Defining Literacy

Literacy has traditionally meant the ability to read and write.

The National Center for Education Statistics identifies two defintions of literacy:
one is task-based and focused on everyday life and tasks:
“Literacy is the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

the other is skill-based and attends to the knowledge and skills needed to employ that specific skill:
“Successful use of printed material is a product of two classes of skills:

    Word-level reading skills
    Higher level literacy skills”

The National Council of Teachers of English define 21st Century Literacies. It is pasted here in its entirety.

Updated February 2013
Adopted by the NCTE Executive Committee, February 15, 2008

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Active, successful participants in this 21st century global society must be able to

    Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;

    Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;

    Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes;

    Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information;

    Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts;

    Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

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