ML2 – Second Language Literacies

A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín

New Literacy Classrooms in Colombia By Diana Fernandez and Johana Rojas


The starting point: Critical Literacy



Humans beings have always looked for an effective way to communicate with others using diverse strategies not only written but also oral forms. As the time goes by, people have been able to decode all the messages transmitted to different written or aural texts. The concept of critical literacy has been changing through the years. Literacy is not seemed merely as reading or written process. This is the era of the technology changes; that is why these technologies have generated new ways for information and communication, so the school is a place for preparing students to face the new challenges. They have to read and understand the world in a different way; being critic and analytic about everything that is surrounding them.


I endorse the idea that being critical means “to understand why the author wrote about a particular topic, wrote from a particular perspective or those to include some ideas about a topic and exclude others” (McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004). Some authors state that “Critical literacy allows students to bring their owned lived experiences into discussions, offering them opportunities for participation, engagement in higher levels of reading and discussion, and to understand the power of language” (Bell & Wood, 2010).


One important goal in critical literacy is to help students to be critic about what they are learning in the school and out of the school, in a local but also in a global context. Teachers have to support risk taking in their students, some of them like to discover and try new things, students can teach us a lot from their personal experiences, since we must be always ready to learn, and also help students to express their emotions, feelings and ideas using different modes which allow them to be heard and understood. In this technological era where an array of information is arriving to us we must be prepare to be critical and at the same time to understand what is the real purpose of the information we find everywhere specially in the internet to determine its reliability.



Some others aspects that it is relevant to mention is how we as teachers sometimes do not hear their voices or value the job done by some students, since we pay more attention to the grammar mistakes, lexical variety, language structures and functions, and not attention is given to the ideas students want to transmit from a determined topic, we tend to restrict their thoughts, opinions and ideas. Students are always full of ideas and feelings that they want to convey to others, as one scholar states “The aim in education is not master the A to Z of the books but developing critical thinking in order to transform the society” (Burbules & Berk, 1997).


The term critical literacy “describes a pedagogical approach to reading that focuses on the political, sociocultural, historical, and economic forces that shape young students’ lives. It is an approach that teaches readers to become critically conscious of their own values and responsibilities in society” (Ciardiello, 2004). Critical literacy allows students to question about all the social events that happen in the world, how these situations can affect them or influence other people’s lives and look for some strategies that help them to contribute in a small way to a social change, starting from the school in order to transcend the society.


On the other hand, today’s world is full of any kind of information that is presented in printed or digital form, social networks and mass media, and  all this information need to be analyzed and interpreted in order to avoid hidden implications.




Students need to learn how language functions in order to have an effective communication using digital technologies. This era seems to be created especially for our students who are all experts in using new technologies that require different skills for reading and writing to exploit all the information presented in the internet and social networks. Teachers have to take advantage of new technologies, and all the information that is presented, the topics must not be only academic since students need to know and reflect about social, economical and political issues such as corruption, discrimination, poverty, globalization, environmental, among others, in order to become active citizens who have a critical perspective of their own reality and understand other cultures.


Critical literacy is an excellent opportunity for learning and teaching. Through critical literacy students will interpret reality base on their owned experiences not just because it is written or said by others, but on the contrary because they open their minds to the differences, they agree or disagree with others, they do not locked into precepts that do not allow them to be approach to others cultures, so critical literacy allows students to develop a critical thinking of their reality, putting on one side the idea that students have to be passive agents, critical literacy is the right way for having a future generation of critical thinkers.


From  Critical Literacy, Digital Literacy to New Literacy




Today´s world is changing in an incredible speed thanks to technology, all the sources and media are opened to all kind of users. This digital era offers a variety of advantages in terms of accessibility to more information in less time and in an easier way than before. But, that accessibility brings a range of disadvantages in terms of reliability and reliance. As Cope & Kalantzis stated “The social diversity of contemporary forms of literacy, and to the fact that new communications media require new forms of cultural and communicative competence”(Cope & Kalantzis, 2010). In fact, people write down and put it up enormous sources of information and misinformation. So, that information represents a worry and not all information will be reliable. For example, we can mention a source like Wikipedia that is a website where people contribute with their own knowledge to build a wide vision of any specific topic but it is very difficult to guarantee that all those contributions came from experts or qualified individuals. That is why,  people need to be aware and start creating a new sense towards what is the digital and how to handle it. As an answer to that need the term “Digital Literacy” emerges and opens the path to a new set of questions that rise such as: what does digital literacy means? Why is digital literacy important for students and teachers? What does New Literacy mean in  Colombian Classrooms?


The following paragraphs will pretend to answer the previous questions with an analytical view of this important matter as Digital Literacy and New Literacy is.


What is digital literacy?



There are different sighs about Digital Literacy but the notion we want to address is the one referred to certain behavior that every person needs to acquire in order to use and interact with digital sources appropriately. Some definitions from different researchers will supply a more accurate interpretation; Paul Gilster declares “Digital Literacy is the ability to understand information and more important to evaluate and interpret information critically, you cannot understand information you find on the internet without evaluating its sources and placing it in context” (Gilster, 1997). Also, the concept provides for Case & Bruce brings an interesting insight to take into account “Digital Literacy is the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers. The concept of literacy goes beyond simply being able to read; it has always meant the ability to read with meaning”( Case & Bruce,2010). The authors focus on meaning as an important action in digital literacy and the sense of active participant as individuals who create ideas and learning in this digital era. Also, the development of identity involved in digital literacy is a very important aspect, it is necessary to show our culture through the digital, to communicate what we are, and how we feel about everything that is around us. Besides, the following authors stated “Digital literacy is the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identity, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyze and synthesize digital resources, construct new knowledge and create media”( Case & Bruce,2010).


Why is digital literacy important for teachers and students?


digital literacy quote

The digital era should be considered as the literate era due to the access to technology but it is turning into the misinformation era as we evidence in teachers’ and students´ attitudes in the schoolroom. Some teachers rely on the digital information for much maybe all of their information they use. Digital literacy is important for teachers and students because the wrong use of the digital data would spread untrue concepts or tons of misinformation in the school. Therefore, what is the result of that lack of interpretation of the digital material? For example, many students complaint about teachers who provide awkward concepts that they did not even understand and they got in trouble when they have to explain it, and the worst part would happen when teachers lose their credibility among students. As consequence, classes turn into something difficult, puzzling and confusing for students promoting no sense learning.


Teachers and students are looking for knowledge and they are immersed in this digital world. As an example of what happen when we are not aware of our role. For instance, we could have the same feeling when we driving on the street, we need to know in advance all the rules, codes and symbols to have a good experience as drivers; when the street light is red, yellow or green, we already know what we must do to not generate a chaos or something more serious like a car accident. The previous example is very similar as the experience of being part of the digital freeway where there are some obstacles. But, if teachers and students were aware of the positive or negative impact of their role as a participant in this scene, the result would be to have a good  and satisfying experience between  participants in the use of digital information. For this reason, it is necessary to know the rules about how to interact in that environment in a fair and respectful manner; what are we allow to say and what kind of behavior should a person have in a digital universe. Livingstone et al provide a useful review of the perspective of “being a digital literate individual as someone who can search efficiently, who compares a range of sources, and sorts authoritative form non-authoritative, and relevant from irrelevant, documents” (Livingstone et al., 2005, p.31).  Besides, educators and learners should be active participants of developing and promoting save digital environments in the world community.



Taking into account what was said before, how do teachers put into action the means to develop digital literacy in their classrooms?


The school is the first place where the process of being literate in different subjects started. Teachers need to give the relevance of this matter as an essential tool for surviving in today’s world. Besides, they should change the paradigm about the digital as “My responsibility as educator”. Education needs to be transformed due to children today are completely different from the past generations in the way they think, they act and interact. As Andersen affirms “Children learn these skills as a part of their lives, like language which they learn without realizing they are learning it” (Andersen,2002). And the new necessity of the digital literacy leads the school as the place where teachers should be the ones who turn the digital illiterate student into a digital literate one. To do so, some important considerations would be stress on teachers and students as follow: Who are the teachers and the student in today’s classrooms?


