Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘Literacy’

Educational Literacy…for the 21st Century

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities, Teacher Training, Uncategorized on 19/01/2012 at 2:53 pm

So, there I am in Cambridge…and I can’t get to sleep. What to do?


Well, actually it’s more like “draft-blog” because I realise I do not have my “image portfolio” with me – a “naked post” I cannot do!

I’m back home (for 6 hours) and can now “dress” this post…

When I first started blogging, I came across a great little bit of advice: 

Thinking back over my last few posts (all written for teacher trainers…or those thinking of taking the leap), I was quite pleased to see how many people “felt” me.

An issue is, however, that right now my inbox overfloweth – and because blogging is also about the “social” so I thought I’d reply to a couple of questions that these posts seem to have raised:

1. Yes, I did “make up” (though I do prefer the lexical items ”co-create” or “coin”) the phrase Educational Literacy (EdL)…

2. No, there is no “research” to back up my “claims” (not that I thought I was making any, really)…

3. Yes, the “ideas” in a number of the posts are “different” – please see no. 1 above (I am “making this up” as I “blog along”…and I kinda like seeing how things “evolve”)!

But, come on…I did come up with a definition:

And, I took the time to come up with a neat 3-point “sound bite” to make it look “sexy“!

In a nutshell, the whole idea of Educational Literacy, at least for me, just makes “sense”and besides, all the “lists” I kept adding to were just getting too long.

For me, being a teacher is one of the best ways to “serve” othersserve the community, serve the future and, well, be “useful”. However, one cannot be useful as a teacher if you do not know your “stuff” – this is where Disciplinary Literacy comes in.

For example, we wouldn’t send someone into a maths class, if they could not add up, would we? In ELL contexts, it’s the same – but, we also have to remember:

Pedagogic Literacy is also kinda important – just as we we would not sign up a bunch of researchers for an academic project (if they had not been “trained” in allthingsresearch), we would not send a PhD into a classroom full of undergraduates if they didn’t have a clue about “teaching” – would we?

OK – bad example!

All “teachers” need to also know stuff about teaching – they need to be able to “do” stuff with what they know about teaching – and, I may be pushing it here, they need to be able to get better at what they do with the stuff they know.

Do you feel me?

 The problem is, of course, that:

…and, as such, Learning Literacy  is perhaps a more critical literacy (and fluency) than that of the pedagogic variety.

LEARNing is about so much more “stuff” than just “being taught”:

…but, perhaps more than this, what is critical is that a teacher recognises that LEARNing has to take “centre” stage in any consideration of TEACHing Literacy – after all:

…and, I’m guessing you can all “add” a few things to this “list”!

Then, of course, there are the Literacies of Curriculum and Assessment. Why the hell we think that a teacher can be “effective” without knowing a lot of stuff about these (and, more importantly, being able to “do” even more stuff with this ability set) – is beyond me.

However, we still have a very large number of “teacher education programmes” that do little more than scratch the surface of the “knowledge” required in these key areas. And, when they do, it is mostly the declarative variety that is “delivered” to our “teachers-in-training” – through “lectures” or information that is simply “dumped” on webpages.

Effective teachers are highly “literate” in all these components of EdLeven if they do not fully recognise it themselves. Some are “naturals” – but there are many others who have worked (very) hard to make explicit all that makes them “tick”.

I’ve often thought that this kinda begs the $1,000,000 question:

Ne se!

These teachers are characterised by what could be best be described (I think Carl Rogers may have said this) as “self-doubt” – but self-doubt partnered with a large helping of “reflective savvy“:

Savvy that comes from the powerful combination of:

These “human” literacies are critical to effective teaching (LEARNing and training, too):

…indeed, we could probably argue that these literacies are required by every “thinking doer” in every single “caring profession” (and maybe even a few of the not-so-caring variety)!

OK – that’s probably as many literacies as we can all manage!

But, hang on – those truly effective teachers (like those in Hollywood movies – when Hollywood decides we need a bit of educational inspiration) are not only “literate” – they are truly “fluent” in these Literacies. They “do” their “stuff” without thinking – bit like driving a car…

Common-sense really…

Wait a minute, Tony! What does all this have to do with the 21st Century – and where’s all the stuff about EdTech Literacies (and Fluencies)?

Ahhhhhh, that’s for another post!

