Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s my experience with literacy and school was much different than the current generation’s experience. Literacy as I was growing up, was the ability to read and write. Technology was not involved until mid to late high school and even then, it was limited when compared to today’s interactions. As a teacher and a parent, I have found that I need to re-evaluate different my personal philosophies as the world around me changes. According to Rotherham and Willingham (2009), the skills students and teachers need for the 21st century are not new. Critical thinking, problem-solving, information literacy, and global awareness have been crucial to human progress throughout history. What is new is the extent to which individual and collective successes now depend on all students having such skills (Rotherham and Willingham, 2009). Personal technology devices, the media, and the internet connect us all in a way not experienced before. Alvermann and Wilson (2007) stated that “an adolescent may speak a heritage language at home, converse in English with friends, receive text messages on a cellular phone, write an analytical essay in school, and peruse multimodal websites, all in the same day.” Literacy is now an integral piece of each part of our lives. I view literacy as reading, writing, communicating, listening, and understanding across environments using different modalities.
Alvermann and Wilson (2007) noted the recommendation from Street (1995) to shift to the term ‘literacies’ as it takes into account the different ways communicating socially and academically. I agree with this view as a teacher and mother. The whole person should be considered and along with all of the different ways they give and receive information. Elizabeth et al. (2000), considered best practice in adolescent literacy as an ecological approach. They suggested an approach toward adolescent literacy as linking practices with principles, determining the fit of effectiveness claims with teacher specific situations, and attending to interpersonal and personal dimensions of literacy. In order to make literacy meaningful and effective educators must account for the rapidly changing world and how our students are functioning in it.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for literacy call for cross-disciplinary literacy for all students by the end of high school. The Core Standards encourage inquiry, critical analysis, and distribution of material in ways that are meaningful, realistic, and evidence-driven for all students, including English Language Learners. Of paramount importance is the focus of the CCSS on content area literacy. With implementation of the Standards, students will be required to demonstrate independence, build content knowledge, and engage in critical thinking about new material. They will also be expected to value evidence, understand and appreciate new perspectives and differing cultures, and use technology effectively and efficiently (CCSSO, 2010). This is changing the role of content area teachers regarding teaching of literacy skills. These teachers must now teach skills not just content. Traditionally, students learned breading skills in elementary school and then applied those skills in secondary school. However, students are struggling with understanding different types of literacy. Flippo (2011), views literacy instruction as non-linear and suggests looking backwards at reading instruction for secondary teachers.
So the focus should shift from reading skills only being taught in the lower grades, to students continually being taught literacy skills throughout their education. He also noted that “literacy researchers at all levels have been calling for more content materials in our reading, writing, and dialoguing in school.” Windt (2013) speaks about in order to be successful during high school and into adulthood, secondary students need to develop several literacy skills such as: the ability to read, comprehend difficult texts and to communicate socially and electronically in effective and meaningful ways. Students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and those with below level skills are also of concern. Difficulties with literacy often present dire consequences for students at the secondary level. Secondary textbooks may be inaccessible for students with even slight difficulties with comprehension (Windt, 2013). This reinforces the importance of reading instruction across content areas. Often students in reading interventions are exposed to limited types and levels of text so when they go to another class they don’t know how to interact or engage with the text. Seibert et al. (2016) explored the benefit of teaching disciplinary literacies instead of general academic literacy. They believe this focus supports literacy educators and content area reformers as it will increase collaboration and support for student success.
In conclusion, it appears to be a universal agreement that students need to be taught literacy skills within each content area to improve comprehension, engagement, and performance. However, content area teachers need to be given the support to implement this practice. Collaboration between literacy specialists and content area teachers is vital. Time and resources are often the top two concerns of a teacher. Policy makers need to consider what there is actually time to teach and adjust the curriculum accordingly. Teachers need to be given strategies, resources, and staff to address struggling readers so that they are able to be engaged in the classroom. If content area teachers, literacy leaders and policy makers work together they will be able to support all students in their education.
My visual representation of literacy contains all the components of literacy in the 21st century. This includes academic, social, and cultural contexts, as they are an integral part of each other. I chose this shape because I feel it shows how every element is connected and flows together.
- Alvermann, D. &. (2007, Volume 3). Redefining adolescent literacy instruction. Literacy for the new millennium, pp. 3-20.
- Bledsoe, K. (2018). The generational differences in teachers’ implementation and use of 21st century technology in the elementary classroom. 2066710465: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.
- Elizabeth, B. J. (2000). Reinventing adolescent literacy for new times:Perennial and millennial issues. Journal od Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 43(5), 400-410.
- Flippo, R. (2011). Transcending the divide:Where college and secondary reading and study research coincide. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(6), 396-401.
- Gersten, R. (2016). Commentary: The tyranny of time and the reality principle. Challenges to implementing effective reading interventions in schools. New directions for child and adolescent development, 154, 113-116.
- Graham, A. K. (2016). Disciplinary literacy in the middle school:Exploring pedagogical tensions. Middle Grades Research Journal 11, 63-83.
- Street, B. (1995). Social literacies:Critical approaches to literacy in development, ethnography, and education. London,England: Longman.
- Wendt, J. (Spring 2013). Combating the crisis in adolescent literacy:Exploring literacy in the secondary classroom. American Secondary Education , 38-48.