A few words about “Literacy”

Literacy is traditionally understood as the ability to read, write and use arithmetic. The modern term’s meaning has been expended to include the ability to use language, numbers, images, computers and other basic means to understand, communicate, gain useful knowledge and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture (Figure 1). The concept of literacy is expanding in OECD countries to include skills to access knowledge through technology and ability to assess complex contexts.

Figure 1. general means of literacy

The key of literacy is reading development, a progression of skills that begins with the ability to understand spoken words and decode written words and culminates in the deep understanding of text. Reading development involves a range of complex language underpinnings including awareness of speech sounds (phonology), spelling patterns (orthography), word meaning (semantics), grammar (syntax) and patterns of word formation (morphology), all of which provide a necessary platform for reading fluency and comprehension (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Necessary platform for reading fluency and comprehension

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.
 According to Gee there are at least two reasons why we should consider literacy in broader terms than the traditional conception of literacy as the ability to read and write. First, in our world today, language is by no means the only communication system available. Many types of visual images and symbols have specific significances and so “visual literacies” and literacies of other modes, or the concept of multimodal literacy, are also included in Gee’s conception of new literacies. Second, Gee proposes that reading and writing are not such obvious ideas as they first appear. “After all”, he states, “we never just read and write, we always read or write something in some way”. In other words, according to which type of text we read there are different ways in which we read depending on the “rules” of how to read such a text. Literacy to Gee, even if it is the traditional print based literacy, should be conceived as being multiple, or comprising different literacies, since we need different types of literacies to read different kinds of texts in ways that meet our particular purposes in reading them. Furthermore, Gee also argues that reading and writing should be viewed as more than just “mental achievements” happening inside people’s mind ; they should also be seen as “social and cultural practices with economic, historical, and political implications”. So, in Gee’s view, literacies are not only multiple but are inherently connected to social practices. In order to expand the traditional view of literacy as print literacy, Gee recommends that we think first of literacy in terms of semiotic domains. By this, he means “any set of practices that recruits one or more modalities (e.g., oral or written language, images, equations, symbols, sounds, gestures, graphs, artifacts etc.) to communicate distinctive types of meanings”. (Gee)
 The cognitive aspect of literacy involves being able to carry out the literate skill needed in the context whether it is reading traditional text, viewing pictures, writing equations, reading tweets, or navigating using a map. Leona demonstrates a literate skill in class when she tells her story using poetic form; however, she tells her story to fit the context of what her teacher wants in school “A given style of language can only be judged in terms of what it is meant to do” (Gee 17). In the early development of a literacy skill, the use of metacognition can be helpful and then as the skill is mastered, it can become automatic. Leona’s teacher neglects to explain to Leona how to approach the task of telling a story in the format she wants and Leona would have benefited from the teacher breaking down the through process needed to tell her story. Literacy requires the cognitive act of thinking how to carry out the literate skill but what skills needed to be used in different situations can be illustrated by the social aspect of literacy.
 Social literacy from the perspective of the social-cultural theory, is more than the ability to read and write, and more than mastering literacy skills. Children can learn literacy through social interaction between themselves and children and/ or adults in or outside school. Adults can use books, games, toys, conversations, field trips, and stories to develop the literacy practices through fun. Collaborative learning between schools, family, and community can help develop a child’s literacy. In addition, given today’s technical knowledge, adults can take in to consideration how to use technology in the learning process and to employ it in teaching children how to read and write in social, cultural, historical and political relationships and embedded in structures of power. Furthermore, literacy practices involve social regulation of text, i.e. who has access to it and who can produce it, and such practices are purposeful and embedded in broader social goals and cultural practices. Moreover, these practices change and new ones are frequently acquired through processes of informal learning and sense-making”. (Larson, j. and Marsh, j.). For that reasons, teachers can design multiple levels of literacy activities and way of learning and provide a pedagogical approach which fosters communities of learners, plan classroom activities that embed meaningful opportunities to engage in the analysis and construction of multimodal texts, and utilize teaching approaches that move beyond the false tension between abstracting the codes of language and learning their application for meaningful purposes”. (Larson, j. and Marsh, j.).

Figure 3. different views of literacy

Critical literacy is defined as the ability to take apart various texts in media or writing to find any possible discrimination that author might have embedded in his or her presentation of the world since authors have social and political influence (Coffey, Heather). This is done by analyzing the messages promoting prejudiced power relationships found naturally in media and written beyond the author’s words and examining the manner in which the author has conveyed his or her ideas about society’s norms to determine whether these ideas contain racial or gender inequality (Blake, Caitrin). Critical literacy encourages readers to actively analyze texts and offers strategies for what proponents describe as uncovering underlying messages. There are several different theoretical perspectives on critical literacy that have produced different pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning. All of these approaches share the basic premise that literacy requires the literate consumers of text to adopt a critical and questioning approach. 
 Therefore, Sociocultural approaches emphasize the interdependence of social and individual processes in the co-construction of knowledge. The literacy has been defined in many ways of expressing and documenting interpretation but it is also true that in order to truly understand literacy and learners, educators must see literacy and learners in all contexts to understand it well.

Gee James Paul (2015)- Literacy and Education
J. Larson and J. Marsh (2005)

Blake, Caitrin (2016)
Heater M coffey(2013)