Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘Critical Literacy’

The HUMAN Literacies of TEACHing…

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Training, Technology on 11/03/2012 at 12:42 pm

I wasn’t planning on doing any blogging this weekend – even thought about reading one of those “book-thingies” or three!

What changed?


Well, I was wandering around the web-cum-blogosphere (as any “digitally-literate grown-up” does when there is nothing better on the telly) and came across an advert that took me to a siteand, on this site I found this:


Read it carefully! Twice…


OK – it’s not as bad as Yul Bryner’s “My name is Yul Brynner – and I am DEAD  – his posthumous, anti-smoking advert!

But, it’s pretty scary…especially for those that do not own a “digital green-card“…

What struck me about this (and many other “Techie Support and LEARNing sites” like it) was how it plays on the “fears” of many grown-ups – our very “human” fears about being “inadequate” or being “left behind” (if I get one more spammy e-mail asking me if I am happy “with the size of my breasts”, I’ll just die – my breasts are just fine, thank you very mucho)!

I won’t be too mean – as Cyberwise has some great tutorials for teachers and parents wanting to LEARN more about media literacy – or even Twitter, Prezi or Glogster.

Just remember what Uncle Doug and Auntie Nancy told us earlier!


More importantly, however, a couple of people got in touch and asked after some more information on the “human literacies” that I mentioned in my last post on 21C Teacher Skills and Literacies .

There is probably a really bad global shortage of good weekend television these days!

Those of you that follow the blog will have seen a couple of the (in)famous jpegs and pngs I like to create in my “spare time” – images like this one:



Many Techies “hate” them – many “non-techies” love them…and both get a bit confused when I do a mini-series of three on allthingstechnology.

For me, this is the real “digital divide” in education – the divide between the “doers” and “non-doers” with allthingstechnology.

However, if you are anything like me – regardless of how digitally literate (and fluent) you are – you’ve probably asked yourself one of these questions:

  • What makes a really great teacher? How can I get there?
  • What can I LEARN from all those great teachers we hear about? How can I get as good as they are?
  • How can I be the best teacher I can be? Will technology help me?


You might have seen one of the “answers” I have come up with:


…and you can take that one to the bank (or pin-board)!


In matters of technology, I always ask one of the following questions:

I’ll leave it to you to “guess” which one I prefer


I mention this as we’ve been “talking” (well, I have – but my trusty PLN has also been coming up with some great “co-THINKing”) about how the “21C Movement” is not really a “techie” movement at all – as I have noted, it is… 


I’m going to push that little envelope a little bit further today and say it is also…

  • …a HUMAN LITERACY (and FLUENCY) Movement


And, that’s because (unless you work on one of these projects that are teaching orang-utans to use iPads) our “business” in education is LEARNingnot TECHNOlogy.



As I write this, I am listening to “Adajio for strings” (by Samuel Barber) and getting ready to listen to the “Theme from Schindler’s List” (by John Williams) or even Mahler’s “Symphony No.5 Adagietto” (let’s see what my iTunes playlists can come up with).

This music is so…HUMAN – and, as far as I know, no bit of technological wizardry has been able to co-create one of these! Of course, composers use a great deal of hi-tech these days. Sam never had the chance – John does! But the music just wouldn’t be the same without the “heart” of either of them

TEACHing is the same! 

We’re told again and again that 21C Skills are not “new”:

And, if we were really honest…there isn’t a lot that is “new” about great teaching.


…but before we get to “DIGITAL Literacies”, and “EDUCATIONAL Literacies” that we need to get “right” as educators,

…we have the“HUMAN Literacies” that great teaching is built on!


Why do I say these are quintessentially “human”?

I guess I need to get a wee bit personal for a minute. The human literacies (or the lack of them) are what stop me bonding in the same way that I did / do with my daughterÇ–A-Ğ-L-A hanım – with Dexter (my “son”):

I love him to bits, I do – but he lacks the “literacies” to really make it worth me bringing my “work” all the way “home” (now my big, little girl is in London – “bad” London). I know we are not supposed to “compare” our kids (even though “Dex” is a fair bit cheaper than his “abla” – “bad” London) – but, he does not do well in the LEARNacy stakes. And, although he has shown promise in the domain of EMOTIONAL Literacy – not too strong in the old CRITICAL Literacy stakes is young Dexter!


Teachers are not as lucky as Dexter – the human literacies are the very foundation of our “business”. We can’t afford to skip these areas in our practice – which makes me wonder why so many educator preparation and education programmes do not even mention them!

