What is literacy?
Often when we think of the word “literacy,” our initial thought has to do with reading or writing. This definition of literacy is extremely limiting.
Before we define exactly what literacy is, I want you to first think about all of the texts that you see in the day. When you wake up, the newspaper and a magazine might be sitting on the breakfast table. On your way to school, you see signs and advertisements on the side of the road. What about the talk shows that are on the radio in the car? Does that count as a text, even though it’s not written? Before we even get to school, there are opinions and ideas thrown at us from all directions. How do we respond to this? When you check your smartphone, you see a video Snapchat from your friend. Can a picture or video count as a text? Though the common definition of text requires written words, we are subjected to written, visual, and auditory facets of information every day.
Even when we are at school, the texts that we see are not limited to that novel you are analyzing in your English class. In some classes, the texts you are expected to read and comprehend are sometimes in different languages: Spanish, of course, but also math and science. Wouldn’t you agree that algebra is a language of its own? Doesn’t physics have it’s own set of vocabulary that you must know in order to get through a reading.
There are different levels to literacy. First, we must be able to read the text. We must be able to look at a word, symbol, or picture and understand what it says.
1. Read the text for what it says.
Second, we need to be able to understand the intended message of the text. We look at the word, symbol, or picture and understand not just what it means, but what it implies. For example, maybe you can read the line, “Wherefore art thou, Romeo,” and see what it says. However, knowing that this means, “Why are you Romeo?” is a different skill.
2. Read the text for what it means.
Third, we need to be able to critically analyze a text that we now understand. Do we believe that the text is true? How does this make us feel? Are there any biases or hidden agendas present? As literate people in this society, we are fed information from our sources. Being literate means not just being able to understand the text, but also being able to make informed decisions about it. This requires active thought and previous knowledge–much more than what is often used in simple reading of text.
3. Consciously and actively make personal decisions about the text.
Lastly, we should be able to communicate what we have learned about a text back out into the world. Having this knowledge and keeping it internal is only half of the process. The other half is sharing knowledge with the society to keep the chain of text and literacy flowing.
4. Communicate knowledge of the text to the world.
In general, this process can be used for any kind of text. For example, being able to say the word “comida” out loud completes step one. Knowing that “comida” means food in Spanish completes step two. Understanding how to properly use “comida” in a sentence and in society is step three, while actually using it in this way is step four. For mathematics, look at the following steps regarding the equation 3x+1=10
1. Be able to read aloud the equation 3x+1=10, knowing the proper names for symbols.
2. Be able to understand what this equation is asking for (solving for x).
3. Know the process of how to solve for x.
4. Be able to share this knowledge and apply the mathematics to the “real world.”
Being critical of the text we see is important for our survival in the 21st century. Media comes at us from all directions and being able to problem solve and form opinions about the texts in our world will allow us to be smart and useful members of our high school, our community, and the world.
In the U-Link, the goal is to do more than complete assignments one time and study for that upcoming test next week. When we can understand the processes and methods that make up the content of our classes, we find ourselves learning material and strategies that will stay with us forever. Most of all, we find that thinking deeply and critically about our surroundings can help us all to be literate of the world.