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Dedicated to Teachers

PLC Series: Literacy, Redefined

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This month, our posts aim to position ourselves as educators who understand the evolving definition of literacy, and use this knowledge to teach our students to be both critical consumers and creative contributors through text and media.


by Jaclyn Karabinas



Our perspectives and understandings take on new depth as we layer life experiences with changes in society and technology. Sometimes, we even begin to change the way we define things. Can you think of something that you define much differently now than a year ago? In your 20s? As a child?

For example, we might define the meaning of “family” with more dimension now than we did as children. Or we describe “communication” with a much broader range of modes of exchanging information. Even the initial definition of the word “phone” is only a slice of today’s description of this tool.



Our guiding question for this post is short, yet complex: How do we define literacy?



Read the ILA Literacy Today article, “Beyond Text Literacy for a Digital Culture,” by Kristin Ziemke and her Apple Distinguished Educator colleague Don Goble. Ziemke is also coauthor (along with Katie Muhtaris) of Amplify (2015).

Be sure to jot down anything that sticks out to you about their definition of “literacy” or “texts.” 



Next, watch this video blog with Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner, coauthors of Argument in the Real World: Teaching Adolescents to Read and Write Digital Texts (2016) Be sure to add to your notes as you revise your definitions of “texts” and “literacy.”






In the previous article, Kristin Ziemke and Don Goble use a number of examples to build a multi-dimensional definition of literacy and in the video, Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner extend our thinking about how texts are different now. Think about the kind of texts you encounter throughout the day. Take a moment to define or redefine what the word “text” and concept of “literacy” mean for you. It is helpful to have this first as conversation among colleagues to benefit from the perspectives and experiences of each other as your build your definition.


Extend your thinking with another video blog with Troy and Kristen as they continue to peel layers to reveal not only our meaning of texts, but how and when these texts count as evidence (or not). Note their descriptions of how these messages become complicated by hyperlinks, fonts, and more “bells and whistles” that digital media provides.

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Whether you teach kindergarten or high school English, building a definition of literacy that is applicable in today’s world is crucial to making instructional choices and designing learning experiences that, as Kristin Ziemke stresses in the below linked article, “focuses on student thinking, not the tool.” Refine your thinking about how our definitions of literacy impact our instructional choices through her ILA Literacy Today article “Balancing Text and Tech: How It Isn’t an Either/Or Scenario.”



Join together with colleagues to look closely at some of your curriculum standards or an upcoming unit. With your newly revised definitions of literacy at hand, decide on some shifts, additions, or deletions to your plans. In other words, make a change in your instruction to meet what students need due to the demands of literacy in our world today.


>>>For Further Viewing:

Carve out some time to view this video (7:38) from Amplify coauthor Katie Muhtaris’ classroom. It shows us not only how students learn to balance text and tech, but how conversations between Katie and her students lead to more understandings about how we use these tools, when, and for what purpose. Additionally, it shows how this work can look in the middle grades, laying the groundwork for applying thinking and conversation strategies with text and tech, before students head into more complicated critical analysis in the upper grades.


Looking for more PD? 

Online: We have a number of upcoming webinar series with Dan Feigelson and Carl Anderson, Jennifer Serravallo, as well as pre-recorded webinars from Fountas & Pinnell Literacy. Find out more here!

Off-Site: Join authors such as Kristin Ziemke, Kristine Mraz, Kathy Collins and Matt Glover, and more in a One-Day Workshop! Get the full schedule by clicking here.

On-Site: Heinemann’s Speakers & Consulting Authors are thought leaders in how to create successful classroom and school environments based on respect, collaboration, empathy, and positivity. Find out more by clicking here!

Topics: PLC Series, Troy Hicks, Katie Muhtaris, Kristen Hawley Turner, Kristin Ziemke

Date Published: 02/06/18

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