Friday, January 8, 2010

What Is Literacy?

Dictionary Definition

According to the dictionary, literacy means: the condition or quality of being literate, especially the ability to read and write. The condition or quality of being knowledgeable in a particular subject or field: cultural literacy; biblical literacy; to acquire computer literacy.


I do not think anyone would argue that literacy, at its core, means to be able to read and write. I have seen, however, people argue intensely that literacy is ONLY reading and writing and nothing else. This bothers me...

I came across a great article today on "" which spoke briefly on this topic. Below is an excerpt from that article:

Child Literacy

It stands to reason that children who read and write more are better at reading and writing. And writing blog posts, status updates, text messages, instant messages, and the like all motivate children to read and write. Last month, The National Literacy Trust released the results of a survey of over 3000 children. They observed a correlation between children’s engagement with social media and their literacy. Simply put, social media has helped children become more literate. Indeed, Eurostat recently published a report drawing a correlation between education and online activity, which found that online activity increased with the level of formal activity (socio-economic factors are, of course, potentially at play here as well).

The full article "How Social Media Has Changed Us" can be found here:

If writing blog posts, status updates, text messages, instant messages, and such, motivate our students to read and write (literacy), than why are we not encouraging this behavior? Literacy has come a long way since the definition of the word was placed in the dictionary. So many skills, computer skills and beyond, have become part of what it means to be literate. Teaching kids simply to read and write out of a book alone is no longer enough. We need to teach reading and writing in schools in various ways and find the avenues in which students are motivated to go above and beyond in developing the skill. We need to change our mindset from "What do I want them to learn" to, "How will they learn the skill I am teaching in a way that matters to them..."

Side Note

Literacy today travels far beyond simply reading and writing. Skills are needed to become fully "literate" today that did not exist ten years ago. As I was reading I also found another great piece on "10 Ways to Learn in 2010" from Below is an excerpt followed by a link to the whole article. I really found this first "way to learn" interesting and pretty cool!

Learn through Visual Search Engines

How would you like your search engine to show results in a collage? Spezify does just that. It’s a visual search engine that draws content from all over the Web, particularly social media sites. Your collage might show a book from Amazon, a YouTube video and a page from a blog or web site. You drag the results to navigate the page and then click the graphic to view the media. Although the results might not be as robust as with conventional search engines, it’s a lot more fun. Other visual search tools include: viewzi, Kart00 and search-cube.

You can read the whole article here:

With the way media and "visual stimulation" bombard our students today, this type of a search engine could work wonders when motivating students to research and study.

Final Thought

I guess what it comes down to for me is answering the question, "What is Literacy?" There is a broad spectrum of answers to this question but I feel that in order for us to be able to answer it fully, we must first embrace the changes and shifts that are happening. Once we do, we will be able to define, for ourselves and our students, exactly what literacy is and what they will need to be literate in the future...

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