Monday, June 23, 2008

Strategies for Improving Literacy

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
grasshopper in a bookArt by Hannah Christine Allan Dear

There has been much discussed in the blogosphere recently about the need for workplace literacy. I have to admit that my interest in literacy has been more to do with the skills my students have than with those of my colleagues.

A series of posts by Virginia Yonkers on writing and learning, notably one on Knowledge and Meaning Making, sparked my thinking on language and thinking. It also brought to mind the work of Marcy Bauman on the difficulties faced by online students.

I recalled some notes I’d taken a while back (
5 July 2004) when attending a seminar session by David Whitehead of the University of Waikato, New Zealand, entitled Strategies for the Improving of Literacy. The seminar was sponsored by The Royal Society of New Zealand.

While cleaning out my PC files this weekend, as I do from time to time, I serendipitously came across my old notes.

Here they are.

Strategies for the Improving of Literacy
Notes taken from David Whitehead’s speech,
National Library Auditorium, Wellington (05/07/04)

David spoke with commitment and clarity, and gave an academic perspective of teaching literacy. He introduced his talk with the idea of teaching “thinking”, and that students could learn to think through literacy - not a new idea. It means adopting a new view of ‘process and content’. Process can be seen as a key content of curriculum. He implied that teachers should teach students how to think.

Alluding to a play on the word “epistemology” and its meaning, he posited that the language of a subject reflected the way in which that subject constructed reality, an idea that led on to David Kingi’s concept that thinking is an integral component of the curriculum, that it cannot and should not be separated from a meaningful context, and that transfer is more likely if the thinking is done in that context.

In accepting this foundation, subject departments need to identify the types of thinking evoked by the texts they ask students to read, the type of writing associated with their subject, and the types of thinking central to the tasks they ask their students to complete.

David spoke of the need to teach the understanding of all aspects of the literacy of “the subject”. There are areas of the brain dedicated to language and areas dedicated to thought, but students need the language of the subject in order to think about the subject.

He spoke of the decrease in use of visual ideas and images in student every day life, and that simply asking students to imagine (as a thinking/learning tool) may not be as successful as it was in the past. There is a growing need for the use of visual images as learning tools to stimulate student imagination. Still images, moving images, melting images - he summarised the usefulness of each of those in a discussion that led on to visual imagery thinking and the use of visual imagery tools.
(RISE – read, image, share and evaluate).

David concluded, “I believe we can prepare all students (not just the gifted and talented) for the challenges of the future by teaching them how to think today, and that to function in the 21st century, students need to become subject-literate thinkers.”

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

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