cell phone more than we speak, but I never would have considered giving my number to my students for communication!

  7. What struck me most about Clarence’s presentation was teaching students how to evaluate the accuracy of what they are reading online.

    I find I am very sceptical of some sources of information that I have accessed, and was surprised to realize I had begun a habit of looking for the verifying information that Clarence described–is the information current (what is the date?), are the links active? who is the author and what else can we find out about him/her? what more can I find out about this website? The idea that this can be taught to students, like so many other literacy strategies–and now ‘online literacy strategies’–seems so obviously worthwhile, now that I’ve been exposed to it.

    I liked a previous post’s (was it Tracy in “Say Hello’?) suggestion that perhaps “literacy” needs to become a core class in school. The significance it has on people’s life surely can justify the time dedicated to it.

    The rapidity with which tools for navigating the web are evolving(what is the difference between Web 1.0 tools and Web 2.0??) I find breath-taking–and encouraging. Found myself on the other night, investigating books to post on the class Wiki. Amazon has a (new to me) section entitled “Customer Discussions” (see example at the bottom of the page here ) in which people can request recommendations for books, post feedback, ask questions. It seems like a similar approach to blogging, but without a moderator. And at the moment, without any organization, or assistance sorting through the 300+ topics currently active. There is no obvious link on Amazon’s home page, and I don’t know quite why it appeared with this book, and not others… However, I anticipate that as this becomes more popular at Amazon, someone will make this a more sophisticated source–such is my faith in this rapidly changing technology.

    Also, as relates to Clarence’s talk, I looked into the link “What’s This?” next to “Customer Discussions” on the site, and saw that Amazon had basically written up what makes for a good post (on this site, or on a blog for that matter) which makes me think that kids who are utilizing these online technologies/resources will learn how to use them whether we overtly teach them or not–it’s just a matter of what standards we are striving for–which I believe Jason emphasized we, as teachers, need to model for the students.

  8. Coming into this class, I honestly thought literacy just meant being able to read and comprehend what you are reading.

    Listening to Clarence talk, it amazed me to hear that at one time literacy was considered being able to sign your own name (something my 5 yr old nephew can do), or even reading to yourself silently (imagine the library around exam week if this wasn’t so!).

    Now I can see that there are a lot more types of literacy, from on-line texts, to video’s, photo’s, or even RSS feeds. I liked how Clarence talks about the reliability of text on the internet, since that is where kids get most of their information from. Is the site credible? Is it reliable? Can they trust the info? Do they know how to back up this information?

    AT&T Pacbell defines 21st century literacty as “21st Century Literacies refer to the skills needed to flourish in today’s society and in the future.”

    This will include being able to read through a web page, text messages, text books, newspapers, videos, etc…
    They need to know how to skim through stuff to pick out the important information

    Alvin Toffler said “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” This quote means that to be literate in the 21st century you have to be able to learn new things, because times they are a changing.

  9. I forgot to mention, after going to the Washington vs Clinton inagural speech link that Shaun wrote on 6-5, I am, sad to say, not surprised. If my memory serves me correctly, I don’t think George Washing even graduated from a high school, although, I could be wrong!

    The language of today is giong down hill, and fast! I hate when I am subbing and kids say that “You must be trippin Mr. C” My only reply is…I haven’t moved!

    I know what they are talking about, but it is just horrible english to speak like that.

    Literacy is changing, and not in a good way.

  10. I really liked how the Fisher movie talked about how literacy is constantly changing no matter where or when you live. I never really thought about it but it makes sense. I found it interesting that books came about because of religious persecution. The readers had to have something small so they could conceal it. The scrolls of the time were too large and would get them punished for their religious beliefs.

    One major change I learned from the movie was that the skills of literacy are changing. The students now not only have to have advanced skills to comprehend the text, they also need advanced skills to find the text. I went searching for more information on this subject and found some amazing podcasts. One podcast that caught my attention was about net savy users changing and expanding the way we teach. <a href=”″The Changing Literacy Landscape: An Interview with Kathleen Tyner, talks about how students bring informal media practices to school and are told to leave them at the door while they are taught by out dated methods. Many educators teach this way because they haven’t been exposed to, or don’t understand the new media techniques. It takes education on our part in classes like this to understand and teach the children up to date techniques that they may already be using.

  11. sorry, here is the link to The Changing Literacy Landscape: An Interview with Kathleen Tyner

  12. Web 2.0 is dramatically different from the world wide web we saw in the 1990’s, yet I, like David, had not really thought about how remarkably different web literacy had become at the same time. Considering the four elements of web literacy that Clarence Fisher talked about, access, comprehension, evaluation, and response, we have had the ability to do the first three for many years. When it comes to searching for or accessing information, many our students (and us) have become too reliant on Google. It is a great tool, but as Fisher reminds us, we have other tools in the kit. Once the students access information, they need to know how to interpret the information. Is there an agenda or slant to the story? Is the information valid? As Rick noted, Noodletools has useful information on 21st century literacy.

    In addition, consumers of online content should really be interacting in an appropriate, meaningful way with the authors of the “text” that they read. I put the word in quotes because as the Center for Media Literacy notes, text is much more than the written word. It could be audio or visual media, where the visual media is not words, but art or graphs. We just happen to be reading it with our ears or eyes in ways differently than we would the written word. Until very recently, I would not have included listening to podcasts in my definition on literacy, but I do now.

    Another aspect of Fisher’s presentation that struck me, is that having the technical know how is not as important as shining a light which Jason linked to above. The internet is not an entirely Demon-Haunted World, but students should use their skills to discern fact from fallacy and to shed light their own lights on the information that they find.

