Thursday, December 6, 2007

Literacy - leaping or lumbering?

Beginning in the 4th grade learners begin to use reading to learn other content areas. They need a basic literacy in reading to accomplish this. Learners often gain writing literacy concurrent to reading literacy. Arithmetical literacy is developed separately. Well developed literacies have long been assumed necessary to success in life.

A basic reading literacy is often assumed to be sufficient. Does that really mean a phonetic, sounding it out kind of word calling or is the comprehension of material read? If it is comprehension, then at what grade level? The majority of the American public read newspapers written at a 5th grade level. That is elementary school. Is that really enough? Why are learners stopping on that plateau? Many national reports have lamented the decline in reading following the 1940s and the rise in tv viewing since. This correlation is assumed to be causation, and it may well be.

A new literacy is now needed. In this age of the internet, digital literacy is needed. Will a rise in internet time raise reading time? I spend 80% of online time reading and writing after all. I am hardly illiterate unless you ask the learners at my school. Then you will discover how ignorant I truly am.

Will we define a proficiency level for digital literacy? What level will be considered sufficient for a successful life? Another thought that annoys me: why are these literacies thought to act independently of each other and why are they taught inside boxes? Why can't we draw the box around all the subjects, integrate all the separate subjects, and have learning studios a la Clarence Fischer?

Even more radically - why not throw out the cafeteria style high school Carnegie units altogether? Replace the outdated with learning studios where learners work under a lead learner, invoking the knowledge and expertise of other learners as needed. A learning studio would be a place where virtual conversations are prevalent, where reading, writing, arithmetical, & digital literacies soar well above the 5th grade level. These learning studios would be places that are visited almost 24/7 by experts in fields that of interest to learners.

Remember when the expert in nanotechnology visited a high school classroom in Georgia because the textbook wasn't sufficient? Imagine learning studios where this happened all the time. Imagine a place where learners gather at all hours to confer with international experts in many time zones. This is the future of schools I have imagined since my youth. I am not a patient person (many will attest to that). When will we get on with it?
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