What counts as literacy? How does literacy change in response to the new media landscape? What value should we ascribe to the new forms of communication that continue to emerge and evolve online?
For years I taught students with severe and profound disabilities. That experience taught me to see literacy as processing print in any form. The vast majority of the students that I taught during that 14 year period could not read passed a first grade level. For them, literacy meant reading a "Danger" sign or reading a package label to find their favorite kind of chips. Now that I work with middle school students in an alternative school setting, I still tend to use that definition to define literacy. Most of my students are considered to be "reluctant readers." Only one of them ever chooses to read for fun. So, I've learned to choose literacy activities that focus on what they enjoy and what they like to do. We've read some of James Pattersons' Middle School series because the chapters are short, many pages contain drawings, and the print is large. We read Tim Green's Unstoppable because many of them are they are interested in sports. We read the Outsiders and watched chunks of the movie as we went to increase their comprehension and keep their interest in the book. They have used the internet to research their favorite celebrity and write a biography. You have to reach kids where they are. If I start presenting Shakespeare or asking them to write biographies of a historical figure that they don't care about, I will lose them and they won't be participating in literacy activities at all.
Literacy absolutely is changing in light of the new media landscape. My senior year in high school, we had to write a thesis. We spent months researching. Hours upon hours were spent in the library looking through microfilm and hard-bound journals trying to find the information we needed. Now, students can research a paper with some help from google. Instead of teaching kids how to use the microfiche, we need to spend time teaching them how to find a reliable source on the internet. It would be crazy to make them go back to using the methods that we used to research a paper. Instead, we need to figure out and teach the skills that they need to know to properly use today's changing media.
I think we have to value new forms of communication or we will lose our students. When I started teaching, we copied notes and flyers and put them in students' and colleagues' mailboxes to communicate. Now, we get countless emails a day to inform us of information. Parents can use the parent portal and check in on their students progress. Teachers use apps like Dojo to send daily progress notes and reminders to parents. Why would we not allow our students to also use emerging technology and media?