What’s Relevant Now: Re-Defining Literacy

How many people do you know have at least one clock in their house (or car) that’s off by an hour? Why? Under Daylight Savings Time, we “fall back” or “spring ahead” by an hour to better make use of natural daylight (that’s the theory anyway). But many of us don’t know how to correct our clocks. If we’ve lost the manual, or don’t understand it … well, we’re lost!

I use this example to illustrate that a future-focused instructional program acknowledges that our students will live and work their entire lives in a technologically based environment. In that environment, technical reading and writing is an essential skill – and today’s literacy programs often do not adequately develop it.

At the International Center for Leadership in Education, we find the nation’s most rapidly improving schools consistently focus on three inter-related areas when it comes to literacy:

  1. Instructional decisions and strategies based on what students will need for success in the future, not on what schools have taught in the past;
  2. Instructional programs that focus on both rigor and relevance;
  3. A deep commitment to what I call “21st century literacy.”

Today’s educators must make 21st century literacy as much of a focus within science, mathematics, and technology instruction as it has traditionally been within language arts. Quite simply, we need to follow what the research tells us: every teacher in every grade must teach literacy. No exceptions! Teachers are already doing that in schools that are improving the most.

A second major shift in this new literacy is a much greater emphasis on reading and understanding data. As we have moved rapidly from Web 1.0 (the informational web) to Web 2.0 (the interactive and dynamic web) to Web 3.0 (the anticipatory or intelligent web), the amount of information a person processes – especially in the workplace – has expanded.

From 2005 to 2015, the amount of information available on the Internet expanded more than 60 times, from 130 exabytes to 7,910 exabytes. By 2025, the amount of information is projected to grow by 3,900 times to 506,204 exabytes (an exabyte is a huge unit of computer data storage, 2^60 bytes. The prefix “exa” means one quintillion or one billion billion).

This growth will require our students to be proficient in data analytics. They will need to understand and analyze large data sets from multiple sources to find patterns, correlations and trends. They will also need to reduce, refine and manage information, while at the same time creating and reading charts, tables and graphs. This is not the literacy program most of us took. And it certainly is not what most schools are focused on today.

So let’s redefine literacy. The nation’s most rapidly improving schools have done that. They understand they must prepare students for their futures, not our past.

Join Dr. Bill Daggett for his Lead the Way to Literacy webinar on October 4th at 3pm ET, when he’ll be speaking about how Literacy Leads the Way in the Nation’s Most Rapidly Improving Schools. You can register for the webinar here.