The new literacy ladder. What rung are you on?

The world is moving at a tremendous rate. Going no one knows where. We must prepare our children, not for the world of the past. Not for our world. But for their world. The world of the future.  – John Dewey

PDS graduates students who…

    • possess a rich academic knowledge base and know how to think as creative, flexible, independent, resourceful learners for life
    • are intellectually curious, active seekers, users and creators of knowledge – from our mission


    Take a look at this The Social Technographics ladder.  It’s from  Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies written by Charlene Li and Josh Bernofff .

    At the top of the ladder are the Creators. At the bottom rung are the Inactives  who do not engage at any level either by choice or lack of opportunity.  Seems to me that we want all our students to climb on that ladder and ascend to the top rung of this groundswell that the authors define as:

    A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.

    Think of the world of the web and interactive technology as a new ecosystem – one in which any person, in any place, at any time can participate, contribute, communicate, produce, and share. It’s an ecosystem that has the potential to make prosumers of us all. That is producers and not just consumers of information and media content.

    That top rung is small in the wider world (you can see the stats by rung and  country at the link) but in schools with students beyond the early elementary years it should be 100%. In school – at PDS at least – getting engaged, being creative and collaborating is not an optional activity. And technological innovation makes it possible  to engage with a global reach.  And if we believe in the importance of innovation and creativity,  making a positive contribution and changing the world – there is the purpose. It brings a whole new meaning to the eduspeak catch phrases of problem-solving and ethical and creative thinking. It makes our mission possible in effective, dynamic and inclusive ways.

    Good schools have always developed prosumers:  Students read novels, poetry and essays;  solved puzzles and problems;  consumed charts and graphs, and watched videos and film. But they also wrote, posed  and created them. Now they can produce them, share them and test their quality with a wider audience. (Authentic assessment.) It’s one big intellectual sandbox and  showcase where everything can be interactive and collaborative. The lines between producer and consumer have blurred. So have the lines between learner and teacher. Both can learn and both can teach. That has always been possible. Now it is closer to essential. Given the pace of change students and learners are in the sandbox together. (Teacher as coach, guide at the side not sage on the stage.)

    Once we grasp the concept of the groundswell and see its potential for learning the more we will enter this new ecosystem and learn and teach the skills of navigation.  It a whole new set of literacy skills to be understood and brought into the classroom. And by incorporating these tools and this potential we are preparing students to function constructively in the world where this groundswell is becoming a tide.

    What does the ladder look like?

    Top Rung: Creators
    This is the group who regularly – at least once a month – publish a blog, put an article online, maintain a website, contribute to a wiki, or upload music or videos. They engage, create and contribute online. In the United States it’s about 25% of people. We have top rung students. They all should be top rung. Our job is to move them up the ladder with what we teach, how we teach and what we expect. We need to systematically seek the next level with what we require of students.

    Second Rung: Critics
    These are the reactors who comment on and critique the work of others. In writing classes it’s a common best practice for students to comment on and respond to the work of classmates. This takes that good practice to a wider world. Our students are growing up in a world where this kind of interactivity is usual practice. How do we prepare them for it in the academic arena and beyond the world of social networking? Everyone’s a critic these days and the online ecosphere is full of commentary. How are we helping students engage in this world by commenting on and contributing to the work of others??

    Third Rung: Collectors
    These are people who collect bookmarks, RSS feeds, vote for sites on Reddit and Digg, who StumbleUpon, use Diigo or Delicious and amass all manner of digital media from their travels online.

    So, what are the best ways to do that effectively? How do we teach how to find, evaluate, filter and store our collected material, bookmarks, feeds and links. Where do we teach that literacy?

    Fourth Rung: Joiners
    These are the people who have profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn etc. It was students who gave these sites their initial boost but they are becoming ubiquitous among all age groups of computer users. Teachers are apparently among the most rapidly increasing user group together with the middle aged and elderly. But what are the skills students need to maintain effective sites and use them to promote themselves in a professional or scholarly way? How do they protect their on-line identity and leave the digital trail that accurately represents them?

    Fifth Rung: Spectators
    Consumers. This is the largest segment because it includes everyone in all the rungs above.  And given just how much is available participation in this rung is all about the choices we make online. Where do we go for what and how and why?  To “develop educated citizens” we need selective spectatorship.

    The bottom rung: Inactives
    Out of the loop and off the grid. These are the people who have no access to the technology or the web or who choose not to participate. This is not an option at PDS. Although it does provide an opportunity to help others start climbing the ladder.

    Do we have a choice?

    Getting on the ladder and starting the climb is a literacy and survival  issue for the 21st century.

    Non participation is not optional for educators who want to educate children for their futures   I began with quotations from John Dewey and our mission.  I did that because I believe that this work is consonant with a progressive approach to education.  I believe that the tools of the online world bring exciting new possibilities for finally making the ideals of progressive education a reality. The question for me is not why? But how? In what ways? With whom? And to which mission-consistent ends?  Teaching these skills and engaging in the ecosystem is an outgrowth of our mission and is what our students need and deserve.

    How do we get started?

    We already have. Take a look at what is required of students at every level and every subject and you will see students using technology  (remember – a crayon is technology) to engage in the information and social ecosystem. It may look different at various grade levels and subject areas but students are already on the ladder in school and at home. And there are so many examples throughout the school. And it starts with what good teaching at PDS has always looked like – active, engaged students and teachers  learning by doing.

    “Each step on the ladder represents a group of consumers more involved in the groundswell than the previous steps. To join the group on a step, a consumer need only participate in one of the listed activities at least monthly.”

    Each rung of the ladder represents a literacy challenge for us and our students. We need to climb the ladder and we need to help our students climb the ladder. And what an opportunity for community learning! I used to teach English. We have middle school students at PDS who have published more short stories than I have in all my years of teaching writing (none).

    Our job  is to help students build the skills they will need to understand and thrive in the ecosystem in which they must swim.

    Here are the presentation slides of the ladder:

    Photo: Jake Hills

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