New Literacies … The Changing Spectrum of Reading and Writing.

For the past months I have been a part of an innovative group of teachers at the board who have shown a passion for the use of technology in education throughout the different divisions (primary, junior, intermediate, senior).  This group has been focused on the ideas of “New Literacies” and how our daily lives in a technologically advanced society are leading towards new forms of communication, which lead to new forms of understanding.

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For this post lets take the idea that:

“Traditional literacy is about print on a page, or decoding and making sense of words, images and other content that a reader can string together and then begin to comprehend. They are the words and pictures students read and pore over that are contained in textbooks, in novels, on standardized tests, and even in comic books.”

“New literacies encompass the skills of traditional literacy and so much more. Their utility lies in online reading comprehension and learning skills, or 21st century skills, required by the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs), including content found on wikis, blogs, video sites, audio sites, and in e-mail. They require the ability not just to “read” but also to navigate the World Wide Web, locate information, evaluate it critically, synthesize it and communicate it-all skills that are becoming vital to success in this century’s economy and workforce.”  (



When we look at the idea posted above we need to think about the way in which the world is changing. But if we really look back hasn’t technology always been apart of both literacies and education. Take for example the following images (as used from the New Literacies course via @LeighCassell)

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The paper press was used and is still used now to PRINT out words for us to read.  In the same respect we can now use a new form of technology to share printed work such as the iPad.  Newspapers such as the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Listowel Banner, to name a few have an online presence now because of the way in which technology has become an element in todays world. The second image above shows even students in one room school houses used a form of technology to help them learn.  Technology is a tool that can be used to help us achieve a desired outcome.

Technology has always been in education it has just taken a drastic LEAP in the past few years.  That is why learning how to be digital citizens and be able to create, decode, publish, organize, understand and share in a “safe” online environment are key skills to have as our students move forward.  I am not saying there are not negatives to the use to technology, but that is not the point of this post, the key is teaching this generation of learners how to use their traditional literacy skills in positive ways in a technology rich society.

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New Literacies and the Classroom

The role of educators has changed in a way by which the teachers and parents need to help students to navigate more complex media in new ways, such as online, and traditional ways, such as print.  The world is literally at our fingertips. We can go to Google and type in a question and get a MILLION or more answers, yet did that question really elicit the right information? That is where the “new literacies” skills come in. Educators are now guiding students to understand the CONTEXT, not just the CONTENT.  For example in the grade 7 and 8 classes Mrs. Hutchison, Mr.Hammer and myself have been working on building better questions based on the model of Blooms taxonomy. The idea started around creating jot notes, but that was not the skill we were really looking at. So the classes dove into exploring Critical Thinking skills by watching 2 different National Geographic videos. When they started students were asked to use to type ANY question they had about the videos. From there the students were introduced to the Blooms Taxonomy questioning strategies (see image).  Each level of the process will create a different type of question that will ultimately dig deeper into the information you are searching for based on your area of study. That is not saying that the questions in the Knowledge area are not worthy of being a question. However the ones at the top dealing with synthesis and evaluation pull our higher order thinking skills and create better research questions.


In order to fully help educate students in this area I have had to unlearn and relearn some of my basic concepts in literacy as well as develop the new skills needed to work in a school system with technology, which continually changes as technology changes. I had to break down things like Twitter and memes, Google searches, texting, to really get a grip on the different literary skills and processes one has to go through to make this learning happen.  Mrs. Hutchison had to break down the idea of robotics and coding and how those “new mathematical” skills are a part of a growing society where “tech” jobs are becoming more and more valuable. But they all fit within the curriculum, it just LOOKS different than what everyone is used to.

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“New literacies will bring about new challenges for schools, because in no small part, new technologies (and the cultural practices around them) are changing incredibly quickly. All this in turn raises important questions about how – indeed, whether – new literacies “fit” into current school practices, and how schools will respond.” (  To expand on this quote students uses these technologies now more than ever before. It is scary to think of using things like Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, blogs, texting, and the list goes on, in the classroom but I think of the number of inappropriate ways these “social media” platforms are used and I see a great learning experience.  I am not saying that I use all these things in my classroom because I don’t. I use a few of them and while I do I am teaching my students that technology can bridge the gap between people. We are creating conversations, we are connecting with students both near and far and that is what is so powerful about technology.

There are going to be people who disagree with me and I am ok with that. It is NEW learning and NEW ways of thinking.   We are all unique and individual, but we all need to know that when I teach your son and daughter to create “new” pieces of media work, or writing, I am still connecting to that yellow curriculum document that the government has placed in my hands as a teacher that I am to follow.  To further that I am giving the students tools to succeed in the future.  You must note though that what students do in school with technology and what they do at home is different – Learning and Creating vs. Play.  We are not on our iPads for an entire day, we use them when we need them and students are given multiple entry points to complete assignments.  Technology is one of many manipulatives by which we help students grow as learners, but it is not the only way of accomplishing the goal.  The BIG idea is that we are teaching the students of today to think more critically about what they are doing and the information that they are processing. They may think that they have the skills, because they outshine other generations in the tech world but when we get down to it, they are just skimming the surface of what they are decoding and using as their sources of information.

The final thing I want to leave you with is the idea that knowledge does not equal understanding. In order to for us to learn, we must also unlearn, and relearn different skills to grow – that’s modern literacy.  Please take a moment to watch this video that reflects on the idea of learning, unlearning and relearning. “It’s not just like riding a bike, it’s not always easy and you certainly can forget”

– Ms. K


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3 thoughts on “New Literacies … The Changing Spectrum of Reading and Writing.”

  1. The backwards bicycle gets me every time. Thank you for all the work you are putting into the new literacies project Leigh. If no one mentioned it lately… you are an innovator!


    1. Thank you Becky! That post was written by Nicole Kaufman. I really enjoyed reading her perspective on her learning. Thank you both for sharing your thoughts here 🙂


  2. I love that backwards bicycle too! Thank you for all of your work. I know I appreciate the time it takes to put this together.


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