I recently spent a significant amount of time contemplating online literacy, specifically information literacy, through the creation of our Special Interest Group Information Literacy Skills (SIGILS).
One concern that was immediately evident as we began to gather information for our SIG was the way students and teachers currently use literacy skills and how that structure does not fit with the new digital texts that kids are interacting with. James Paul Gee alludes to this idea and offers a solution in his book The Anti-Education Era, “Let’s call this essential early foundation ‘talk, text, and knowledege mentoring,’ or ‘TTK mentoring’ (where “talk” means interactive, sustained, elaborated talk)” (200). TTK mentoring is a way to promote literacy development through multiple platforms from an early age. The ability to talk about texts in an elaborate and interactive way is a skill that students will need to have in order to be competitive in the work force. If parents and teachers are fostering this type of talk and text connections through TTK mentoring from an early age, then students would be much more prepared to engage in critical thinking at the high school level. Gee backs this idea by stating,
“Children today will have to ‘read’ (consume) and ‘write’ (produce) with a whole suite of technologies, including texts, digital tools, and social media of different forms often used in social media away from kids early, but to build on experiences with these media to create a pathway towards higher-order and complex thinking, skills, talk, and texts, just as we want to do with books” (Gee, 201).
The task of navigating and connecting all of those technologies and texts will help students solve complex problems if they are carefully guided through the process. If students are introduced to this framework at a young age then by the time they are middle or high school students the process of navigating and connecting digital texts should be the platform that their learning is built on. This would allow higher level educators to push students to extend their thinking and create/produce material that they would not be able to tackle if they did not have prior TTK mentoring.
Gee also speaks about how humans all strive for meaning, which resonated with my own life and teaching practice. I teach language arts to 9-12 graders, we tend to talk about material that gets a little more personal than some other subject areas. Connecting the author’s meaning or a character’s viewpoint to my student’s own viewpoints and lives is a daily occurence in room 205. Finding meaning in a text, analyzing what the meaning is and why it is important in the grand scheme of a life is important for student growth and promoting lifelong learning. Gee mentions,
“For some young people, lack of meaningful learning in school can be ameliorated via learning out of school. For all children there are twenty-first-century skills that are, at least today, more often developed out of school than in it” (202).
Every lesson and every subject will not resonate with every child and the meaning behind the work will not always be clear. Students use technology to search out their interests and learn about those interests at an alarming rate. Their vocabulary, creativity, engagement, and collaboration skills can be exponentially enhanced through their online involvement. This could also be seen as an incentive to start flipping the classroom setting. Providing students with small, web assignments and then giving them several options of how they can build upon that knowledge may spark students to build off of what is meaningful to them and craft new meaning through the choice they are given.
The problem lies in the fact that these literacy skills need to be fostered from an early age through TTK mentoring in order to have a lasting impact on students’ thought processes. As Gee explains, “Nothing weighs heavier on the human mind than complexity” (140). We can help students sort through that complexity in order to obtain meaning and make connections by constantly having conversations about the connections between texts and ideas in the primary years.
Gee, James P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.
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