  13. My link for Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World was a little off.

  14. It is amazing to me, just as Jason said, how so many of the students can navigate through so many different technological aids we have nowadays. It is also amazing how using the technology is such a motivational tool for the students. One of my main issues and frustrations, though, just like Jason, is getting the students to be more professional when they are writing in the classroom. A large population of the students tend to use chat or “IM-speak” when they are writing in the classroom and weaning them off of that is very difficult. On the blog, it says “Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups.” I understand and enjoy the fact that because technology changes, literacy will change as well; but does this mean that the future of literacy includes the chat-speak and all the abbreviations? Hmm..idk!  Part of the ELA standards include language for information and understanding. If students are using this language as a way of understanding what they are learning, is it necessarily bad?

    One of my favorite technological tools to use in the classroom is the graphing calculator. Although it is not necessarily a tool that the students are already familiar with (and won’t leave their houses without), it is still a technology that is extremely useful. I think that the fact that students are familiar with computers, iPods, cell phones, etc, lends itself to the fact that students tend to pick up on the use of the graphing calculators in the classroom. I discovered this year that one of my students who really struggles with math (especially paper and pencil work) really enjoys using the graphing calculator. A student who normally complains about school and the work he has to do is always saying how anything he does in the graphing calculator is so “cool.” Furthermore, his paper and pencil work, with the aid of the graphing calculator, has greatly improved, as well as his general comprehension of the mathematics involved. My main frustration with this is that they are not allowed to use these calculators in middle-school high-stakes exams. Although it is critical that students should be able to do the mathematics required without a calculator, where does the fine line go when students’ interest, motivation, and education are all at risk? This is an interesting blog where the bloggers create images on their graphing calculators and include all the equations necessary to create the image on the graphing calculator. How interesting!

    I also found a website called Technically Speaking which discusses how important it is for members of society today to be technologically literate in order to function. Check out the quotation by Thomas Jefferson on the website—even though he said it in 1820, it still applies today, when technology is rapidly changing.

    Technological literacy is not only crucial for anyone in today’s society, but it is much more important for teachers to really understand it in order to promote it and use it in a positive manner.

  15. The revolution has begun, and it will be televised…and podcasted, youtubed, and blogged about. The transition from pre-web education to post-web education is already taking place before our very eyes, and until taking this class, I haven’t even noticed. As George mentioned, the web of today is incredibly different from the web of ten years ago, perhaps of even one year ago! In my opinion, if educators continue to not only disallow, but fight against, the current technologies that our students are using, education will continue to decline in this country. While the old school is still the dominating force in our education centers today, the new school is coming in, and they are aware of the 21st century technologies available to them and their students. And, much to the chagrin of conservative administrators, they are not afraid to use them.

    David Warlick of 2 Cents Worth is a well-known supporter, and implementer, of technology in his classrooms. He is the creator of a powerful tool called PiNet that allows teachers to create their own classroom world online. There are a plethora of tools available to not only current teachers, but prospective teachers, including collaboration tools to link your class with other classes.

    Literacy has always been a concern to the American society, all the way back to the days of the New England Primer. Traditionally, literacy has described a one’s ability to read, write, listen, and speak, in a coherent and understandable manner. However, in today’s society, a new branch of literacy has been developed – eLiteracy. Many of our students may not be literate in by the strict definition of the word, however, many of these same students are eliterate. Our students can surf the web, watch youtube videos, text one another, and so on, and so on. These activities all involve literacy to one extent or another, so why not take advantage? By creating a classroom that appeals to the things our students are doing, we can make education more appealing to these young minds than ever before.

    I pose the question to all of you: With our education system in such a state of disgrace in our country, how long are we to sit back and watch? At what point does the situation become too dire that it evolves into helplessness? I agree, introducing technology into the classroom, and still meeting the curriculum requirements set forth by New York State, is a great challenge. It is the beginnings of a new reformation taking shape. Reform is not easy. With or without us, it will take place. We are on the cusp of an educative revolution. Are you in or are you out?

  16. 21st literacy is evolving at an extraordiary pace. Although I was aware of the tools of digital literacy I had never created anything, I never really needed to. A PEW internet report, Dec 19, 2007, writes of the social importance of these new tools to students. The article also describes the numerous ways students are using digital literaciecs and provides fascinating statistics on their usage. We should capitalize on this social aspect and use the collaborative power of the latest digital literacies for engaging our students.

    The National Research Council, 2000 writes of the value in using Inquiry for Science education. Inquiry requires collaboration. What better way to achieve our goals in Science education than the use of Blogs and Wiki’s? Stephen Downs wrote the article
    Educational Blogging. In this article Downs writes of the power of Blogs and Wiki’s from the students perspective. So what are the barriers? Why aren’t we using these technologies?

    In the article “Examining Literate Lives as Students Engage With Multiple Literacies” by Tierney, Bond and Bresler pg359–367 the authors write “With the increased emphasis on accountability, many teachers have retreated to teaching what is testable. And, what is testable seems tied to traditional teaching objectives rather than the new literacies and multimodal and media based learning technologies.” If we are to teach inquiry we need to embrace the use of the new digital literacies and allow testability to take a second priority.

    In Clarence Fisher’s video he urges teachers to guide students in the use of digital literacies. He points out, among many concerns, that although students may be adept at the tools they may not comprehend what they are reading or be equipped to separate a reliable source from a bogus source. But how are teachers to guide their students? In an article in eschoolnews the authors write “Although they often have access to computers and the internet in their classrooms, many teachers don’t feel adequately prepared to use technology to enhance their lessons”. From this article and my own observations I suggest that we need to improve on the training of digital literacies for teachers and provide better access and better software for our students.

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