Paul Allison tweeted out this update from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) exec committee last week in terms of how we need to think more expansively about literacy in the context of these shifts. As a former English teacher and NCTE member, I find these couple of lines to be of particular interest:
Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literaciesâ€”from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classroomsâ€”are multiple, dynamic, and malleable.
I think that one word, “malleable” is a fascinating choice (and a fine SAT prep word, by the way.) The ideas that these literacies must now be adaptable and bendable to meet whatever comes down the pike is a pretty big shift in thinking. Literacy, in other words, just got a lot harder to measure on a standardized test.
I’ve written before about the idea of a “network literacy” that is almost a requirement these days. I want to write more about that shortly, but a lot of what the NCTE is putting out there moves toward that. The idea of “build[ing] relationships with others” and “shar[ing] information for global communities” as English literacies is a pretty wild shift on some level.
If nothing else, this goes to the heart of connective reading and connective writing that we’ve been talking about here and elsewhere now for years. Reading and writing is still about the ability to understand and to create texts of various types, but it’s increasingly more now about connecting to other ideas, other people, and other conversations.
Technorati Tags: ncte, literacy, education, reading, writing
Kevin H. says
I’m with you on the use of the word — malleable — as it does seem to indicate that we may not know what literacy will look like in the future but we need to prepare our young people for that emerging world. To include that phrase in a definition of literacy is a pretty big leap. I imagine this concept sparked a lot of discussion (debate?) in English circles but I appreciate the realization of a shift happening and that there is a need for educators to be thinking about it.
Now, whether this kind of statement from this kind of organization filters its way through the educational world will be another story altogether, don’t you think?
Mr. Chase says
Is that change I hear coming?
Megan Howard says
Thanks for the post, Will. Since I have been underwater in recs and report cards, I haven’t had the chance to do very much reading recently. After reading your post, I felt a little more optimistic – about what I’m doing in the classroom and the movement away from what is “traditional.” Have you checked out the NCTE website? I noticed that their theme for their 08 annual conference is “Because Shift Happens: Teaching in the 21st Century.” Interesting…
Karl Fisch says
I don’t know if this is good or bad, but NCTE’s President-Elect expands a little on those thoughts.
I may be too close to this (my master’s degree is in literacy & technology and the doctorate that I’ll be pursuing in the fall is in rhetoric and technology), but I don’t see it as such a huge shift. There are plenty of people, at least at the university level, out there working in this field, who have embraced that shift.
While there are issues with following a traditional path (especially amongst those who haven’t yet embraced the shift), I think the trend is to look at new ways of instruction. I tend to follow a more constructivist pedagogical leaning. It allows me to look at literacies in an entirely different way – in a way that is more beneficial to the students.
Hi Will, interesting post as usual. I’m neither a teacher nor am I involved in formal education. I am merely a student, one who has taken up a really strong interest in what learning is all about.
I appreciate your opinions and those of commenters as I find them insightful, but there is one thing I’d like to ask.
We can talk all day about constructivist learning theory, the potential benefits of Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom, network literacy and other things. However, is the value of personal development literature seriously considered as something that should be included by default in schools?
After all, isn’t self-directed and self-motivated learning the best type there is? Speaking as a student and someone who’s had a rocky relationship with formal education, I find that the problem isn’t with developing intellectual capacity but rather emotional capacity.
Personal development can achieve better EQ and I sincerely that passion-based approach to learning is the best one students can have.
Anyways, I better stop ranting now before this two pages of comments. 😛
Any thoughts and feedback would be wonderful especially coming from the perspective of educators like you guys. 🙂
Whops sorry about the missed words and typos in the previous comment. My bad. Anyways, I look forward to your thoughts.
Tom Hoffman says
OK, I give up on trying to constrain the use of the word “literacy.” So what’s NOT literacy?
Steven Barber says
Great commentary & post here…as a current high school English Teacher who at times feels like I’m swimming upstream against the current testing trends in Michigan I can honestly say this “new” way of defining true literacy is long overdue…
Interestingly enough I just told my college-bound high school juniors today in my classes that they absolutely NEED a different view of “being literate”, because the world they face is so vastly & drastically different from the “old world” that their parents faced upon graduation from high school & even the university!
