Welcome to Grade 6 Literacy

 

WHAT IS LITERACY?

The term literacy is generally used to define an individual’s ability to read and write for purposes of understanding and communication. However, as we move into the 21st century the term is taking on an evolving definition.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization explains the evolution.

Literacy is about more than reading or writing – it is about how we communicate in society. It is about social practices and relationships, about knowledge, language and culture. Those who use literacy take it for granted – but those who cannot use it are excluded from much communication in today’s world. Indeed, it is the excluded who can best appreciate the notion of “literacy as freedom”.
– UNESCO, Statement for the United Nations Literacy Decade, 2003–2012

Statistics Canada explains the evolution as,

“Traditionally, literacy has referred to the ability to read, understand, and use information. But the term has come to take on broader meaning, standing for a range of knowledge, skills and abilities relating to reading, mathematics, science and more. This reflects widespread and deep changes that have taken place in technology and in the organization of work over the past quarter century. The ability to use and apply key mathematics and science concepts is now necessary across a wide range of occupations.”

– Statistics Canada

The term Literacy in the 21st century is markedly different from what has traditionally been practiced. This is in large part due to the rapidly evolving world of technology and communication. To be a succesful society in the new millennium members need to possess the skills required to deal efficiently with the challenges of the 21st century.  In order for students in Canada’s educational system to integrate successfully into this evolving society they need to demonstrate high levels of achievement in literacy skills. (PISA, 2009) Therefore, an effective educational system  needs to appreciate the evolution that is taking and anticipate future trends and prepare students for the unforeseen challenges.

Results from  the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show Canada has been slowly slipping in world rankings for reading skills. The 2009 data shows Canada now sitting in 5th place, having dropped slowly from 2nd place nine years earlier. Although, Canada continues to be well above the average member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the steady drop is of concern. The same data shows that out of the top ten countries five are from Asia. This demonstrates a shift from Western nations over to Eastern nations. OECD statistics also show that overall GDP of a country is positively correlated with reading scores. The slow decline in Canada’s reading scores as well as the evolving definition of literacy prompt a review of our current understanding of literacy.

The analysis will be limited to Canada’s largest province, Ontario. Ontario students represents approximately 41% of the total population of students currently enrolled in elementary and secondary schools across Canada. (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-595-m/2010083/t/tbla1-eng.htmthe) Consideration will be given to the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum expectations as well as one of the main tools of assessment, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) standardized testing.

This video from the Pearson Foundation highlights  some of the changes, and the skills essential for learning and teaching in the 21st Century. Many of the key terms heard in this video are embedded in the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum documents. Terms such as critical thinking, synthesizing, asking questions, problem solving, collaborating, communicating, and technology are often referred to in the documents.

 The following short entry will summarize the language curriculum and review the Ministry’s understanding of literacy.  

Literacy at the Core of Learning

The language document seems to have recognized the changing definition of literacy. The Ministry curriculum begins by explaining that the development of literacy skills is fundamental to the overall growth and development of the student. It states that language is the foundation for thinking, learning and communication. Through the development of basic language skills individuals can analyse and evaluate new information and ideas, and utilize the power of language. (Ontario Curriculum Documents, 2006, p.3) Further, the development of language skills allow students to interact with others, express their understandings and demonstrate their knowledge.  (Ontario Curriculum Document, 2006, p.4)

The document continues on to look at the relationship between language skills and identity formation. It states that through their literary experiences students gain a greater understanding of the world they inhabit and their relationship to the greater whole. The ability to immerse oneself into a written piece through the use of reading strategies such as making connections, inferring, and asking questions provides opportunities to evaluate the nature of the society to which they are a part of. (Ontario Curriculum Document, 2006, p.3)

The next section of the document highlights the need for providing students with a variety of text. The document uses the term text to refer to an expanded definition to include words, graphics, sounds and/or images in print, oral, visual, or electronic form. (Ontario Curriculum Document, 2006, p.4) This is one of the many example in the curriculum that demonstrate the Ministry’s expanding understanding of literacy. Here we see a clear shift from traditional written text to include other items including technology based texts.

Then, the document goes on to outline the principles that underlie the language curriculum. Once again, the document makes the connection between literacy and citizenship and for the first time states their belief that every student can become literate. (Ontario Curriculum Document, 2006, p.4)The principles listed for Successful language learners:

  • understand that language learning is a necessary, life-enhancing, reflective process;
  • communicate – that is, read, listen, view, speak, write, and represent – effectively and with confidence;
  • make meaningful connections between themselves, what they encounter in texts, and the world around them;
  • think critically;
  • understand that all texts advance a particular point of view that must be recognized,
  • questioned, assessed, and evaluated;
  • appreciate the cultural impact and aesthetic power of texts;
  • use language to interact and connect with individuals and communities, for personal growth, and for active participation as world citizens.

– Ontario Ministry Documents P. 4, 2006

 These principles do a good job of explaining in detail the expanding definition of literacy. Aside from comprehension strategies, emphasis is placed on communicating with confidence, understanding perspectives, thinking critically, but perhaps most importantly that viewing, listening and representing are as equally important as the traditional reading and writing aspects of literacy. However, there is very little offered in terms of examples and details of how this new definition might look in practice. That is provided through specific curriculum expectations that will be reviewed in the curriculum section of this web space.

The next section of the document explains the separation of the different literacy strands. All four strands are interrelated, and expected to be taught in harmony. The document states that language skill development is most successful when the material learned is easy to identify with. And, since students in Ontario come from so many different backgrounds instructional strategies need to be diverse.

For the purpose of this blog, the majority of the emphasis will be on the reading strand. However, reading will be considered as part of literacy as a whole. There will be reference to the other three strands (writing, oral and media) when considering the new definition of literacy. In particular, media will be often considered because of its growing role in the definition of literacy.

The document does a thorough job explaining the evolving definition of literacy. It highlights the role that literacy plays in developing the relationship between the individual and the greater world. However, there is very little in the introduction in terms of defining how the ministry plans on fostering this new definition. Through a close analysis of the curriculum expectations it will become evident as to how the ministry expects this new literacy to be manifested.

Please select the curriculum page for a closer look at the ministry expectations.

References

1. Ministry of Education (2006). The Ontario curriculum grades 1-8: Language (Revised). Queen’s Printer for Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/language.html

2. Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD), Reading Profeciency 2009.   ESDS International, (Mimas) University of Manchester.

3. Statistics Canada. 2009. Headcount enrolments1 in public elementary and secondary schools, Canada, provinces and territories, 2001/2002 to 2007/2008 . Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 81-595M. Ottawa. Version updated March 31. Ottawa.

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