From Literacy to Fluency – 21st Century Fluencies, that is…

In Book Reviews, Our Schools, Technology on 10/10/2011 at 11:49 am

Another “guest-post” from Lee Crockett, Ian Jukes and Andrew Churchesshared (with permission) from their new bookLiteracy is NOT Enough”.

Today, it’s essential that all of our students have a wide range of skills beyond those that were needed in the 20th century, a range that includes the skills needed to function within a rapidly changing society.

Ironically enough, we are already more than a decade into the 21st century but are still debating what 21st-century skills are and what 21st-century teaching should look like. Yet an interesting global consistency exists.

We consult with stakeholders at many levels and in many countries, including parents, educators, administrators, businesspeople, and government officials, who all ask this same question:

“What skills will students need most to succeed in the 21st century?”

Take a moment and ask yourself this same question. What is your answer? Next, ask this question to your colleagues. Ask it at your next staff meeting!

Time and time again, we hear exactly the same answers. It doesn’t matter what country we’re in. It doesn’t matter who the stakeholders are. Consistently, these are the answers we hear most:

  • Problem solving: Students need the ability to solve complex problems in real time.
  • Creativity: Students need to be able to think and creatively in both digital and non-digital environments to develop unique and useful solutions.
  • Analytic thinking: Students need the ability to think analytically, which includes facility with comparing, contrasting, evaluating, synthesizing, and applying without instruction or supervision and being able to use the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy.
  • Collaboration: Students must possess the ability to collaborate seamlessly in both physical and virtual spaces, with real and virtual partners globally.
  • Communication: Students must be able to communicate, not just with text or speech, but in multiple multimedia formats. They must be able to communicate visually, through video and imagery, in the absence of text, as actively as they do with text and speech.
  • Ethics, Action, Accountability: This cluster includes responses such as adaptability, fiscal responsibility, personal accountability, environmental awareness, empathy, tolerance, and many more. Though the language may vary a little, every group of stakeholders (parents through national-level officials) give us more or less the same answers.


The Problem…

Our schools were designed for an era in which three-quarters of the population were employed in agriculture and manufacturing jobs. Those times are gone forever, but our educational institutions still embrace traditional structures, traditional organization, traditional instruction, standardized learning, and standardized testing at the same time that our economy is eliminating standardized jobs.

Today, three-quarters of our workforce are working in creative-class and service-class professions. If we want our students to survive, let alone thrive, in the culture and the workplace of the 21st century, literacy is not enough. It is critical that our students develop 21st-century skills.

In fact, we would go so far as to say that these skills are more important than most of the traditional content taught in the curriculum today.



The Solution…

We want to take a moment to make an important distinction. It’s actually our mindsets that we need to shift. There is a reason we use the term 21st-century fluencies and not 21st-century literacy or 21st-century skills.

Think about the difference between these terms.

When we are at the level of literacy with a language, we are able to communicate. However, our focus is on the structure of the language, on the translation, on the pronunciation, and on getting the words out. When we are fluent with a language, the concepts flow from our brain and out of our mouths. The process is transparent to us.

Our focus is on our thinking of what we want to say and not on the translation or the pronunciation. As a result, we are much more effective at expressing our true intention.

The same holds true for children who are learning to write. Their focus is on forming letters and using the tools of pencil and paper. But as we grow older and use these tools every day, the tools and the process become irrelevant. Our thoughts go directly from our minds through the tool, whether pencil or keyboard, to the medium.

The literacy level does not contain the fundamental skills our students need for their life beyond school. We need to raise the bar. Our goal should be the fluency level – the level at which these skills have become internalized to the point of transparency, where the skills become part of the unconscious process and do not stand in the way.

We need to move our thinking and our training beyond our primary focus and fixation on the Three Rs — beyond traditional literacy to an additional set of 21st-century fluencies, skills that reflect the times we live in.

How we learn reading, writing, and mathematics has changed. In the age of multimedia, hypertext, blogs, and wikis, reading is no longer just a passive, linear activity that deals only with text, with reading literature, manuals, workbooks, computer screens, or technical instructions. At the same time, writing has also changed and is no longer just about being able to communicate effectively with pen, paper, and text. Writing has moved beyond just creating traditional reports, filling out forms, or making written instructions. Math is about more than simply memorizing and applying formulae, definitions, and algorithms.

What’s NEXT? 

