Changing Forms of Literacy

By Priscilla D. Torres

This post is written by a student in READ 4351 Learning through Literacy. Students in this course are part of the high school and all-level teacher preparation programs and are pursuing certification in a wide variety of subject areas.

New literacies are made possible by digital technology developments which usually involve instant messaging, blogging, social networking, downloading, texting, video casting, e-mailing, and much more. Could this new technology improve or handicap the literacy of the upcoming generation today?

In an interview I conducted with a seventeen-year-old Edinburg high school senior, the female student discussed that when she doesn’t understand something in a textbook or doesn’t quite understand what the teacher is explaining, she’ll just pull out her IPod and search for the answer. This was interesting because she did not mention getting up and going over to pick up a dictionary or reference book. She used informational literacy to look up a particular problem at hand. These students in classrooms no longer have to wait till lunch or after school to go to the library to find an answer. They can just pull it right out of their pocket and search for it within a few seconds.

Adolescents today spend much more time in front of a computer than playing outside. Reading for school, for fun, and talking on the phone with friends are done less nowadays,  if not at all. Watching T.V, playing video games (including IPod), and participating in extracurricular activities are considered free time now. I asked the student how often she spends time in front of a computer. Her reply was that she spends over five hours surfing the internet and writing (writing to friend’s online, blogging, and text messaging). I remember back then when a computer was only used for business work and playing outside was much more of a priority than being inside. The generation today is completely different. Now you can’t even get these adolescents to get off the computer and have them help water the grass. Nowadays, a cell phone is needed wherever one goes. I feel that adolescents are much worse when it comes to this. For example, in school settings, teachers are constantly warning students to turn off all phones, especially during standardized testing. Yet, there’s always that one student who fails to listen and it goes off during the middle of an exam distracting everyone. Although this technology is important, it is also a major distraction.

During my observation with the seventeen year old adolescent, I noticed the absurd amount of time and energy she puts into text messaging her peers. Her main objective was to finish up a homework assignment for school; she continued to do so taking small breaks to look at her phone. This made me wonder if traditional literacy was declining and if adolescents in her generation would ever have trouble reading and writing due to this new technology evolving. The adolescent discussed how she doesn’t know cursive and how the school just taught them for a week and moved them into the computer lab to learn how to type. When I was in school a few years back, I remember when my peers and I would write letters to each other during passing periods as a form of communication. Although we would have to wait hours at a time to receive the next “letter,” technology today eliminates the “waiting time” and offers a quick response.

I was worried if text messaging short hand would replace traditional literacy and dumb down the new generation. So far, research has claimed that these adolescents are at an advantage and are able to read and write more starting at an earlier age. Lily Huang, a writer for World News stated in her article “The Death of English,” “that children who texted-and who wielded plenty of abbreviations–scored higher on reading and vocabulary tests. In fact, the more adept they were at abbreviating, the better they did in spelling and writing (Huang, 2008).” These results were astounding to me because I always thought texting abbreviations would influence the new generation skills in literacy.

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