At the closing panel session of the inaugural reThinking Literacy Conference recently held in Singapore at UWCSEA Dover, the question “What is the key idea you want us to walk away from this conference with?” was put to the keynote speakers (Troy Hicks, Lotta Larson, Kristin Ziemke and Kevin Hennah). Troy’s response reiterated a message that was clear across the conference, which is that educators need to focus on intention and purpose when making decisions about their courses. There is no single app or platform that is going to deliver it all, and anything we integrate or adapt must be for the benefit of the learning environment that we work in. This seems like just plain common sense for any educator, but it was refreshing to hear something that was not, “Do this now! Adapt or die! These are the latest tools that must be integrated otherwise your students will never succeed in the world of the future!” Yes, there is no doubt that educators must keep learning and adapting, but isn’t that what any good educator does anyway?
The theme of the three days, whether it was consciously created or not, seemed to me to be that educators should trust themselves to make the right decisions for their learners. Any English teacher, for example, must know that the literacy skills required by students now are not the same as they were 20 years ago. The range of texts that children are exposed to and interact with is more diverse, and our courses must cater for this. There was a lot of conversation around visual literacy, with Kristin Ziemke pointing out in her keynote that if we thought about the last website we visited, or went to any online news source, we would notice the dominance of images, and understand that the text content is not the primary focus. Doesn’t this imply that we need to support students in learning how to interpret and analyse images? Shouldn’t this form a significant part of any evolving course that develops literacy skills? Perhaps this is catered for in a media unit in an English course, but that is not enough. What about expressing ideas through video? Youtubers are already doing it in their own time – how about dedicating school time to learning how to craft and hone your message? This involves thinking about purpose, target audience, flow and coherency, etc – all the skills we wish our young people to develop in their time in our classes. What about blogging? Developing a voice, structuring a post that engages readers, but above all, connecting with the world outside to lift enthusiasm and engagement. When our students publish their work and feel valued and heard, they want to do it again and get better at it – simple but powerful.
Nothing I have said above is new. What I walked away from the reThinking Literacy Conference with was a renewed sense of purpose to carefully examine what I do now, and to look for opportunities to rethink how we ask students to learn and apply literacy skills. The “rethinking” for me is not to think differently, but just think again, and then act. Effective professional development makes you want to go and do something (instead of curling into a ball feeling worthless and incompetent), and this conference struck that note for me. Time to do!