Thursday, October 1, 2009

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.

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