Related to teachers we need to consider an important categorization as Prensky asserted is the term “digital immigrants”, to identify those older educators who not grow in the digital world and as digital immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others- to adapt to their environment. But, they always retain their foot in the past”, as an example, they prefer reading the manual for a computer program rather than assuming that the program will teach us to use it” (Prensky, 2001). These digital immigrant teachers think that learners have never changed and they use the same methods that were applied to them when they were students. But, this form of conception and methodology are not working in today’s classes. It is very common to hear students complaining about old strategies implemented by their teachers today, which do not suit students’ interest and needs.



On the other hand, another concept to keep in mind refers to the kind of students teachers are facing . Prensky defines “digital natives” as those born into an innate “new culture” the generational switchover where people are defined by the technological culture which they’re familiar with”. (Prensky, 2001). Another definition stated by Technopedia helps us to clarify this idea “A digital native is an individual who was born after the widespread adoption of digital technology. It is a catch-all category for children who have grown up using technology like the Internet, computers and mobile devices. This exposure to technology in the early years is believed to give digital natives a greater familiarity with and understanding of technology than people who were born before it was widespread” (Technopedia). So, we are not talking just about a regular student like is conceived in the past, now we could talk about “The Native Digital Student”. And those native digital students what need to learn about the digital literacy world?.


Teachers should provide these students some essentials instruments to be critical about the sources they find, check if they are completely true and verify the reliability of that information. As Fabos suggests, is to recognize that << couched in ideology>>.Rather than seeking to determine the << true facts >>, students need to understand <<how political, economic and social context shapes all texts, how all texts can be adapted for different social purposes, and how no text is neutral or necessarily of “higher quality” than anothers>> (Fabos, 2004, p.95). Students need to be updated with the rules of the digital world and when they want to be part of this world they should share only truly information.



In addition, educators need to re think teaching -learning in this digital world and select the appropriate tools in order to facilitate learning processes. Also, in every lesson or activity look for a meaning for learning. And take part of the role of digital literacy as  Thoman, E & Jolls said  “Digital Literacy  represents a person´s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment” (Thoman, E & Jolls, T, 2003 p. 4).


Once we have a clear idea about the characters in this process of education through digital literacy , it is crucial to think about the context where these actions take place and it is relevant to reflect about the subsequent inquiry:


What does New Literacy mean in Colombian Classrooms?

“ We must prepare young people for living in a world of powerful images, words and sounds” (Unesco,1982).



Multimedia age is having a huge development in 21st century, so teachers have to know how to handle technology and multimodalities inside the classroom aiming to change traditional literacies.


According to Gainer “Schools are places where students can learn to transform society. In classrooms that embrace pedagogy of critical media literacy, space is made for students to analyze and critique dominant narratives. Furthermore, this education goes beyond critique, because students are provided tools to make their own media and make their voices heard” (Gainer, 2010).


Some scholars state that, multimedia offers information from varied resources and multimedia formats, so it is relevant that all the changes generated in the technological field and in the society call for critical media literacy to strengthen students and the society, in order to become active part of this technological advances. (Kellner and Share,2007 )


Teachers have to be trained of the uses of new technologies since it is constantly being updated. Besides, teachers have to start question themselves in their pedagogical work, they have to re evaluate their pedagogical principles, theories of learning and methodologies in order to implement new strategies that take into account new technologies and how these must be included in the curriculum. Changing our minds and leaving off the traditional pedagogies could be a great opportunity for our students and for us as teachers of future global citizens.


As Mora states “Using critical literacy as a lens will enable us to profile language policies that really consider the cultural and linguistic diversity of a place like Colombia” (Mora, 2014).


