What is traditional literacy?
Even just ten to twenty years ago, that would have been an odd question. Traditional literacy meant the ability to read and write. But now, we have digital literacy – the ability to navigate online and use new technology and programs with ease.
The difficulty is that overburdened teachers have the responsibility of teaching traditional literacy – with all the technological advancements, it is still necessary to read, write, and have a functional understanding of language – as well as incorporating digital literacy into the classroom. A big problem is that the children are already well-versed in technology, and it is the teachers who need to be taught
While that is changing with new teachers who have had more extensive training and more experience with technology and training for veteran teachers, is it changing fast enough to keep up with the world? Do teachers know enough about the available technology to teach it or incorporate it into their specific subject areas? A study from the U.S. Department of Education found that students of any age typically have more advanced computer literacy than their teachers.
The problem of digital illiteracy among teachers may be solved by the students themselves. Megan Kennedy, an eighth-grade student in Kansas, participated in a program called GenYes, which turns students into teachers.Megan showed her pupil, a kindergarten teacher, how to create an Apple iMovie in a lesson on time and clocks. The three-minute movie showed kindergarten students doing activities at different times of day, and even incorporated background music. In addition, Megan’s going to help the teacher create a webpage with a link to the video.
While certainly not a traditional curriculum for an eighth-grader, look at the skills Megan used in this project: she was able to communicate effectively, use technology appropriately, meet deadlines, plan and execute a project from beginning to end, and, of course, teach.
In addition, we are also able to assume that Megan is savvy enough to know where to look for information she needs for specific problems, which according to the Center for Media Literacy (CML), is far more relevant to the world she lives in than knowing – or memorizing – a random assortment of facts that eighth-graders “should know.” And this project benefited the kindergarten teacher, who now knows how to make an iMovie and is far more likely to incorporate technology into her classroom, as well as for the kindergarten students themselves.
They are learning or reinforcing essential skills – and they were indirectly learning about technology’s role in the classroom.
Technology and digital literacy will fundamentally change the educational system – hopefully sooner rather than later. According to CML: This explosion in information has presented a major challenge to the world of formal education. For centuries, schooling has been designed to make sure students learned facts – which they proved they knew by correctly answering questions on tests. But such a system no longer works when facts-for-life are not needed! What is needed today is for students to learn how to learn, how to find what they need to know when they need to know it. And to have the thinking skills to critically analyze and evaluate whether the information they find is useful for what they want to know.
Dennis Harper, founder of GenYes, which has spread to hundreds of schools in the country, says: Students are the digital generation, yet schools are not coming to terms with the technology revolution. By including students in the planning and implementation of improvement efforts, their passion and optimism about the future is put to good use.
At the same time, however, it is becoming increasingly urgent that students in all grades put their passion, optimism, and efforts to good use in the area of traditional literacy. This is a much harder sell.
The 2007 study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts analyzed national data on reading, and found that Americans are reading less and reading less well.
• Less than one-third of thirteen year olds read daily. In 1977, that figure was fourteen percent higher.
• Average 15-24 year olds spend only seven minutes a day on leisure reading.
• Among thirty-one industrialized nations, including Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, American fifteen year-olds ranked fifteenth in reading scores.
Additional findings in the 1995 survey by the Department of Education revealed that only one-third of high school seniors are proficient readers. A study published in Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy found that “proficient middle school readers may not succeed equally in all high school texts.” So while it is a positive sign that fourth grade reading scores have improved over the last few years, literacy skills continue to be needed by students in middle and high school.
Is the need for digital literacy driving down reading scores? While on the internet, children are reading. But they are not reading in the same way they do when they read books. Information found online is not as clear-cut and linear – in short, it is a different skill. For better or worse, it is this skill that students are now more adept at, even at the risk of traditional literacy. Bridging the gap between digital and traditional literacy lies with the teacher. While technology can be seen as the “culprit,” it can also offer the solution.
Using the internet as a tool for teaching literacy can help incorporate technology and teach students to teach themselves. Brazilian educator Paolo Freire equated teaching with banking that the traditional model was to deposit information into the students’ heads. But we are no longer able to provide them with the all the facts they need to know – because of the constantly shifting landscape of the world, what is relevant today may not be tomorrow. Literacy skills will always be relevant, even if the medium changes.