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Changing Rules of the Literacy Club

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Book clubI was thrilled and excited to see this months issue of Educational Leadership devoted to conversations about literacy and what being literate means in a global, digital space. As I devoured the issue, I reflected on my own literacy evolution.

I learned early on what it took become a member of what Frank Smith called the "Literacy Club" . Acceptance and membership was defined then by the thickness of the book, the speed of the tongue,and amount one's brain could hold (at least until test time rolled around.) Comprehension was something that happened when the work with words was done.

I read differently now. I have learned that knowledge is both a cause and a consequence of comprehension. I am active and mindful of the work involved. I continue to challenge myself exploring both on and offline sources of information and inspiration. I am flexible as I move between these spaces; conscious of how to adjust and adapt the strategies I need to interact with and understand text in different forms and multiple mediums. Reading is not desk work - it is lifework. I understand it is through and with others that I acquired knowledge, gain perspective, deepen awareness, and begin to understand myself and my place in the world.

I share my reading story with you because many students see membership to the "literacy club" dependent on their ability to move through a masterable set of hierarchical skills: First, learn the sounds, then the letters, moving onto words and phrases, and finally, once that's all straight, THINKING! .

It worries me that if we base Instruction on a conceptualization of reading as a single line of development from simple to more complex tasks, it will perpetuate the myth that "learning to read" is over and done with by third grade, or that only the "bluebird" group is eligible for "premier membership and benefits."

I want students to see reading as a life long endeavor, that grows in competence and confidence the more it is practiced across increasing more difficult and diverse text. In an era of new literacies, we are in a simultaneous state of learning to read and reading to learn. Think about it - Who's in the:

- Blog Literacy Club?
- Twitter Literacy Club?
- Financial Literacy Club?
- Media Literacy Club?
- Ning Literacy Club?

Aren't we all emergent readers when we encounter new texts and mediums that push the boundaries of genre, form, format, and mode;on and offline?

The Rules of the Literacy Club have changed - all members, regardless of age or grade, are expected to:

- Be active
- Be strategic
- Be flexible
- Be mindful
- Be reflective
- Be purposeful
- Be courageous
- Be engaged
- Be responsible and responsive

I am proud to say, this is the reader I am today. Unfortunately,I was not taught to be that reader in school. If we are serious about Literacy 2.0, these are the lessons we must pass on to our students. No longer is being fastest and first done the goal. Let our students know that membership into the literacy club is a lifelong honor, affording them privileges and pleasures of engaging in the world in remarkable ways. The doors are always open, new members are celebrated, and we always welcome back those who have fallen away.

