Literacy is not simply reading. Literacy is reading and writing, most commonly. There are other types of literacy, such as oracy (expressing and understanding spoken language, computer literacy, cultural literacy (ideas and ideals from past cultures that defined and shaped today’s society), and a variety of others. Literacy is a tool. It is the way you learn about the world and how you can participate in society. Literacy is a requirement to interact in the modern society of America, as well as many other countries.

The understanding of literacy, and the different theories about literacy have changed and developed over time. There are four present learning theories that most people believe. They are constructivist, interactive, sociolinguistic, and reader response. As with anything, there are other theories; but these are the main ones that I am going to focus on.

A generation ago it was believed that students learn to read through a series of discrete, sequenced skills. Students were grouped into groups based upon their development, then given vocabulary words and flash cards. Once the children mastered those they would read simplistic stories that used the new vocabulary words, as well as phonetic principles and other skills. Reading out loud would be done in order around a circle. Teachers corrected words, and drilled students on their skills.

Jean Piaget followed the constructivist theory. Piaget stated that learning is the modification of a student’s schematas. Schematas are the structures in the brain that are used to organize things; like filing cabinets. Schemata organize information by attaching it to prior knowledge. Due to how schemata work, it is important to connect learning experiences to other ones, and draw upon any previous experiences of the person you are trying to teach something to. Children are active and motivated thinkers. They enjoy learning and thinking about new ideas.

Interactive theories focus on what a person does while reading. The focus should be on comprehension. Reading has no point if you do not understand and think about the material presented to you, be it research or a silly story. Meaning is constructed through schemata as well as the information in the text. During reading, process take place at the same time; interacting with each other (hence the interactive theory). Children notice both the individual letters on the page while grouping them into the words, while making meaning in the brain. Children do not do one, then the other, then the next; nor do they use the background knowledge in the brain to examine the words then the letters. Word identification skills and comprehension strategies take place simultaneously.

Sociolinguistic theories focus on the cultural dimension that affects reading. Literacy is a social activity, and is therefore created and changed by your culture. Vygotsky believes that language helps to organize thought, and children use language to communicate and share experiences as well as to learn. The fact that language is for social purposes is important to remember when teaching; exemplify that, and work it into different activities. Scaffolding is a belief of Vygotsky that uses parents and teachers as support mechanisms for students; enabling them to accomplish more difficult things that they would not be able to do without collaboration. Performing tasks that one can already do does not help to increase knowledge. Zone of proximal development is the range of tasks between the student’s actual developmental level and their potential level. Activities should stay in this range, with the consideration of how much help the student needs being based on where it falls in this scale.

Reader response theories concern how students create meaning as they read. According to these theorists, students don’t try to figure out the meaning as they read, but instead create a meaning that makes sense based on the words that they are reading and their prior knowledge. The techniques used while reading vary depending upon if something is being read from an aesthetic stance (pleasure_ or efferent purposes (knowledge). Continual efferent reading without aesthetic reading does not cause someone to love reading; and those people therefore do not become lifelong readers. Information from “Literacy for the 21st Century A Balanced Approach” Gail E. Tompkins

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