Being Literate – A Stranger in a Strange Land (ECI 832)

“Dónde está el baño?” These words became critically important to me during my recent journey to Cuba. Being understood by others even with the small pieces of literacy that I held meant that I was able to navigate my way around a “strange land” with a portion of confidence. I knew that at the very least I would be able to make the basic request and get some help! After I gained this knowledge, I was able to transfer what I had learned into new areas – “Donde” = “Where” = “Donde agua?” = “Where water?” (Bottled water was a secondary critical need while basking in the hot sun.)

We were asked the question, “What does it mean to be literate today?” My first thoughts went to how we struggle from childhood to develop the ability to communicate – to be heard and understood by others. With each word that we learn as children, we fill with excitement and babble away to our parents and friends. As we move our way through our grade school years, we are exposed to new words, meanings, and applications. Each word that we learn opens up fresh lands for our feet to wander.

To me, a crucial part of being literate means learning the language that allows us to comfortably access and wander the landscape. With these words, we develop the ability to communicate, listen, and be understood. It goes even wider than that when we think about developing the ability to understand the events and issues that impact our daily lives. For example, when the Covid arrived, people were inundated with words like “virus,” “variant,” “mutations,” “antibodies,” and “RNA.” In order to understand how viruses work, we needed to strengthen our scientific literacies to understand the impacts of how our bodies function and how viruses work. In my Biology classes over the last few years, these are the types of words students learn along with the meanings behind them. They also explore how these words interact together to form a larger picture of overall health for their bodies and for their communities.

There are many different types of media that we are exposed to on a daily basis. It becomes challenging to sift our way through the detritus and find the nuggets of truth. The proliferation of “fake news,” “misinformation,” and “disinformation” add layers of difficulty to these efforts. Even the term, “fake news,” is a broad category that contains different levels of understanding, and it is important to critically examine what we are reading and seeing on all types of media.

“A review of previous studies that have used the term fake news reveals six
types of definition: (1) news satire, (2) news parody, (3) fabrication, (4) manipulation, (5) advertising, and (6) propaganda. What is common across these definitions is how fake news appropriates the look and feel of real news; from how websites look; to how articles are written; to how photos include attributions.”

Defining “Fake” News

I guess what I am trying to say is that being literate today means that individuals, schools, communities, and organizations need to work together to provide a strong foundation of words and meanings. From these foundational understandings, we can shift into viewing the “big picture” and make informed decisions about the issues and events that impact our everyday lives. The foundations need to be built through a wide array of literacy options: digital, media, biological, social sciences, environmental, governmental, and language arts. In each classroom, we continue to encourage students to explore new words, embrace the facility of language, and inquire about how we use it in everyday life.

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4 Responses to Being Literate – A Stranger in a Strange Land (ECI 832)

  1. Patricia, it is so good for us to have those experiences that leave us vulnerable. Part of why I got into teaching EAL is because when I was a child we moved to Argentina and I had to learn Spanish. It felt so lonely not being able to communicate with my peers. I see that vulnerability when I teach adult EAL. I was teaching a student who was a doctor (way more educated than I am) in China and had just moved, it was so rewarding to see her language develop. You are correct that we have to bring in specific language into content areas for literacies. Do you have anything in your school that promotes cross-curricular literacy?

    • Patricia Ives says:

      Other than me? No, not really. I am the only Grade 12 teacher at my location. What is really exciting is when I am teaching Biology students and can bring in language and concepts from our Chemistry classes. There are so many areas of overlap in all of our subjects!

  2. Kelly Ziegler says:

    I especially liked your last paragraph when you talk about needing to create a balance and include different literacies, other than the basic three (reading, writing, and counting). I think too often we forget that being literate can mean many things, and there are many different genres that it can fit into. Sometimes I think people get stuck thinking that being literate can only mean one thing, when in fact it can mean many. Like when Dylan and Chris both talk about being physically literate and what that may look and sound like.

    • Patricia Ives says:

      Thank you! It is always exciting to hear students confidently using relevant terminology when discussing different topics. It is even more exciting when I see them applying this new knowledge into their actions and into their lives.

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