Literate in Today’s World

“The ability to read and write,” is how Oxford Languages defines literate. Pretty simple. Broad, but narrow. Trying to expand this a little bit, literacy is the ability to identify, interpret, understand, and communicate through the skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening effectively. Representing is in the ELA curriculum, so I am going to add that to skill list as well. UNESCO helps modernize this idea by stating that, “beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.” I can work with this in an attempt to consider what it means to be literate today.

Literacy is no longer just the “3 R’s,” and it certainly does not look like it did seventy-five, thirty, or even five years ago. As the world (and society) has changed, what is needed to really understand what is happening around us has as well. As I entered my career as a teacher, I will admit that my idea of literacy was pretty much the first definition mentioned in this post. Different versions of literacies would soon be added, but it has taken until this course for me to make the connection between literacy and the different strands of outcomes in ELA. Insert your judgement here.

Physical literacy was an easy one for me to catch and buy in to. I needed to justify and validate that Kinesiology degree! I would soon form an understanding of cultural and financial literacy, again connected to my career, or just trying adult. Breaking news! There are a lot of different literacies out there folks! Information, technical, media, digital, data, global, and historical to name a few. Through these life experiences and growth as an educator, I was unknowingly learning about different literacies.

“More about teaching how to think rather than what to think.”

Pappas, 2022

To be literate today, a level of teaching needs to take place (as well as reinforcement) and connecting critical thinking to the digital world and platforms that we are exposed to today. I thought that this week’s readings did a good job of using fake news to highlight the importance of being digitally literate.

Teaching & Critical Thinking

Reaching people at an early enough age where they can learn to understand the basics of information literacy and how to think about what they consume is a great starting point. Being able to differentiate between the different types of fake news, what the purpose is of what they are consuming, and offer tools to help form digital literacy brought to mind the old saying… give a person a fish, feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime. Leeatru’s article pointed out that technology can only really patch problems with digital literacy through blacklists, algorithmic tweaks, etc. – giving someone a fish. Developing a level of digital literacy and having individuals think about what they are consuming may actually address the underlying lack of critical thinking and get the fishing boat pointed in the right direction – teaching someone to fish.

Developing digital literacy means reorganizing critical thinking skills so that consumers of media are really looking at the motive and impact of what they are viewing, the reliability of a source, the accuracy of the information, and the fairness of the material. I really enjoyed Oxland’s article that included a bunch of tools that I can use in the classroom, as well as with my own journey into digital literacy.

check your emotionsuse Google news
reverse image searchlook for checkmarks
know that you can find trustworthy sourcesidentify the source
check Wikipediakeep a list of trustworthy sources for the future
look for similar info on other pageslook for (and use) existing fact checks

“… ability to use technology is different than understanding what it shows you.”

Oxland, 2018

Exposing to students different types of fake news and helping them use these tools to find out just what it is that they are looking at would be a great way to build critical thinking for the purpose of digital literacy, in a structured way to build confidence in these skills.

“Why would we expect students to do something that they weren’t taught to do?”

Pappas, 2022

This concept of being “literate” today is a holistic idea to me. The interconnectedness of the competencies associated with being literate requires a deeper understanding of anything that a reader/viewer/listener takes in. Given the ease at which one can access materials on any topic, associated with any of the different literacies in our society, being able to critically evaluate information before applying it is a must. Having so many sources of information readily available is wonderful for developing literacies, but without knowing how to analyze that information can be detrimental before beneficial.

Going back to the fishing analogy… as a I have grown older, I have become to enjoy the patience and thoughtfulness associated with angling. The same should be true for digital literacy. How is your “fishing” going?

Person Fishing
Photo from LUM3N via

7 thoughts on “Literate in Today’s World

  1. I liked the way you defined literacy and how the definition has changed with time. I agree that literacy in real is the critical thinking. Ability to think out of the box helps to learn anything more quickly and thoroughly. As nowadays, media literacy has took place of literacy and people who are good digitally are assumed to be more literate as compared to those who have less knowledge of online tools. What’s your perspective?

    1. I agree with that assumption Amanpreet. Being able to do and being able to understand are such different things – as any curriculum will support. It all comes down to critical thinking.

  2. I love your analogy about fishing!
    I also feel like it took me some time to understand that you can be literate and various subjects and not only in reading and writing. It makes me wonder in which topics I would be considered literate and how much education it takes to be deemed literate in a certain subject.

    1. I love this! I too was wondering after reading your post what I think I am literate in, and what others would say I am literate in. I mean, I know that it doesn’t usually matter what other people think, but I definitely think it would be interesting to hear. Maybe I would think I was more literate in something than others may, or maybe people perceive me to be more literate in something else that I don’t consider myself to be. Very interesting post, and I too liked the fishing analogy. I think our definitions of literate change over time with the more we learn, and the more we introduce ourselves to different perspectives and even interests.

      1. Would you say that literate and deeper understanding are connected?

        Students who have decoding, letter recognition, can break words down to letters/groups of letters and sounds comes across as reading, but without an understanding of what is being read would they be considered literate?

  3. I appreciated the fishing analogy! When I think about literacy in terms of fishing for my own benefit, feeding and taking care of my basic needs. I am reminded of how critical it is that we develop the skills not only with how to fish for knowledgeable in a critical way, but where to fish and how to dissect the fish. Let’s keep working on those abilities to critically locate sources! Then, move on to analyzing and synthesing multiple sources to form an aggregate perpective.

    1. Good point Patricia. At some point I was trying to relate literacy and Bloom’s taxonomy, and I believe you just built that bridge for me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *