Discussing Literacy is a good idea, but I know at least one reader would question what type of Literacy was the main point- Literacy as a broad concept encompasses so many areas- the top athlete in one field may be able to identify pictures of his competitors and all the others from generations earlier who helped develop the sport- yet be unable to read and decipher print. And it is this – being able to read and decipher print – that Educators discuss and countries brag about in regards to their populations. So we have devised tests that are meant to demonstrate just how literate a region, school, or state is. Students prepare for them, teachers fret about them, and I am told housing pricing rise and fall in accordance with an areas’ test scores. What then do they really prove?
First of all, a student’s ability to identify theme, or main big idea within a piece of writing. Why? Because even when the actual question, “identify the theme” does not appear on a test, recognizing theme allows a reader to note when and where and how the writer supports this “big idea”. “Good writing” offers a point of view, a particular perspective about an issue, and then, regardless if the paper is a “persuasive essay” or an “exploratory” one, goes on to, within the writing, support this perspective. Story is no different- we suggest that each form of writing has a particular use and this may be true, however, within each piece is a story line that once unpacked has at its core a main idea focus. The old expression “can’t see the forest for the trees” is what can happen when students are told to read the questions first and then zero in on answers. – Backwards – ! Such students answer in the quickest manner, after speed only, and ignorant of the Big Picture or Theme within the piece are unable to notice when the questions themselves do not make sense. Reading through a piece, and noting both the Big idea and the ways the author supports his/her points, provides a student with the readiness when then given questions to immediately dismiss the obvious wrong answers; then, a return to the reading allows for finding the correct response. Yes. It is a slower process, and perhaps the real issue then is the time frame within which the testing occurs. Not all students quickly absorb material. For this reason, giving students an understanding of general ways to group a reading allows students to not only say “I can do this” but “this reminds me of something else”.
We constantly offer students material; it is imperative too, to allow students time to make sense of the material, and to- on their own-, suggest ways to classify what they have been reading. When a student can state: this one is about nature, this one is about rising above adversity, this one is about growing up and recalling personal experience…, the student is developing critical thinking. As Teachers, we ought not to be afraid of Ministry or state ordered curriculum evaluations. We ought instead, to focus on the thematic teaching that it is possible to create within a whole school- Math literacy, Financial literacy, Physical literacy, Emotional literacy, Media literacy… and encourage inter and intra-personal understanding. Writing, unless a fact based article- such as an encyclopedic offering, demands an affective* response. A reader is asked to care about the character, the problems the character encounters, and how the situation is resolved. Readers needn’t like the character, they must however recognize what the author is suggesting.
The recent Earth Day provides a case in point: questions relating to Financial Literacy may also touch on global dependency on certain fuels. Enter geography and cultural studies, with maps and media articles as source material for developing group and solo projects. The hands-on clean up of school grounds or if possible neighbourhood parks etc, providing an exercise in observation, a combination of art and science class, and the physical activity itself used to discuss the benefits of walking over riding- leading into a history lesson about the development of transportation. The unifying theme? You thought I would repeat Earth Day, and indeed this topic tied the activities together however the larger picture is Literacy- with pre- planing on the (various) teacher’s part to offer vocabulary, readings and written assignments.
It is almost a “taken for granted” that elementary teachers do plan their curriculum from a holistic perspective, but even within elementary schools some teachers (being individuals after all) have area strengths. And once junior and senior high teachers recognize the benefits of collaborative work, they rarely return to a closed door policy. We are so fortunate in this day and age to be able to access one another via internet, to share material and lesson plans and to commiserate when required- that it seems the lessons we can all learn from working with students pre and post testing is that the tests themselves are only one part of the BIG PICTURE- Education continues to be about how to encourage children to grow towards independence and claim their own. We may even be able to reduce “test anxiety” if we as educators return to enjoying our own lifelong learning process, and continue to brainstorm, connect, and share our stories.
*affective response The emotional response to a situation.