Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Lessons from Research with Language-Minority Children"

I had many problems when reading this article. Many of which became problems because I have grown up in a household held together by a teacher. I have seen the frustrations and the joys that come with the job and I have witnessed the hard work and dedication it takes for young children to succeed. This article I feel undermines all the reasons of school and learning and therefore undermines the ability and dedication of teachers across the states.

The beginning of the article portrays an environment that allows and encourages a bilingual learning atmosphere, of which I am completely pro. However, I cannot help but disagree with the practices allowed in the teacher's classroom. Being on the linguistic track of my English degree, I am learning how second language learner acquire their language. I understand children may need to take notes and create projects in their first language but I don't agree and won't understand why it is consider ok for that child to turn in projects and papers in their first language. However heartless this may sound, we are in the United States, and to function in this country, one needs to know how to learn in,. read, and write in English. To overlook this seems to be an injustice to the children.

If a teacher wants to practice a bilingual teaching style that is great but how are children expected to learn the language of the country if they aren't taught to read, write, and learn in that language. Practicing duality in literacy is one thing to discuss but the examples given are not practicing duality but rather allowinf children to revert to what is easier for them, their first language. I admitt the children are reading the texts in English, but when will the child learn to write in English? Is it possible to give no value to our language and uphold the languages of other countries above our own? I find many flaws in that type of teaching.

The other main point of the article revolves around ideas of interacting with the multitude of cultures represented by the children in your class. Once again, maybe I'm too prideful, but how is it completely the teacher's responsibility to encourage parents to be involved in THEIR child's classroom. Granted surveys may not encourage parents to be involved, and bring their cultural knowledge to the classroom, but shouldn't, as a parent, that want and drive to be involved in their child's schooling be there any way? I find no fault in the teacher not begging parents to join the classroom but rather point the finger in the direction of the parents themselves. The examples highlighted in the article are one of a kind parents and the article fails to realize parents do not, in my opinion, give enough value to their child's education. And that lack of involvement is not due to lack of teacher need or outreach but in faults of the parents.

I may seem hostile but at some point blame needs to put on someone else's shoulders. Teachers are to teach and parents are to encourage the learning in all aspects of life; whether it be in the classroom or at home. Without the two working together, I feel the child has been failed and left to fight on his own.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Response to Moll and Gonzales

I seem to be having the same questions about this work that the post before me has already talked about. Getting to know the families and situations of foreign students may seem beneficial to those students, but what about the students that are already indigenous to the region? I seem to remember only a few foreign students in my entire twelve years of grammar and high school, so for me the time and effort that would be needed for this heavy task does not seem worth it if it were only benefitting a small amount of students. Our class discussion of morals and values can also come into play here. Maybe some students come from broken or abusive families, so should schools be encouraging children to ask others about their home life?
No doubt, the information presented by these foreign families sounds very entertaining and interesting for a class discussion or two, but if these practices that Moll and Gonzales speak of were ever implemented, I feel that it should be kept to a basic minimum. The authors mention that "many of the families know about repairs, carpentry, masonry, electrical wiring, fencing, and building codes" (161). The question emerges: How important are these skills to grammar students? Some of the projects given to these students also sound more like a field trip than actual work. It sounds like the projects are more concerned with finding activities that everyone can participate in rather than challenging students to their grade-level potential.
I could see these practices working effectively in a small classroom. The task seems too overwhelming for a crowded classroom, and from the looks of it, it sounds like crowded classrooms are what we have to look forward to in the future.

What They Left Out

Moll and Gonzalez note that the students in their study, "borrowed from each other's experiences in making sense of the stories, relating them to their own lives, and evaluating the worthiness of the books" (156). I can vividly recall the literacy of my childhood; and, when I do, I see the same stultifying effect of the canonical rejection/acceptance. Then, comic books were of great importance to me, because they allowed me to connect with my peers--my social network. The language found in the books my school was to have me read was far too difficult and not applicable to my world. As Moll and Gonzalez report, there is a greater advantage to using multiple languages in the acquisition of literacy, because it allows minority students to tap their own "funds of knowledge" (160). While I concur that biliteracy is important, I further propose that even in one's native language melioristic barriers form from the influences and pressures of the textual authorities. For, I was involved in school activities occurring in my native language, yet I didn't have access to funds of knowledge because the concepts presented were far from my reach.

