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Monday, October 09, 2006


Our district has begun to address concerns about literacy amongst our students. Literacy of course is a tricky term. A majority of people applies the word illiterate to only those people who struggle with the written word. And though we frequently mention computer literacy and media literacy it is rarely touched upon in practice. An even more intriguing way of seeing literacy is to look at how the word “read” is used colloquially. We can read facial expressions and body language, a situation, or the lay of the land. We can read into a situation which one can assume is an in depth analysis. We can even take readings, which describes the process of gathering hard data. The word “read” is used metaphorically to describe almost any cognitive process in which we are required to decipher meaning.

If we are to look at read as the ability to decode, interpret, analyze, and synthesize data, then literacy is the primary building block of human intelligence and the within the purview of all educators. Since reading is like any other cognitive process we can apply the scientific method. When approaching a text, or any other set of data we must first name the problem or question, form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, check and interpret results, and report the results. Of course if the results don’t match the hypothesis, revise and repeat.

Reading is a mental process, not a magical formula, and as such needs to be developed not by rote memorization, but with new and increasingly difficult applications. Failure is an integral part of discovery; yet repeating that failure with remediation only compounds the disappointment. Like an athlete always looking for worthy competition, students need an every increasing variety of opponents to augment their repertory of literacy skills.

It is imperative that we look at the bag of tricks that the students already possess, such as the ability to read a game, song, or reality television show and demonstrate how those skills can be applied in a classroom. Can the skills used to recognize the pattern of zombie movement in a video game be used to analyze the formula of a murder mystery? Isn’t knowing that a contestant on a really game show is lying the same skill used to interpret character? Isn’t knowing that when the music swells and a character has their back to the screen, that the monster is about to pop out the same predictive skills that you use in science?

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