Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Busting Literacy Myths

The Adolescent Literacy Policy Research Brief, published this month by NCTE, addresses six common myths about adolescent literacy and explains ways that teachers, school programs, and policymakers should adopt to help improve adolescent literacy.

  • Myth: Literacy refers only to reading.
  • Myth: Students learn everything about reading and writing in elementary school.
  • Myth: Literacy instruction is the responsibility of English teachers alone.
  • Myth: Academics are all that matter in literacy learning.
  • Myth: Students who struggle with one literacy will have difficulty with all literacies.
  • Myth: School writing is essentially an assessment tool that enables students to show what they have learned. (2)

For each of these myths, the Policy Brief explains the reality of the situation. For the first myth, for instance, the Policy Brief explains, “Literacy encompasses reading, writing, and a variety of social and intellectual practices that call upon the voice as well as the eye and hand.” After identifying the reality behind these myths, the Policy Brief goes on to explain four specific areas that affect adolescent literacy (2–5) and then to provide a list of research-based recommendations for effective adolescent literacy instruction (6).

All this information provides the majority of stakeholders in adolescent literacy education with information that can shape everything from classroom instruction to national education policy. Why do I say “the majority of stakeholders”? Perhaps the most important stakeholders in the students themselves. In other words, in addition to working with families, colleagues, and legislators, we need to help students recognize their own myths about literacy by exploring issues of language and literacy in the classroom. Teachers can try any of the following activities to begin busting the myths that can limit students’ performance and understanding of themselves as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

  • Send students on a literacy dig. Ask them to find all the texts that they read and write. You can focus their search on a particular time period or space to make the search more manageable. For instance, students might log all the literacy activities they participate in during a 24 hour period, or they might log all the literacy activities that take place in their homes or workplaces. A literacy dig can expand students’ perceptions that “Literacy refers only to reading” and that “Academics are all that matter in literacy learning.”

  • Ask students to reflect on how they learn to compose in a new space or social situation. Students might think about how they learned to write text for MySpace or Facebook that received a lot of comments, or about how they learned to write text messages, IMs, or Twitters that achieved their goals. Ask students to concentrate on a new place that they have learned to express themselves and knock out that myth that “Students learn everything about reading and writing in elementary school.”

  • Have students compare the different kinds of literacy that they engage in. Have students create personal Rosetta Stones that demonstrates literacy skills that may not be obvious in the course of more traditional classroom activities. In the process, you’ll help students recognize the fallacy of the myth that “Students who struggle with one literacy will have difficulty with all literacies.” [NOTE: The linked article is available through September 30, 2007.]


Mrs. Tyler said...

Thanks for posting that link for the Rosetta Stone from Classroom notes plus; I had forgotten about that article and was glad to see it again. I can definitely use this in my classroom.

Shelley D. said...

I did the exercise of writing all the ways I use literacy during a day. It was quite surprising and did expand my old definition of literacy. I think it would be a great activity for students.

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