Friday, February 27, 2009

What is literacy?

Someone said to me that today's class was the best one that we have had all semester, and I am inclined to agree. Today was amazing! To my students: I came out of the classroom proud of the great intellectual work you guys did today, and really excited for the rest of the semester (and to read what you are turning in tonight).

Somehow I managed to fill both the front and back chalkboards of our classroom with notes on our discussion--I tried to use a mind-mapping/webbing approach with a lot of lines connecting our trains of thought. I wish I had had a camera to capture it, it would be a good picture to use to illustrate what I do for a living...

We started with the question--"What does literacy mean to you?" Most people didn't know the word literacy at all. That branched into literature, and then someone offered a definition of "ability to read and write". From there, we went to "literate vs. illiterate", and someone said illiterate means you can't read or write.

The next question from there: what is reading? (I like asking the question, "What is it?" about lots of things in our class, texts, videos,'s not always an easy question.) If you met a space alien, if you were on another planet and you met aliens who never wrote anything down, who had never even heard of such a thing, how would you explain it? Someone mentioned demonstrating it to them by writing on sand, and then we got into talking about comprehending and texts.

Okay: so if reading is comprehending a text, what is a text? I drew the distinction between "text" and "a text". One of my students jumped in to say that text is just some words, but a text is substantial--it is a thing that has (carries) meaning (like a text message).

So, then we defined reading as interpreting a text and writing as creating a text. Then, we went back to literacy--if literacy is the ability to read and write, but we define reading and writing in these ways then this is our working definition of literacy: interpreting, understanding, and creating X, where X is a text of any kind.

So: the aliens again. The space alien tells them that oh, well, their people make things that have meaning and interpret them, but they sing them. They sing songs that have their histories and stories in them, and they hear them, and remember them. Are they literate or illiterate? One student said yes and one said no--but the person who said no then talked about how it depends on your definition of literacy. By our definition, they are literate, but if you say reading is "understanding visual symbols for words" then they aren't. We transitioned into talking for a little while about why we use alphabetic writing and the difference between a story that's been written down and one that's told orally.

The big finish was the question: by our definition, what kinds of literacy do you have? We came up with a list: music, movie, poetry, text message, photography, painting, graffiti, computer, blog, and culture literacy. Then, I asked them where they had seen this list before...this is where it gets tricky. We realized that this list of literacies was almost the same as the list of our assets, and that our personal assets can also be seen as forms of literacy. We also compared this list to the list of genres we had talked about previously, and that you can also have genre literacy. This was the lightbulb moment--everything we have talked about so far in this class relates perfectly to literacy! Oh! Our teacher does know what she's doing!

Long story short, I can't believe we covered all this in 50 minutes and I am sooooooo excited to continue this discussion.


  1. to me this week to so terrible, I have two much homework to turn in. I just finished the rest of two analysis. I checked your comment and I am still thinking the end of my part 1......

  2. my assiment2 is on my blog, im a follwer of ur blog which is gys88324. im yanshuo gong.stone thx

  3. i didnt see any following in my blog. u never go and watch what im i writing?sorry

  4. plz go to my blog once, im feeling loney. and let me know i didnt make mistakes or mised and thing i need to do. thx franny