Thursday, 25 February 2016

What is 'literacy'?

literacy

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noun  lit·er·a·cy  \ˈli-t(ə-)rə-sē\

Simple Definition of literacy

Popularity: Top 30% of words
  • : the ability to read and write
  • : knowledge that relates to a specified subject








This is what the dictionary meaning of literacy means, and the first part is probably what most of us traditionally view as 'literacy'. In fact when I was a teacher with my own classroom, I didn't teach reading and writing as two distinct subjects, I taught 'literacy', and this is how it appeared on my timetable. That was my entire concept of what literacy was!

Of course, that was some time ago, well before personal (actually, even shared)devices.  Now days, it is becoming more common to extend this concept and speak about 'multiple literacies'. So this may include concepts such as media literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy and environmental literacy. One important one for us here at Bradbury and of which I have spoken about before, is mathematical literacy, which is quite different to pure maths and takes our students way beyond algorithms. We believe that this literacy is as important as the dominant literacies of reading and writing. 

So then, what is a definition of 'literacy' that includes the concept of multiple literacies? Elliott Eisner suggests that it is a way of 'conveying meaning through and recovering meaning from the form of representation in which it appears' (p 353, 1997). I like this definition. Although already fairly old, I think it captures what we mean here at Bradbury when we speak about  literacy- in whatever form we are referring to.

Just for those who are interested, I came across this diagramatic representation of mathematical literacy recently, which I enjoyed dissecting. You will see that it adds two more 'literacies':Quantitative literacy and spacial literacy.


Eisner, E. (1997) Cognition and Representation, A Way to Pursue The American Dream? : Alexandria, VA: ASCD

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