Monday, November 21, 2016

New Literacies

What is literacy? Merriam-Webster defines literacy as the ability to read and write. Being literate, therefore, means to be able to read and write at a level that allows adults to be fully functional members within society. The availability, use, and infusion of emerging technologies in everyday life, globalization, and our economic realities, though, awaken us to the necessity to redefine and broaden our understanding of literacy. This new definition is often referred to as New Literacies or 21st Century LiteracyWhile Generation X and Millennials have matured - more or less successfully - with and into these new literacies, Generation Z, children in our schools today, were born into a technologically rich and ever changing world. This raises two questions for 21st century educators. One, should children's context of the world as they experience it today be the backdrop of the classroom? And two, is it enough to offer a 20th century curriculum? Obviously, the answer to these questions is rhetorical from my perspective. 

So, what exactly do we mean by "New Literacies?" The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) asserts:
Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. 
As such, NCTE argues, successful citizens of the 21st century must be able to:
  • 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.
  • While other organizations like the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) have been addressing this pressing redefinition of literacy, its call for 21st century learning found found its largest support from the instructional technology community, but "core" teachers and educators were not quite ready to take their tested pedagogy and strategies under the looking glass and assess the effectiveness of their classrooms behind the backdrop of ever fleeting realities. 
    Language arts and math have long been considered the essential core subjects. With American students falling behind in science and embarrassing accounts of lacking civics education, science and social studies found their way into the core group of essential disciplines. P21's framework for 21st century learning expands this list to include world languages, arts, economics, geography, history, government, and civics. And even further...
  • In addition to these subjects, we believe schools must move beyond a focus on basic competency to promoting understanding of academic content at much higher levels by weaving 21st century interdisciplinary themes into curriculum:
  • Beyond the content of these key disciplines and themes, P21 stresses the need to develop
    • Learning and Innovation Skills
    • Information, Media, and Technology Skills and
    • Life and Career Skills.
    At their core, the themes and skills advocated P21 advocates for align perfectly with the call for New Literacies by NCTE.
  • An urgent call for educators in school buildings, district offices, universities and policy makers influencing education in any way ... We are 16 years into the 21st century and a call for 21st century learning seems, let's say, a little too late. Let's push ourselves, our colleagues, our principals and policy makers and teach our children to be successful in a technologically infused world that is full of uncertainties. This much, we owe to them.

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