While Google continues to celebrate the 46th anniversary of StarTrek in its Google Doodle, today is another important day… International Literacy Day.
My local newspaper, the Globe and Mail, used their centre spread to highlight the day with a focus on international literacy rates. The section about Canada notes that although literacy rates are high here, 97%, there are still many (48%) who don’t have the literacy skills needed for the working world. It wasn’t a big leap to get from there to thinking about 21st century skills because they are so connected to literacy. When I searched “what does it mean to be literate in the 21st century”, Google returned 27,300 results.
This resonated with me as I realized I’ve talked about these skills in several conversations I’ve had in this first week of the school year. I do believe that as Principal, every conversation should be grounded in what we believe about teaching and learning. It’s always a chance to further the conversation. I also believe that in elementary education, literacy must be the main focus of all that we do. When we send students on to the next step in their educational journey, we need to know that we have sent them off with strong literacy skills.
Literacy skills in the 21st century go way beyond decoding and basic comprehension. It is this critical literacy, the ability to see the nuance behind the words — who is the audience, what is the text trying to accomplish, whose voices are heard and whose are missing — that people need and will continue to need in our increasingly text-based world.
Dr. Allan Luke (a Canadian, who’s had a key role in education in Australia, Singapore, and other parts of the world), speaks compellingly about the importance of critical literacy. Curriculum Services Canada has recently posted some new videos by Dr. Luke (along with others of Michael Fullan and Lucy West). The last two videos on this page speak to the importance of critical literacy (entitled “The Matter of Truth” and “Critical Literacy”; unfortunately, I can’t find discrete links for them, just the page link). As well, though it’s a couple of years old, this video of Dr. Luke speaking in Toronto gives some great examples of what critical literacy can look like in an elementary classroom. It’s 8 minutes out of a longer speech about new literacies and well worth your time.
And so… this is our imperative… to ensure that we teach these critical literacy skills, for they are skills of reading critically… but they are also critical for life in the 21st century.
To end on a positive note, if you have 25 minutes, I highly recommend this TED Talk from 2008. It’s Dave Eggers of McSweeney’s talking about how he bridged the gap between his community of professional writers and the students in his community by setting up a tutoring centre in their magazine offices… where, for good measure, they also included a pirate supply store. His passion for what this has become, his profound belief in the power of an adult sitting elbow to elbow with a student, his respect for teachers, and his commitment to his community are an inspiration whether you are in a classroom or not.