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The New Literacy

Updated on June 1, 2015

A New Landscape

In classrooms across the country, today’s teachers are facing many new demands, write Vicki L. Cohen and John E. Cowen in their book, Literacy for Children in an Information Age: Teaching Reading, Writing, and Thinking.

The need to address state and professional standards within the curriculum, the pressure of raising students’ scores on state- mandated assessments, the need to teach an increasingly diverse population of children, and the proliferation of new technologies that are currently changing the notion of what literacy means.

As a practicing teacher, I am intrigued by thie recent area of study that draws on a number of disciplines including sociology and linguistics. In my teaching and research, I incorporate the concept of multi-literacies, including the increasing range of digital literacies, and a socio-critical perspective.

The New Literacies: Multiple Perspectives on Research and Practice [Paperback] Elizabeth A. Baker EdD (Editor), Donald J. Leu (Foreword)
The New Literacies: Multiple Perspectives on Research and Practice [Paperback] Elizabeth A. Baker EdD (Editor), Donald J. Leu (Foreword) | Source

A multicultural and technological society

We need to develop effective teachers within our classrooms who will raise achievement for all children in our multicultural and rapidly changing society. Prospective and current teachers need to know how to integrate technology into the curriculum. Instruction has to be designed to meet the needs of all children. Can teachers effectively tailor and assess instruction for a wide range of learning styles. They must also know how to be culturally responsive and sensitive to students' backgrounds, while staying current in the field of literacy.

According to the National Council of Teachers of English:

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 in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups.

Active, successful participants in this 21st century global society 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, NCTE says.

Technological literacy

According to the Montgomery Public Schools, technology literacy is the ability of an individual, working independently and with others, to responsibly, appropriately and effectively use technology tools to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, create and communicate information.

This mastery of learning skills by using twenty- first century tools, and it needs to be integrated into all the core subject areas.

Cowen and Cowen say that learning skills comprise three broad categories:

(1) Information and communication skills, which include communication, information processing, and research tools such as word processing, e- mail, groupware, presentation tools such as PowerPoint, web development, and Internet search tools; (2) Thinking and problem- solving skills, which include tools such as spreadsheets, decision support software, and design tools; (3) Interpersonal and self- direction skills, which include personal development and productivity such as e- learning, time management/ calendar tools, and collaboration tools.

Integrating technology into the literacy curriculum

With the proliferation of smartphones, texting, social networking, tweeting, blogging, and Internet searches, today’s world is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. The Common Core emphasizes using technology — not for technology’s sake, but as a tool for enhancing research and media literacy, creativity, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking.

New technological applications are changing the way that people around the world communicate, socialize, and access information. The challenge for teachers is to help students learn how to use technology to promote higher order thinking and to solve problems in language arts, science, math, and social studies. Tasks such as using online tools to promote writing, creating visual representations using multimedia formats, constructing charts and graphs, searching and researching using the Internet, and communicating using online tools all help students develop higher-level thinking and prepare them for the skills they will need in a global world.

A Balanced Approach

Educators need a balanced approach in teaching literacy, and examines how to develop a comprehensive reading program based on best practices stemming from current knowledge and research on how children learn to read. Its focus is to examine what “ literacy” means in our new information- driven society and how to teach literacy to our increasingly diverse population of children. Effective practice is grounded in solid knowledge of language and literacy, whereby children read and write quality texts and engage in rich, enjoyable literacy experiences. In a balanced lit-eracy classroom, teachers use many different approaches to address the diverse literacy needs of their students.

In an article called "The convergence of literacy instruction and networked technologies for information and communication," D.J. Leu claims that in our global economy there are four skills everyone will need to master: (1) identifying important problems within one’s own area of work, (2) gathering relevant information and critically evaluating it, (3) using the appropriate information to solve the identified problems, and (4) clearly communicating the solution to others. It is time that we, as literacy teachers, incorporate these Internet technologies into our classroom and teach the appropriate strategies to help develop this new literacy in all children growing up in an information age.

"It will be up to each of us to recognize the continually changing nature of literacy and to develop a rich understanding of these changes," Leu said. "We hope that you will bring your own expertise to the important work that lies ahead as we all seek to prepare students for the new literacies of the Internet and other information and communication technologies that define their future. They deserve nothing less."

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