Defining what it means to be literate, other than the ability to read and write.

May 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 3 Comments

Post written by Brad Hartstein

As a very pragmatic person I struggle with the idea of Content Literacy. In my field, Technology Education there is an organization of Technology Education teachers nationally (ITEEA) that has been striving to define what it means to be Technologically Literate. In their definition when a student leaves secondary school they should understand and be able to select a multitude of tools and options in a technological world based on effects and optimization characteristics. This is a very broad scope and definition. As Technology Teachers it is our job to prepare our student with the ability to select and use ever changing technologies. Too often in our field Teachers and Administrators assume that this means job preparation. To be clear Job preparation in any form is a vocational education and decidedly not Technology Education.

Professor Woodward, the founder Technology Education (Then Manual Arts) defined the subject as “A social study on the effect of technology on society for all students’ general education” (Woodward, 1889).

So the idea of Technology Literacy is not one of the ability to use every tool, because that would not be an education for all students. The ability to problem solve and understand the uses and selection of tools and resources will make a person Literate in Technology.

With this definition in mind how can I make my students Literate in the subject as well as the literature?  In the Literature for this course, “Teaching Content Area Literacy” by Lane W. Clarke and Kevin D. Besnoy, the authors make it clear that we need to predispose our students to the content and then provide guidance through the readings to strive for that highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy; Synthesize. The nature of Technology Education is one that demands a product, a synthesized creative final piece. It is crucial then that as an educator I provide ample understandings for my students to meet this end. With thick and heavy content readings this becomes a seemingly impossible task.

I have a question for you. As Technology changes so must my curriculums, how can I keep up with accurate and well versed documentation at the proper level when my governing body, New York State Regents Board of Education, does not clearly define what the “proximity band 11” is for technological manuscripts in its ELA standards. It clearly states what types of non-fiction and fiction pieces are reasonable by grade level. How is this defined and how then does it translate to literature of a different sort?

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  1. Brad, I think that we both ran into a similar issue when it comes to deciphering this topic of content area literacy. For me, literacy is more based on a set of universal skills and tools that are meant to apply to a variety of situations. So when it comes to differing how these general tools work for our content area, versus general problem solving and language skills, I first hit a mental roadblock. I couldn’t see past the first question; “Do you think that literacy applies to your field?”… well, yeah. In that someone will need to read some words that make sentences, and interpret their meaning, and then produce some back. Yet even though I knew testing would require this reading and responding, I was still stubborn that literacy was not integral to the core understandings needed to succeed in physics.
    This is where I realized my tunnel-vision for what literacy encompasses. I liked your mention of Bloom’s taxonomy, as that is kind of the basis for my new understanding of literacy. Instead of being the tools which help a student read and write better, I now see literacy as the tools to help them move from simple definitions and recall, into the demonstrate, examine, experiment and evaluate stages of content interaction. When I saw this it opened a whole new door for the uses of literacy skills and how I could use them to the benefit of student understanding (thus my benefit).
    As for your final thoughts, they got me worried. I know that I am still green to many things that actually happen to teachers in regards to the masses of red tape. My time as a para only introduced me to this profession that I have taken to, and I am seeing more and more how ignorant I am to the ‘requirements’ of being a teacher outside of just teaching. I had envisioned a room where a text book was only a reference material, so with no ‘appropriate’ reading materials defined by the Regents Board, how would we evaluate sources such as; internet forums, or even blogs to determine if they are appropriate for our students? Would we apply the same Flesch scale? And just have to test sources for ourselves? With the exception of magazines for current events in our areas, there does not seem to be a lot of age (reading level)-specific materials out there that would be really beneficial to the coursework.

  2. One of the things I think about here is how we set up our class presence in online spaces and how that presence connects to what students are using (device) and where they are (time & space). Many (Web 2.) web sites have the functionality to “reach out” or “ping” individuals who subscribe to the info updated on the particular site. Whether they choose to be notified via email, RSS, text, Twitter updates it’s up to them. I think we have a responsibility to use the easily available and relatively easy to use tools at our disposal.

    Understanding how these tools integrate and connect is a key to technological literacy. About 6 years ago, for me, it was understanding what RSS (Real Simple Syndication) was and how it worked. I’ll say that understanding alone helped me learn so much more related to my current position and how to access timely information.

    Texting is, as you point out, a great way to reach students regarding your class information. However, I think it’s important that we reach into as many spaces as we can (sanely and within school policy). Integrating Twitter, Facebook and other web services to add updates to web sites is easier and easier. Get a blog site, like this WordPress site, add a link on your stagnant web site and use the blog for updates, discussions, sharing, debates and pushing instant updates… there’s even a tool called Posterous which allows you to do all of this from your email.

  3. i think it’s very interesting in how you approached this arguement about literacy. But how can you be literate on a subject is the big question here in my opinion. What should you do?


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