Literacy…Just Literacy

Emerging Literacy


I was absolutely amazed watching the video “Splitscreen; A Love Story” on Vimeo yesterday.  Not only for the vision and way that the story is told (which is absolutely amazing), but because of what it was shot with.  This video, with obviously some fantastic planning and editing, was shot entirely with a cellphone (The Nokia N8 according to the description).

This type of story telling through video medium has come a long way since the days that my brothers and I put together a version of The Three Little Pigs when we were kids.  My family was lucky to have a VCR and Camcorder (not sure if that was what they were even called when my parents purchased it) and my dad spent somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2000 for the device(s).  Our VCR alone probably weighed in the area of 25 pounds and was actually in two pieces.  There was no easy way to edit these types of videos and only some families had access to them. The technology was not as ubiquitous at the time, and you had to be a real technology lover to invest in this type of device.  Now these cameras are everywhere.  If you watch the video below, although empowering to the child, it was not just that easy to create and share videos like it is now:

I have had my share of digital cameras since I have become a teacher, but I have never used any of them as much as I have used the camera on my iPhone.  My brother once said that the best camera you have is the one on you, and the nice thing about my iPhone is that it is always with me.  Sites such as SocialCam make it easy to not only take video, but to tweet them out and share them instantly.  I have also enjoyed sharing my pictures on sites such as Flickr and which don’t only make sharing pictures easy, but they make it social.

Will Richardson talked about the importance of literacy  (not digital literacy, but literacy which has and should continuously evolve) and I would say that the visual medium is one that I am expanding in, but still have a long way to go.  As shared by Will, the National Council of Teachers of English define the 21st Century literacies (the first one would be where I would place the visual components that I am trying to expand):

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments
Although I agree with all of the above (the importance of creativity should be emphasized in some manner though), I do believe that we have to drop the term “21st Century” when describing the above. Should this not just be a part of ‘literacy’?  Are using these tools that we have to create and communicate not just a part of being literate in our world?  You even see terms like “digital literacy” being thrown around often. Do we speak of pencil literacy? Paper literacy?  Or do we talk about components of what makes up literacy (reading and writing)?

Embrace Digital Literacy

When looking up the “definition of literacy”, I found the following information on this site:

The definition of literacy is dynamic, evolving, and reflects the continual changes in our society.  Literacy has, for instance, expanded to include literacy in information and communication technologies and critical literacy (Cunningham, 2000; Harste, 1994; Leu, 2002; Mol1, 1994; Paris, Lipson & Wixson, 1994; Yopp & Singer, 1994).

Most of the authors referenced in this article are cited before the 21st century, but they seemed to have a solid understanding that this is something that is continuously changing.  Shouldn’t that be the way for anything that has to do with learning?  Dynamic, evolving and reflecting the way our world is progressing and growing.

As our world grows and changes, what are your thoughts on literacy?  Is creativity a part of literacy?  We know that as things change, often parts of what might have been known as literacy (such as cursive writing?) may need to be dropped or focused on a lot less.  I would love to hear what you think.

I really wanted to share the video that started me thinking about this post below; take the time to watch it as it is pretty amazing both in story and how it was done.



  1. The term "digital literacy" has always concerned me. To me it seemed like we were talking about a different culture of people…. It can create an excuse for those not using technology to explain that they are from a different time. Everyone is in this time. Technology, in its many forms, can enable so much learning, sharing, growing…. in this moment and beyond. This is the landscape we have now.. Let's use the tools we have available, to shape it.

  2. George, I absolutely agree with you here! What a fantastic post. Not only will I share it on Twitter, but I plan on sharing it with the staff at my school too. I think that when we add in the term "21st century," our focus is more on the tool than on the skill. Literacy is literacy, and the literacy that evolves out of the use of technology is what I consider to be, "the literacy of today." Students use these tools to create, to question, to read, to write, to speak, to listen, and to think, and all of this is literacy.

  3. In English, our objectives are sometimes grouped, depending upon the government we serve, into these three pairs: speaking & listening, reading & writing, and viewing & representing. However, I think we're slowly moving towards a sort of input, output, input-output categorization. I could see why some teachers would maintain the differences between print and digital literacy, particularly since instruction in the latter is still being researched — could we say that this research is still being "trailblazed" or has it moved beyond that point? As a point of practicality, the strategies that we use to teach students to read online texts and print texts are not as identical as you might expect. Ultimately, though, I agree that we're headed to a dissolution of these distinctions.

  4. I think how or why we might categorize literacy depends on the level we are talking about it – how far from the tools, we are describing it. For example, reading, writing, and calculating/math literacies can be described and discussed without reference to tools but once we move to that level, the shape, form, and approach to using or improving a particular literacy can be different. Digital writing is different than pencil writing. The capacilities go further than just writing the text – it can involve simultaneous co-writing, threaded peer editing, mind mapping to outline, sharing, receiving feedback. Yes you can do those things, technically, with pencil and paper but it's not practical and not nearly the same. So, I think there is some merit to distinguishing some literacies based on the tools one might use to be literate. To some degree, it may be semantics but if it helps others understand the differences and capabilities, why not distinguish… it seems sometimes that we are afraid to associate literacies with technology sometimes – we like to distance ourselves from our tools. But in fact our tools define us and our literacies. They are part of us and amplify what is possible.

