Who are the illiterate of the 21st Century?

Friday, December 2nd, 2011 | education | Comments Off


“The illiterate of the 21st Century
will not be those who cannot read and write,  but those who cannot learn, unlearn,  and relearn.”

Alvin Toffler


Bad grammar on the internet can help teachers

Monday, November 7th, 2011 | internet | Comments Off

The internet is a wonderful source of information but it can be misleading at times.  This is particularly so when it comes to the use of good grammar.

Gone are the days when only journalists, skilled in the use of beautiful and correct language, were employed to write articles.  Nowadays, anyone who has access to the internet is free to publish information on their websites and blogs.  This freedom is great, since we have access to more insights and ideas, but often the way in which material is presented leaves much to be desired.  Postings on the web are often riddled with grammatical errors – some estimate that errors can be found on more than half of what is published on the web.

Why are there so many errors?  The writer may not be writing in his mother tongue or may not know the rules of grammar.  In many cases errors are present simply because the author did not check and edit the writing before it was published.

Whatever the reasons for grammatical mistakes, learners must be made aware of the fact that:

Not everything you read online is grammatically correct.

The price you pay for bad grammar is poor communication.  Even though learners may incline towards “SMS speak” good grammar is still necessary for clear communication in the professional world where learners will operate after they leave school.Teachers must teach learners the rules of grammar.  After alerting learners to the poor grammar they will encounter on the web, teachers can turn the bad usage to their advantage: identify a site where the rules of grammar have not been followed and give learners an assignment to correct the errors.

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How can digital tools be used to develop reading skills?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 | education, technology | 1 Comment

Teachers lament the fact that learners can’t read anymore.  Education authorities are in agony over the low literacy rate of learners.  These concerns are justifiable.  Many learners simply can’t read with understanding; they can’t write; their spelling is atrocious; their understanding of grammar rules non-existing.

Not only is their reading and writing poor – they can’t speak.  Have you tried to count how many times a teenager uses the world ‘like’ in one sentence?  They use it as a verb, a noun, an adjective, adverb, preposition and general filler. 

The number of learners who fail basic literacy tests is astounding.  But those same children are hammering away on computer keyboards and cell phone keypads at great speed.  Technology puts power in their hands, but not necessarily knowledge in their heads.  It’s the same as giving sledge hammers to a troupe of monkeys to crack nuts – one fears the damage they can do to themselves. 

You can use the magnetic pull of technology on learners to their advantage.  Think about a few possibilities:

Send an e-mail to your learners and ask for a response.  Encourage learners to communicate with each other via e-mail and teach them how to use proper language, spelling and grammar.

Write a blog posting and ask learners to respond by means of comments; in turn you can correct their mistakes through your comments.  In this way you’re using technology to help them acquire basic literacy skills.

Allow learners to browse the internet and ask them to report on what they’ve read.

Many educational software programs geared towards the development of reading skills include enjoyable activities – learners develop literacy skills while having fun.

A useful tool for developing reading with comprehension skills is talking stories.  Books are digitized and displayed on a computer screen or through a data projector.  Learners read the words, hear the words and engage with the material through interactions.

These are just a few examples of the many ways in which you can use available technology to solve one of your biggest problems – helping learners to improve their literacy skills.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What is visual literacy?

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 | education, technology | 3 Comments

Visual literacy is one of the new literacies required for successful operation in the twenty-first century – it refers to the ability to communicate by means of images, to interpret them and to make sense of the information conveyed by them. 

A picture is worth a thousand words – not many people would argue against this maxim.  You can tell a story more succinctly using pictures than words.  The problem is that two people may look at a picture and read two different stories in it.

Think about the consequences when people interpret images in different ways:

How will we ever find our way if a standard way to read maps does not exist?

How can statistics be understood if different people interpret graphs each one in their own way?

How will advertisers communicate their message to the masses if diverse meanings are read into the images of their advertisements in magazines, on billboards or on TV?

What will happen if we all interpret road signs differently?

At school visual literacy is particularly important in studying subjects such as science, technology, history, geography and mathematics – all of them rely on visual texts such as maps, diagrams, graphs and tables to convey information.

Yet, little attention is given to the teaching of visual literacy.  Within a learning area a teacher may try to explain the meaning of a certain image.  For example, when a mathematics teacher explains to a class how to interpret graphs, learners often find it hard to understand.  When the significance of an image is taught in isolation within a learning area, learners may not grasp the relevance of the abstract concept.  This emphasizes the need for learners to acquire basic literacy skills.

Every citizen of the twenty-first century must know how to read images and make sense of them.  Exposure to computers will help learners in this regard.  How?  Computers change the way in which information is presented – making use of images to a large extent.  When learners are exposed to computers and the internet, they are helped to develop visual literacy skills much faster than without it.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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How can blogs be used in the classroom?

Saturday, December 4th, 2010 | Blogging, technology | 1 Comment

While reading the blogs of experts and fellow teachers is most beneficial to you, the greatest value of blogs will be experienced when you create your own for use in your classroom.  Yes, you must become a blogger!

