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Developing Fluency in “New Literacies”

July 23, 2014

slide-1-638The growth of Information and communication technologies (ICT) is causing a shift in what are and will be deemed best instructional practices in our schools. Many of today’s educators participated in a school system that was based on the printed text and have had to adjust their own learning and teaching practices to incorporate “new literacies.” New literacies such as blogs, wikis, Snapchat, SnapStories, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are a part of the learning, employment and social realms of the students in our classrooms today. Add to this that new forms of communication continue to develop and enter mainstream society and we see a real need to prepare our students to be literate in a wide array of forums ranging from the traditional textbook to being able to access and analyze online content to participating in Twitter chats, Snap Chats, Instagram and discussion boards as well as wikis and blogs. The list is open ended. As ICTs continue to develop, our school systems will have to stay current and incorporate responsible and effective communication skills in the varying platforms. It is therefore necessary to instill traditional literacy skills in our students as well as newer digital information and communication skills, and to be able to adapt to and fluent in yet to be developed literacies.

The question arises, “How do we provide on-going systematic professional development that allows teachers and school administrators to stay current with continually developing literacies?” The need for an open mind set ,as characterized by Carol Dweck in her book Mind Set, and job embedded professional development have taken on a new level of importance. Consider that students entering preschool this year will be retiring around 2080. The skills these students will need to navigate jobs that may not even exist yet are challenging to imagine. We can however work with the business industry to stay knowledgeable about the types of literacies skills they are looking for in their employees. It is also important that we teach our students to be good digital citizens, that we teach them how to use social digital literacies in a way that reflects their individuality while presenting themselves to be of sound of character.

I had the opportunity to read a couple of articles on the development of New Literacies and how they can impact instruction. In the April 2004, fifth edition of Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading published by the International Reading Association, Leu, Kinzer, Coiro and Cammack in their work entitled “Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies,” offer strong historical background on the development of various literacies throughout history and how society has adapted to and adopted new methods of communication. Challenging to our society today is the rapid rate in which new technologies are influencing our knowledge and communication.

Part of the answer to the question, “How do we provide on-going systemic professional development that allows teachers and school administrators to stay current with continually developing literacies?,” can be found in David Warlick’s article “The New Literacy.” Warlick offers a nice foundation of knowledge about what are being referred to as “New Literacies” as well as an outline of to develop a strong instructional program that supports the development of these skills among our students. I’ve started to read his book Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century. In his introduction which he also refers to as a User’s Guide, Warlick provides an excellent word of caution as we look to modernize our classrooms for 21st Century learning. While redesigning our classrooms and curriculum to integrate technology has become a national, if not international focus, many of us have the process of modernization backwards. We should really be focusing on redefining what 21st Century is, what it looks like and then using technology to integrate these skills.

It is incumbent on each of us in the field of education to stay current with the types of communication being used by society. It is also important to keep in mind the historical contexts that have brought about different types of literacies as well as the reasons different groups and leaders have chosen to suppress the knowledge that allows a society to become literate. What will the impact on society be if we do not clearly define what 21st Century literacy is and teach students how to use these skills responsibly? It falls upon education leaders, teachers, administrators, politicians, parents and community members to work together to create a culture that embraces professional development that supports teacher expertise with information and communication technologies that allow the field of education to maintain current literacy practices as they evolve.

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