By now, we are sure that you share with us the understanding of the pressing need to cultivate 21st-century fluencies in every student. When we first started discussing how to do this and how to assist educators in making it happen, we quickly realized that we needed a process or system that educators could use with their students.

It’s easy for us to say, “Kids need problem-solving skills.” But this begs these questions:

  • What do these fluencies look like?
  • What do they look like in the real world?
  • What do they look like in my classroom?
  • How do I teach them?
  • How do students learn them?
  • How can I assess them?

We had the same questions.

In “Learning is NOT Enough” we have tried to share our thoughts on the 21st-century fluencies – and worked to develop structured processes for the skills we defined earlier. These processes can be taught, they can be learned, and they can be internalized by your students.


We’ll outline some of these in a couple of follow-up posts soon.

REMEMBER, also, these aren’t just for the students. The 21st-century fluencies are process skills that we all need, and there is as much benefit in cultivating them within yourself as within your classroom.

What is EDUCATIONAL LITERACY? – another DVD Box-Set…

In Educational Leadership, Our Schools, Our Universities, Teacher Training on 09/10/2011 at 10:12 am

In a number of our recent posts, we have been exploring the notion of Educational Literacy (EdL) – and a few of you have been asking for more on what exactly EdL is:

Simple enough, yes? But, we have also been working to demonstrate that:

All the talk of “mushrooms” has probably thrown a spanner or two into the works so I thought I’d go back to the very beginninghence the DVD Box-Set.

As usual, this summarises a lot of the posts that relate to this topic – so just hit the red hot-links to see the full post.



In one of our very first posts, we discussed the importance of:

I did, of course, link this to the work of Guy Claxton and his call for educators to get busy building up the ResilienceResourcefulnessReflectiveness and Reciprocy our learners need.

I have elaborated on Claxton’s work in another post – and shared a few great links with everyone:


Quite a few people thought that I had not really talked enough about “teachers” – so I corrected this:

But noted that perhaps:


It was that post (drawing on the ideas of Knowles) that took us a little deeper into the world of “andragogy” and adult LEARNing. Now, this was not really an area we had decided to look into in much detail – but we then discovered that we were having to explore the notions of literacy/fluency, “cooking” and oh, yes – teacher LEARNing!

Now, you see where the mushrooms come in!


What dawned on us, however, was that we were really discussing how LEARNing (or rather “learnacy” – again, another gem from Guy Claxton) had impacted the way we “see” the “effective” teacher.

This meant that, perhaps, we had to discuss the notion of Educational Literacy (EdL) in more specific terms:


The “title” of the above trilogy suggested, to some, that we were talking about allthingstechnology– we were not!


But, we have tried to clarify this in a more recent post:


There will probably be more of this over time

How to Make a Mushroom Omelette!

In Adult Educators, Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities, Technology, The Paradigm Debate on 29/08/2011 at 11:24 am

Yesterday, I did a post on Literacy – and (hopefully) showed that the research and thinking around this most slippery of concepts had done more than a bit of “mushrooming”!

I forgot, however, to paste in this image – duh!

At the end of my feeble attempt to synthesise the work of many far smarter individuals than I, I think I ended up logging 4 (or 5 – depending on the wind) Uber-literacies, 10 Sub-literacies (that was a bit of a cop out – just google to find many, many more), 38 Literacy-like abilities, 8 Digital (or “New”) literacies (again, there’s more where these came from), 5 Fluencies and also said we need to think about the notion of Multiple Literacies and Learnacy.

That’s a lot of ingredients!


And, guess what? A few of you agreed with me when I said – Mmmm, ALL of them make sense”!

The problem was that I was asked…how do we “teach” them all…

The secret? ……You DON’T!

One of the things I have often said about “good teaching” is that:


However, many of us (even the most dedicated) are often overwhelmed with a desire to:

…whenever we see “lists” like this (this was not my intention, BTW)!


As teachers and educators we initially say I already have enough on my plate – how the hell can I fit all this in”?

We think about it for a while – and slowly start to move through some version of the Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle! The problem is often that we often reach the point of “acceptance” by asking the question:

How do we TEACH them all?

I say again – we DON’Twe CAN’Twe SHOULDN’T!


We all know – in our heart-of-hearts – that we can never make a “real difference” to our learners by teaching them “about” stuff. Being successful in both pedagogy and andragogy is truly about “Learnacy” (our own) – and the impact we have on how our learners feel, think and act.

