Friday, August 25, 2006

New Literacies for a New Millenium

  Posted by Picasa It is hard to imagine that such an innocent act as reading could limit our thinking. After all what could be more innocuous than reading a book?

Certainly the thought that the centrality of literacy in our lives could be questioned is hardly considered. However literacy wasn't aways central to human life. Until the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 1400s reading was only for the very elite, books having to be copied, one by one, by copyists in their monasteries. The Church kept reading to themselves – the rest of the community learned by oral language, art, music and song and dance.

After trying to hold back multiple printing the Church soon took control of book printing to suit their own political or religious ends. They appreciated the power of the written word but they were not able to stop its development. As a result the new technology created the impetus for the explosion of learning that was to be known as the Renaissance.

Literacy became the keystone of learning reducing oral history to the background and in the process, over the generations, important skills were lost. This was compounded by the industrial age when functional reading and arithmetic became the important skills for employment. One could also add obedience!

The emphasis on reading has, according to researchers, actually shaped our brains to think in linear ways and many students lives are now determined by how well they achieve in this one area of learning.

Today new technology is reshaping our consciousness. Modern information technology is having the same effect as the earlier invention of printing but on a amazingly compressed time scale. We are entering what some call the 'second Renaissance'.

This is not to underrate literacy as an important skill to access ideas and extend imagination but it has lost its primacy – except in schools. Young people today live in a post or multi- literate world. New technology offers no threat to them. As one writer has said they are ‘digital natives’ while the rest of us are often uncomfortable ‘digital immigrants’

Education now needs to think of the attributes that learners require in post literate and post industrial society. There are those that call the new era the ‘Age of Ideas and Creativity’, an era when talent and imagination of citizens will be the basis of future survival.

Reading will not be enough. Students need to be exposed to a full a range of creative arts, learn to see connections, and in the process, develop every talent they have. Aesthetic literacy will be vital as design and quality become economic imperatives. Oral language (story telling) and personal skills will return as vital future attributes.

This will require schools to look hard at how they educate their students.

Secondary schools, in particular, are structures more suited to an industrial era. A quick visit down the corridors will illustrate how little they have changed over the decades. Transformation is their only choice.

Primary schools, more child -centred, are still locked into past thinking. There the ‘evil twins of literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the rest of the curriculum’. Primary classrooms have almost made a complete return to an obsession with the ‘Three Rs’ of the Victorian Age. Little time is left for intensive exploration of 21st literacies. A necessary obsession with developing students’ talents and a passion for imaginative quality work is missing.

How students learn, and why they learn, are the keys to the future. A ‘personalized’ learning approach, based on rich real and relevant ‘challenges, allowing students to work in teams to utilize their individual strengths, and able to make use of the full range of information technology, is the way of the future. Students need to develop the literacies of the creative arts and the sensibilities of a sensual, emotional, and visual culture, not just a one dimensional literate one.

Traditional literacy needs to vacate its central place and become one of variety modes of communication and expression forms to be made available to students. As well older forms of communication, seen in pre literate cultures (‘suffocated’ by literacy) need greater focus allowing greater cultural appreciation and diversity.

The current technical approach to teaching (criteria, feedback, pre-planned intentions, narrow performance achievement targets) needs to be replaced by an appreciation of the 'artistry' of the teacher to develop ‘communities of inquiry’ so as to develop the idiosyncratic ‘learning power’ of all learners. Educationalist Guy Claxton calls this power ‘learnacy’. Such an approach would ensure no student need fail.

Such developments would transform what it is mean to be fully human. Students who understand how all actions are connected,who value their own creativity and talents, who appreciate the joy of learning, will be our best hope for a sustainable world.

We need 'new minds for a new millennium'.

We either need to change or be changed; the 'status quo'is not an option.

Schools ought to lead the way. If only they had the courage, wit and imagination.


Anonymous said...

The new 'three Rs' are: relevance , relationships and rigor ( Bill Gates)

Guy Claxtion's 'three Rs' are :

resilience - 'bounce back-ability'
resoucefulness - tools and strategies
reflection - to consider 'next time'
reciprocity - shared intelligence

They all add up his 'learnacy'

Focusing on literacy is lunacy!

Anonymous said...

All most primary teachers and their advisers think about is literacy and numeracy - probably because they are a talent free zone.

Anonymous said...

The first anon commentator can't count - Claxton has four Rs! But great anyway.

A lot of schooling is imposed 'lunacy' - a nightmare for many students but still we change little. Been to a secondary school near you lately.A step back into the 19th century!

Anonymous said...

Steve Maharey called literacy both a 'foundation skill' ( which it is) and the 'heart' of learning ( which it isn't).

Learning to read doesn't drive creative individuals, their particular passion does, it provides the 'heart' - the motive for all their learning.

Anonymous said...

Schools ought to 'lead the way' - that is if they actually had some leaders!