Features of preparing children for literacy

Scholastic Administrator is a must-read resource for 240,000 of today’s results-driven school leaders. Every issue features leadership for education executives, insight and analysis into what’s next in education, and reporting on cutting-edge technologies in real life applications. The New Literacy Reading, writing, and features of preparing children for literacy no longer guarantee students a place in the workforce.

A different skill set is in high demand. They blog, download music and videos, and while away the hours in online chat rooms. But how good are today’s students at interpreting the words and images they encounter in our increasingly tech-driven world? How well can they communicate in multimedia formats what they are learning in the classroom? Such questions underlie a new effort among researchers and ed-tech experts to ensure that students’ critical-thinking and communication skills keep pace with their technological acumen. David Warlick, ed-tech expert and author of Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century, to shed light on these new literacies.

What follows is his take on why four E’s—exposing knowledge, employing information, expressing ideas, and ethics on the Internet-are so important and what they will mean to administrators, teachers, and ultimately to students as they prepare for the future. When English teachers want to enhance students’ understanding of Shakespeare’s Othello at the Beacon School, a progressive public high school in New York City, the assignment may include producing a 30-second movie trailer rather than the typical report. Or it may be to write and post a review of the play to the teacher’s web site. Producing a trailer for the play is a means to understanding how to construct meaning in a visual sense as well as in a written sense,” says Chris Lehmann, technology coordinator for the Beacon School. Visual literacy is crucial to understanding how the world works.

If you don’t understand how to process the visual text, then you’re missing a lot of what’s out there. We live in a time when the very nature of information is changing: in what it looks like, what we use to view it, where and how we find it, what we can do with it, and how we communicate it. If this information is changing, then our sense of what it means to be literate must also change. The notion of contemporary literacy represents the essential skills involved in effectively accessing, processing, and communicating information.

In our efforts to modernize classrooms and update curriculum, we have logically focused on technology and integrating technology to create opportunities for students to gain important technical skills. However, it’s time to rethink this approach. Being literate in our digital world mirrors our traditional sense of literacy. Most of us were taught to read information that was available in classrooms, libraries, and in our homes.

The Internet and software constitute the library for today’s students. And the information from these sources grows exponentially from week to week. To manage it, students and their teachers need to learn how to use an evolving array of search tools and strategies to get valuable information from a global electronic library. But locating and decoding what they retrieve is only preliminary to the skills of critically evaluating information for accuracy, reliability, and bias. Traditional literacy taught us to take for granted the authority of the information we used.

With contemporary literacy, students must show evidence of that authority. Organize that information into electronic folders or other personal e-libraries. Until about a decade ago, printed text was almost exclusively intended for reading and numbers were used for measurement and computation. Today, thanks to digitization, almost all information can be described with numbers. They are the backdrop to music, pictures, and words on our computers, handhelds, and cell phones.

How we process these digitized numbers has also changed, as well as our notion of mathematics. The subject has become more important, and students can do much more of it using computers and the Internet. So the goal of teaching students has to extend beyond assuring that they can add, subtract, count, measure, and calculate. Students need to understand how to employ numbers to answer essential questions, solve real problems, and accomplish important goals. With information growing at such an overwhelming rate, and taking on such different formats, it’s not enough to write a compelling paragraph. It’s now about communicating with images and audio, as well as the written word.

For students, learning the mechanics of writing a coherent paragraph is the start. From there, students must acquire the skills to effectively and creatively develop a message that will capture their audience’s attention. Schools are investing in digital still and video cameras and sophisticated editing software. We are teaching students to use desktop publishing and to build web pages.