The National Literacy Conference in the Glasgow Hilton Hotel today was a great opportunity for many people with influence in Scottish education to hear some clear messages about the issues confronting literacy teachers in the new age, particularly in the keynote speech from Professor David Booth, Chair of Literacy at Nipissing University (no smirking!), and Professor Emeritus and Scholar in Residence at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto- isn’t that the longest job title you’ve ever seen?
Professor Booth, the author of many significant teacher reference books and texts in all areas of language development, had the audience hanging on his every word, with a combination of sardonic humour, knowledge, awareness and pragmatism. I am sure the video will be put online at Learning and Teaching Scotland’s Literacy website in due course, but in the meantime I will try to summarise the key points of the presentation:-
- For many students, comprehension has become a question and answer activity with no time to enter into a dialogue with others to construct meaning
- We need to think again about the definition of “illiterate” – would it apply to someone who can’t read sheet music? charts? knitting patterns?
- Effective teachers enrich their courses with texts that are new to the students while at the same time building opportunities and respect for the students’ own texts
- As teachers and librarians we have magical powers to ensure that young people experience texts that can change their lives in different ways
- All of us need to think about the text we have experienced by interacting with others. We change ourselves as we rethink, retell, or re-imagine the original text
- We need to teach our students what an act of literacy means, and we model our own attitudes and behaviours as we work alongside them
- The page form may be replaced by text that rolls vertically but the image has not replaced the alphabetical code
- There is not one definition of literacy since literacy practices are multiple, and shift according to context, speaker, text, and the function of the literacy event
- Our traditional way of thinking about and defining literacy will be insufficient if we hope to provide youngsters with what they will need to be full participants in the world of the future
- Most of us in education spend hours each day reading and writing on a computer while celebrating the book as the most important learning tool in the students’ world
- The disparities between the plugged-in or wireless electronic bedroom and the traditional school contribute to the alienation many students feel about what goes on in their classroom
- Many people are confused about the difference between literacy and literature. Too many parents and teachers regard only novels, poetry and so-called literary non-fiction as literature
- We need to move towards supporting readers’ decisions about the print resources they select – their newspapers, magazines, their work and organisational materials, and what they read for fun and games
- The literature canon has not altered much over the last forty or fifty years. The same novels are used without much awareness of gender or equality issues, and are often read and analysed chapter by chapter
- Literacy is a foundation of citizenry in any language, a right of freedom
- We want to encourage critical thinking in our classrooms, to create situations with the texts we offer that require students to engage in critical and co-operative conversations
- We want to encourage our students to become more critical in their use of all media, including the internet
- Critical literacies ask us to examine how particular texts work, what choices the author made, the intent of the publisher, the point of view expressed, the omissions and the biases
- What many students value as literacy texts can unintentionally be dismissed or demeaned in school. And yet their deep involvement with and dedication to computers, magazines, CDs, videos, card collections and hobbies can offer us entry points into their lives as readers and writers
I hope that has given you a flavour of some of the key issues under discussion today. The good news is that the re-definition of literacy (or literacies) and texts, is the foundation of the new Literacy and English framework in Curriculum for Excellence, an excellent place from which to start.
Watch and listen to Professor David Booth talking about literacy education here.
See also Engagement in Reading: Lessons Learned from Three PISA Countries in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.