In their conclusion, Moll and Gonzalez quote Wallace's statement that literacy moves "beyond minimal interpretations of [...] the ability to read and write to a view of literacy as a resource which offers possibilities of access to what has been said and thought about the world" (171). Even in a native language, literacy, funds of knowledge, and ideas die from the irrelevancy of the words, subjects and concepts to the seeker. This surfaces in the Freedom Writers, where all of the students participate in speaking and learning the same literacy, in the same language. In the film, there is no empowerment of the students in the "dumb class." These kids seek to participate in the acquisition of literacies which will allow them to tap their funds of knowledge: magazines, artwork, gang signs, etc. The film implies that the students have created a norm for literacy relevancy, through the evaluation of the books which the textual authorities would have them read.

But what about the process of reading and writing? Doesn't it allow for a greater access to the understanding of what has been said about the world? In that affect, is it not greater than what is said? Whether it is said or written in one's native language, or a language foreign to the seeker, thought must be understood through the acquisition of a word. Second, the thought will be evaluated by peers and a social community to the relevancy of the text. So, literacy must first be converted to an easily understood language, and then addressed through the motivation of the seeker; yet, further addressed through the motivation of the seeker, while maintaining relevancy and understandability. All groups do not have the same background and access to literacy, regardless of language.

Thus, studying minority, bilingual households can be of great importance to the methods of the teacher; though, at the same time it fails to address the issue of working-class students, in the native language, with less access to funds of knowledge.

Friday, October 23, 2009

M&G Reading Response

In the reading by Moll and Gonzalez, I soon became aware of a different world of literacy that hadn�t before seemed to exist. Of course there were some hints at it in the Freedom Writers movie and some of the previous readings, but I felt this paper did a good job of examining specific cases of home literacy.

The main points of this article which really struck a chord with me were on just how passive the classroom experience is to a student. Not being from an especially colorful background myself I would find it difficult to make the connection between classroom and home literacies. The suggestion to use literacy as a tool to connect with resources from the family and associated communities is a sound one. Teachers should provide motivation for children to exploit these resources as suggested.

The portrayal of a bilingual family as offering more resources to a child seems to make sense and the article seems to suggest that monolingual families are at a sort of a disadvantage. I�m not sure I entirely agree with this conclusion, however it seems little was done to show the monolingual family perspective. Still, the article did a good job of showing examples of cultural literacies which don�t necessarily mandate a bilingual family.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Betty Bass vs. Barton and Farr

In her delightful synthesis of the two reading pieces, Betty Bass gives a concise and clear summary of the points Barton and the Hamiltons are making. First and foremost, the comparison between Lankshear's negative connotation of functional literacy and the views shared by Barton and company had a potent effect on me. Instead of looking at literacy as a single element, these authors suggest that there are many different (yet equally important) forms of literacy. The literacy one uses in the workplace, although different, is just as efficient as the literacy one utilizes with friends and family, colleagues, and other acquaintances. The literacy events people throw themselves into determines which form of literacy they will employ in the particular situation. In a sense, literacy becomes not only part of an individual, but instead focuses on the many different groups and circumstances obtainable by a group of individuals.
It appears that Miss Betty Bass is very interested in the situation with the Chicano Americans that are showcased in Farr’s document. She leaves us with a question at the end of her post: Should motivation only arise from an instance where a family member wants his or her child to have a better chance in life than their parents? It is almost sad to think that this is the only circumstance where a person would want to venture out and become more educated and literate. It is almost as if more fortunate people take their education for granted. Here, there are immigrants trying their absolute hardest to gain a further education while Americans here almost have education thrust upon them. It is a very difficult question to answer!
In the end, Betty Bass effectively leaves us with a thorough summary of the two authors’ work. Her subtle questions and comments at the end leave us to ponder about these arguments brought up in the text, and keep us thinking about the literature even when the assignment is finished! Great job!

Betty Bass Beats Barton and Farr by Far ;)

Betty Bass seems to have made a clear deliniation between literacy events and literacy practices. Also, she notes that literacies develop differently between different communities, and that their multitudinous and structured applications allow for a crossover between both the autonomous and ideological models: the funtionality of the literacy taught by the community becomes integral to the community's practice. She further purports that the two theorists are more centered around the motivation of a particular individual, or group, as the impetus for the acqusition of literacy. I fully agree.

Her understanding of what defines motivation captures a more analytical and broad sense of the word: motivation. Miss Bass includes in her post that motivation is "contingent on a few factors," which she goes on to state (as they relate to the articles being examined). To her understanding, motivation can be squelched if: there is insufficient support behind the subject, if the fear of assuming a position in the literacy is too great, or if the literacy does not present a promising return in the life of the subject. I agree.

