Holistically Literate


Humans have always been creating new communication technologies and new literacies to help us share our narratives in an effort to be understood by the world, to understand ourselves, and to understand the world.  With each new technology comes the risk of being misunderstood, misinterpreted by the world and ourselves.  Sometimes we fear that we will become less literate, less able to communicate our “truths”, when we are confronted with new ways of communicating (Turkle, 2012).

However, this course has taught me to be more critically literate and to realize that in sharing our narratives with each other, our narratives become “reader constructed” (Peters & Lankshear, 1996, p.68).  When we read, see, listen to, or watch others’ narratives, we become part of the narrative, we bring ourselves, our histories, values, expectations and assumptions to the narrative and all of these things change how we understand the narrative and also change the narrative. In sharing our narratives and participating in each other’s narratives, we become interconnected.   Freire (1998) states,

This dialectical movement of thought is exemplified perfectly in the analysis of a concrete, existential, “coded” situation. Its “decoding” requires moving from the abstract to the concrete; this requires moving from the part to the whole and then returning to the parts; this in turn requires that the Subject recognize himself in the object ( the coded concrete existential situation) and recognize the object as a situation in which he finds himself, together with other subjects.


We become part of the narratives that we read and we inhabit them with all of the others that read them as well.  In this way, the literature that we read (view, listen to) brings us together; we are interconnected in our experiencing of the narratives.

This course has taught me that interconnection through narratives can happen in many different ways, in many different literary places.  I will admit that as an English teacher I had thought of narrative as happening in books, through words and pictures, and I realize now that I carried with me a fear of our new technological literary spaces taking away from our narratives.  But in reading other students’ experiences with digital texts and the plethora of ideas shared with respect to digital storytelling, I see that these new digital literary spaces open up so many opportunities for us to understand the world, and be understood by the world.  Bryan and Levine (2008) state,

Stories now are open-ended, branching, hyperlinked, cross-media, participatory, exploratory, and unpredictable. And they are told in new ways: Web 2.0 storytelling picks up these new types of stories and runs with them, accelerating the pace of creation and participation while revealing new directions for narratives to flow.

                                                                                                     (p. 40)

The idea of participating in the stories as audience members relates to the idea of texts becoming even more “reader constructed”.  These “new literacies” simply make us more aware of our role and our responsibilities, as audience members, in participating in the texts that we “read”.  It also makes us more aware of the power we wield as authors creating works that others will not simply passively accept, but will actively participate and contribute to. Now, more than ever before, we have the power to tell our own narratives and participate in the narratives of the world. The presentations made me aware that to truly be considered literate and to truly teach our students to be literate, we need to teach them holistically. Literacy is more than “code breaking” (Freebody & Luke, 1990). We need to be literate in all areas of our lives, socially, critically, with media, with tools, and in nature.   Paulo Freire (1987) stated, “”To be literate is not to be free, it is to be present and active in the struggle for reclaiming one’s voice, history, and future” (p. 7). In my future practice, I plan to teach my students to be literate in all areas of their life, so they can “read the world” (Freire & Macedo, 1987).  It is exciting to recognize the power that new literacy narratives have to bring us together and the role they have in our growth as individuals and as parts of the interconnected world.


Bryan, A., Levine, A. (2008) Storytelling: Emergence of a new genre. Retrieved from http://digitalstorytelling.umwblogs.org/files/2010/01/web2.0_storytelling.pdf

Freebody, P. & Luke, A. ( 1990) Literacies programs: Debates and demands in cultural context. Prospect: An Australian Journal of TESOL, 5 (3), pp. 7-16.

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. ( 1987). Reading the word and the world. Florence,USA: Routledge.

Freire, P. (1998) Pedagogy of the oppressed. In Flinders, D. & Thornton, S. (Eds.) The curriculum studies reader. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer, pp. 147-154.

Peters, M. & Lankshear, C. (1996). Critical literacy and digital texts. Educational Theory, 46 (1), pp.51-70.

Turkle, S. (2012, April). Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone? [Video file]. Retrieved from: http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html


I keep coming back to “Greg” in the Frontline video, Old School, New School (2010), who announces, “I never read books”… “Everyone Sparknotes”. I felt appalled by this statement and I will admit that I initially attributed his attitude towards reading to his age. But now I have to wonder what our instant access to information through our new technological devices is doing to our desire to read and to our ability to wonder and patiently problem solve. “Greg” reminded me of a situation I experienced with my book club that made me question the possible decline in our wondering abilities . I had emailed the question , “What is the significance of the title?”, to everyone in the book club before our meeting so that we could have time to think about it before the discussion. As the meeting began, my friend, a Science teacher, announced, “Well, I looked it up on the internet and found an interview with the author and she said that it meant…” And the discussion stopped right there. Now that we all knew exactly what the author meant, in her own words, the “right” answer, no one seemed interested in thinking about what we might think it meant. Question asked. Question answered.

We have cut out the middle man. We have cut out the act of wondering, of suggestions, looking for evidence, discussing the evidence, new suggestions, new evidence, etc. Anna McEwan (2008) notes that, “wonder is also a verb, conveying the idea of marveling, admiring, doubting, and questioning” ( p. 108), she states that “wondering is the precursor for learning, paving the way for our minds to broaden in understanding”(p. 110). What happens to our ability to wonder when we have instant access to all of the world’s answers? Francis Bacon (1857), suggests, “Neither can any man marvel at the play of puppets, that goeth behind the curtain and adviseth well of the motion” (p. 314). Once we know the secret to the trick, we stop wondering. This “middle man” of wondering engaged our brains. “So the question again arises: Is it true that as the range of causal explanation increases, so the scope for wonder necessarily decreases?” (Hepburn, R.W.,1980, p. 6). The act of wondering is important, and it makes me wonder what happens to us, to our ability to think divergently and to our brain development, when we replace the act, the art, of wondering with a quick Google search.

