As an education major in the 20th century, I was schooled in four components of literacy instruction: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These were foundational. They still are. In today’s world, though, additional literacies, sort-of ‘sub-category’ literacies, are vital as well. Depending on your source, there’s visual literacy, media literacy, and multimedia literacy. Add digital literacy, technological literacy, and (my favorite) information literacy. Clearly, these overlap; but the implication is obvious: today’s teachers have a lot of ground to cover in preparing their students to be fully-literate adults!
In the traditional or ‘old school’ research project, students read and write. They choose a topic, find information (remember the 100 notecards?), organize that information, and write a paper. The best research projects today, however, require students to practice both traditional and 21st century literacies–so much so that I call these projects literacy-instruction-on-steroids! Great teachers are adept at designing projects through which students get to delve into every named aspect of literacy, and more.
Here’s an example: In their recent unit on persuasion, Aaron Gutwein’s sixth-graders at Riverside Intermediate first chose their own topics (all were current issues). They conferenced one-on-one with Gutwein, who guided each student to formulate a ‘big idea’ and direction for research. Students did lots of deep thinking as they sought information, mapped out arguments, gathered feedback, tweaked their plans, again sought information—over and over in a recursive process of multi-layered literacy instruction. Students used digital tools to access and organize information, and to build creative presentations. They shared their findings with peers.
Some key results of the project:
- A deeper understanding of current issues, along with their nuances and complexities.
- An understanding of how and where to find valid information, and what it means to make evidenced-based claims.
- And, of course, practice in literacy skills, both the old and the new.