Thing #4

In EduBlog Insights, Anne Davis includes the following quote from Donald Leu:

The new literacies include the skills, strategies, and insights necessary to successfully exploit the rapidly changing information and communication technologies that continuously emerge in our world. A more precise definition of the new literacies may never be possible to achieve since their most important characteristic is that they regularly change; as new technologies for information and communication continually appear, new literacies emerge (Bruce, 1997; Leu, in press a; Reinking, 1998). Moreover, these changes often take place faster than we are able to completely evaluate them. Regular change is a defining characteristic of the new literacies.

This simple observation has profound consequences for literacy and literacy education. The continuously changing technologies of literacy mean that we must help children learn how to learn new technologies of literacy. In fact, the ability to learn continuously changing technologies for literacy may be a more critical target than learning any particular technology of literacy itself.

Leu uses the word “literacy” a lot, so I think it might be useful to define it so we’re all on the same page.  The OED defines literacy as “The quality, condition, or state of being literate; the ability to read and write” and “In extended use (usually with modifying word): The ability to ‘read’ a specified subject or medium; competence or knowledge in a particular area.”  Literacy is not relegated to the English classroom; literacy is the ability to “read” texts, and a text can be anything.  A website, the way I dress, the design of a room, a book cover, a CD insert, the blanket I choose for my bed are all texts to be read – they all create meaning.  The math classroom, the way it is set-up, the way the teacher presents herself and communicates are all pieces of a text that work together to create meaning:  how the teacher feels about her subject and her students, how the students can read that feeling and be excited (or not so excited) about the learning process in that room.  Everything we do communicates, and we need to teach our students the ability to read many types of communication.  When a student accesses a website, which is often, the student needs to have the literacy skills to read that website, to gather its implicit messages, to see whether the website is created by a credible source, to be able to glean what the website wants the student to believe, and be able to engage with those messages critically.  To teach our students critical engagement with rather than passive consumption of the world around them, we need to teach them literacies, or as David Leu refers to it, the “new literacies” that  “include the skills, strategies, and insights necessary to successfully exploit the rapidly changing information and communication technologies that continuously emerge in our world.”  I don’t love the word “exploit” – so utilitarian – but I do like the words “engage with” with suggest an active, critical mind that can understand the implicit meanings in any given text and evaluate that meaning as valid or invalid, true or false or a mixture of the two.

Another helpful quote –

“It is not just a matter of transferring classroom writing into digital spaces. Teachers need to address writing for a public audience, how to cite and link and why, how to use the comment tool in pedagogical ways, how to read web materials more efficiently as well as explore other ways to consider pedagogical uses of blogs. Blogging requires us to teach students to critically engage media. Students need instruction on how to become efficient navigators in these digital spaces where they will be obtaining a majority of their information….Blogs foster ownership and choice. They help lead us away from students trying to find what the teacher wants in terms of an answer.” Anne Davis, EduBlog Insights

This chunk of text helps me understand more of blogging’s usefulness – why would we write on a blog rather than on paper, I wonder?  Davis makes the helpful (and cited around the edu-blogosphere point) that blogging is “not just a matter of transferring classroom writing into a digital space.”  Blogging can help students become aware that when one writes one is always writing for an audience (a potentially global one), that media is more than something to passively consume.  It can help us teach our students how to be active and thoughtful citizens, and they can be excited about that because the feedback they might get on their blogging could come from voices all over the world.  Bo Adams talks about that encouraging phenomenon in It’s All About Learning: “If we truly  are preparing students to lead and serve in a changing world, then we should teach students to utilize respectfully and responsibly the methods and processes that can be used in an engaged and purposeful citizenry.”

Final thought:  it seems that some of these blogs feature educators reflecting on theories and ideas, others are about the daily activities, successes, and failures in the actual classroom.  Others have student collaboration.  It seems like one could potentially run several different blogs.  Is it better to separate these purposes across several different blogs or put them all into one and use tagging to differentiate the various types of posts?  Thoughts?