Literacy refers to the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that allows one to communicate effectively and make sense of the world. The term is commonly used among primary educators, however literacy is an aspect of education that cannot be neglected on a secondary level.
Reading and writing are integral skills students need to develop throughout their life and goes beyond the mere recognition of words. As students progress up the levels in their education, the skills required to understand and process a text increases in complexity and demand. Students are also required to write and construct cogent and effective arguments. All of this can be a daunting task for learners particularly when they reach the ages between 9 and 14 when reading texts across various subjects demand more than just the basic comprehension – though many students have not even mastered this skill yet (Fisher, 2017, p. 13). For this reason, literacy learning needs to be part of the learning process within every classroom.
Taking a Developmental View
Learning is a process, rather than an event and takes place in a variety of ways and context. Adopting a developmental perspective in learning is therefore crucial. Rather than locking students into rigid stages of learning, a developmental view of learning encourages to view students’ learning as a process of growth. To this end, a teacher must understand that a students’ response in class is not merely “correct” or “incorrect” but rather a reflection of what is understood at that moment. Through this exchange, teachers must recognise that students’ responses provide them with opportunities to hypothesise how knowledge that is being taught is used to arrive at an answer. To this end, teachers must ensure that the learning which takes place within the classroom is meaningful because students’ cognitive development is either enhanced or inhibited by the context teachers create for them. Therefore teachers need to work to create a learning environment that supports vulnerability, exploration, error, successes and provide interaction with more capable peers. Students need to be given challenging rather than defeating topics for study, set within a culturally responsive milieu (Fisher, 2017, p. 14-15).
There is a scale for learning and looks different for every student across a variety of contexts and disciplines. Generally learning occurs on three levels: surface, deep and transfer. The latter is usually not talked about. Surface learning is often not valued and misconstrued as superficial learning. These are two different matters. In order for students to synthesise information, learning has to occur on a surface level. For instance, in order for students to understand certain mathematical or scientific concepts, rote memorisation of various elements might need to occur. It is only with appropriate instruction about how to relate and extend ideas that surface learning transforms into deep learning. A teacher’s role within the classroom should not be about relaying information, rather she needs to facilitate learning by helping students connect the dots and see the relevance and relationship between ideas and concepts. Deep learning must occur often and regularly in classrooms so students can set their own expectations and monitor their own learning. Transference on the other hand is difficult to attain. Transfer involves recognition on the part of learners about what has occurred. In order for transference to occur an interdisciplinary approach is required, and to this end, language arts is used as a means to help students leverage their understanding and learning (Fisher, 2017, p.15).
Language Arts – a Leverage to Deeper Learning
Language arts is a broad term that encompasses and describes a variety of concepts used in various disciplines from linguistics, speech to writing. The study of language arts is not merely a combination of language learning and literature as it is popularly termed in schools. This misconception comes because the study of language arts is usually paired with the study of literature in an English classroom. More broadly, language arts serves as a tool for students to leverage their learning and gain knowledge in other subject areas (science, history, mathematics, visual and performing arts). Language arts is best viewed as an integrative discipline in which students learn about the lives of others, and in the process become creative, reflective, knowledgeable, and critical members of their communities (Fisher, 2017, p.11). A dynamic language arts curriculum embraces the study of various disciplines through examining the issues of our society from various perspectives and through the lens of other subjects. This approach is necessary because the experience allows students to deepen their learning and thereby gain an understanding of the world and their place within it. When understanding occurs, transference and generalisation of their learning happens. The American Psychological Association (2015) notes that “students transfer or generalisation of their knowledge and skills is not spontaneous or automatic” (p.10) and requires intentionally created events on the part of teachers and curriculum writers so learning can become intuitive. Learning is a habit of the mind and like all habits, it requires that one to repeat a series of behaviour and thinking processes in order for thinking routines and patterns to take root in the mind of students.
Literacy is a practice that must take place in all classrooms if we want deep learning and transference of skills and knowledge. To this end, language arts is used as an integrative tool in our curriculum to help students foster understanding, skill development and analytical thinking so they can flourish in their own growth as individuals and learners because the goal of learning is for students to apply what they have been taught to a variety of context, tasks and problems.
American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education.
(2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK–12 teaching and learning.
Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/top-twenty-principles.pdf
Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J., & Thayre, M. (2017). Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning
Classroom (1st ed., p. 11-15). Corwin.