Our “definition” of “literate” must also be ever-changing & adaptable to the exponentially rapid changes happening worldwide with regard to how we process & use information effectively.
I like to tell my kids at school that they need to remember that “information is not yet knowledge, and knowlege is not yet wisdom”… We need to teach kids to creatively develop their own true “definitions” by becoming effective THINKERS Too…
Gary Stager says
I echo Tom Hoffman’s sentiment.
BTW: Why doesn’t NCTE stop the reauthorization of NCLB instead of making new checklists?
There are no new literacies – there, I said it.
Doug Stoltz says
I am intrigued by what isn’t in this post or mentioned in any comments, namely Marc Prensky’s claim that programming is the new literacy (www.edutopia.org/literacy-computer-programming).
The most fascinating thing to me in this post is, as Will notes, the word “malleable”. Maybe that’s mostly because “multiple” and “dynamic” have all been so used, i won’t say overused, in regard to the floods and tides of the network of information these days. “Malleable” at least has a nice “feel” to it as a word, like Silly Putty and modelling clay or the spaghetti “intestines” in a bowl of Halloween home-made haunted house long ago, and thus much better than abstract thin words like “multiple” and “dynamic” — at least it feels like something.
That literacies (whoops, we’ve got “multiple” affecting the grammar to plurals) “must now be adaptable and bendable to meet whatever comes down the pike” is a fine notion of flexibility in understanding and ways and means of understanding, whether in text written with a goose quill on rough homemade paper or something on the next blog. But equally, it seems to me, the literacy of this “new age”, much like other ages really, it is critical to develop the confidence and the skills in the means of understanding and engagement in words and other forms to shape, make malleable, or just pound into shape with a mallet!, the world as it comes at us, to find the world malleable to our shaping into understanding that we as human beings can then share, argue about, and continue to make something new, and discover old verities and beauties. “Malleable” according to crazy old Joseph T. Shipley in his delightful “The Origins of English Words” is from the Indo-European root “mat”, which gives us tools for digging deep, like a mattock, and tools for pounding into shape, like a mallet — with related witchcraft notions of “malleus”, shape-changers and other such shamans and werewolves. The internet can be all of these things, and the word “malleable” when delved deep begins to reveal some of the powers we are amidst in the new ways of communication and connection and communion. “Networks”, for example, are surely not simply “good”, but it depends on what is networked. We admit that, for example, in calling the folks on our side, the good side, in WW II, “The Allies”, buddies all and so on, while the other side was “The Axis”, a decidedly nasty sounding word with little feel of connection and more of grinding, grinding, smaller and smaller around a grinding stone.
In my students, and in myself, i’d like to find much more courage and competence, the simple tools, like a mallet, perhaps, to make the flow of information coming at us every day in overwhelming shapes and cries something malleable to our making, like the good ol’ Village Blacksmith. These were in the old days the dubious folks, the maker of things out of fire and copper or iron or steel, the maker of weapons, the dark ones, like the lame Hephestaus or furious Loki. We need to recognize, i think, that this is the sort of energy we are releasing, or have already been released — and the task now is to make something of this abundance, to work it in a critical fire, to make the information malleable to our questions, our needs, our ongoing wondering — not once and for all, but ever making and malleable the world to our meeting and needs changing.
I take “malleable”, then, as something of a craft to adopt — rather than becoming “malleable” to whatever comes down the pike.
Does this make sense to anyone else? I cherish this mallet whack to the side of my head, like in croquet, send off from the set wickets far — and what happens then? Thanks Will — Fionn
Alex Cozzi says
I, along with many other people responding to your blog and otherwise agree that the word “malleable” holds an important notion that we must keep in mind. As technologies advance younger generations are on the reciprocating frontier. As a future English teacher myself I believe it will be important to keep students engaged in this so-called “network literacy.” Technology most importantly is happening now, and as it will only continue to progress, English teachers of the future will be faced more and more with embracing the developments. An even more difficult part could be maintaining and integrating manuscript. Either way I find this to be an interesting concept that I think will only become more popular as time goes by.