We live in a society that carries a large demand on having literate individuals. So far, in the Western society, a decent job has been done in ensuring that students can read and write. However, literacy is not confined to the 4 walls of the classroom or the school,
“[…] literacies exist outside of the world of the classroom and can and should be included in academic instruction.” (Morell, p.235)
A lot of students carry stories with them into class that may prevent them from understanding the literacy being discussed, simply because it does not incorporate any current or realistic points of view. So, those are the literacies outside of the classroom that should be included in a powerful academic instruction.
“[…] For any progressive literacy educator interested in reaching students and helping them to achieve must involve examining the everyday language and literacy practices of students to make connections with classroom practices.” (Morell, p.238)
With examining the everyday language and literacy practices, arises the concept of critical literacies. This form of critical literacy, takes powerful academic instruction through another dimension, because it’s not only using the everyday language and events, but it is comparing texts and understanding the underlying relationship between power and domination. Furthermore, it’s a mechanism that creates a platform where students can re-write their world. A literate student can be able to read and write, however, that doesn’t prevent him from viewing the world with a racist lens, a sexist lens, ageist, homophobic, etc. That’s why it’s important to understand the nature and the purpose of the literacy they read. Moreover, if the literacy they tackle in class is in conjunction with what they are experiencing outside of the classroom, it creates relevance, fuels passion and engages the students to thoroughly investigate, challenge and critically examine their world.
“By honouring and drawing upon local literacy practices and the everyday culture of youth, educators can prepare curricula that simultaneously increase academic literacies while also reaching into the worlds of students, facilitating empowered identities among these students, and making connections between their local practices and global concepts of educational and social justice.” (Morell, p. 235)
When I was in school, I remember my English teacher taking up the song “Where is the love” by the Black Eyed Peas and I feel that experience works very well as an example to what Morell is trying to say in his readings. My teacher used a hip-hop song to discuss with us literary devices and more importantly controversial topics (world peace, KKK, drugs, etc.).
An activity like that trains students to listen and observe carefully what is in their environment, then to assess the meaning behind it. Something a teacher might notice is students approaching her/him with other songs they heard that could produce insightful debate. An effective inquiry-based learning strategy would be to take up that song as a class and see if the students can critically view it on their own. I can’t wait to use this strategy in my classroom!
Literacy in conjunction with popular culture is a tool often used, in order to communicate different ideas and thoughts that society might enjoy, at the time of consumption. As popular culture progresses into new concepts, it’s important to modify the literacy involved. In Alvermann’s text, she notes the ‘autonomous model’ of literacy; where essentially, students are taught and required to achieve a certain level (pre-set by the educator) in reading and writing. However, in time, researchers discovered that reading and writing weren’t enough. People have different methods of communicating ideas and they should be given the freedom to do so. In their classroom, those modes of communication are used to express ideas within the social constructs of their environment. From that point, the notion of New Literacy Studies (NLS) came to be. All forms of communication are welcomed: visual, oral, gestural, linguistic, musical, kinesthetic, and digital to be used.
When multiple forms of literacy are in practice, it is inevitable to be faced with controversial opinions in regards to limiting the parameters of consumption. Alvermann discusses three debates in her essay; one of them that strikes the most is the second, “A question of Transfer”; which in summary is literacy moving from an informal to a formal environment. Although much research has shown that this practice can be difficult and educators find it difficult to maintain an instructional aspect to the informal environment, with enough experience, this could be a successful approach in literacy studies. The example of using Harry Potter as the “theoretical lens” in order to create their own situations, remixes and then to later share ideas on the fan fiction website, is a success story. That’s capitalizing on a student’s interest, taking learning from an informal environment to a formal one. The student is engaged in their work and the educator does not need to worry about texts that “serve to resist school and authority” (p.17). Educators ought to be listening and observing to the needs of the classroom, not imposing their own requirements. After all, students learn best when they want to.