The Future of Literacy

I always knew that I would find my calling among books.  From my childhood bicycle trips straight across town to fill up a bag at the local library, to the constant book in my hands asking for my attention, the nights spent reading under the covers after my lights should have been out.  Books seem like they have always been a constant in my journey and now, as a literacy teacher, I feel like I have come home.

Right now is an exciting time to be doing anything with reading and writing.  With new technology bringing the world into our classrooms, amazing books being churned out daily, and the incredible amount of knowledge that exists a few clicks away, it is an exciting time to be a book lover and a literacy teacher at the same time.  It appears that now may just be the very best time to look ahead, to predict what is coming, and to cherish what we have right now.  So I think the future of literacy will center around 5 themes that all very much interconnect to provide us with an even bigger opportunity to create passionate learning environments.

Theme 1:  Global Collaboration.  I have to start with something that is so near and dear to my heart; global collaboration within our literacy programs.  Students are no longer limited to contained experiences within our classrooms but can instead read aloud with the world, create products to share with others, create awareness, or simply work on a project with a classroom across the globe.  Teachers in isolated locations can still be part of a global collaborative network using whichever tools they have access to.  Why does this matter?  Because we are teaching generations of children who need to function within a world that is truly at their fingertips at all times.  No longer is group work contained to just being able to work with kids from their own community, but instead it can focus on developing skills needed to be an international citizen.

Theme 2:  Meaningful Technology Integration.  For a long time I struggled with good integration of technology into my literacy instruction but I have found now that a few tools support the instruction in our classroom in a way that wasn’t possible before.  So tools that allow students to read in a multitude of ways like e-readers are embraced, although print books are not ignored  We use apps on our devices to not just record what we read, but suggest, review, and ask questions about our reading.  Writing can occur both traditionally or in electronic format depending on the purpose, as well as the audience, and the process desired.  Literacy researchers, experts, and other professionals can be accessed via social media allowing us to have constant professional development.  And students can connect with other readers around the world, as well as authors and content experts.  We truly live in a time where technology is enriching our literacy classrooms, not just creating more work for us.

Theme 3:  Student Voice and Choice.  This has for too long been limited to what we allowed students to tell us, but with visionary leaders like Donalyn Miller and passionate literacy teachers across the globe paving the way; our students voices are finally beginning to be heard!  This means that creating rich literacy environments start with the needs and desires of the students.  No longer are their voices dismissed when it comes to reading choice, reading style, and also product creation, but instead their ideas are embraced, enhanced, and placed into curriculum when possible.  Why does this matter?  Because our students have for too long become disenfranchised due to teachers telling them what to read, what to talk about, and dismissing their desires.  In the future of literacy, student voice and choice will take its rightful place alongside the amazing literacy research we have access to that drives our instruction.

Theme 4:  Authentic Purpose and Audience.  Students should no longer be creating just for the teacher or for the class, instead the use of technology allows us not only to have a “real” audience, but also to create products that have an impact.  Student words can change the world around them and so teachers are finding ways to use their literacy programs to create a real change, rather than create for fictitious purposes.   Simple tools such as Skype, Kidblog, or WriteAbout means that students no longer create in a vacuum but instead can get authentic responses and feedback on their work, thus allowing them to be “real” creators.  Students no longer have to wait for when they leave school to have an impact on the outside world, we can use the tools we have to do so right away.

Theme 5:  Teaching the Students You Have.  This one may seem crazy, but what I mean is that we are taking the curricula that districts are purchasing for us and adapting it to fit the needs of our students, rather than assume that the program will fit all of our children.  This is powerful because I do not teach the same students as Lucy Calkins, Kylene Beers, Kelly Gallagher or any of the other great literacy experts.  I teach my students, and those students change every year, which means that the way I use our curriculum has to change as well.  More and more districts are seeing the need for some type of personalization so that all student needs’ can be met.  It used to be just teachers doing what they felt students needed, and oftentimes hiding the fact that they were personalizing it, but now there seems to be an upswing in letting teachers adapt program and being proud of it!

The future of literacy depends on us.  We are told that the kids aren’t reading, the kids aren’t writing, and some kids don’t even want to come to school.  It is up to us to create real change.  It is to us to make the future come alive now, not wait and hope for someone else to lead the way.  The future starts today.

Hat-tip to John Spencer for this post

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

7 thoughts on “The Future of Literacy

  1. Pernille,
    Again you have spoken out on a topic that so many of us continue to struggle with. I wish I could say that I grew up with books and the love of reading but it wasn’t like that for me. I didn’t develop a love of reading until I started teaching. Now, thanks to the many great educators that I have used as “mentors” I too believe all of the ideas that are mentioned in the themes that you have identified. I am starting to speak out and stand up for what I believe will be the most beneficial for my students and thanks to you and others, I feel confident that my beliefs which were developed thanks to mentors like you, are backed by some true literacy educators. Thanks for always sharing your thoughts. You are a true inspiration. Hope to see you at ISTE 2015. I was attending solo, but my friend and co-teacher will thankfully be joining me. We hope to attend each of your presentations.
    Thanks for doing what you do and doing it so well.

  2. Your article hits home the fact that technology is changing drastically and, as a result, kids are learning differently. I agree with you that students can now learn globally, allowing them to grasp things they couldn’t without technology. But I think we should also realize that areas where poverty lurks or that are remote may be a huge limitation to many students who want to learn globally.

  3. Absolutely and so I have seen amazing teachers try to create connections in the way they see possible, whether through mail or sharing pictures somehow without the vast technology at their fingertips. I think that is why there is no right way to do global collaboration because you have to work within the limitations you have.

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