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How Many Educators Are Really Literate?

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Literacy is a broad term. The definition from Merriam-Webster defines literacy as "the ability to read and write or knowledge that relates to a specified subject." The struggle for me comes on the topic of specified subjects. Are these static or changing? Once prioritized, where do we find the most relevant and up-to-date information? Once we find the best source of information, how long does that remain the best resource and how long is that information up-to-date?

One of the words I have heard most often at a number of educational workshops over the past year regarding complicated topics like this is the word iterative. "It is an iterative process," they say in an effort to help those in the room process the complexity of the work ahead and also understand that this work cannot be expected to be completed overnight.  However, sometimes I get the feeling that this pronouncement is taken as a signal that significant progress is not really expected. Maybe we need to explain that you can't have an iterative process without making a first iteration? I do find it a bit ironic that the word inertia can be extracted from the word iteration.

One place where I feel this frustration is in the area of digital literacy. A couple of blog posts from Shaelynn Farnsworth and Steven Anderson following the recent ISTE Conference really got me wondering about how much has changed in regards to how we support our students in this area. We are more than eight years beyond the publication of the definition of 21st Century Literacies published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), yet I question how many of our students are able to do the following by the time they graduate from high school:

  • Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;
  • Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;

  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes;

  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information;

  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts;

  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

I don't see anything significant happening here until we accept the words in the title of Steven's post and ensure that all educators feel that We Are All Teachers of Literacy.  This will not be as much of a shift for elementary teachers as it will be for those in middle and high schools. For those districts looking for resources to help educators get started, Shaelynn's post provides the following:

Google Inside Search  - Understand how Google Search works, explore the interactive timeline highlighting the advancement of Google Search throughout the years, and view lesson plans for educators.

BrainPop - A video introduces students to search engines and how to use keywords and phrases to locate the information they want. This site also includes lesson plans which include multi-media ideas and also skills to promote with students for online research!

ReadWriteThink - A great lesson plan to help students focus their internet searching. This lesson not only supports skills need in the initial search, but also reading strategies to locate and evaluate information once it is found!

 As I make this statement, please be assured that I include myself in this group playing catch up in regards to how to best find quality information online.  Reading beyond clickbait headlines and titles is a challenge sometimes when I do not feel like I have the time to give due diligence to the source behind that headline.  But if we are committed to fulfilling our mission to develop responsible citizens, then we have to go all-in when it comes to developing responsible digital citizens.

In an area where the majority of our information is coming to us from digital media, can we really claim literacy without digital literacy?

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