The New Literacies: Q&A with Donald J. Leu Jr.
Q: What are some of the new literacies brought on by technology?
A: I view all of the new skills required by information and communication technologies (ICT) as reading, writing and communication skills. They include, but are not limited to: writing with word processors; communicating with e-mail; and locating, comprehending and critically evaluating information on the Internet. ... The defining and fundamentally different aspect of these "new literacies" [is that] they regularly change as ICT change. The team I am building at the University of Connecticut is concerned with developing a better understanding of all of these new literacies.
Q: Beyond providing current technology, how can districts help students develop literacy skills for emerging technologies?
A: If teachers are expected to pass along these new literacies to their students, they themselves must become literate in ... [ICT], and they must become skilled in new instructional models, such as Internet Workshop, WebQuests and Internet Inquiry.
Finland provides every teacher with five weeks, paid, release-time staff development [for] integrating IT into the curriculum. We don't even approach this. The U.S. Department of Education recommends that districts spend 30 percent of their technology budget on staff development. ... On average, districts have been spending only 6 percent.
Q: Can you name a district "success story" in literacy and technology?
A: Oswego City School District (www.oswego.org) in upstate New York-a small district, not wealthy, but committed to preparing students for the literacy futures they deserve. [It's] a story of a leader with a vision, a plan grounded in teachers' [instructional needs], a staff development model that invests in teachers but expects much from them in return and a community willing to invest in schools.
Q: What is the most misunderstood part of your research?
A: The greatest challenge I face is helping the reading and literacy education [communities] to recognize that our world has changed. We hold too exclusively to the technology touchstone of our world-the book. We need to recognize that the essence of reading, writing and communication has expanded. ... Much of our failure to move forward in schools is due to the lack of leadership. This is beginning to change but not nearly fast enough if we want our children to succeed in a globally competitive information economy.
Q: What do you hope districts will take away from your National Science Foundation research on how the Internet can enhance literacy?
A: Video cases of best practice instruction in K-3 reading, delivered over the Internet, provide powerful opportunities for improving professional development [for] new teachers. Our work is developing an important new model for professional education. Visit ctell.uconn.edu.
Q: You've said that a "focus on the book" links educators, teacher educators, publishers and scholars. How can these groups shift their focus to an expanded definition of literacy?
A: They say that "Many hands make light work." At no time in the history of education is the potential expressed in this aphorism more critical to our success. It will take a truly collaborative effort to respond to the fundamental changes I see taking place in literacy and learning. The Internet allows each of us to take advantage of [our] special perspective [brought] to the table. The challenge, however, is getting each of us to [use] the Internet [in new ways] to enrich the separate work we do, by connecting us with others we have yet to meet and exchanging ideas we have yet to consider.
Q: How does No Child Left Behind impact your research and efforts?
A: NCLB is holding us back ... from preparing every child for the reading, writing and communication skills [needed] in a global information economy. Here is the basic problem-state assessments do not include any of the new literacies I envision as central to our students' success. Not a single state allows all students to use a word processor for their writing assessment; no state assesses the use of e-mail to communicate effectively; no state assesses students' ability to locate information on the Internet; no state assesses students' ability to critically evaluate information on the Internet. If [new literacies aren't recognized in these assessments], we all know they will not be the focus of instruction. Until this situation changes, NCLB will hold us back, not move us forward.
Don Leu (www.sp.uconn.edu/~djleu/) is a professor of education at the University of Connecticut, where he holds the John and Maria Neag Endowed Chair in Literacy and Technology.
There's No Business Like Honest Business
In this age of Enron and other corporate scandals, interest in ethics has surged at business schools nationwide. But is that too late to teach tomorrow's leaders about legal and appropriate behavior? Junior Achievement thinks so.
With a $1 million gift from Deloitte & Touche (who better than an auditing firm to help rebuild trust in business?), JA has developed an ethics curriculum that will be woven into all of its 13 programs for grades 4-12. Activities on decision-making, business ethics versus personal ethics, facing difficult decisions with honor and other topics are being tied into existing units on business, economics and free enterprise.
Taught by volunteers that help bridge the gap between education and business, JA is beginning to pilot the curriculum this spring. By next school year, it will be available for all JA programs and could reach more than four million children. In schools without JA, teachers can visit the organization's online Business Ethics Center for content information and activities.
"The only way to do business is with honesty and integrity," says Anne Rouse Sudduth, national director of external affairs for D&T. "Given the events of the past year, we believe it's important that business ethics become an integral part of education while students are still developing their core value system." www.ja.org
Math Awareness Month: Mathematics and Art
The connections date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose sculptures and building design incorporated math concepts. By the 18th and 19th centuries, math was extensively used in designing cathedrals, Rose windows, mosaics and tilings. And then there's the contemporary Dutch artist M.C. Escher, whose works represent a wide range of mathematical ideas, from infinity and reflections to spirals and symmetry.
Math Awareness Month 2003 will celebrate these connections with the theme Mathematics and Art. Sponsored each April by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, an organization joining three national math groups, Math Awareness Month aims to increase public understanding of and appreciation for the subject by encouraging local, state and regional workshops, competitions, exhibits, festivals and other events.
For ideas and inspiration, check out MAM 2003's Web site, which includes essays on the theme, a downloadable poster, online and print resources and a list of mathematics and art experts willing to speak on the subject. Event organizers can also share their plans online. www.mathforum.org/mam