IATEFL Poland: David Evans on new literacies

IATEFL Poland: David Evans on new literacies - hancockmcdonald.com/blog/iatefl-poland-david-evans-new-literacies

English & The New Literacies (Plenary session, sponsored by National Geographic Learning). David Evans argued that the job of a teacher nowadays is to teach more than words and their meanings. He explained that, given the way that information is presented is central to literacy and literacy is about gaining knowledge, it behoves us to incorporate new literacies into our teaching. This requires that we enrich our syllabuses by adding focus on helping learners understanding genre; becoming familiar with the conventions of graphical representations; understanding the grammar of the moving image, practising intelligent scepticism and thinking both critically and creatively. David took us through each of these areas in turn, explaining the concepts and presenting a case for their inclusion in our language courses.

Starting with genre, David pointed out that language teachers teach reading, and learners are used to starting at the top of a text and reading to the end. Other texts, for example, newspaper articles (also used a lot in language teaching), have their own conventions for organising information but this is different to the way information is presented in different genres, say, a web site. Given that web-sites are how most people acquire information these days, language teachers need to help learners understand how information is structured on the web. By doing this, we can help our learners become literate as they will be able to follow how thought is working through language.

A second new literacy, visual literacy, also requires focus in the language classroom. New technologies are enabling the presentation of information in more sophisticated ways than simple plans and maps. An example of this might be a map in which the size of countries is altered so as to reflect their population. In this instance, India would appear to be huge, whereas Australia would look very small indeed. Again, we need to be alert to various ways in which information is being presented, to help our learners develop the necessary literacy to understand these different representations.

Visuals, like film, TV and You Tube, aren’t static, and those creating recordings make decisions about how something or someone is filmed. For example, if a politician is filmed from a low angle they are attributed power. Again, if we teach our learners viewing skills, including how they might be manipulated through moving images, this will help develop visual literacy.

It goes without saying that using the internet to gain knowledge requires a different kind of literacy, one which embraces intelligent scepticism. Learners need to be alerted to types of questions they should ask of a piece of information, for example, what are the sources and how up to date is the information if they are to be able to rely on the information they need to access.

The final new literacy David referred to was the ability to think both critically and creatively. Critical literacy includes the ability to form an opinion based on facts and evidence and assess the credibility of a source. Creative literacy involves, for example, adding one thing to something else that already exists. David supported this point with a rather cheeky quote from Picasso – ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal.’

David’s plenary introduced and explained new literacies, helping participants understand some of the challenges which lay ahead for the language teacher. For each of the categories of new literacies, he provided multiple examples, along with some suggestions on how they might be developed in the classroom.

From a teacher’s perspective, once we are fully conversant with these new literacies, which no doubt won’t remain static, we’ll be more empowered reflect on which ones we might already be dealing with in our classrooms, and those we might wish to introduce. We’ll be able to draw up new literacies syllabus threads, and examine how we might dovetail these with traditional skills and language work in such a way as they are appropriate for learners at different levels – clearly a bit of a challenge given the limited time most of us have to get through our over-crowded courses!

At the end of the plenary, participants were given a copy of Life (Upper Intermediate), published by National Geographic Learning and Heinle Cengage Learning, in which the new literacies outlined by David in the plenary are clearly evidenced and incorporated into the language learning syllabus. 

I suppose the next challenge will be how we assess these new literacies, should we choose to do so. Phew – the language teacher’s work is never done!


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