Literacy–a word for all educators.

 

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I just returned from a terrific professional learning day with my literacy counter parts from across the Northeastern region of Ontario. This session was hosted by  educators from the Curriculum and Learning Resources Policy Unit, Joanne Folville and Julie Gayoski-Luke.

The focus of our conversation was The Adolescent Literacy Guide, a new resource from the Ontario Ministry of Education. This resource was placed in our hands last fall and we were asked to review it and consider how we would use it in schools with teachers and administration. Now, we gathered to share our work around this resource. Like everyone else in education, the Ministry is interested in gathering evidence of its resources’ effectiveness. The idea behind this resource was not a full roll out; that is, the guide was not to be handed out en mass. Rather,  its content was designed and formatted to be accessed as needed-more of a ‘dip in and grab’ process.

I am still processing the rich conversation around this resource, but today I wanted to comment on the ongoing issue of the word literacy. There was a strong feeling around the table that the Ministry should have used the title The Adolescent Learner’s Guide rather than The Adolescent Literacy Guide. The claim made is that when high school teachers hear the word literacy, they immediately think that’s the responsibility of the English department, and tune out.

I get that. But it’s time we called these teachers on this attitude. We can no longer rely on a definition of literacy that is limited to a person’s ability to read and write.

According to the Canadian Council on Learning, “true literacy encompasses much more than just these basic skills. It includes the ability to analyse things, understand general ideas or terms, use symbols in complex ways, apply theories, and perform other necessary life skills―including the ability to engage in the social and economic life of the community.”

And for Douglas Kellner, Ph.D. at UCLA “literacy involves gaining the skills and knowledge to read and interpret the text of the world and to successfully navigate its challenges, conflicts and crises.  Literacy is a necessary condition to equip people to participate in the local, national and global economy, culture and polity.”

These are useful and relevant definitions for literacy in 2013. They are inclusive. Here is the beginning of a list of literacies:

  • Ecoliteracy
  • Financial Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Critical Literacy
  • Emotional Literacy
  • Information Literacy
  • Aural Literacy
  • Visual Literacy
  • Multicultural Literacy
  • Physical Fitness and Nutrition Literacy
  • CyberLiteracy
  • Digital Literacy
  • Web Literacy

Is there any course offered in high school that does not include reading and writing? Is there any course offered in high school that does not require thinking, analyzing, or the application of theories?  Is there any course offered in high school that does not also tap into any of the above literacies?
It is time for all educators, even high school content area teachers, to accept that they are teachers of literacy.

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