Sunday, January 15, 2012

Literacy as a Lifelong Process

What is literacy? How is it learned? At what point in our education have we mastered it?
Is it when we can read a whole book? Is it when we can write a story or a letter? Is it when we finish school; are we then done with literacy?

Literacy is all of these things and more.
We are never finished with literacy...
It is a lifelong process.

Literacy is about learning to read and write. But it is also about communication - expressing ourselves to others, and listening to others in order to understand them. When we define literacy as a process of communication, it broadens our previous understanding of literacy.
Now we can see literacy in everything:
~conversation ~word games ~television shows & videos
~environmental print ~music & nursery rhymes
~photographs & cartoons ~gestures & facial expressions
~graphic novels, such as The Arrival, by Shaun Tan

Any process intended to communicate can be seen as literacy. Often we overlook these parts of our daily lives and do not identify them as literacy learning. What makes these natural processes noticeable is when they suddenly become different than what we are used to. This is certainly the case for second-language learners. When children move to a new country with very different customs and school practices, they might shut down and seem entirely uninterested in learning to adapt to the new culture. Children who could read and write in their home country are suddenly unable to express themselves or understand others; this can be extremely frustrating and frightening.

What we as teachers and families need to do is try to find a common ground - create a third space, or some kind of universal literacy - that can be used to bridge the gap between what a child knows and what the new culture expects. This might come in the form of a wordless picture book, a video or video camera, a book on tape, or a sharing of literacy from a home country. When children use some process to create meaning and expression, they are learning literacy. Teachers and families who work together to learn about each others' usual practices will likely help children adjust to the new culture while continuing to value their home culture through continued literacy learning and sharing. Building trust, earning and giving respect, and working at the pace of each individual student are essential for creating a comfortable literacy learning environment.

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