Photo on Flickr by Strobist

Angela Maiers
Angela Maiers Educational Services

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1 Comment

Goodbye 3 R's, Hello ABC'S of New Millenium
Literacy
Move over Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic; literacy has got to have a whole new
dimension. Don't misunderstand, the old big three of literacy are still big, but the 'new'
millenium boy or girl has to have much more on the ball than just these three kinds of being
literate. And yet sometimes there is still an outdated sense in schools that these are the
main subjects we should be teaching. Some in education still want to narrowly define
literacy, to the detriment of understanding what real people need to know in life, and this
lack of responsiveness is probably is part what causes kids to tune out and drop out.
The three R's never did capture the ways the mass of people needed to be smart to
make it in our society anyway, did it? Sure, the invention of the printing press was as
important as the invention of the internet, and Benjamin Banneker, and Abe Lincoln
were bibliophiles, and that turned out to be life changing for them and us.
Plato and Aristotle's works passed down have meant more than tons of gold...but a hunter
has always needed to read nature more than a book, and a farmer has always needed to
read nature more than a book,too. And an inner city child in poverty needs more than math
to find a way out of an unhealthy maze into a job and a promising future, right? Any child
in school demands to find relevance in school, or why attend?
Formal learning based literacies like the three R's are only part of the way to talk
about literacy today. I would argue the real literacy right now maybe could be described in
terms of ABC's-Access, Basics, and Culture, which is a way of thinking about literacy
that is more up to date and inclusive of what we know about life today.
A is for Access
Question: how long have we been saying that the speed of information is moving too fast
for anyone to keep up with it? How long have we been noting that many do not have
access to health care, transportation to work, mental health care, good daycare, and
access to good jobs?
If we agree in some premise of equal pay for equal work, and that it is desirable that our
children have good medical care, and that people should be able to access healthy food free
of contaminants, then we may agree that youth coming up will search out or 'access'
information and routes to achieve these goals for themselves. And in fact this is what
young people do. We all try to figure out what to be when we grow up, and as we grow we
are constanly making choices. We as citizens are 'seekers' of improvement. We are
constantly trying to access what we need. This is true of the hunter-gatherer, and it is true
of a trash picker, and it is true of the senior in high school trying to get into the right
college. It is true of the senior citizen trying to get the right medications for ailments. We as
humans are all about accessing what we need, in China and in Africa, and in NYC, in the
year 0002 and in the year 2000.
In the information society we can't all know all the facts, but we can learn to access the
facts. Plus, if we are lucky, we can think about the best ways, the most ethical ways, and
the opportunity costs as we make our life choices. We used to use the phone book and the
telephone. Now we use other technology too, to get information. But reading, 'riting and
'rithmatic is not so important if we cannot access any money or food, so learning to being
able to access what we need is a true form of literacy that cuts through history, and across
rich and poor, and weaves through all timelines, and schools can value and help with people
learning to make great choices to access what they need.
B is for Basic Applications
Basic book literacies sometimes seem all we test anymore in schools and we test and
test and test , but no doubt the basics are key to a successful future for students. Adults
who cannot read are really stuck. Medicines, bus schedules, government notices, even
warning signs-all mean nothing if one can't read. We must all know some math to deal
with money. We need to write our name and address. Some people cannot handle these
basic tasks! I have seen job applications from grown men who cannot spell the name of the
elementrary school they went to, or how to spell the name of their road where they live.
We do need to focus on reading , writing, and math in school, but somewhere along the
way we have diminished hammering on the application of these skills in meaningful
ways. Application of basic skills is the 'why' we ask students to get up at 6:00 am to get to
high school, and then come home and work until 10:30 pm doing homework. But how
many class periods go by when no mention is even made of what the skill is used for in 'life
after school' ?
Proving to students 'why' they need to learn the basics, means school curriculums need
to be grounded in real life applications of problem solving. For example, what modern
problem today does not have to do with science? Take a moment and try to think of one.
Global warming...sharing energy resources...ending starvation... curing
diseases...improving flight and transportation...making machines more efficient...Every big
problem today has components of science. Take for example the problem of sharing world
energy resources. This is a real problem the next generation must work on to avoid brownouts
and wars and everything in-between. To have a fuller grasp of the energy problem one
must have background knowledge of : earth science and geology, the history of the various
geographic regions of the world, mathematics, philosophy, economics, ability to read and
write about the issue, knowledge of politics, diplomacy, law, and perhaps more than one
language. Additionally, one must have the ability to 'access' (see A, above) the right facts,
people, and resources to effect change in the area of resource and energy allocation. Basic
competencies are all about the questions: What are these basic or core skills good for..to
me, and to us? Why should I go to school and why should I care? What is school getting me
ready for?
The basic areas of literacy all have in common that they are about symbols of
communicating and describing our human experience. The ability to bring these parts of
'knowing' together to improve our lot, is perhaps what has set us apart from other creatures
on Earth.
C is for Cultural and Communication Competencies
The next big new literacy marker must be considered cultural literacy. Cultural
literacy will involve developing an understanding of others' perspectives so that we can live,
work, and play together on our shrinking planet. The trend is ever more moving toward an
understanding that we are sharing all our earth's resources with the other people of the
planet, and yet we see the continuation of wars over ethnicity and territory, and many
misunderstandings and prejudices continuing to cause strife and pain around the world, as
they have since recorded history. In America various influxes of immigrants have shown
real needs for people to quickly learn to hear new languages, accept new modes of dress,
and experience new foods, fashions, and religious beliefs to get along with neighbors, fellow
students, and co-workers.
A framework for cultural literacy suggests that there is a continuum that we move along,
from an ethno-centric approach that our culture is the best, to a more tolerant belief that
one does not 'see' difference or color, and then on to a fuller understanding of the other's
history, some of their beliefs and traditions, and values, and some understanding of their
communciation styles as well. Cultural literacy implies an understanding that some cultures
approach questions in a collaborative way and other cultures may approach tasks in more
competitive ways. Parenting is viewed differently by different cultures. Cultural literacy
starts with understanding one's own culture. We each look back into our childhoods and ask
ourselves, "How did I come to hold the opinions I do about races and religions?" "What
were my first formative experiences with another culture?"
Students coming up will have first hand knowledge of people from other cultures, and
nothing makes for cultural literacy quicker than making a new friend from somewhere
else! Our new millenium has challenges without borders, and our students will benefit from
examining the riches and diversity in the widest definition of human experience. This study
and understanding is a tool of literacy for their futures. We used to reference a generation
gap or a culture gap, and maybe a gender gap. These are parts of understanding cultural
literacy. These literacies involve communicating respectfully, knowing how to problem
solve, and valuing diverse experiences or points of view. Cultural literacy also implies
appreciation of the arts.
These literacy ABC's make up the melody of new millenium schooling objectives. The
ABC's of this millenium's literacy alphabet are simply universal and timeless.

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