In singling out these factors, Betty has identified with the key presumptions behind the arguments of the two theorists: Barton and Farr. Tying the her presumptions to the presumptions of Barton and Farr, she builds a strong argument for the overlap of the two models--ideological and autonomous. So what? In doing this, she creates a cohesion on a larger level: one that promotes the continuum theory. Well done.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Barton Literacy Farr

I actually liked and appreciated Barton’s piece of literature. In Barton’s piece, he discussed the importance of individual’s and their environment. One’s community and other surroundings, I feel, have the biggest influence to do with one’s learning. Only small amounts of people are able to overcome the problems affecting them in their community and attend college and an even smaller amount that graduate from college.

In The essay about Barton and Farr, I found that Barton made more sense instead of the other literacy theorist. Barton concluded that there are three things that are important: literacy events, literacy practices and literacy activities. At first when I read about these I wondered why they were defined the way they were. In my opinion a literacy event should be going to school as to where a literacy practice would be reading, and literacy activities described as different tasks that are surrounded by literacy, but that’s just my thought. Barton described literacy as a “human activity that is social and located in the interaction between people (3).” Barton continues with saying that literacy has many different levels just by what the person likes are.

In Farr’s literature she describes the lives of Mexicans. I do not think that the essay only described Mexicans because clearly every race has its own difficulties and struggles. Mexicans however, seemed to be more noticed and more exploited by the news. Mexicans come to the country legally and illegally looking for a better start and the one priority they plan and follow through with is an education and if its not for them its for their children. The one problem I see is that once their children come and are taught the language they feel they are in no need to learn it. Farr’s argument that women fear going to school more than men because of the area is new information I had no idea of.

I understand where both authors were going with the study or the essay and I feel that the way of life is complicated whether it deals with environments and social levels or a family trying to make it in America. I feel that Betty made the essay understandable and a great summary.

LankShear and Onggy

In this class I have learned so much in the amount of two weeks. Lankshear and Ong are just one of the many authors that we have read and discussed. In Mona’s elaboration of the two I felt that she had great insight about how both authors went about discussing their research and interpretation of literacy and how it affects the world. Mona’s paper was a excellent interpretation for me as well. I was able to comprehend more of what both texts discussed.

In my opinion Lankshear was confused in a sense of what he ultimately believed in. Lankshear in the beginning spoke of literacy as one having it or not having it and in some ways I am able to relate to that because I know people who cannot read and therefore are not able to write, but one can achieve literacy with the help of a literate person. Lankshear’s Autonomous Model of Literacy was a little on the harsh side when it came to literacy as a skill. It seems as if I told someone that I had the skill of literacy and they couldn’t read I would be hurting their feelings. That would be the negative understanding to agreeing with Lankshear. In Mona’s essay she responds by saying that Lankshear relies on concrete ideas, but I feel he is still seeking the term and background to literacy himself. Lankshear’s next move was discussing the ideological model by Harvey Graff and seeing his point of view. The Ideological Model of Literacy seems more accurate than all of the models discussed.

The idea that literacy depends on the person, their surroundings, and their way of learning explains the way people are. If one was to go with the Autonomous Model they would see that literacy is not “used in the same manner and for the same purposes” is wrong. Literacy is taught differently throughout life and throughout classroom. Cultures believe in different teaching methods and I’m pretty sure that most teachers do not discuss literacy as often or early as it should be. The models of ideological and official are more understandable and reasonable than the autonomous model. The Official Model focuses on society and how one would just need to fit in their surroundings and not necessarily know literacy. The Official Model is more common because everyone wants to fit in to their surroundings and sometimes chooses to put literacy on hold to have common ground with other people.

Ong’s ideas were not my favorite either, but I was open to listen. If Ong had a problem with writing he could have recorded his whole study, but instead we don’t have to listen to it. Ong does not understand that people need to write text because not all people are good at oral. Some people are deaf or mute and if they are not able to speak or hear how are they able to produce their ideas? I feel that people have stronger and reliable minds when it is wrote down. Plato and Socrates weren’t able to understand that not all people have strong memories and that people need pen and paper otherwise many ideas that have made man function would not be on earth. The mind is a wonderful thing, but at the same time too much information can be bad for oneself.
Mona’s argument throughout the essay was directly on point and a great stand view. The thoughts that Mona expressed were very powerful and I feel that we both were able to relate to the same arguments presented in front of us. I feel that in order for us to understand literacy more we need to express more stand views, but find an essay that brings us to a conclusion of exactly what literacy is only if we are able to find one.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lankshear and Ong Stuff

(Whoops! Thought I posted this already! But here it is!)

