Defining Literacy in a Digital World
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While students interact with a range of print, visual, and sound texts, they do not always recognize that these many documents are texts. By creating an inventory of personal texts, students begin to consciously recognize the many literacy demands in contemporary society. Students begin by brainstorming a list of items that combine different ways of expressing ideas—such as a poster or DVD. After the lists are shared, list items are identified as texts (audio texts, video texts, etc.) Students then create an inventory of significant texts that they have engaged with over a specified period of time, and discuss why it is important to interact with a variety of different types of texts. With this start, they create a working definition of literacy that they refine and explore as they continue their investigation of the texts that they interact with at home, at school, and in other settings.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- Choose a text to use as an example during the first session. A text that combines several ways of communicating ideas is best (e.g., a poster, a film clip, a music video). Alternately, you can use the Uncle Sam poster. Make arrangements to project the poster for the class if you choose this option.
- Review the Websites listed below, which are used in the Defining Literacy in a Digital World interactive, to ensure that they are all suitable for your classroom:
- The Ad Council
- American Museum of the Moving Image
- Circle of Stories
- CNN Student News
- Fox Movies
- The White House
If any are inappropriate, make adaptations to the lesson as necessary. If desired, you can use the Website Analysis Worksheet as an alternative to explore a list of sites customized for your classroom.
- The Ad Council
- For background information on new literacies, see 21st Century Literacies.
- explore and expand their definitions of texts.
- identify different kinds of texts, ranging from print to visual to audio texts.
- compile a list of strategies and processes needed to read and write these texts.
- develop and continue to refine a definition of literacy.
- Explain that you will be asking students to brainstorm a list of items that combine different ways of expressing ideas.
- To get started offer an example. If possible choose a poster, DVD, or other artifact in the classroom. Point out the different ways that ideas are expressed in the object that you have chosen. Alternately, you can use this Uncle Sam poster, and ask students to identify how these aspects combine to express ideas in the poster: the text, the image, the use of color, and the visual layout.
- Ask students (individually or in small groups) to spend three to five minutes brainstorming other items that combine different ways of expressing ideas. The “ways” can be audio, video, alphanumeric, symbolic, images, and so forth. Students can be general in their responses. For example, “movie posters” is adequate as a list item; they do not need to name specific movies.
- If students are having difficulty, offer some suggestions that tie to items in the classroom and/or projects that students have completed (e.g., Websites, PowerPoint presentations, videos, musical recordings).
- Once students have gathered their lists, ask them to share their ideas with the whole class. Record their responses on the board or chart paper.
- Label this list as “Texts.” Be sure that students are defining the word text in this use as more than just print-based artifacts. Refer to the list items as audio texts, video texts, and so forth to reinforce the use of the label.
- If desired, group similar items, based on the ways of expressing ideas that are used—audio, video, alphanumeric, symbolic, images, and so forth.
- Based on the list of texts that students have brainstormed, ask the class to discuss the skills that are necessary to interact with them. To streamline the discussion, ask students to brainstorm verbs that describe such interactions (e.g., analyze, view, listen).
- Next, ask students to brainstorm verbs that describe how the various items have been created (e.g., write, compose, draw, design).
- Briefly review the three lists—the list of items, the verbs for interacting with them, and the verbs for creating them. Make any additions or revisions.
- Keeping in mind the lists that they have brainstormed, ask each student to answer the following prompt on a sheet of paper to be handed in: What is literacy in today's world?
- After students have had time to complete their answers, collect the responses for use during the next class session.
- For homework, ask students to create an inventory of the significant texts that they have engaged with. You can choose the time period you want to consider (e.g., the last year, this week, today).
- After this session, compile students’ definitions of literacy anonymously on a single handout for use during the next session.
- Begin the session by asking students, individually or in small groups, to share items from their inventories, which they compiled for homework.
- As students talk about these texts, ask them to identify specific ways that they interacted with individual texts. For instance, a student discussing a video game might identify reviewing the visual layout of the game on the screen, analyzing the graphic images that illustrate the game, listening to the sound effects that accompany various actions in the game, and skimming the text that appears on the screen.
