What is Literacy?

We all have a fundamental understanding of what literacy means. Webster’s defines literacy or literate to mean 1) Educated, cultured 2) able to read and write 3) versed in literature 4) having knowledge or competence…

That certainly clears things up!

We must understand that there is much more to literacy than the ability to read and write. Literacy experts state the essential elements that define a “literate” student include :
Phonology: the ability to recognize and reproduce speech sounds.
Orthography: the ability to recognize and reproduce spelling patterns.
Semantics: the ability to pick out the meaning of words.
Morphology: the ability to recognize and reproduce the patterns of word formations.

These factors are the basic building blocks for children learning to read and write. They are, however, just the beginning of what must be a deeper and more thorough development of literacy education.

Today, our concept and definition must include a much broader and richer sense of abilities and markers to fully define what literacy means and what a fully literate student must perform and understand. This definition of “literacy” is simply the groundwork to be established. Then we need to build the more advanced skills of literacy.

While a child may meet every one of the above factors, they still may not be able to read a story and explain the characters, the context, or the meaning of the story. Yet by the traditional literacy definition, they are entirely literate!

As we can see, literacy goes much deeper than the basic mechanics of reading and writing. It’s vital the basic mechanics be mastered at a young age and then nurtured and developed further to include literacy skills. Some of these skills involve the ability to communicate, reason, and think critically

What do you think that “Critical Skill” is?  Communication!

Communication Skills – Verbal and Written

Communication is a fundamental life skill. A good literacy program teaches students to communicate effectively. Poor communication skills are rampant in schools and in the business world today. While it seems with all the texting, email, and social media these skills would be expanding, instead, our students communicate through these channels with 1or 2-word phrases or “emojis” and don’t learn key language patterns necessary to communicate in an academic or a work environment. If they graduate and go to college they struggle with writing and speaking, and if they go to a vocational school and then to the work environment they are at a significant disadvantage.

Critical thinking and Reasoning

At the college level, The Association of American Colleges and Universities echoed this sentiment. Their survey found, 93% of employers said, “A demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is important.”

Literacy education must also teach our children how to THINK! While technology has enabled us to do many things at a fraction of the effort and time, this same technology has significantly reduced our children’s critical thinking and reasoning skills. It’s certainly fast and easy to search for a term on Google and get a well-researched answer and copy and paste the answer into a worksheet or paper and hand it in. But do our students even understand or take the time to think about what they just answered? Could they explain it? We all know the unfortunate answer to that question. It’s the double-edged sword of our technological world.


Our children are going to need critical thinking and reasoning skills even more in the coming decades. The issues and decisions they are going to encounter will only become more complex. Yet, our kids are not developing these essential skills, and the downward spiral in these skills is happening at an alarming rate.

Start developing these skills NOW, don’t wait till your child is in high school, these skills can be developed and nurtured at a young age.    

Next week I’ll discuss some things we can do as parents to help our children develop these critical skills.

Warm Regards,

Dr. Kim
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