  • Is literacy enough?
  • Is teaching enough?
  • Is content enough?
  • Is technology enough?
  • Is fluency enough?
  • Is learnacy enough?

No! But – together all of them will give us a better shot and achieving the “impact” we know we need to have.


So, what’s the “recipe”?

STEP 1 – Read, learn and discuss more about “traditional literacy” and the newer “literacies/fluencies” – and what they “mean” for your learners and your learning-and-teaching context!

STEP 2 – Be the change you want to see in education! (nuff said – who is going to disagree with Gandhi)!

STEP 3 – Begin with the end in mind (Go on – click on it – dare you)!

STEP 4 – Just do it!

STEP 5 – Start small, begin slowly and focus on doing a few things “differently” and “well” (Rome was not built in a day…)!

STEP 6 – Know that for real improvement in learning and teaching, we need to build in a “curriculum perspective” into our planning (what do they say – “a lack of planning is almost as if we were planning to fail”)!

STEP 7 – Remember that for real change in learning and teaching, we need to build in an “assessment perspective” into our planning (after all, we all know that if it ain’t “tested”, it don’t get done)!

STEP 8 – Use technology – but remember learning is not about the hardware, the software, or the webware…it’s the “headware”, dummy!

STEP 9 – Review, evaluate and upgrade – Microsoft does not still “control” the world because it always gets-it-right-first-time (actually, it hardly ever does), it does well because it learns from our frustrations and pumps out upgrades faster than you can say “where’s my credit card”!

STEP 10 – Remember “best practice” is seldom ever enough – it is, more often than not, about somebody else’s solution to somebody else’s problem. Surely, it’s better to heed what Covey tells us about the “end” and “bearing it in mind” – and look for “Next Practice” for ourselves!

STEP 11 – Know thy learners, their needs and their current “headware” (you never know – you may not have to “teach” as much as you thought)!

STEP 12 – Damn! Why can you never think of a 12th Stepwhen you need one! Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference


Does this all mean we can come up with a decent mushroom omelette? Maybe not straight away……after all…

Go back to STEP 4!


P.S: A couple of you also asked about “Orality”. This is a really neat idea – that never really “caught on” in more recent literacy discussions, sadly. Orality has been around since we stood upright and, many would claim is the basis of language (and literacy) itself.

The notion was given serious attention by Walter Ong in his 1982 book “Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word” (he also had some pretty cool things to say about “the future of literacy” and “the end of the age of literacy”).

Personally, I think people just had “trouble” getting their tongues around the word (it is a strange one) – and opted for “Speaking” or “Communication Literacy” (and even “Story-telling“) as the easier options! Even my spell-checker doesn’t want to recognise it…

As an interesting side-bar – one of the things that Ong discussed was the idea that “secondary orality” is again on the rise! You guessed it – because of that pesky Internet!

Is Literacy REALLY Enough? (or What the HELL is it, anyways?)

In Our Schools, Our Universities, Technology on 28/08/2011 at 5:39 pm

If you take a look at the popular press in many “developed” democracies today, you’ll probably come across stories about the “Crisis of Literacy” or the “Illiteracy Epidemic”. The writers of these stories are quick to uncover scapegoats for this awful “sickness” – our schools, our curricula, our teachers (more often than not)!

Others place the blame squarely at the feet of “uncaring and uneducated” parents, the “rise” of learning disabilities, unilingualism in homes (those bloody parents again) and poverty (oh, yes – let’s throw in the recent UK riots, too) – there are others who point the finger at all that “damn bloody technology”!

Personally, I think a lot of these commentators (while trying to meet deadlines and earn their pay cheques) often downplay the impact the “literacy divide” has on very real human beings or, at the very least, confuse illiteracy with “aliteracy” (the state of being able to read but being uninterested in doing so) – but then again, who am I?

The problem is that we are often not really told what writers mean when they talk about “literacy” – as if we all just “know” what it means.

Part of the problem is that the definition of literacy varies depending on who’s discussing it. While we probably all know that at the heart of most definitions is “reading” (and more often than not “reading something with understanding”) – what else are people talking about?

Let’s have a gander!

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) in the US defines literacy as:

 “…using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

This is probably what we might call Traditional Literacy (or what Lankshear & Knobel call the “text paradigm”):Functional Literacy, Prose Literacy or Document Literacy.

