21st Century Literacy

Teaching is one profession where the requirements and expectations are constantly changing due to the changes in society. As teachers, it is essential that we are educating our young people to keep up with the changes happening in society. It is also crucial that teachers are committed to understanding the changes happening in society and are thinking critically about how their teaching practices need to continue to evolve to meet the different demands of society.

Traditionally, literacy in the classroom was defined by the student’s ability to read, write and do arithmetic. As society progresses literacy also progresses and in today’s society being literate means much more than having the ability to read, write and do arithmetic. So what does it mean to be literate today?

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Our world is changing at a pace that can sometimes seem difficult to keep up with. Literacy alike is also changing rapidly. To become fully literate in today’s society one must acquire skills greater than just reading, writing, and arithmetic.  As stated in the article Media Literacy: A National Priority for a Changing World,

The convergence of media and technology in a global culture is changing the way we learn about the world and challenging the very foundations of education. No longer is it enough to be able to read the printed word; children, youth, and adults, too, need the ability to critically interpret the powerful images of a multimedia culture.

No longer is being literate having the ability to just read and write. To be fully literate one must have the skills to also become media literate which is having the ability to think critically and understand the many messages we receive through multimedia throughout our day. As Staci defined in her catalyst video, “Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending.” We now live in a multimedia world where messages are sent to us through many different media throughout our days and it is our job as educators to help children understand these messages and teach them to be able to think critically about what the messages mean to them.

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As teachers, we need to begin to understand how the curriculum we teach in our classrooms needs to change as well as our teaching methods and approaches need to change to address the multimedia world that our students live in. We need to help them learn not only how to navigate the technology and use it to gather information but also how to be critical in the way that they analyze the information that they have gathered. Through a change in education, we can teach students how they can use technology to further their understanding of multimedia information.

As stated in the article Media Literacy: A National Priority for a Changing World, becoming media literate allows students to move away from the idea of teachers providing knowledge and students storing all of the information in their brains, towards students having the skills to acquire and search for any information that they will need to know. The world is constantly changing and data is produced at a faster rate than ever before therefore it is unrealistic for students to be able to store these amounts of data in their brains. These skills, in turn, allow students to be able to find knowledge rather than store knowledge we have provided them with.

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It also means that we are taking time to teach students how to approach new technologies that they will encounter. We help them to build and understand the skills they need to approach new technology with enthusiasm, fearlessly as well as skeptically and critically. We build on their reading and writing skills by teaching them how to use technology to help further their thinking and understanding of the world around them. This allows students to become digital learners where they can learn anything, anywhere at any time. Becoming digital literate is an essential and powerful tool students need to master to become fully literate in today’s society.

As a teacher what are you doing in your classroom to ensure that your literacy program is pushing beyond the traditional understanding of what is literacy? How can you ensure that you are providing your students with the experiences they need to become fully literate in today’s society? As teachers, it is important that we question and challenge our teaching pedagogies to continue to grow as an educator and ensure that we are providing our students with the skill set that they need to be the best that they can be in today’s society.



About cdegelman

Grade 3/4 teacher at Douglas Park School in Regina, Saskatchewan
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