What Is Literacy?

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literacy dictionaryIn my last post I was examining what David Warlick has to say about integrating technology into the classroom in his book Redefining Literacy 2.0 and I quoted him as saying, “Educators should seek to integrate literacy, rather than integrate technology.”  So what does David mean when he uses the term literacy?  Well, his entire book is devoted to what he believes literacy looks like right now, but he boils it down to its simplest form by saying this: “Literacy comprises those skills involved in using information to accomplish goals.”  He also says “that perhaps the best thing we can be teaching our students today is how to teach themselves (how to learn what they need to know, to do what they need to do),” and “that the literacy habits we want them to develop are actually learning literacies.” 

Well, I must say, this is exactly what we school library media specialists have been doing for years!  Our speciality is categorizing, storing, searching, evaluating, synthesizing, organizing, and communicating information, whether online or in print!  And our primary goal is to equip students to do it, too!  From the American Association of School Librarians web page entitled Information Literacy:

AASL provides leadership for the development of dynamic, student-centered school library media programs. These programs help ensure that students master the information literacy skills needed to be discerning consumers and creative producers of information and ideas.

And how ironic that in a time when the world of Internet information is more bewildering to users than ever, when Google (see this NY Times article) and Wikipedia (see this Wikipedia article) are some of the most commonly used (and often least effective) research sources, and when President Obama himself proclaims that “teachers are the single most important resource to a child’s learning,” school librarians are being cut from many schools due to budget concerns.  Again, from the AASL website:

For many children, the school library media specialist is their first experience with a librarian. These information professionals play a critical role, teaching students how to select, use and understand information in all formats. National guidelines recommend that every school building have at least one full-time certified library media professional with appropriate support staff. However, almost one-quarter of public schools and four-fifths of private schools lack a paid school library media specialist.

Very disturbing in these days of NETS, 21st Century Learning Skills, and Race for the Money Top.  If information skills are crucial to success in today’s global economy, shouldn’t it be mandatory for schools to have knowledgeable guides (i.e. school library media specialists) in place to work with students and teachers in acquiring those skills?  After all, a survey conducted by the ALA in 2009 found that 97% of all Americans agree that school library programs are an essential part of the educational experience because they provide resources to students and teachers,and 92% of Americans agree that school library programs are a good value for the tax dollar. 

information literacy Obviously, the school library media specialist is the person who can tie it all together: information literacy, technology literacy, media literacy, and content standards.  For someone like me, who serves as both the school librarian and the school technology coach, the line truly blurs between the two jobs, because technology and literacy are so closely interwoven.  You cannot teach information management skills to students without using Internet resources, and you cannot have students using the Internet without giving them guidance on how to “identify what information is needed, understand how the information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, locate those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information.”  (Quote from the Core Information Literacy website.) 

So whatever your definition of literacy, I’m here to help you integrate it into your classroom!  Spread the word!


Image Attributes:
Literacy Dictionary, http://www.sparrowschool.co.za/IMAGES/literacy.jpg
Information Literacy, http://blogs.ubc.ca/dean/files/2009/02/bloom1.gif
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