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Literate Eh?

Oh boy. What does it mean to be literate? Well, the basic and straightforward definition traditionally means to be able to read and write. A more in-depth thought on someone who is literate can also be the ways in which we think about reading and writing. But there is so much more to it. In Canada, we take for granted that we have the charter of rights of freedom that states that students have the right to receive free quality education K-12. Most children on average learn to read and write in the primary grades and then continue to enhance and master their skills throughout their schooling. We have discussed in great detail already what it can mean to be digitally literate and media literate. I believe that one can be literate within any sector. Having a foundational understanding of writing, reading, math, science, media, physical activity, health, finances and so many others, creates well-rounded critical thinkers. This is our utlimate goal for our students in my opinion.

When I think of the word literate it brings me back to my undergraduate studies. I majored in Physical Education and Health Studies at the University of Regina and it felt like I spent five years studying what it meant to be physically literate. I even have a SPEA (Saskatchewan Physical Education Association) poster that says “You are not fully literate until you are physically literate” which many have probably seen in their gymnasiums in the past. I remember as a young grasshopper in my pre-internship feeling immense pressure to hit my essential learnings in my lesson plans that were tailored towards physical literacy. I really tried to teach physical education in a way that was not directly sport-dominated so that all students felt like it was a safe space where they could enjoy different curricular activities with their peers without being picked last for the dodge ball team. I always believed that you weren’t physically literate just because you were an athlete. There is so much more to physical literacy than being able to dribble a basketball or swing a bat. I had students that didn’t participate in any sort of organized sport, however, had a lot of experience in other aspects of physical education such as outdoor pursuits or promoting a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable for the long-term.

Another example of literacy that I have been diving into lately with my students is mathematic literacy. This year after our fall professional development institute, our school purchased a set of ten Wipebooks for each class that wanted them. These portable and lightweight flexible dry-erase sheets allow students to work collaboratively with others but more specifically, vertically instead of horizontally. The Thinking Classroom is a model of educational instruction created by Peter Liljedahl. The idea is that when students are standing up, working vertically, with partners, and with an erasable marker, they are more likely to try math problems without the fear of making mistakes or getting the answer wrong. The theory is based on ten steps. The steps that I try to always include are; random groups, vertical wipebooks (I have a ton of command hooks around my room and the students can set them up themselves), oral instructions only, defront the room (kids are on every wall in the classroom), lots of hints and extensions, and diagnostic/formative assessment. It is amazing to watch the most math-resistant kids writing on the boards and participating in the problems. All of a sudden the playing field feels more even and less intimidating. I have been using this as an introduction to new topics in math units, review for assessments and brain breaks. The units where I use wipebooks with the students, I see a positive influence on their workbook assignments and quizzes throughout the chapter.

When students first learn how to read and write, they are developing crucial building blocks for their personal literacy. Once students have the basic skills in reading, writing and math, the possibilities start to become endless for extending these literacies. When students are taught critical thinking skills when becoming literate in reading and writing, these skills transfer to everthing else they do. When it comes to digital literacy, students fall back on the skills they already have regarding reading and writing in the traditional sense. However digital literacy involes a host of other skills required to be successful and not fall victum to fake news and these days even some proganda.

Chris B’s article from this week describes to us that we often like to pinpoint our Fake News problem on technology, rather than our ability to teach and understand information literacy. Sure, technology can aid in helping sift through information that is clearly biased, but it can only do so much. Instead of investing in information literacy, technology giants are investing more into fact-checker programs, blacklist content and algorithms. “Why is it that a teenager in their parent’s basement halfway across the world can anonymously post a statement to social media falsely attributed to a head of state and have that commentary go viral, spread to the mainstream press and even influence international political debate without anyone stopping to ask whether there is a shred of truth to what they are reading?“.

This is where having a multitude of different literacy abilities helps us navigate the world we are in today and the one that we will be experiencing in the future. We can’t control everything that is put out onto the internet, but we can control how we interpret it and if we decide to share it. If Covid-19 taught us anything, it is to think before you share or tweet because Click-Bait headlines are there to trick us without reading the entire article first.


5 thoughts on “Literate Eh?

  1. Katherine, you have shared great points here about being literate and its true COVID-19 has given us many learnings. As technology is growing so fast and changing rapidly, and as mentioned by Mike Ribble, digital citizens must be taught digital literacy skills.


  2. I agree that literacy can take many forms and we want students to be proficient in a number of areas! I have a t-shirt from SPEA that says the same! I was wearing it at the cabin last summer and got a comment on it from a former Phys Ed teacher that was at the lake, too. There are a few people reading Peter Liljedahl’s book in my school, and they all love him and his ideas! So many great gems in there!


  3. Being literate in more ways than one is such an asset. I wonder in how many ways can a person be literate? Is there an infinite amount? Are there criteria that one must achieve in order to be literate? Or is something more based on the honour system than anything? If a list was compiled, I wonder how many different areas one could be literate in. Such an interesting topic that is so extensive.


  4. I appreciate your comments as they relate to PE, Katherine. I agree with your approach to teaching physically literacy in a way that is not sport centered. Our goal as PE teachers is to provide students with skills that they can transfer into life-long learning. Yes, this may come in the form of competitive sports, but for the majority of our students it will come in the form of recreational physical activity. As you mentioned in your comment to Cymone, I can also hear Nick in my ear when I think of physical literacy!

    Liked by 1 person

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