Bacon, F. (1857) The works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, Lord High Chancellor of England. Spedding, J., Ellis, R.L., Heath, D.D., (Eds.) London, UK: Spottiswoode &Co.

Hepburn, R.W. (1980) The inaugural address: Wonder. Proceedings of the Aristotelian society, Supplementary volumes. Vol. 54, pp. 1-23. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4106778

McEwan, A. (2008) Wonder and learning. Educational Forum. Vol.72 (2). P.108-114

Old School, New School. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/learning/concentration/old-school-new-school.html?play


Our access to internet information changes our views and understandings of the world and with this knowledge; we have more power to make changes and to have a voice.  However, how do we know that what we know is true?  And what is truth?  Paul Mason makes several statements regarding truth and seems to use the word freely with an assumption that we all share in the word’s definition.  Mason states that “Truth is faster than lies” and that “People just know more than they used to. Dictatorships rely not just on the suppression of news but on the suppression of narratives and truth”; there is an implied assumption about the meaning of the word “truth”.  However, with our use of new technologies, our access to infinite amounts of information and multiple voices through websites and social media sites, we need to question the definition of “truth” more than ever before.  We are bombarded with information and a major literacy skill that we need to learn, exercise, and teach our children is how to determine what to believe.

Nails in Cheese
Nails in Cheese

On Facebook, someone posted a picture of pieces of cheese with nails hidden inside them and the description explained that some unknown malicious person was distributing these weapons in order to hurt the dogs at a Calgary dog park. After people reacted with outrage, it finally came out that the incident had not actually happened in Calgary. The author admitted that they wanted to warn people and had sited it as happening in Calgary because they thought it would give the warning more weight.  Their intention was to warn people to protect their dogs, so they used some misinformation to get their point across. Is it ok to lie, if your intentions are good?  Is there a difference between individual truths and general truths? Do we rely on the assumption that everyone tells the “truth”?

Philosophers have long been discussing and debating the definition of “truth”.  “For Hans-Georg Gadamer…truth (and meaning) is something that is disclosed in the relationship of interpreter to the object of interpretation”(Schwandt, 2007, p.301) and for Dewey “truth of assertions is determined by whether they function well in making our way in understanding the world”( Schwandt, p. 301). Some believe in realism and some believe it is simply a social construct (Schwandt, p. 301).  These philosophers were not considering the meaning of truth in a society that is overloaded with information, voices and “truths”.  In this new technological age, how do we define “truth”? How malleable is “truth”? What role do intentions have in decided “truth”?  What role does “truth” play in our literacy skills today?


Mason, P. (2011) Twenty reasons it’s kicking off everywhere. Retrieved from


Schwandt, T.A. (2007). The Sage dictionary of qualitative inquiry. London, UK: Sage Publications, Ltd.

The Importance of Lingering

       I used to read books during the day.  I used to sit cuddled up on my favourite chair by the window and read. Then I had kids. Each time I picked up a book, there was something or someone who needed something from me… now.   It felt like my reading was a signal for diapers to need to be changed, kids who were previously playing quietly and nicely to commence arguing, my husband’s calls, “I can’t find the…”, until I put my book down.   Now I have to wait to read until the kids are asleep, under the cloak of night, in bed, and sometimes even under the covers so as not to wake my husband.  It’s my own secret reading space, with no noise, no interruptions, only me and the book and the quite sound of my own breathing. 

       I find, while reading Rich’s(2008) article,Literacy debate: R U really reading? , that I am back to trying to battle away distractions to find the words in the article.   As I begin each sentence, something from the page calls out to me drawing me away from the article.  A video link calls, “Watch me”. A large picture of a naked woman whispers “Look at me”.  At one point a banner appears and floats over the words I am trying to read.  Then a neon sign starts flashing and there are hyperlinks to click, and links to follow and widgets calling “forget this article, read me instead!!” I have to squint my eyes and really try to focus to be able to finish the article. 

      We are missing the act of lingering with the words, the ideas, the characters of pure text- books or articles that stand alone, without pop ups and hyperlinks, without videos and photo streams.  Wanda May (1991) states, “Lingering means making room for myself and reflecting upon my relation to the world and what it means to be in it” (p. 140).  There is a value in lingering while reading. Lingering allows us to quietly absorb what we are reading and consider each word, the way it feels on our tongue, the images it conveys, the history it has within us.  Rich writes, “‘It takes a long time to read a 400-page book,’ said Mr. Spiro of Michigan State.” (p. 3).  There is value in lingering within those 400 pages. This type of reading helps us to become what Dan Meyers (2010) calls “patient problem solvers.”  Meyers speaks of leading students through the discovery process of mathematical problem solving, but I think it also applies to literacy. There is an advantage to pure text as it forces us to seek out the information we need to solve literacy problems, and often online resources give all of the information to us without us even thinking or asking for it.



May, W. (1991) The arts and curriculum as lingering. In Willis, G. & Schubert,W. H. ( Eds.)Reflections from the heart of educational inquiry: Understanding curriculum and teaching through the arts (p. 140-152). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. 

Meyer, D.( 2010). Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover. [Video file]. Retrieved from:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NWUFjb8w9Ps#!

Rich, M. (2008). Literacy debate: R U really reading? Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/27/books/27reading.html?_r=2&ex=1217908800&en=b2960ae3b8cce1b2&ei=5070&emc=eta1&oref=slogin&