Reflections about the Meaning of Literacy

  • Topics: literacy
  • File Type: Text
  • Literacy is the ability to use available symbol systems that are fundamental to learning and teaching – for the purposes of comprehending and composing—for the purposes of making and communicating meaning and knowledge.  —Patricia Stock, Professor Emerita, Michigan State University (June, 2012)

    LiteracyLiteracy extends beyond the print-only world of reading and writingLiteracies are shaped by contexts, participants, and technologies. Today's context including developing technologies, along with visual, audio, gestural, spatial, or multimodal discourses. —from the NCTE Policy Research Brief Literacies of Disciplines (2011)

    Being literate is at the heart of learning in every subject area. Being literate is necessary for learning. As students progress through school and engage with subject areas more deeply, concepts become more challenging. Students use a greater variety of learning resources with more and more complex language and structure and increasingly sophisticated graphical and numerical representations. Students learn writing and reading strategies, using evidence and reasoning pertinent to each subject area, to comprehend and represent knowledge using traditional and emerging media. —Principles for Learning (2010) ACTE, CoSN, NCSS, NCTE, NCTM, & NSTA

    Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. NCTE Position Statement Defining 21st Century Literacies

    Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society. —The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Position Paper (2004) The Plurality of Literacy and its Implications for Policies and Programs

    Please add your own reflections about what literacy means to you by leaving a comment below.

    veronica farrell

    Language learning or Literacy

    While language learning takes place from birth onwards Literacy is the ability to make sense of the world in which we live. Literacy is related to schooling but poor schooling can numb the ability to make sense of the world. Teachers can help children become literate by avoiding the routines of school subjects and the scripted curriculum. 

    Literacy is awareness. It is how you intuit the world around you - what is left of nature, human activity and how you fit into it. Literacy is to be able to use language to question and to explain. Ultimately it is the ability to secure your place in the world by using language to sustain relationships, understand what is communicated and to communicate what you understand.




    One Facet of Literacy

    Literacy opens doors to a wider range of experiences and choices in 21st century life. 


    Thoughts on Literacy

    Literacy is indeed a word that holds a different meaning for each person who incorporates it into his or her vocabulary.  I believe literacy to be a path that begins with letter, sound, and word recognition, but leads us to a deeper understanding of text, experiences, and the world.  Literacy allows for connections to form between our own lives and experiences to the world around us, giving us opportunities to gain diverse perspectives, exchange ideas, and practice tolerance.  Literacy allows us to be both learners and educators.

    Rex Babiera

    Multitudes of Literacy

    When I think about literacy, I recall Walt Whitman's words, "I am large, I contain multitudes." You see, I want literacy to mean so many things, perhaps too many to be fair to one word.

    I imagine in my mind a "literate" person or what I hope every student (no matter what age) becomes. And that literate person isn't just someone who can communicate meaning and knowledge through words, images, and other means of expression. It's also a person who looks for meaning and strives for deeper understanding of the many messages we encounter every day, ultimately leading to stronger connections between the diverse members of our human family. It's a person who finds his or her own voice and uses it. It's a person who can hear the signal amidst the noise. It's also a person who finds joy in the many ways of knowing we have available to us, who begins to see both the art and the science in everything around us.

    I could go on, but again, that wouldn't be fair to that one word, "literacy." So perhaps, ultimately, it doesn't matter what the word means. I think what really matters is what we do--the conditions we set and the actions we take as educators--to amplify the patterns of literate behavior that all the definitions of literacy encompass.