Author Bio: Shelbie Witte, Ph.D., NBCT EA/ELA is an Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of English Education at Florida State University. She has worked as a teacher educator and classroom teacher for more than 20 years. You can follow her on Twitter (@shelbiewitte) and her website, www.shelbiewitte.com
What does it mean to be literate in today’s society? How do we measure it?
The very definition of literacy has evolved since the beginning of time, but most recently in the past three hundred years. From signing one’s name to vote in the 1800’s, to completing 8th grade in the early to mid 1900’s, to completing high school in the late 1900’s, to finishing a college degree in the early 2000’s, the standard by which we measure literacy continues to change as the world changes.
Now, in the 21st century, we must again ask ourselves what it means to be literate and to successfully function as a citizen in today’s society. As teachers, we have a duty to prepare our students to live in the 21st century world, to communicate effectively through a multitude of channels, to be critical of the information they receive through those channels, and to consider the ethical responsibilities of participating in a culture of technologies.
Through our work with the Initiative for 21st Century Literacies Research, http://www.initiativefor21research.org/, founded in the School of Teacher Education at Florida State University, we are working to bring together answers to the question of “what is literate” through experts from around the world who are also grappling with this question. Ultimately, it is our goal to provide resources to educators and interested citizens to support the teaching of 21st century skills within and outside of the classroom.
One way that we’ve translated the theories of 21st century literacies to practice is through the design of instructional scaffolds, Reading Ladders, that provide ways to approach traditional (canonical English) texts often taught in today’s 6-12 classroom through engaging and motivational texts such as videos, songs, websites, poetry, young adult literature, news reports, movie trailers, and connections to real world events.
Click here to see the Reading Ladder: http://www.initiativefor21research.org/theory-to-practice-connections/flowers-for-algernon-reading-ladder
Figure 1: Flowers for Algernon
Through our experiences as classroom teachers, we often found that the curriculum required of teachers in the form of required texts at each grade level was often void of a variety of motivating and current texts that students enjoy reading. Using the Reading Ladder suggestions as a scaffold to the traditional text allows teachers the opportunity to invite students into the experience and theme of the text before beginning the text itself. D’Evelyn Wymore’s example above for Flowers of Algernon introduces Diary of a Wimpy Kid as a way to expose students to the diary format they will encounter in Flowers for Algernon. The Reading Ladder also addresses the need to build background knowledge about non-fiction texts on mental retardation and self-discovery through songs and videos, while also pairing the reading of the text with the movie based on the novel. Our team has created Reading Ladders for texts most often cited as being required in 6-12 classrooms in the United States (located under the Theory to Practice Connections tab on our site).
In ongoing research regarding our work with these scaffolds, students who experience the Reading Ladders as part of their curriculum are overwhelmingly more successful in summative assessments following the completion of the novels in comparison to students who do not. These results are encouraging and propelling us forward in our work in this area.