Aug 23 2010

Redefining Literacy, an Introduction

Redefining LiteracyIn the introduction to his book, Redefining Literacy 2.0, author David Warlick proposes the idea that the traditional “three Rs” are no longer adequate to define a literacy in the contemporary “information landscape” (xii). It is not that the Three R’s are irrelevant or unimportant, but simply that they do not go far enough to prepare students “how to teach themselves.” As the author describes, there is a movement to increase the level of technology integration so that students might be better equipped for the new technological age in which they will be living. However, he counters, “Educators should seek to integrate literacy, rather than integrate technology” (xiii). The questions then become, what is the difference, and what does that difference matter?

Teachers—like all members of society—individually fall along a continuum of technology adoption. Some of them are very comfortable with trying out new technologies with no assistance from so-called “experts,” while some of them would rather wait until they are forced, whether by necessity or by legislation, to adopt modern ways of communication, presentation, or information gathering. There is no right or wrong in this issue; there are both positive and negative consequences of being both an early- and a late-adopter.  Rather, because of the disparity between the two different levels of adoption, Warlick’s point becomes apparent in that technology itself is not what needs to be integrated into the classroom. Why? Technology is constantly changing. Case in point: Warlick’s own book about the changing landscape of education is currently available only in paperback. As of this writing, one can not currently read this book on a Kindle e-book reader, its Barnes & Noble cousin the Nook, an Apple iPad, or even as an eTextbook. If technology is ever-changing, is it not then practically impossible to develop, test, and implement curricular changes that “integrate” these new technologies?

Instead, Warlick proposes a set of “learning literacies” (xii). Whether one is learning how to read, how to write, how to solve arithmetic problems, or how to develop PowerPoint presentations, one thing is constant: learning. Teach someone how to learn effectively, and they will never be “illiterate,” no matter what subject, skill, or concept lay before them. While a substantial majority of the computer software and hardware that today’s teachers learned when they were students are now perfectly obsolete, skills like problem solving, exploration, and creativity are as relevant now as they were when learning how to write simple programs in BASIC on an Apple IIe with a 5.25″ floppy disk drive.

“Technology” is a tool, yes, but all tools change over time. Gone are the sextants and the slide rules, replaced by distant digital relatives. The drive to discover and create, however, never have to be upgraded.

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    • amycooper on August 28, 2010 at 3:33 pm
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    Very well written! I have to laugh because when you mentioned the Apple IIe it brought me back to twelfth grade english and wordprocessing my english papers. Also, it made me think of the rather large graphing calculators we were all carrying around. I agree with your statements about “problem solving, exploration and creativity” as the cornerstones to help integrate literacy in the technology framework. I think those skills are what help the “early adopter” grasp the technologies first. Their open-mindedness and understanding that “it” won’t break just by trying it out.

    • ryancorcoran on August 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm
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    Thank you for being my first comment! I’m sad (or proud) to say that by the time I needed a graphing calculator, I actually had software on my home PC (it was an IBM PS/1 with Windows 3.1 on it) that I could use instead. I actually never had a graphing calculator of my own–I just borrowed peoples’ for tests, etc.

    • Jada Reed on August 28, 2010 at 6:41 pm
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    I like how you mention teachers being too comfortable, and how some may not want to explore technology. I have to admit that I don’t like change, but I do like technology that I can get to work. I feel the need to try it out, and get comfortable with it myself before I start using it in lessons or in the classroom. I do feel like this is why I’m having a hard time adapting to our new math curriculum in my district because I didn’t get a sufficient amount of time try it myself. However, I know the time will come when all is well, and I’ll know exactly what I’m doing! I hope!!

    • pallender on August 29, 2010 at 5:05 pm
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    I just finished posting my blog and decided I would comment on others in my group. I can tell you have been blogging for a while. I agree with you on the learning literacies presented by Warlick all learning is constant. As a technology teacher I see how some struggle with technology because of reading skills.
    I also agree with your assessment on changing technology and do not understand why the textbook is only available in paperback. I would love to get it electronically.

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