Return to Islay

“I know only one thing about the technologies that await us in the future. We will find ways to tell stories with them.” – Jason Ohlar.

On Friday I had the pleasure to return to the beautiful isle of Islay to lead  a staff development day on Literacy with the staff of Islay High School and its associated primary schools. Like most of the profession in Scotland at the moment they are beginning to realise the significant implications of the  Curriculum for Excellence reforms, and are wrestling with some of the central issues, such as the notion of literacy development as the responsibility of all, and what that might look like in practical terms.

I hope I was able to demonstrate that the development of literacy is quite explicit in all of the curriculum frameworks, so in a sense there is no escaping that responsibility, no matter what sector you work in or what subject you teach, but the challenges for primary and secondary teachers are quite different, something which I will return to in another blog post. In the meantime, however, if people are to embrace that responsibility, the whole school community, including parents, must first come to a common understanding of what it is to be literate in 2010, what it might mean to be literate in 2020 and beyond, and to develop a common language around it. Here is an outline of my initial presentation to the staff – I would welcome your thoughts on it:

  • The definition of  ‘literacy’ in Curriculum for Excellence is “the set of skills which allows an individual to engage fully in society and in learning, through the different forms of language which society values and finds useful.” 
  • The Literacy framework recognises that the meaning of ‘text’ has to include the huge range of texts with which we engage on a daily basis, and that we should use a range of texts to reflect  this in our learning and teaching.
  • We live in a society where the image is becoming the dominant means of communication, and where once we used pictures to illustrate our written texts, increasingly we are using written text to illustrate the pictures.
  • Most of us engage with moving image texts more than any other form of text in any given day, so the development of literacy skills in young people should recognise that fact.
  • What links all of these texts is that they are all a form of narrative, so when we develop literacy skills in young people what we are developing is the set of skills which will enable them to engage critically with the range of narratives which are in the world, and to be able to construct their own effective narratives.
  • As teachers we also learn, and teach, through narratives, and the quality of the narrative will determine the effectiveness of the learning. To put it simply, there is a range of ways to tell a story, and we should use all the tools at our disposal to make it as good a story as possible, whether the story is a fictional one, or the story of Ohm’s Law, or the story of the First World War.

I would like to thank the staff on Islay for engaging so willingly and positively with some tough questions and activities, including subjecting themselves to a spelling test! You are in a very good place, literally and metaphorically,to show the rest of us how collaborative working is the only way we can make progress, how new technologies make it easier for us to share both ideas and information, and how the the new vision of the curriculum is much more dependent on the quality of the relationships in a community and not about mechanical processes. Slainte!

To see all the photographs from the event click here.

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