If time and effort are of the essence, you want to make sure you make the most of your efforts. You also risk the challenge of “taster’s fatigue.” That is when your receptors are so worn out or overused that you can’t taste anymore. At that point, human fallibilities take over, and there is likely no effect.
Hot or not in literacy education
In education, we also focus on what is hot, or ultimately not important. The hot topics are a large focus for educators in Pre-K up through 12 during the limited 180 days in a school year. Everything else is deemed as not worth the time, focus, and expenditure.
In literacy contexts, this yearly determination of what is hot or not in K-12 reading & writing is conducted by the International Literacy Association (ILA). This year’s report was culled from over 2,000 respondents around the globe. The majority of participants were classroom teachers, reading & literacy specialists or coaches, supervisors, or school and district administrators. Participants were asked to rank the “hotness” of 17 different literacy topics and indicate their level of importance.
According to the report, the purpose of this report is to identify the topics that are trending and receiving the most attention among educators, policymakers, and the media. The topics identified as “important” are those that are most critical to advancing literacy for all learners.
Hot but not important this year
In this year’s report, Digital Literacy was #1 on the “hot list”, but #13 on the “importance list”. The ILA defined digital literacy as “teaching children how to compose and communicate using digital technologies as well as how to comprehend and evaluate information in digital forms.” The takeaway of this section of the report basically states that we give digital literacy too much attention in the classroom. In effect, it’s not a valuable use of valuable time during the school year.
Digging deeper in the report, ILA shared two quotes that help contextualize some of the thinking in this issue. A literacy coordinator in Cameroon shared, “Digital literacy is being overemphasized…Modeling, moving from support to independence, and critical thinking are far more important than the mode of presentation.” Whereas, a school administrator in Liberia stated, “Access to digital technology is very limited in Liberia and is even nonexistent in rural parts of the country. Nevertheless, digital literacy is more or less pivotally essential for success in the 21st century.”
The final report bundled digital literacy, disciplinary literacy and critical literacy into what they’re calling “21st Century Skills.” In the latest issue of Literacy Daily, they explain that all three areas share a “common goal” of improving how students “consume and evaluate information and communicate their ideas.” Disciplinary literacy refers to the idea that literacy is unique from one field to another and that each teacher in a subject area should be teaching reading as part of the discipline. Critical literacy is a pedagogical perspective that encourages the student to analyze the text for deep understanding of the author’s viewpoint and motivations.
Missing the mark
Teaching in a K-12 classroom is an enormous challenge. Even more to the point, helping a child develop the literacy practices they’ll need to interact and communicate safely and effectively now in their future is a herculean task. I recognize the fact that you need to teach everything, and focus on everything, but do not have the time in the day, let alone the entire school year to teach and focus on every area. But, I think we’ve missed the mark, and run the risk of once again not focus on literacy practices in new and digital spaces that will negatively impact our students. Put simply, we are not, and have not effectively been integrating digital literacies into our educational systems. I believe this is true not only for Pre-K through 12, but also into higher education.
There are many symptoms of this lack of authentic integration of the Internet and other communication technologies into our classrooms. These symptoms range from regular news reports that suggest that children leave K-12 not prepared to do anything of value in the workforce. These reports are echoed by the same complaints that higher education is also less of a value than it has in years past. These symptoms of the problem are also shown in news reports that look at the future of jobs, and the recent trends that show businesses creating their own in-house education and training programs to teach employees how to be digitally agile as this is not happening in our schools. I cover these stories weekly in my newsletter. Please subscribe for greater detail on the trends that I’m finding.
I think we are not effectively integrating digital literacies into education, and have not done so for at least a decade. Enormous changes are happening as we move from print to pixel, and our classrooms, and literacy education more specifically, are not accounting for this change. This is an aggravating factor that impacts the ways in which we view the importance of education in our classrooms. This in turn impacts the poor pay and retention of teachers in the U.S., and the challenges we have in filling pre-service programs, and ultimately our classrooms. Let me explain my thinking.
