Cit Pat Article – Social Media and Student Literacy

Our local newspaper, the Jackson Citizen Patriot just asked me to write an opinion piece on whether or not texting and social media sites are hurting our children’s literacy skills.  I have a very strong opinion on this but I’m hoping for some ideas to help give it more substance.  Here’s what I’ve brainstormed so far:

  • Social media and texting are easy to blame as the downfall of the traditional idea of literacy.  There are abundant examples of students using social media poorly, but we need to be careful not to mistake correlation for causation.
  • Literacy is more than just being able to read, write, or pass a multiple-choice test.  It also involves being able to understand, interpret and critique.  Meaningful communication must be part of this, as well as being able to create.
  • New forms of media create new forms of literacy.  Writing an essay on Shakespeare or Hemmingway have their place in literacy but I want to help people understand that blog posts and YouTube channels have their place as well.  Colleges allowing student-created videos instead of essays during the admission process might be a good example.
  • I want to address Prensky’s idea of “Digital Natives Digital Immigrants“. This quote seems to be very relevant: “It is amazing to me how in all the hoopla and debate these days about the decline of education in the US we ignore the most fundamental of its causes.  Our students have changed radically.  Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach . . . today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.”
  • Teaching media literacy and digital citizenship. This doesn’t happen in schools because social sites are almost always blocked.  If we can’t model healthy digital citizenship in schools where will students learn it?
  • I realize this is for a newspaper but does my piece really have to be in print?  Maybe I could do something in addition to the written part?
I hate to use broad, over-generalizations, but CitPat (and MLive.com) readers tend to be very negative and condescending when it comes to educational topics.   There seems to be a strong mentality of “back when I was in school we didn’t need . . .” and anything new or progressive is seen as yet another example of educators coddling bratty kids.  I really want to give positive examples of teachers and students using social media the right way in schools and learning.  The Google doc of the work in progress can be found here.  Feel free to take a look but please share your thoughts in the blog comments or on the G-doc.

4 thoughts on “Cit Pat Article – Social Media and Student Literacy

  1. 2 thoughts – first, the emphasis from society seems to be to get kids to be strong in mathematics and science. There is a condescending attitude towards literature and reading that comes through, for example, if anyone were to list that they had a M. Lit degree, the first thing they would be asked is ‘what good is that?’ This is an outworking of a society and economy that is very focused on ‘practicality’ and has little time for anything that does not make money or products.
    Secondly, in the period of some of the greatest literary accomplishments, pamphlets and tracts were a common and critical method for authors to express themselves. John Milton’s works include a lot of pamphlets that he wrote and they are literary classics. So to dismiss the writing in blogs, expressions in Youtube or other videos and even the visual presentations of Prezi are all as valid methods of literary expression as an essay or story. Perhaps moreso.

    I don’t have data or concrete facts, but these are my observations and speculations on why literacy is declining. Hope it helps.

  2. Wonderful points Quinn – thanks for sharing! I especially like your second point. It seems like communicating in new or innovative ways is easily criticized or downplayed until it becomes main-stream. Then it is appreciated. Unfortunately, so many people seem to think there is only one way to define “literacy” – their way.

  3. Dan, this is a great opportunity and I’m excited to read through your thoughts as you prepare to write the piece. I think the literacy argument is one of the biggest in education today, and I agree 100% that technology becomes a scapegoat for student writing today looking different than it did 50 or even 10 years ago.

    I would definitely include the point that some of today’s most influential writers are bloggers or located on the web or even use a YouTube channel to spread their influence.

    I would be interested to see if you could pitch this as a continuing series that also looks to writing professors (journalism, classic, media/communications) for their input as well. I’m sort of jealous of you in a way…definitely keep us all updated on your progress.

  4. Texting and social media are simply an informal means of communication. It is no different than code-switching that has always gone on in society. How I communicate with my friends around a bonfire is often significantly different than how I communicate with colleagues in a meeting. We learned to adjust formal and informal communication styles from teachers, parents, adults and experience. I think it’s important to include the technological media when we teach formal and informal language. In my own classroom, I am beginning to see confusion and carryover of “texting” language to formal writings. Maybe this is because we DON’T address it through specific instruction. The majority of students have limited formal communications outside of school.

    Perhaps the argument of social media making students “lazy” or “poor students” is the 21st century equivalency of “ain’t” or “may/can” grammatical errors. Like everything else in curriculum that has grown exponentially in the last 50 years, we can add digital citizenship to the list of instructional needs.

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