Reading these first couple articles has definitely opened my mind to an ongoing argument I had never really thought about: is there a negative side to being literate? The topic seemed pretty black-and-white to me; popular thought appears to be that one who is literate is far more successful than one who is dubbed illiterate. After all, it’s almost human nature to want to reach out and communicate with others, and this task appears relatively impossible if literacy is removed from the picture. Although I do not agree with the argument that Lankshear and Ong are making, they do bring to light some resilient examples in which literacy can be damaging. Nevertheless, it is still my belief that people are doing themselves a great disservice when choosing to remain ignorant of literacy.
Ong’s piece opens with a possible definition for the illiterate individual which, unlike Ong, I believe to be quite accurate. He says “[t]he term illiterate itself suggests that persons belonging to the class it designates are deviants.” It only seems fair to imply that these illiterate characters are far less likely to succeed in life, which therefore may lead to deviant behavior. A person will most likely encounter some form of literacy in his or her lifetime, most importantly in the working environment, and the literacy barrier in front of that person is going to unleash vast consequences. While it is not necessarily required to be literate to become successful, it will definitely pave the road and make life much easier for the person struggling down the road to literacy.
I really despise the argument that the spoken word is superior to the written word. I cannot wrap my brain around it! While I like the debate that the written word is unable to defend itself when asked a question about its content, this argument seems to have far too many holes in it to remain stable. How effective is the spoken word once the speaker is gone? Some might like to make the argument that listeners can pass the message down to future generations, but then the whole “game of telephone” problem emerges. Also, history shows us that there are certain people who like to tweak and manipulate the words of others so the writing mirrors their own ideas or thoughts. Put simply, the written word simply survives the test of time, while the spoken word has no chance of making this same accomplishment.
Of course, being literate is not the answer to all of life’s questions. It is not a fool-proof formula for success, nor is it a one way ticket to happiness. Nevertheless, it is a powerful tool, and writers like Ong and Lankshear should not degrade it simply to make the illiterate population feel special and privileged. Communication is a wonderful skill to utilize, and literacy is one of the many steps taken in obtaining this skill.

Friday, October 16, 2009

barton and farr

Barton, David and Mary Hamilton, Understanding Literacy as Social Practice
Farr, En Los Dos Idiomas: Literacy Practices Among Chicago Mexicanos

The work of Barton and the Hamilton's outlines the way in which one should study a
community of people while observing the types of literacies used and practiced by those people. In doing so, they define key terms (if you will) that become useful in studying a literacy community. The basis of their definitions spawn from their notion that “literacy is a social event” (6) Whereas common knowledge of literacy my appeal more to an individual's reading and writing skills outside of the social networks, this piece encourages that literacy surrounds the everyday interaction with others. With this idea of literacy at play, there are other ideas (key terms) one must understand. In literacy there are two types of happening you can study. The first of which is referred to as a literacy practice; a literacy practice takes place within groups of people sharing and conversing about ideas. The literacy pracitice acts as an umbrella for the meat of a study. It seems most theorists are interested mainly in what people, or groups of people do with literacy. Literacy “events are observable episodes which arise from practices and are shaped by them.” (7) An example, perhaps,would be attending school. The actual attendance of school is referred to as a literacy practice whereas a class discussion on Shakespeare's tragedies would be considered a literacy event.
The authors continue on about which types of literacies they are most interested in studying. Being that most studies are focused on the dominant literacy practices of a community, they tend to find more interest in the literacies that come secondary. They are among the thought that “there are different types of literacies.” (9) Each skill, then, would have its own literacy and within that tight knit literacy, practices and events would evolve. Essentially, book club members have their own literacy; their practice would be joining and reading the assigned book, while the discussion of the text later would be the literacy event. With that comes the understanding that each major, your work place, and minor, Girl Scouts, community you associated yourself with, you acquire a new literacy that allows you to communicate and participate within those set groups. These literacies are learned as a function for each group. Before, with Lankshear, we discussed the idea of functional literacy and it tended to have a negative connotation. Now with Barton and his colleagues, the use of a functional literacy is broadened to the understanding that each community one associates with has a literacy and to function in that community one must know and use that literacy. Therefore, functional literacy now applies not to a high school level of understanding but rather the functionality of a individual's life; a collection of all the literacies one uses, practices, and learns.
Farr's piece on Chicago Meixicanos focuses one this idea of learning new literacies. The article circulates around the idea that immigrants from Mexico, often times, learn to read and write informally. In a society where education comes secondary, many men and women did not learn to write, even in their own native tongue, until they came the the states, where it soon became a necessity. They relied on friends and the little schooling they had to piece together a language that for so long had been only oral to them. Though their writing and reading skills weren't to their grade level, per say, they continued to practice reading and writing every chance they got. The urgency to learn written tradition became an imperative means of communication between the men and families in America and those left behind in Mexico. This urgency however, was contingent on a few factors. Could the friend they where learning from be trusted and if so how much more of the language could he offer? When adult classes are offered, the men often attended community classes where the women didn't feel safe enough to attend. The men also wouldn't attend classes offered at a school for fear of being belittled to children. Despite these drawbacks, the men and women stayed positive. This motivation only, drove the immigrants to continuously practice their language and has now shaped their ideas of formal education amongst their children. With a large support group backing their strategies, families encourage and motivate their children to go and appreciate the schooling offered to them.
The amount of motivation and suppost shown by the immigrants in farr's piece is astounding to me. Though I, too, received and still do receive educational support, I find that many others are not given this. It saddens me that this is not the case in all families. Why is it then, that immigrant families seem to understand the importance and appreciate the education we allow and promote and some may say force upon our children? Should motivation only arise from instaces when one family member suffered therefore his offspring will not?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Text and Context