Teachers have to walk-the-talk of the human condition itself – and are (sadly) frequently rewarded with the type of “pocket money” that even Dexter would turn his nose up at!

 We do it anyways!


Great TEACHers are…

  • great LEARNers – and can LEARN even when others might choose to “quit” (in addition to viewing the passing on of this ability to others as their core purpose)
  • great QUESTIONers – and engage critically with their “business” (as well as helping others do the same)
  • great CONNECTors – and are “in tune” with their “self”, their “others” and their “context” (not only able to connect the dots, but also create “new dots”)


The first of our human literacies – LEARNacy – is what fuels these “being”abilities.

I wish I had come up with the term LEARNacy – this is why I write a blog and Guy Claxton runs a “LEARNing Empire”. Guy’s concept is, for me, at the heart of what TEACHing is all about – and it does not just take his 4R’s. LEARNacy is concept we have to “live” – and role-model. After all, it is the very reason we have teachers, isn’t it?


We talk a great deal about “critical thinking” in education (it is at the centre of almost all disciplines in our institutions and also hard-wired into most models of 21C education) – but teachers have to be “critical thinking doers”.

Critical literacy (in non-literary usage) connects more dots than we can shake a stick at – from analysis to adaptation, from applying creativity to solve very real problems to transforming ourselves, from going it alone to working with others. It’s about using the right questions to get the right forms of productivity – and doing the “right thing”.


Questioning lies at the heart of critical literacy – and questioning what we do, how we do it and what others tell us what we should be doing is what great teachers do. The same is true for our learners – if we want them to become “critical thinkers” (better still – “critical thinking doers”) they must also be LEARNed to become “critical consumers” of what we “do”.

The challenge is, of course, that LEARNing and LEARNacy are not, like tomatoes (thanks Krissy) or coal, something that can be “delivered” – neither is critical literacy!

Tell me again why we pay teachers so little!


However, both LEARNacy and Critical Literacy need to be lived at the level of feelings and emotions – teaching is, after all, the personification of “emotional work”. Teachers have to be amazingly “savvy” in terms of:

  • What they know and learn about their “self”, their “others” and their “context”?
  • What they do with what they know and learn about their “self”, their “others” and their “context”?
  • How they improve and grow with what they do with what they know and learn about their “self”, their “others” and their “context”?

This is why social awareness and empathy play such a critical role in the way we manage our relationships in education – and why we love our “sons”!


OMG – just had the shock of me life…Bach just jumped in with his “Toccata in D Minor”! 

Bloody iTunes!


The human literacies are very different to the “technological or digital literacies” (and fluencies) we talk about so much today – and it is fair to ask:

Can technology help us do “more” with these most human of literacies?


But, that’s for another daywhen there’s nowt on the telly!



In Classroom Teaching, Conferences, Teacher Training on 27/09/2011 at 12:38 pm

Did you know that:

  • 65% of conference attendees believe they learn nothing from plenary sessions…
  • 55% of conference attendees prefer the coffee breaks to the break-out sessions they attend…
  • 45% of conference attendees “sneak” off to do a bit of sight-seeing…or shopping…(!) time!


Did you also know that 33% of statistics are made up on the spot!


OK, OK – my conference stats may lack a bit of reliability…but it’s true – we educators do not do our best LEARNing at conferences!


I have done a great deal of interviewing in my time (karma…for previous lives poorly lived, no doubt) – but one interviewee still stands out for me…nearly 12 years after the fact.

I had probably interviewed around 15 candidates on the day I met him – and I was bored to death by people telling me what a great team-player they were…how flexible they could be in difficult situations…and, how they were really “interested” in all our “strategic initiatives” (that weren’t even on the website)!

He popped in (with no tie, I must add – the “balls” on the guy) and I decided to ask him (first question – right in):

“Tell me why you are a great teacher…”!

His response:

Not sure I am that great…I’m good…but I’m good because I learn faster than most, I work harder at reflecting than most and I like doing “it” with other teachers…

OK – I had to hold back a “giggle” with that last comment (but “humour” is what we look for, too). I gave him the job!


TEACHERS learn best by reflecting:

And, they do do “it” best with OTHER TEACHERS!


A teacher’s level of “reflective savvy” is essentially the product of “who they are“; their level of critical literacy, their level of learnacy and their level of emotional literacy.