However, when we look at what UNESCO has to say, we see another component and another “additional literacy”:

This “Quantative Literacy” (what you and I might call “Numeracy”) also makes a lot of sense to us all (as does “writing”) – but also seems to flag that we need to get ready for a whole lot of “mushrooming” in the number of “literacies” we need to be thinking about. But, hey – it all makes a great deal of common sense (especially to our parents – and those educators we love to hate):

But, wait! We ain’t finished yet…the recent Rose Report (the UK’s recent publication on the renewed primary curriculum the UK needs so badly – to prevent further riots) tells us that literacy is also:

“…the four strands of language – reading, writing, speaking and listening.”

The Scottish Government agrees – and introduces us to yet another literacy:

Come on, guys – give us a break!

They do…

If we look closely at the Scottish definition, we see an emphasis on “making decisions and problem-solving” – surely that deserves another literacy?

Actually, we can’t complain – this also makes sense! After all, wasn’t it Brian Cox who 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) – Literacy Is Not Enough: Essays on the Importance of Reading

This Critical Literacy is “critical” (sorry about that) – it touches on a whole range of abilities. As parents and teachers, abilities that we would love to see in all our kids.

Tell me if you disagree:

OK – so we may not have created any new literacies here but we have a whole load of abilities (or was that skills or competencies – or something else)…Don’t worry, we have more coming.

Obviously, all societies (you’d thunk) want to have “critical citizens” and all education systems want to create “critical thinkers” of their students. This is where our next set of literacies come from:

  • Socio-economic Literacy
  • Social Literacy
  • Mathematical Literacy (Numeracy was not “good” enough)
  • Scientific Literacy
  • Academic Literacy

And this is where we also see the “real” mushrooming:

Do I really have to explain all of them? There are many more besides, these days!

That having been said – I must admit, as a teacher, I do rather like the sound of “Educational Literacy”!

Now, probably around now you have begun to ask yourself:

Come on – that’s not entirely fair! Everyone should be entitled to have their “own” literacy – how else would so many academics justify their positions?

The problem is that another group of people began to step onto the literacy stage – you guessed it, all those “technology-lovers” and their “literacy claim” went something like this:

  • Literacy as a goal is necessary, but far from sufficient! 
  • Technology is everywhere, it is getting easier to use and it can help us learn more – faster than ever before! 
  • This technology is creating a “new breed of kid” – the Digital Native!

And, before you could say “where’s my delete key?” – it happened:

There you have it!

Gotcha! Not really – there was another group (or three)!

One group, obviously getting a bit fed up, began asking whether we really needed all these literacies. These people (and forgive the over-simplifications, if you are reading) basically started saying, “Wait a minute – we know that…”:

  • …there are multiple worlds and multiple ways of knowing (or habits of minds)
  • …information can be presented in multi-modal formats (with technology – graphics plus sound plus print)
  • …there are numerous literacy genres (e.g., fiction, nonfiction), situations (e.g., literacy at home vs. in school) and practices (e.g., using and assessing multiple sources of information or “inter-textuality”)

Let’s just start talking about “Mulitiple Literacies” – and have it done with it!

Mmmm, that makes sense, too…

The problem was that some buggars began causing more trouble – like those guys at the 21st Century Fluency Project (and, you know how much I love my “sardines”).

They noted:

And, explained their logic:

In a nutshell, while they were agreeing with the logic of Multiple Literacies, they were saying that:

  • What is important is how literacies “converge” to allow us to “do” something effectively.
  • It is when we see the “convergence of literacies” to “make or do” things that we talk of “fluency”
  • …and it is fluency that brings forth rewards, recognition and success in today’s world.

Not to be outdone, there were a few other guys who wanted to do what the Multiple Literacy bods had done – but under the label of “Learnacy” (Damn that Claxton bloke):

Essentially, this notion of Learnacy (the capacity to use, in real life and professional contexts, the skills and knowledge you have about how to learn; to be able and willing to go on learning from your own and others’ experience) – or in more common-sense terms:

  • the ability of “knowing what to do, when you don’t know what to do”

…did not really clash with the idea of Multiple Literacies or even the 21st Centuries Fluencies. They “worked” really well together – for teachers, students and (even) parents!

What really baked the noodle of many (more traditional) educators, however, was when Claxton told them:

  • Learning is LEARNABLE – we have a duty to “teach” it!

OMG! What are we going to do with the curriculum, the classroomthe tests?