Through the ever perplexing debate of literacy's promotion of thought, one central issue remains mentioned and glossed over--without context, text ceases to exist. Thought, though it may be further expressed verbatim through text, cannot be said to appear in a more cognitive manner solely because of the production of text as a technology. Because, if one thinks of aurality and understanding as technologies, it could also be hypothesized that the ability to reflect at a higher level of cognition does not begin with the visual stimulation of the text, but in another area of the recesses of the mind. In this way, one may not be said to posses a greater objectionality, just because he is able to reflect upon the written word. Reflection is internal. Here, I agree with Mona's statement that, "writing does restructure thought." However, I respectfully disagree that one hears "every word, and every inflection." I can remember numerous times where I have been involved in an aural literacy-event and have missed many intonations, words, and even complete ideas. I believe that neither form of expression--aural/oral utterance and written--offers a greater importance. Each equally, effectively convey thought.

Addressing the idea that Ong proposes of literacy living in the "autonomous" mode, I offer once again that context dominates this arena, and squash the notion that it is independent of the surrounding elements. Because of this, the ideological model that Lankshear (and Ong, at times) proposes seems to operate more cohesively in the world of literacy. I completely agree with the notion of multiple literacies, because it is the social context of the literacy which is important. In this fashion, context operates on a broader spectrum; it moves out of the technological forum, and into the temporal. Context has everything to do with everything, because life--as a whole--is not an isolated occurrence.

And life, because it changes as we live it, dictates the inexorable fact of an ever changing set of contexts with which one views existence. Such is it that there cannot be a "neutrality" in literacy. Nothing exists in a state of neutrality. And nothingness, because of its complexity resides beyond human comprehension. It cannot be understood with an innumerable amount of spoken or written words.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lankshear and Ong Response

I can see where the individual authors are coming from in most aspects on the topic of literacy. However I cannot find myself agreeing with any one aspect of either Lankshear or Ong.

I believe that literacy is indeed a technology, and yet I believe it is also connected more deeply than is suggested by the label "technology". The suggestion that literacy is a dead thing does not wholly convince me. I've read many stories that do come alive years after the author has died. However the meaning or life I give it is unique and thus literacy is brought to life by me reading. It is not important to me whether the author's original meaning is brought across by my interpretation. This is not to say that I would not try to understand the author, but tell me how often anyone has completely agreed with someone or accepted every feeling of another person in life!

This is no different than the oral traditions in my opinion. There is no real way to know that the story has changed when we look at an oral tradition. Generation after generation would have slightly modified the story and eventually the meaning may shift just as much as a written text and of course the hearer is now subject to the storyteller's interpretation of the original. It's on this point I think writing is a superior tool for conveying thought.

However, I do not believe that the lack of literacy in a society is a hindrance to productivity and advancements, at least to a point. The modern age does seem to dictate that there be a level of functional literacy that each person must possess, but I believe this is only because we have had the tool of writing for so long that it has been weaved into the very fabric of society. Certainly societies have flourished in the past with a lack of literacy, it is impossible to say whether or not humankind could make it to where we are today in terms of technology without it.

In conclusion, I'd like to mention that I have no firm opinion on these subjects, I'd like to believe I have an ability to see things from both sides, and each has it's merits. I find being on the fence allows me to be a bit more objective than falling into the arguments going on. Perhaps these fine fellows we have been reading should be a little more open minded :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The battle of Lankshear and Ong!

In formulating my response to Mona’s collaboration and response to both Lankshear and Ong, I find myself somewhere in the middle. Neither do I believe that writing and the literacy it may provide should only be equated to the functionality of the individual nor do I believe that oral traditions provide a more accurate account of the conversation (ideas, discussion, thought processes, etc.). Instead I believe that a hybrid of both concepts would benefit society most fully. Alone the two processes both fail to encourage a higher thinking of the members of society.