This savvy is critical for the level of Educational Literacy that a teacher has – the GOOD newsit is “LEARNable”! And, LEARNable by just doing “it”.

OK – I really have to stop that

I have to admit…developing your reflective savvy does take time (maybe, it never really stops).

It’s about asking the “right” questions…again and again. Taking the time to “step back” and “weigh up” what’s really happening around you…within you…as a LEARNing professional.

It’s about working towards greater clarity and understanding – by being “honest“. BUT, most importantly – it’s about “taking ACTION” – and ACTION that leads to “improvements” in what you KNOW, what you DO and WHO YOU ARE as an educator.


Many educators do this by asking questions about TEACHing:

These are “great” questions – but are they enough?


We all know that there is a huge difference between asking questions about TEACHing and asking others about LEARNing:


In fact, we can take the same 3 questions and apply them to LEARNing:


If you want…we can even push that boat out a little further…just a little, mind:


WHAT the HELL….in for a pound, in for a penny; Let’s take those THREE little questions and think about:

  • ASSESSMENT (and, TESTING – of course)
  • …the CONFERENCE BUDGET (and how we can spend that money so much more wisely)!


Hey, here’s a whacky idea…  – …speak to your HoD and ask her to cancel the “boring administration meeting” she had planned for you all this week! Get a cup o’ tea (and a biscuit) with your friends…take the time to “sit” and “chat”…and REFLECT!


GO ON…do “it” with another teacher today…you know you’ll have fun!

Imagineering the 21st Century Teacher…the SEQUEL!

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities, Technology on 19/09/2011 at 8:59 am

It’s funny…as soon as we mention phrases like the 21st Century Teacher, people immediately assume we are about to launch into a diatribe about the wonders of allthingstechnology!

Yes, it’s truetechnology is everywhere, it is getting easier to use and it can help us learn more – faster than ever before. However, and as we all know… learning (and teaching) is not about the hardware, the software, or the webware…it’s the “headware”, dummy!

It’s also the “heartware” – and how much we focus on “what matters”!


I think this is perhaps why I tend to put so much emphasis on how literate a teacher is with LEARNing – but also how much of that “learnacy” is related to what are known as 21st Century Fluencies:

Many of these ideas were developed to discuss the type of learning we educators need to be co-creating with our primary and secondary learners – but surely we also need to be able to role model these, if that learning is to occur.

The guys at the 21st Century Fluency Project remind us that the students our schools need to be “producing” should:

  • think creatively to solve problems in real time
  • unconsciously and intuitively interpret information in all forms and formats
  • work cooperatively with virtual and real partners
  • use design, art and storytelling to come up with creative solutions
  • look analytically (and critically) at any communication media to interpret (and evaluate) the real message and create and publish original (and effective) digital messages and products

This last one clearly shows the importance of Critical Literacy – for both teachers and students. Indeed, a man far smarter than I asked:

Is it enough to help children and adults to achieve literacy if this simply means they read only sufficiently well to be seduced by advertisers and tabloid newspapers? (Brian Cox, 1998)

What is interesting, however, is when we take a closer look at the elements that make up Critical Literacy – and notice the degree of overlap with the 21st Century Fluencies:

Whoever said that teaching was “easy” needs a kick up the rear!


Obviously, the above ideas are closely linked under the umbrella of “digital citizenship” – but as we noted technology does not an effective learner or teacher make…it can help if used wisely!

What is important is that today’s teachers talk the same language as their learnersLEARNing as a First Language (LFL) – in addition to applying Critical Literacy to all they do.


However, Educational Literacy does not stop there:

A little earlier I mentioned “heartware” – the emotional side of Educational Literacy.

We all know, from experience, that:

Adults neither!


But…if most of us were asked (during an interview for a new teaching post) – “How Emotionally Literate are you”? – we’d probably get all flummoxed!

Emotional Literacy is at the heart of what we do in education – and “great” (or even “effective”) teachers know the power of:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management 


  • Empathy

Effective teachers know that they are leaders and that:

  • When we feel “good”, we perform better – at everything we do!
  • Everyone watches the “boss”!
  • Leaders set the “standards” of any group!

More importantly, they know that:

  • All communication, all relationships and all learning works, and has always worked, through emotions!

OK…where were we?

  • Critical Literacy – CHECK!
  • Learning Literacy – CHECK!
  • Emotional Literacy – CHECK!

Tonyhave you not missed a few? In fact, should you not have “started” with the THREE you have missed out?

…I feel a PREQUEL coming on!