Making sure kids are safe
As I explained in a recent keynote and post, I’m a believer in first principles thinking. During my time teaching in K-12, and now my framing for my pre-service teachers, I indicate that our basic job as K-12 educators is to make sure students are safe now and in the future. As a literacy educator, our job is to make sure we help create literate individuals to allow them to engage as a member of society. We need to help them read, write, and communicate so they can participate safely with others. This involves applying for jobs, making points in a discussion, reading signs as you drive down the street.
Yet, as we recognize that our society is increasingly more interconnected in digital spaces, we do not effectively create a space for these changes in our classrooms. As digital texts and tools become more ubiquitous, we do not think progressively about how to leverage these spaces and contexts to prepare our children now and in the future. As I reflect on my time as an educator and researcher, this has not been happening for some time.
Some historical context
Ten years ago, I was working on my dissertation while at the University of Connecticut. In this research, I was studying the critical evaluation skills of adolescents and they read and write online. In this research, I shared hoax websites with students to see if they were able to effectively evaluate the credibility and relevance of information found online. On one specific day, I had groups of students research these websites that they did not know were hoaxes. One by one they went up in front of the class and reported on why this information was useful (relevant) and truthful (credible). You can see some video of them reviewing websites in the video embedded below.
After the students all incorrectly identified these hoax websites as credible and relevant, I told them the websites were all hoaxes. To this, they all were visibly upset and many cried. They exclaimed that I was a teacher and shouldn’t lie to them. They exclaimed that they read these things on the Internet, and as a result, it had to be true. As part of my dissertation, I then had them study the content and contextual pieces that fooled them, and had them recreate those clues as they created hoax websites of their own.
My reason for sharing this historical context is that this research was conducted ten years ago. The participants in that study are now adults. In reviewing this earlier work, I do not see much that has changed in the classroom as we think about the use of the Internet in our schools.
Furthermore, in this work we viewed the critical evaluation of online information, and the apparent failures to effectively fold digital literacies into instruction as a primarily academic topic. That is to say that previous work centered on information that individuals needed to evaluate based on their merits. The ultimate impact may be minimal to the individual. Some of the questions we asked in the past focused on questions like “what is the height of Mt. Fuji?” In the grand scheme of things, a wrong answer may not negatively impact the learner.
However, we now see that the use, consumption, evaluation, and creation of digital texts is not an academic issue. We know that trolls, bots, and algorithms are actively targeting individuals across digital, social spaces. We know that the purpose is to confuse, misdirect, and harass individuals and impact their online and offline behaviors. We also know that trolling and online harassment lead to instances in which all individuals are provided with an opportunity to share their narrative and opinion online. This is regardless of their age, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. We now have a need to educate all individuals on how to interact in these spaces. We also need to solidify attempts to empower others, while advocating for these literacy practices for all.
Keeping digital literacy hot
Eating spicy foods is a bit of an art form. There needs to be an appreciation for the burn and possible enhancement of the flavor brought on with the heat. Of course there is a bit of allure and mysticism that comes along with eating spicy ghost peppers. It could be a display of willpower, strength, or determination in seeking to tackle spicy content. Or…it could just be simple arrogance or ignorance.
Given the potential hazards that could occur while introducing digital literacies into the classroom, educators must adopt a flexible disposition and an appreciation for the complexities, advantages, and limitations inherent online. They must constantly consider changes to these spaces to permit new concepts, processes, and approaches of information delivery to continue developing in society. Educators and students to work collaboratively together to continually define (and redefine) what it means to be able to read, write, and communicate effectively using digital texts.
All of this requires that educator (and students) reconsider their concepts of “school” in addition to these digital literacies and their potential use. Just as we find with the eating of spicy peppers, this integration may require an equal balance of personal epistemological perspectives. There is also a need for flexibility and an indication of what works for each individual person.
Teaching, learning, and assessments that effectively integrate digital literacy requires that educators regularly problematize their thinking about the opportunities for the classroom. Eating hot food can either be a pleasant exhilarating culinary experience or a personal unyielding nightmare. Bringing technology and digital spaces into the classroom can also bring about great opportunities, along with the potential for treading uncharted waters. The focus, especially in K-12 literacy education, should be to keep digital literacy on the front burner, and as hot as possible for the upcoming future.
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