As discussed in class, I think the oral tradition and the methodology of learning to read and write coincide within one another. As a child true spoken word may be learned quicker and easier but that is not to say that those same parents don’t immediately begin letter and number and color recognition with the utterance of their child’s first complete word. Singing the “abc’s” seems to be a crucial lesson in a young child’s life, but if the oral tradition can compensate for what the tradition of writing may provide then what is the point of knowing, learning, and studying the “abc’s”? They are learned to allow children to begin to understand how words and letters work together to make comprehensive statements. Nevertheless, I do understand, that in true oral tradition practices, alphabets may have not been learned, studied, or even create, because they had no use correct? Instead the methods used were the art of pictograms, illustrating actions, histories, stories, etc. This form of recording may be considered the first step in the evolution of the written word.

Technologies evolve. That’s all there is to it. They cannot be stopped or delayed. Literacy, and its definition, has continuously been altered, changed, evolved with the times. What was once completely oral based, was translated into art (dance, play, drawings), the development of drawings brought about experimentation with the creation of characters to represent a sound, a thing, or a place. The evolution continued as writing was perfected, and now look at us; we use keyboards as pens, screens as paper, and backspace as an eraser. The evolution of the oral tradition will continue to evolve, to say writing is superior to its mother oral tradition is completely inaccurate. Instead one should see them working together, the mother teaching the child its traditions, passing with them the need for accuracy in spreading what is recorded/ remembered.

The oral tradition I see as the basis for formulating higher thoughts, higher ideas, and promotes the idea of literacy to umbrella more than merely functional reading and writing. Without spoken word, one is unable to reach the highest level of cognitive awareness strived for by all intellectuals alike. With the oral word and the evolutions to the tradition, higher thinking is allowed and encouraged. And that’s what’s important. Not which is better or more accurate, but that the two combined push learners to be more, to explore language in all its aspects and to experiment with the literacies offered to them and those not yet discovered.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ta-da! Defining Literacy!

When asked to define literacy as accurately as possible, most people might fall short and consider literacy simply the ability to read a novel, newspaper, magazine, or other work. Individuals may clump themselves together with the population that is considered “literate” merely because of the fact that they recognize various letters and words on a page, and they are not drowned in a blurry and illegible sea of punctuation when asked to decipher a sentence. I define literacy not only as the ability to read a piece, but also as the ability to have some form of intellectual thought of what one has read after the words come to a halt at the end of a page. While the actual skill of reading is a pleasant start to becoming literate, it is definitely not the final step in obtaining the coveted prize of literacy.
Reading is, of course, the fundamental tool needed for the literate individual. However, understanding why the piece was written and what it means is almost just as important as understanding the written words. Being able to read something almost seems irrelevant if a reader cannot put his or her new information to good use. Sadly, I have to admit that my observations have led me to believe that an astounding majority of individuals, even students, are not completely “literate.” Outside of my English classes, I hear students throw tantrums when they are told they must read a chapter out of a book. When someone mentions Shakespeare, many students hurl themselves to the floor and label the bard “stupid” and “boring” simply because of the fact that he uses words outside of the typical third grade vocabulary. What these students do not realize is that, if given enough time and attention, literacy can be much like lifting weights; small steps must be taken before one can lift literary behemoths with true potency.
As a student that has been to both private and public school, I believe that I have witnessed and been taught using a plethora of different teaching techniques. Although I do not intend on becoming a teacher myself, I can clearly establish in my mind which teaching techniques, as far as literacy goes, are truly effective. In a teacher’s effort to convince students to read, there are three methods that I have come across the most. Reading a novel out loud in class, listening to a novel on tape, and acting scenes out are all different paths I have been taken down on the road to literacy.
In private school, reading books out loud as a class was the only method used for becoming literate. For me, this process is terribly boring and ineffective. Not only do I find myself losing interest in the words, but as my eyes shift around the room, I notice other students begin to doze off as well. Then again, I think the environment of a classroom plays a dramatic role in whether students pay attention in class or not. The only reason students actually paid attention in these boring book reads was because of the fact that if one was called upon to pick up where the last student had stopped reading, one had better be paying attention if he or she wanted to escape the fate of being publicly humiliated in front of the entire class. A teacher could even take away a student’s recess time (Heaven forbid!) for not paying attention, a luxury not exactly effective in all learning environments. However, I think this technique can be very effective when used properly. I find myself more engrossed in the reading if teachers simply stop every so often to interrupt a student and describe the definition of a word or elaborate on a complex plot situation. Teachers should realize that even a small step like this one can make all the difference in helping students to become genuinely literate.
Listening to a book on tape has always been a nightmare for me, only made worse when I must endure this nightmare with my fellow students. Even the best narrators can become morbidly mundane after a few hours of restless listening. Some narrators practice with different voices, which is sometimes a comical and distracting situation only exacerbated when one must hear the muttered laughter of thirty other students. While this technique definitely ensures that all students are, in a sense, reading the book, retaining information about the piece appears to be far more difficult for a majority of students. Even when I do enjoy the narration, the piece does not seem to stick with me as well as if I had read it at my own leisurely pace.
I would now like to celebrate a wonderful teaching technique that appears all too occasionally in my learning environment. Combining literature with acting, and allowing students to learn and bond together, has been the most effective method I have witnessed. Not only is it an entertaining take on literature, but also it appears to make students more familiar with each other. This, in turn, increases the chance of students going out of their way and asking others what they thought about certain pieces, and underlines any common questions students may have in common. In short, a student appears to have more critical analysis on the work because the ability to retain the information has been so effectively utilized.
Literacy should be something for all people to strive for, whether the person is a student or not. While common belief is that literacy is simply the ability to read, it should be noted that careful perusal and proper understanding of a work is just as important as the words on the page. Literacy is possible for all, and sometimes it only takes a few extra steps to make the difference between being able to read and being fully literate.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

