Reflections by Nick Kwiek
Running late, as always, here begin my reflections on The Essential Elements...
On page 16 Doug tells us the following:
What underlies all of this is that being literate is not only an ongoing process, but necessarily a social activity. We use tools for the purpose of communicating with one another. This requires both tool-knowledge and content-knowledge. Crucially, both of these aspects of knowledge are in flux in the 21st century meaning that, "Tomorrow's illiterate will not be the man who can't read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn." (Doug cites this final quote in a footnote)
Literacy has become a moving target. We don't become more literate as we progress through our education by reaching a set goal. Now we need to learn to adapt to the tools of communication. And now the tool might be hidden in the content, much in the same way that the content has always been hidden in the tool.
On page 38 Doug tells us,
I've argued that skills cannot be learned in a vacuum, that they're highly contextual. Now I want to go one step further. In a similar vein to the SOLO taxonomy I believe there's a continuum from skills through competencies to literacies. As individuals can abstract from specific contexts they become more literate.
He goes on to apply this directly to digital literacy, but I believe that he is onto something more generally.
I ran into this in a hard way once. I teach developmental math for UAF. A cohort of my students needed to pass a standardized test in order to finish their program. I took the test ahead of them to see what skills they needed. I determined that they already had all of the skills that they need to pass. We spent a day on test prep, and the next day almost all of them failed. What went wrong? The problem is that we were teaching skills and competencies, and testing literacies.
This isn't just a problem in Alaska. I have been reading over the past few months (pardon me for not having any links handy) about trends in other states where minority candidates for teacher certification, who have college degrees, cannot pass the required core literacy tests. Questions are being raised about how we test literacy and what "literacy" is if someone with a college degree is not literate. It appears to be a problem with context.
This causes me to rethink how I teach math. We talk about teaching math in terms of skills, but we don't often talk about math literacy very concretely. Since all of the math classes statewide are required to have the same outcomes, I am handed my schedule every semester. I am told to teach certain skills and certain sections on certain days and then administer a standardized final exam at the end. (I could deviate, but the system is set up in such a way that it is much, much easier for me to follow along.) The problem is that the questions on the final exam very closely match the examples and homework questions throughout the semester, so the students have learned a skill, but we don't know if they can decontextualize it. We don't know if they're truly literate.
After the experience with the cohort above, I sat down with an administrator at our campus, and we talked about how math is taught in the United States and in other cultures. She wrote her dissertation on that topic. I am convinced now--after speaking with her then and reading this book now--that I can do more to advance math literacy for my students. I hope I can do that within the structure of the program in which I teach.