literacy in the 21st century – what does it look like?

I’ve just finished reading a report by Henry Jenkins and others titled ‘Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century‘. As you would notice, I haven’t blogged much recently and the fact that this has moved me to do so should be testament to the effect it’s had.

The report shifts thinking about literacy from being an individual skill that we acquire in isolation to being something we gain and use through involvement with others. It discusses the ‘participatory culture’ that many youth are involved in through media and technology but which is lacking from many of our classrooms. The report also highlights a number of important skills – a set of ‘new literacy skills’ which participants need to be part of this culture.

I won’t go into great detail about the contents of the report other than to implore you to read it. Some of the ideas in it were ones I already had floating around as something I was conscious of in the classroom – the importance of promoting play and how to develop skills in multitasking.

However there were other ideas that I had never thought of before but that suddenly sound like absolutely perfect sense – distributed cognition and collective intelligence. I love this idea that intelligence is not something an individual has alone but is shared across their environment, artefacts they have access to and people they connect with. Looking at knowledge through that lens changes how we see students and their interactions with technological tools. A student accessing Google or using a calculator is not ‘cheating’ but using another part of their network of resources to complete their task. Why do we have to have all our knowledge in our head for it to be deemed valuable? Can’t it be considered equally valuable that we know where to get resources, how to use them and when they’re appropriate?

The list of potential literacy skills required to work effectively with new media is exceptionally valuable and would be a good one for all teachers to consider. I particularly liked a comment later in the report about how teachers shouldn’t see teaching these skills as an ‘add-on’ in what many see as already a bursting school day. We should see them as an integral part of how we teach literacy. Of how we teach in general.

I do understand the larger constraints that classroom teachers are subject to and how it can feel we have limited control over the day to day teaching that goes on in our classrooms. In Australian classrooms at the moment, the focus will, unfortunately, probably be on persuasive writing in a very narrow form thanks to NAPLAN testing which is due shortly. However I don’t believe this is an excuse to ignore reports such as these. It’s not about adding more into the teaching day, it’s about rethinking how we teach.

I think I’ve said enough for now although I’m sure this will be an ongoing train of thought…..

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.