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Right to Be Literate, The: 6 Essential Literacy Skills

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Literacy skills are of paramount importance to students in the digital age. In this book, teachers and administrators will explore the six comprehensive skill areas essential to 21st century literacy—reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing. Learn practical strategies for teaching students the skills they need to think critically and communicate collaboratively in the 21st century.

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6 Chapters

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Chapter 1: Read Fast: Read With Reason and Purpose

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Kids, today, have to know how to read fast and write well.

—Sandra Day O’Connor

Memory is the only evidence of learning (Sprenger, 1999), but literacy is the vehicle that carries that memory to the world. As such, evidence of learning is manifested in all forms of language and communication: in reading novels and narratives, in writing text and testaments, in sharing orations and lyrics, in presenting drama and documentaries, and in showing art and artistry.

Guided by the standards, reading is comprised of constant elements from kindergarten to grade 12 under two umbrellas: (1) narrative texts, which includes poetry, drama, fiction, and lyrics; and (2) informational texts, which includes primary documents, articles, contracts, schedules, and timetables. According to research (NGA, 2013), the development of early reading consumes the better part of the instructional day in preK–2 classrooms. As students arrive in third grade, the emphasis on reading skills remains, but writing takes on a more prominent role in the curriculum. While this duet of skills becomes a prominent learning target throughout the rest of one’s school experience, subtle shifts occur. For instance, reading instruction traditionally focused on narrative text in the elementary level shifts to primarily informational text in middle and high school. Many states now call for more balance in narrative and informational text across grade levels to replace this earlier model (Alterio, 2012).

 

Chapter 2: Write Well: Write Every Day in Every Way

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Words in the air don’t matter. If I don’t have words on paper, I’m not a writer. I’m a talker.

—Richard Bach

The right to be literate unequivocally includes the right to write well and to articulate thoughts, ideas, and feelings through the printed word. Writing is an expressive literacy skill as opposed to a receptive literacy skill. Much like oral language, written language is evidence of a person’s spontaneous or premeditated thoughts or of that person’s ideas expressed in response to a prompt of some kind. Written communications, however, are also more tangible and permanent.

Writing involves practiced or original output that is created, developed, and delivered by the writer. Simple enough! Yet writing is a highly complex skill that requires one to put together words that are cohesive and comprehensible. To write is, at times, quite tedious. It takes focus, knowledge, determination, organization, and a sense of delivery. And of course there will always be rewrites, revisions, and reframing as the words take on a weight of their own. Writing reveals a richer transparency than speaking as it spotlights all inconsistencies and errors in structure and thought.

 

Chapter 3: Listen Hard: Hear What Is Said

ePub

It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

Surprisingly, the natural skills of hearing and speech take a back seat to the other language skills even though they are the first skills exercised in language development. Two arenas that address this phenomenon are (1) neuroscience and the development of the human brain and (2) cognitive sciences and the development of curriculum and instructional priorities.

Looking first at neuroscience, we learn that hearing and speech are hardwired into the human brain (Sylwester, 1995). In fact, when looking at the cognitive sciences, listening and speaking are the natural precursors to formal language development. This suggests that these primary language skills deserve frequent, continual, and consistent attention both in informal conversational situations and in formal, carefully structured lessons (Vygotsky, 1962) in K–12 classrooms. Listening needs to evolve into what is often called active, attentive listening.

 

Chapter 4: Speak True: Say What You Mean

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You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way, you learn to love by loving.

—Anatole France

Think about the statement “The person doing the talking is the person doing the learning.” It addresses the concern of teacher talk versus student engagement in the K–12 classroom. In student-centered classrooms, students are in conversation, and as they speak about their ideas, they are anchoring the learning in their own minds.

Neurocognitive and reading research demonstrate that the intentional promotion of oral abilities (through storytelling, modeling vocabulary usage, engaging in rich conversation, and so on) contributes to learners’ later success in reading, writing, and general academics (Moats, 2000; Sousa, 2001; Willis, 2006). Thus, the focus of this chapter piggybacks on the listening chapter and covers standards-based strategies that foster the 21st century communication skills of artful dialogue, focused conversation, and well-articulated opinions, supported by convincing evidence.

 

Chapter 5: View Always: Picture It

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If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.

—Albert Einstein

The idea that students are not as literate as they were in past generations seems a bit foolish in light of the electronic revolution that has created a literacy whirlwind. It may not be traditional academia or standard literacy, yet without a doubt, it is still literacy. It is immediate, highly visual, and highly aural. Twenty-first century literacy also comes in forms that are often abbreviated or coded. The hosts for such literacy—technology and media—work their way into our lives during waking and sleeping hours. Did you know that the Apple computer is programmed to clean up the hard drive while you are sleeping (Cohen, 2014)? To think of literacy without including visual literacy—with its myriad options and opportunities to represent information, ideas, art, and drama—would be incomplete. The challenge for this generation of educators is finding ways to harness the innate ability of these digital natives. These are students who have never known a world without computers. They were born into the ongoing, never-ending, nagging immediacy of a digital-rich society.

 

Chapter 6: Represent Often: Show, Don’t Tell

ePub

We live in an image society. Speeches are not what anybody cares about; what they care about is the picture.

—Madeleine Albright

Graphically representing data, facts, and information helps tell the real story. A picture is worth a thousand words, but only if it’s the right picture depicting the right information and if it lends itself to accurate analysis and vital interpretations. A picture that accompanies words may be the best bet yet.

To understand how prevalent the skill of representation actually is in 21st century living and learning, one needs only look at the overwhelming presence of sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat in the daily lives of students. While the visuals on these sites are primarily photographs, they are indicative of representational imagery that seems to dominate our cultural interactions in the digital realm of social media.

In this chapter, the literacy skill of representing student work is comprehensively discussed with both stationary and progressive visuals as part of real, tangible product and presentation options, as well as with the expansive still and animated digital resources available.

 

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