Most people still define literacy as ‘the ability to read and write’.
In schools today, the term ‘literacy’ has a completely different meaning: ‘the ability to communicate effectively in any form’.
Communicating effectively is not just being adept with basic skills such as reading, spelling, drawing and so on, it also means mastering higher order communication skills such as interpretation, analysis, evaluation and creation.
When discussing literacy, schools often use the term ‘texts’ in a new way too. Texts used to be textbooks.
In schools today, a text can be any form of communication including articles, novels, non-fiction books, movies, plays, posters, photographs, paintings, advertisements, and even computer games – any medium that is used for communication.
This change in what literacy means has come about because of the explosion of the number of new ways to communicate as technology has developed.
Communication now comes in many forms. Here at High Performance Learning we have developed a interactive multi-media font for displaying words on a computer to make reading and spelling easier to learn. The audio and visual features provide the learner with the sounds of individual letters, the names of letters, colour-coding to show phonic rules, optional syllable markers and more. You can see it in action here: BetterThanaBook Multi-Media Font.
Multiple literacies can be viewed in two ways:
- Modal Literacies:
The expression of meaning in various representations such as linguistic, visual, audio, spatial, and gestural.
- Literacy by Medium:
It is now common to focus on particular forms of literacy such as ‘language literacy’, ‘visual literacy’, ‘computer literacy’, ‘film literacy’, ‘media literacy’ and so on.
To show you what this means in practice, I will compare the first three of these at basic and advanced levels of communication.
Communication with a Basic Level of Literacy
- Language Literacy:
This involves the reading and writing of words and the comprehension of sentences.
- Computer Literacy:
This would include turning the device on and off, as well as understanding how to: use the various input and output devices (like keyboard, printer, touchscreen, camera and mouse); understand icons and menus; navigate around the machine; find a file; explore the internet; start programs and apps; etc.
- Visual Literacy:
At a basic level the viewer or the artist is aware of the various production techniques such as line, shape, colour, space, texture, as well as design principles such as balance, emphasis, harmony, movement, perspective, contrast.
Compare and contrast each of these aspects in these two pastels by Janette Humble:
Communication with an Advanced Level of Literacy
- Language Literacy:
This would include: deep levels of comprehension such as understanding symbolism and irony; attempting to determine the purpose of the author; determining the reader’s response.
- Computer Literacy:
At an advanced level this would include expert knowledge of important software such as word processors, spreadsheets, databases, browsers, email programs, graphics programs. It would also include setup, maintenance and backup, and even extend to computer programming skills.
- Visual Literacy:
Firstly there is analysis of the image. In Janette Humble’s ‘You’re Late’, the head of the dog takes up most of the image. The focal point is the eye of the dog so we begin to question what the dog is looking at. Secondly we look for symbolism and ideas that are being communicated so when we notice the title ‘You’re Late’ we could speculate that Janette is a dog lover who is trying to make us appreciate loneliness and expectation in our pets, or maybe, a broader form of empathy for anyone who would like to see us more. Thirdly we think about the meaning that the ideas have for ourselves and how we are changed by it. How this picture of a dog makes you feel and what you do about it, I will leave up to you.
Developing Sophistication of Communication
Many of these forms of literacy are taught at school level because most jobs require good levels of communication, and as technology develops, people are going to require even higher levels of sophistication with their communication.
A good grounding in the various basic literacy skills is crucial for the development of higher order literacy skills. The higher order literacy skills (analysis, interpretation, and response) are similar in the different media so we can use what we know in one medium to help us think about the other mediums.
Basic Literacy Skills are not Enough for the Future
As technology develops and displaces many people from their jobs, those people who do not have both basic and advanced literacy skills will find it harder and harder to get work. Not only that, they will find it difficult to retrain for jobs requiring multiple literacies.
If you are already concerned about your child skills, I suggest you book in for a Full Diagnostic Assessment where we examine your child’s thinking, learning, literacy, mathematics, social and emotional skills. Actually, we recommend that your child has a Full Diagnostic Assessment in Year 1, Year 5, Year 8 and Year 10, even if he/she seems to be going well at school. It is important as part of your role as a parent that you monitor your child’s progress through the education system – it should be seen as just as important as regular health and dental checks, and regular servicing of your car.
Contact us now to find out more.
Janette had been an artist for about 10 years before she came to High Performance Learning with her son to work on basic and advanced language and learning skills. She told me that the work she has done here has had a big impact on the way she views her art. She is now much more conscious of her intention and how to communicate it to the viewer.
Janette has won awards for her work. Her website is well worth a visit (www.janettehumble.com). I thank Janette for letting us use her images for this article.
This is one of my favourites:
Visual Literacy and The Toledo Museum of Art
If you would like to explore Visual Literacy in more detail I suggest you watch this excellent 15 minute video from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio USA. It is a must for all students of the visual arts. Since its founding in 1901, the Toledo Museum of Art has been hailed for its accessibility – offering free admission for more than 113 years—and for its strong educational mission. Drop in when you are in the area.
They also have a number of shorter movies about different aspects of visual literacy visit Toledo Museum of Art: short movies.
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