  5. Thanks for this post, and thanks for the link to that video – It is fabulous! When I think about visual, media, and/or transliteracy I think about how it opens up a different way of thinking about literal, inferential and critical meaning, we used that terminology with written text. Is it sufficient to describe the levels of interaction with the content when the literacy transcends different medium? What new terms are needed to analyze meaning…I wonder….

  6. I like that definition – dynamic and evolving are useful to describe something that needs to change as our students grow up in an ever-changing world. I'd add expanding to describe literacy as well. One third of my thesis is about the increasing importance of visual literacy and the need for our students to be able to understand and communicate visually. Creativity is vital too, but I think that's more a way of thinking, or an approach – open-minded, divergent, playful, imaginative – that can be used when teaching.

    Second post in a row that you've written about something in my thesis. Maybe that interview should have been a little bit longer!

  7. I think it goes back to, is there still a debate on whether it not technology is truly making any meaningful and lasting change in learning and our educational systems. You and i would agree that the debate is over and the answer is obvious. When there is such a huge chunk of educators that don't believe technology is necessary for a "good education", it's diffucult to make such a huge jump in a very sacred lexicon. I have studied a significant amount of literacy in my profession and know of its need. At ISTE, Lee Crocket spoke different "fluencies" like Creativity and Solution. That got me thinking about this very question. If there are different categories of fluency, is there a need for a new way to think about literacy. I agree with you here, George, and I think it needs to move in this direction. It's up to us, though, whether or not it will get there.

  8. The definition is too complicated and that makes it useless to me and my students. It needs a handle and it doesn't have one. In English we have names for these handles: figurative language, metaphor, motif among them. In music and art they speak of tone. In dance they speak of the core and the center. Everybody has a different way in to literacy.

    So…I don't believe in the term digital literacy anymore. I believe in skills and tools and critical stances and ways into the problems of our lives. Evolution is a literacy. Adaptation is a literacy. Scientific method is literacy. Digging in your heels is a literacy. I guess my point is that literacies have come to be just a way for my ilk (educators) to wrest the reins from everyone else (peers, parents, pols, et al).

    The word itself is fairly new to our lexicon (1880's) but its antithesis, illiteracy, dates to the 1600's. It seems we understand absence more that presence. We know what it means to be unlettered. What I am suggesting is that the word is much like "stuff" and "things" and "um" and "uhh"–it stands in when we have nothing to say. It isn't useless, but it is nearly so. If it means anything, then it has little or nothing to do with what we as teachers do. And that is? We demonstrate, we use, we share, we fail, we are recognized, we make money, we spend money. All of this is as much a 'literacy' as what these fine, smart educators (no irony or snark intended because I know they are way smarter than me) claim to define. Definitions of complexity are doomed to failure. Explorations of the initial conditions leads us to an idiosyncratic and personal literacy which I have no need to define or evaluate.

  9. As the first poster asserts, literacy will always be literacy. But I also think the term "digital literacy" is helpful in emphasizing the skillful (and yes, creative) use of 21st-century technology to push the progress of the literate society. The distinction is especially significant in other countries which have not fully embraced the Internet.

    At the moment, I teach Literacy classes for teachers online (, though I may very well do it on-site. But given the differing circumstances of my online and my traditional classrooms, I will use different teaching methods and strategies for each one. Specifically, I will have to rely on my know-how of web tools (digital literacy) to make mt online classes effective.

    • I agree that Digital Literacy does encompass skills and tools different from what was Media Literacy and basic literacy in the past. These days anyone of any age can create multi-media products in minutes if not seconds and have it available to the world as quickly. We can also publish our own books, blogs, websites, etc which uses more traditional literacy skills. The volume of materials available and the potential audience is mind boggling. This is new to our time. and brings with it new challenges and opportunities.

      Learners need how to best communicate their message or learning using the new tools available to them. They also need to be able to infer and comprehend media messages made by others. Sound bites, edited photos and other modified sources are another challenge for understanding facts and opinions.

      Literacy has changed.

  10. Pingback: Tell More Stories
  11. Hi there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  12. I am really delighted to read this blog posts which contains lots of valuable information, thanks for providing these kinds of statistics.

  13. I really appreciate your thoughts on literacy as a dynamic and evolving social process. This is actually something I have also been pondering about as a pre-service language arts teacher and will continue to consider. Thank you for sharing!

  14. As someone who doesn’t like to use cursive writing, I could understand the need for a shift away from emphasizing handwriting. I empathize with students that have difficulty writing neatly. After reading the article: A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop, I see the need to develop and maintaing cursive writing skills. The article describes how studies showed that handwritng notes although slower and more time consuming resulted in a greater understanding and synthesis of knowledge. Score one for the Old School!

Comments are closed.