Alan Duff packed quite a punch in his provocative recent CBF lecture in Auckland. Whether you agree with some (or all or none) of what he said is neither here nor there. Personally, if something makes me think, it’s worth its weight in gold; an awful lot more valuable than glib ‘feel good’ platitudes.
What it made me think about was what exactly we wanted our children to be able to be, and know, and do, when we talk about being literate or information literate.
More specifically, it made me look closely at the question of what exactly we, adults as well as children, need to survive in today’s world and the world of tomorrow.
From that the theme ‘living literacies’ emerged - and I was off like a bloodhound in pursuit of material for the next issue of Good Teacher .
What I’ve come up with, as a result of talking to dozens of people, is an interesting assortment of literacies, and an interesting expansion on the idea of ‘traditional’ literacy. I’ve got articles on text literacy, sure, but also on information literacy, online literacy, media, financial, environmental, emotional, scientific, mathematical literacies...
The interesting thing about talking to the enthusiastic proponents of each of these literacies was how deeply knowledgeable and committed they were. Ever since, I’ve been considering one of the emerging trends in educational writing, the cry for ‘deep’ learning, and wondering how much of a disservice we’re doing to our children with what I am calling the conveyor belt approach to enquiry topics in the name of the various new curriculum statements, all of which sanction, and, indeed, recommend the enquiry/ resource-based learning approaches that I have spent the last fifteen years teaching. Given that, of course I’m a champion of constructivist resource-based learning, and also a champion of daily dollops of cradle-to-grave real literature (see the articles by Tessa Duder and John McKenzie in Term 1 Good Teacher, incidentally), surely this seems a bit contradictory?
No, not at all. Anyone who knows me and my crusades should be warned! The latest one is for DEEP learning and DEEP reading.
This is a passionate cry to teachers to stop skating over the surface of knowledge (and STOP drawing distinctions between fiction and non-fiction - they are both capable of yielding deep reading and deep learning) and really engage with knowledge wherever and however it is found - in books, in ‘literature’, on the Web, in humanoid information sources! Deep learning and reading will only happen if teachers are knowledgeable and passionate about knowledge, and if they are they will use and encourage children to engage with rich sources. Deep doesn’t have to be complex and dauntingly literary, but nor is it likely to be slick, superficial mediaglossed garbage.
As Tessa Duder says in the Term 1 Good Teacher:
...the alternative for our children - New Zealand classrooms where Goosebumps
and romance and other international marketing constructs like
Christopher Pike, John Marsden, Thomas the Tank Engine and Annimorphs
hold sway, or worse, classrooms with no real books at all - is
just too terrible to contemplate.