- Pass out the compiled list of definitions composed by students during the previous session.
- In small groups, ask students to read through the list, discussing which elements they feel are most important in a concise definition of literacy, especially in light of the many ways of interacting with texts that they have discovered as they worked on their inventories.
- Ask students to take notes on their papers as they discuss, because they will compose a group definition of literacy by the end of the session.
- Collect groups’ refined definitions for analysis during the next session.
- Explain that during the next session, students will explore whether the collected definitions of literacy fit the ways that they interact with some specific texts.
- For homework, ask students to complete a journal entry focusing on the following prompt:
How important (or unimportant) it is to be able to interact with different kinds of texts? Can you describe specific situations where you relied on more than one way of interacting with a text? Why were your ways of interacting with the text useful?
- After this session, compile the group definitions of literacy on a single handout for use during the next session.
- Referring to the journal entries that they completed for homework, ask students to discuss how important (or unimportant) it is to be able to interact with different kinds of texts.
- Pass out copies of the group definitions of literacy from the previous session, and ask students to have their copies of the individual definitions from the first session available for reference.
- Read through the group definitions as a class.
- Ask students to respond to the definitions, choosing the elements of the definitions that students feel are most accurate.
- Have students to create a working definition of literacy, drawing on the group definitions from the previous session (and other definitions as relevant).
- Now that the class has a working definition, explain that students will use that definition as they explore some texts. Indicate that the goal is to determine the abilities necessary to interact with the texts and to think about how the class definition of literacy matches the skills necessary for that interaction.
- Demonstrate the Defining Literacy in a Digital World interactive, and answer any questions that students have about the tool. It may be helpful to model what is expected of each student, using one of the sites included in the interactive, or answering the same questions for another site.
- Ask students to explore all the ten sites included in the interactive, or arrange students in groups and have each group explore 3 or 4 of the sites each. Alternately, use the Website Analysis Worksheet to have students explore a customized list of sites.
- Once they have completed their analysis of the Web sites, ask students to work in small groups to brainstorm as many strategies as possible that someone would need to interact with the sites. Students can refer to their printouts from the online tool as well as their lists of verbs from the first session. If desired, students can write their list on the board or chart paper to share with the entire class. Limit the time that students spend on brainstorming their lists to three to five minutes.
- Ask groups to choose the most important aspects from their lists and consider how the class’s working definition of literacy fits those aspects.
- With 10 minutes left in the session, gather the class and ask groups to share their observations on the accuracy of the working definition.
- Based on students’ comments, make any additions or changes to the class definition.
- For homework, ask students to complete the journal activity outlined in the Assessment section below.
- Collect definitions of literacy from a variety of resources—reference books, news articles, government reports. Online resources such as the Wikipedia definition of literacy can also be used. Arrange students in small groups, and ask each group to compare details on literacy from one (or more) of the resources to the class definition. Have groups present their findings to the whole class. At the end of the session, make any additions or changes to the class definition of literacy.
- Using the information that students have already gathered in this lesson, complete the Paying Attention to Technology: Writing Technology Autobiographies lesson plan, which asks students to compose narratives of their most significant interactions with technology. During the project, ask students to revisit the class definition of literacy, adapting the definition as necessary.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- As students revisit their definitions of literacy, listen for indications of analysis and synthesis. This activity requires sophisticated critical thinking skills, so provide verbal feedback that supports and builds these abilities. You may repeat and emphasize astute observations and comparisons, for instance. As necessary, ask questions that provide scaffolding for deeper thinking about literacy and students’ own literacy experiences.
- Have students apply the class definition of literacy to their own literacy. In their journals, ask students to reflect on the class definition and their own inventories of texts. Encourage students to discuss realizations they had about their literacy abilities as the class worked on a shared definition. If desired, return students’ original definitions of literacy and ask them to reflect on how their ideas have changed since they first recorded them in Session One. As you review students’ response, look for evidence of engagement with the ideas of literacy and specific references to the information discussed in the class. Provide supportive feedback for reflections that indicate students have gained a deeper understanding of their own literacy skills.