You either have it, or you don't: What is Literacy?

When asked what it means to be literate, most might respond that it means to have a solid understanding of the processes of reading and writing. And, at this absolute statement, the description stops; the party questioned might be shocked or insulted to endure further probing into the question for other definitions, because they have been conditioned that one either has or has not got literacy. It is a thing. It is a tangible and tactile tool which is tied into the patterned, individual and social consciousnesses of the intellectual hierarchy. It is something that helps the possessor overcome situations that the illiterate person would not understand. But it is not just that, it is so much more. Literacy bears no weight on intelligence. Literacy only stands to serve as a medium to reach a desired goal; and, in this sense it is a tool. But, literacy takes incalculable forms, so that in this it cannot be independently defined as only being related to a particular facet.

For instance, when given the analogy of the computer, one might say that there is a possibility for literacy with knowing a computer. However, computers require neither conventional reading skills nor the mastery of writing. So where does the archetypal definition of literacy fit into this analogy? It doesn’t, except for the delineation that literacy is a tool. It is the consequence of having an understanding of how a computer works. So, it can be said that literacy and illiteracy act as binaries: either having or not having. The question is: Having what?

Education, experience, understanding are byproducts of applied literacy. Take, for example, the “uneducated” man who has not completed the fifth grade. He cannot spell “octopus” if his life depends on it, yet excels in his field of pinball mechanics because he has acquired an understanding of the way these machines work. He, through his growth and understanding, goes on to apply his literacy in the mechanical/electrical fields to contribute many inventions to the world¾the first joystick video game, etc. This man is my grandfather. He is a hick, born and raised. By the classical definition he is illiterate.

This definition is one that most people still grow up to know, because the world of academia imposes this view upon them. It does so, because it requires its citizens to function in a manner according to the structure of the game. This structural-functionalist approach to literacy can, however, change¾as it recently has. Computers are quickly becoming a staple of the modern definition of literacy, because the new demands of the game are to include computer-literate citizens. This may benefit some, though it may harm others. A generation of literate people has, in the blink of an eye, become illiterate because the game suddenly changed. Though, they might still deem themselves literate, the collective judges otherwise.

Academia needs to emphasize the importance of a literacy definition based around the myriad of applications the literate person can perform. For example, the English teacher teaching his students brings to literacy the supposition that reading and writing are important for an understanding of books, which convey ideas that help one become more literate in any desirable direction. Concomitantly, the science teacher teaches his students the causes and effects of nature; at the same time his focus should revolve around the idea that to become scientifically literate, one will also be literate in reasoning and problem solving, etc.

In my classroom, as a rising English teacher, I plan to stray from the canonized sources. I want to open up a child’s mind to the fact that literacy comes not just from reading novels, poems, essays. There is a great deal of literacy to be found in the graphic novel, the film, oral tradition. Anyone that denies that literacy can be found in a picture need only look to the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Those words just need to be uncovered, inferred. To do that, one must be taught to be literate in these facets. I plan to include these into my lessons, because these (like reading and writing) are sub-themes which are a part of the mega-theme teachers really try to impart: how to be better thinkers and communicators. It is for the betterment of humanity that we teach. It is for the betterment of the individual that he or she becomes literate. The more ways I can impact a life, I believe, the better teacher I will be. So why would I not? Because it goes against the system that teaches us to read and write. Because the game is not structured that way.