Here are two of many ways in which you can liven up your teaching by means of blogs:

The most basic method of exploiting a blog in the classroom is by using it as an electronic notice board.  Every time you want to inform your class about something, just post it to the blog.  These announcements may include homework assignments, handouts, lesson notes, reminders of forthcoming tests and examinations, reminders of due dates for handing in assignments, useful tips for learning, or any other snippet that you may want to share with your class. 

When all your learners understand that this is the way you communicate with them there are no more room for misunderstandings.  If any of your communications are not clear, learners can leave a question as a comment to which you can respond for the benefit of the whole class.  Imagine how much time you will save if you have to explain something only once!

The next step would be to use a classroom blog to develop literacy skills – it is the ideal space for you to work with your learners to improve their reading and writing skills.  Post a writing assignment on the blog – for example, instruct them to write hundred words on a topic.   Ask the learners to post their responses as comments.  You are providing an immediate audience to all learners.  Shy learners are often hesitant to make verbal contributions in class – but they may feel more inclined to participate in a blog situation.  You can, in turn, comment on their work, either giving commendation, or offering suggestions, or making corrections.  Learners could learn from reading each other’s written work, even more so when they read your comments on the work of their peers.

The opportunities for using blogs for other classroom applications are limited only by your imagination – and if that fails, look on the internet at what other teachers have done with blogs in their classrooms.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Why must digital literacy be included in the curriculum?

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 | education | 8 Comments

Digital literacy not only equips learners for future jobs – it also helps them to secure jobs.  We are faced with staggering unemployment statistics; anything that can contribute towards finding work needs serious consideration. 

The need for digital literacy is not restricted to white collar workers, such as office workers and professional people.  Blue collar workers also require digital literacy skills today.  In the past these workers performed manual tasks and high literacy skills were not viewed as all that important.  Technology has changed all of this.  The tools of blue collar workers are now digital ones – this means that they must be digitally literate. 

Proof of digital literacy – passing a test or having a certificate – is often a requirement for securing a job.  Companies spend huge amounts of money on technology training – it makes economic sense for them to employ people who already have digital literacy skills.  You will put your learners in an advantageous position if you equip them with these skills.

Even finding a job requires digital literacy.  Many jobs are advertised on the internet and we must learn how to find, read, interpret and respond to these advertisements.  A person who is dependent solely on paper based recruitment methods is losing out.

Learners – and teachers too! – need digital skills to present themselves well to prospective employers.  Technology can be used to prepare a neat, readable CV.  Many employers are using social networks to find background information about job applicants – they look at your Facebook page, your Tweets, and other places where they can discover who you are.

Some social networks – like Linked in – allow you to present yourself professionally and expose you to employment opportunities.

Anyone who participates in digital social networks leaves an indelible digital trail.  Everything you write, any comment you make, any picture you post is there for the world to see.  A person who recruits staff simply needs to Google your name and a flood of information appears about you.

Learners must know how to present themselves in the digital space and how to protect themselves.  What they put on the internet can work for them – or against them!

Digital literacy is no longer optional for job seekers – it is essential.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What is digital literacy?

Monday, November 15th, 2010 | education | 3 Comments

Digital literacy must not be confused with computer literacy. 

Computer literacy refers to the ability to use a computer.  This includes knowing where to press the buttons to perform elementary operations on the machine, such as switching it on and off and retrieving and storing information.  A computer literate person knows basic computer programs, such as word processing, and can use e-mail and the internet.

A first goal for teachers is to become computer literate – the next one is to become digitally literate.  Digital literacy is attained when you no longer focus on the technology itself, but use digital devices to perform functions that allow you to survive in a world dominated by technology.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate why more than mere computer dexterity is needed:

Information is dumped on you in unimaginable quantities and in different forms: text, graphics, voice, video and combinations of these.  Computers and other technologies present this information to you in digital format and computer literacy allows to you access the information sources.

Many lifetimes are insufficient for you to wade through all the information available to you right now.  How can you make sense of all this information?  Digital literacy will come to your rescue – it will provide you with those skills needed to search for relevant information, locate it, evaluate it, organize it, understand it and then use the results of your efforts to create new knowledge.

The internet is particularly challenging – it is rich in reliable and valuable information but it also contains conflicting and misleading sources.  Digital literacy is required to make the right information choices.  You also need to be digitally savvy to succeed in putting together all the information you’ve gathered to create new knowledge.

Teachers, if you have computer facilities in your school, don’t fall into the trap of focusing too much on promoting computer literacy as an end in itself.  Help learners to become digitally literate, empowering them to function as digital citizens in a world that demands nothing less from them.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What is media literacy?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 | education | 3 Comments

How do you react when you see a TV advertisement about a sensational new brand of toothpaste that promises that it will help to make your teeth gleaming white and will make them sparkle like marble?

If you rush out to the nearest supermarket to buy a dozen tubes you’re doing exactly what the advertiser wants you to do.

