I'm not an educational technologist, not by training, but I do love to share what I learn with other teachers and show them how they can use digital tools in their classroom to build literacy. This year in the Reading Writing Center I did a lot of that. If the RWC is truly a literacy-rich place where I demonstrate best practice literacy instruction then it makes sense to incorporate the "new literacies." Ewan McIntosh twitted a question about new literacies this morning asking if Twitter would be considered a new literacy. First I found myself thinking about what mcIntosh and others mean by "new literacies."
I favor Elliott Eisner's
definition of literacy as the ability to encode and decode symbolic forms used in a culture. Encode means to produce, like producing content for a traditional school assignment or for the web. We can encode an algebraic expression, sales tax percentages, persuasive speeches, letters, essays and more. We can also encode web content. Blogging and twittering are just two examples of this process. Decode means to make sense of to understand and mine meaning from. We decode language both spoken and written as well as tactile, visual and audio information. Aren't decoding and encoding the essence of Web 2.0, the read/write web?
If I'm using Eisner's definition of literacy then I'm standing under a fairly large umbrella. One that sees literacy as a thinking process one applies to an infinite number of texts. In my mind then, Twitter isn't a "new literacy." It is a symbolic form of Web 2.0 culture. It's a product or a Web 2.0 text type. If it's a text type then I need to teach students how to read it just as I'd teach students how to read the dictionary using guide words or how to make sense of a map. The other half of that lesson is teaching students how to apply what they learned by teaching them how to create their own text, a map, dictionary, delicious page or twitter spot. Decoding and encoding. Does that make sense?