Then what do we do as teachers when we are not allowed to take liberties and teach like we want? Become bankers? No. We need to incorporate our understanding of literacy into the game so that we subvert the structure without revolting against it. I could give examples, but they would be too many to number; because, remember, literacy appears in innumerable ways. However, I will say this: I will try at every given opportunity to impart that literacy is not the end; it is only the medium or process of achieving a desired goal.

Literacy is indefinable, because it is all encompassing. It is perceived, not attained. It is not tactile and neutral. It is active and dynamic, and a part of becoming more aware of something that is worth becoming more aware about. Defining and practicing a modern definition of literacy can help to change the structure which so dysfunctionally controls current social and individual ideologies. It can change the game, and make it worth playing. So it’s not whether you have it or you don’t, it’s how you play the game.


What is literacy? I was asked what literacy was and I found myself being puzzled. Literacy is a word that many people do not pay close attention to. Literacy is a word that I am not able to fully define, but I will try. The history of literacy that I know about is the word illiterate which I know to mean uneducated. Mostly when a person is uneducated or illiterate people look towards reading and writing. In my opinion literacy means being able to read and write, but has more to associate with reading. I think that literacy focuses more on reading than anything.

I expect to be a high school English teacher. I am not sure what grade I would like to teach. In high school I did not hear enough discussion about the word literacy to understand what it means. As a teacher of literacy I intend to teach the students what literacy actually is and how important it is. As a teacher of literacy I found my job very important and I intend to teach the students things they need to know for college, adulthood, and get a curriculum that will not only teach them the basics, but so much more.

In my future teaching practices I see myself teaching students the importance having skills in different subjects, being able to read and write and to think beyond their communities. I know a few people that are not able to read which inhibits them of writing. The most important task I have as a literacy teacher is to make sure all my students get the proper help they need. I have seen people get by and graduate and they needed more help that high school is suppose to give them. I do not see myself just passing a student because my workload is heavy I am going to pass a student because that student has fulfilled all the requirements provided.

When I run a movie in my head for teaching I see myself in front of the board in a dress suit with marker teaching students about a famous book that I love “The Giver or Fahrenheit 451.I would like my students to read lots of books so that they can get a feel of how college works. I see myself assigning writing assignments and going home to my children helping them with their schooling and then grading papers. I mostly see myself helping students who have problems reading or problems that arise that hinder them from doing their homework and turning it in on time. I think I am going to have a good time teaching.

Literacy is a word that many people should not get stuck on when asked in class. I feel that now with knowing the definition of the term I can do better in class and throughout life. It is a simple word that has a deep meaning. Without being about to read and write one can be lost in the world especially if that person has no one to help them.

Defining literacy

Literacy has come to mean different things to me at different times in my life. When I was a child, it simply meant to be able to read and write enough so that I could properly understand the materials assigned to me in my classes. Once I had mastered reading and writing, for a long time it seemed like the job of making me literate was complete. However, as time went by and as my educational level went up, literacy began to grow not just with my vocabulary, but my ability to understand literary tools such as rhyme, meter, tone, meta-language, etc... The time in my life where this new definition of what it means to be literate happened only recently: when I started college. The more I am challenged by my instructors to pick apart literary pieces for hidden meanings or clues to the author's state of mind the more I realized that literacy is not simply understanding the definition of words and being able to understand what is written down on paper. It's understanding that in most every piece of literature the sum of the words do not equal the whole of the meaning.

As a teacher, if I were to start with teaching young children I would almost certainly throw away the book that had the guidelines on how to teach children. I would, of course help them to learn smaller vocabulary words first, but then I would ask the children to think about what they have read. Analyze it for meaning, albeit basic at perhaps the lowest levels. But certainly I would not like my students to think that because they read a book, they have understood it. About the age where The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is prescribed by the schools, I would like to spend a lot of time really analyzing that book. The main reason I use The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as an example is because when I was a student in middle school reading that book, I never fully understood a lot of the things Huck did to be racist or tactics he used to manipulate people. When I read it again in college, The book could have easily taken a whole semester to thoroughly pick apart.

I would then have the students engage with most of the dialogue prompted by questions I would ask about the text. This sort of teaching would allow children to start critical thinking very early and in a way so that they could do their own analysis of reading or everyday life. The early start to this sort of thinking will give our children the ability to be more intelligent about decisions in their lives and careers. Thus, literacy is a huge term indeed, It went from just being able to read and write words to being a potentially life changing thing. To quote and old cliche' knowledge really is power.