Would it not be wiser to pause and first ask some questions about the product?

What makes this product different?

How does it work – in fact, does it really work?

When the advertisement says, “it helps”, how much does it actually help?

A person who asks questions like these has achieved a measure of media literacy.

Media literacy is the ability to analyze messages brought to you by news media and then to make decisions based on a critical evaluation of the information.  A person may be literate in the sense of being able to read and write but be rather naïve when it comes to the media.  A media literate person has the ability to analyze, interpret and evaluate what is seen on TV, the internet or other information sources.

Media literacy does not only help you when you’re confronted by advertisements.  The media tries to shape your thinking in different ways – for example, politicians use it to spread propaganda about their ideologies.  Media literacy enables you to understand what is presented to you, to read between the lines and to understand the significance of what is not being said.

The media hopes to shape the opinion and actions of people – it tries to act on you.  Media literate people do not allow themselves to be acted upon – they have learned the art of acting on the media to their own advantage.  

Technology brings the media right into the homes and pockets of you and your learners.  Social media – such as Twitter and Facebook – are new delivery mechanisms of the media, made possible by technology; so are blogs and online news bulletins.  Neither you, nor your learners, can be called literate if you have not acquired the skills to use and interpret information presented to you by these new channels.

If your school’s prescribed curriculum does not yet make provision for teaching media literacy, you need to work it in somewhere during class time – perhaps as part of life orientation or language lessons.

Media literacy can only be taught if you know the technology behind modern media … and if your learners have access to technology.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What are the “new literacies”?

Monday, November 8th, 2010 | education | 8 Comments

Literacy refers to a person’s ability to read and write.  The quality of being literate separates the educated from the uneducated.  Those who can’t read and write are illiterate – uneducated.

Those who can read and write are literate – but are so on different levels.  How well you can read and write – and how much of it you’ve done – determines how literate you are.  At the top of the pile are those who produce literary masterpieces such as Charles Dickens, Salman Rushdie and Kathy Lette.

In the minds of most people, literacy implies two things: reading and writing – both are about words on paper.  This type of literacy is the pre-occupation of schools.  Much time is spent on developing handwriting, learning to spell, studying the rules of grammar, and developing the ability to read with comprehension.

With the advent of information and communication technology (ICT), a literate person needs more than the ability to read and write.  You now also have to understand cryptic SMS communications, embellished with emoticons.  You must be able to respond clearly, succinctly and immediately.  News comes to you in different ways – internet news bulletins, blogs and Twitter feeds – and much of it is in picture or video format.

The new ways in which we now receive and respond to information demand new literacies – abilities beyond reading and writing.  In the past learners came to school with a pencil and a writing book in their satchels – these were their literacy tools.  Today learners come to school with cell phones and other digital devices in their backpacks.  Clearly, our definition of literacy must accommodate these changes.

New literacies take many forms, and different names have been given.  Three important ones are:

As technology continues its rapid progress, more of these literacies will appear.  In the mean time, where does all of this leave the teacher?

If you were educated during a time when literacy was measured against the ability to read and write, you have some catching up do to before you can successfully introduce your learners to new literacies.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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How can an interactive whiteboard be used to improve literacy?

Sunday, January 10th, 2010 | IWBs | 6 Comments

The inability to read is one of the greatest problems that education is facing – children simply can’t read with comprehension.  And when they can’t read, they battle with the rest of their schoolwork.  Learning resources given to learners – including textbooks and the internet – are wasted on them if they can’t read and understand what they are reading.

An interactive whiteboard is a perfect tool to help you to improve the literacy rate of your learners.  It allows you to engage in a variety of activities, which will improve their reading skills.  Talk to your peers or look on the internet for ideas, and let your interactive whiteboard – and your imagination – do the rest.

The look-say-cover-write-check method is used by many teachers with great success to teach learners to recognize words and word patterns.  This can be done with boards and cards, but an interactive whiteboard makes the process much easier.  With little effort you can prepare an activity which will allow you to do the following:

  • Write a word on the board and allow learners to look at it.
  • Say the word aloud to the learners.  Let them repeat the word aloud.
  • Cover the word.  Most interactive whiteboards come with software that allows you to slide a colored strip over the word to hide it.
  • Let the learners write the word – if you are teaching an individual or a small group of learners, the word can be written on the interactive whiteboard – otherwise let them write the word in their workbooks.
  • Reveal the word by sliding the cover away.  Let the learners check if the word they wrote down is correct.

Difficult?  Not at all.  In fact, it is very simple.  And that is the power of the interactive whiteboard – it makes activities which can have extraordinary results simple to perform.  With a board in your classroom you can repeat this activity throughout the day, whenever appropriate – in this way literacy training becomes a part of your daily activities.

The unique features of an interactive whiteboard, such as drag-and-drop, hide-and-reveal, and allowing touch interactivity, make this device an ideal tool to improve literacy.

Do you have any literacy tips that you would like to share with us?

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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