Colombian schools have been starting to incorporate new ways of reading and writing the world, thanks to the inclusion of new social topics and projects inside the classes. Students benefit from the use of digital resources in which multimodality and bilingualism are preparing them to become digitally literate citizens.



Some other scholars say that “New technologies and developments in media are transforming the way that individuals, groups and societies communicate, learn, work and govern. This new socio-technical reality requires participants to possess not only skills and abilities related to the use of technological tools, but also knowledge regarding the norms and practices of appropriate usage. To be ‘digitally literate’ in this way encompasses issues of cognitive authority, safety and privacy, creative, ethical, and responsible use and reuse of digital media, among other topics. A lack of digital literacy increasingly implicates one’s full potential of being a competent student, an empowered employee or an engaged citizen. Digital literacy is often considered a school-based competency, but it is introduced and developed in informal learning contexts.” (Meyers, Erickson, & Small, 2013) .


This preparation is not only a school responsibility as some scholars state “digitally literate citizens is now the acknowledged responsibility of all learning spaces, formal and informal (including the home and the workplace), to ensure both preparation and continuous updating of digital literacy skills, understandings and practices for everyone from toddlers to seniors.” (Meyers, Erickson, & Small, 2013). And with this groundwork, Colombia needs to take advantage of being digitally literate to develop the new citizens of the future who have some characteristics such as being critical, creators of new information and sources with the aim of being change agents to transform the world.




We as teachers are aware that changes need time but many teachers in Colombia are willing to transform their classrooms as Madeleine Atehortua, eleventh grade Spanish teacher in Envigado, says “ thanks to the ICTS students will be motivated and engaged since we are going to leave the traditional way of teaching board- marker and teacher- student” . Fabio Restrepo a Physics teacher in Envigado, has realized about the relevance of including in his classes not only academic topics but also an array of topics that foster the integral development of his students bearing in mind all the social situations that are taking place in today’s world.


Making reference to Kist’s words “I find that teachers are extremely motivated to transform their classrooms, but in many cases they can’t figure out how to make that transformation in what is perceived as a fairly rigid standards-driven paradigm. Many middle school teachers, however, are managing to leave the industrial model behind and carve out a “brave new world” (Kist, 2012).


New literacy classrooms would have new educational strategies, cross curricular activities and the implementation of a new curriculum adapted with digital technologies since students will need new literacies for processing all the information that they are having access day by day. As it is mentioned by Leu et al “To be literate today often means being able to use some combination of blogs, wikis, texting, search engines, facebook, foursquare, Google Docs, Skype, Chrome, iMovie, Contribute, basecamp, or many other relatively new technologies, including thousands of mobile applications” (Leu, et al., 2011).


It is relevant to say that in Colombia context not all learners are having the same possibilities to learn using these technologies, some urban schools are using ICTS in their classes, government has provided with some technological resources called “aulas amigas”, laptops, tablets and internet service, but in spite of all these supplies, it is necessary to guarantee that all institutions have the same possibilities in urban and rural contexts where students do not have access to work with new literacies. It is a social responsibility to provide all students an education that helps them to face the needs of this changing world.


Education needs more investment if we want to see changes in our society, providing updated training for teachers based on new methodologies and approaches according to the real needs and interests of the students.



Besides, bearing in mind students’ opinions about how do they see new classrooms in the future? They want a place with a lot of technology, a place for sharing ideas, opinions and knowledge. They think that teachers would follow their process through different programs designed for being in contact not only with the teachers but with other students around the world. Some other students think that it would be possible study from different places and with suitable schedules for them where they will learn in a comfortable environment. In contrast, some others express their worry about being totally dependent on technology and emphasize that the technology should helps us to realize what is happening around, to be more  sensible as human beings  to built a better world.


As a conclusion, it is relevant to see that in our role as teachers is not enough to instruct students to read and write just to be literate. It is even more relevant to develop critical literate people, the ones who are able to think, analyze and be active participants.  Another important concept refers to digital literacy as the ways of acting in a responsible way towards the content that we create and find in the media and the pertinence of educating digital literate citizens. Besides, through digital literacy Colombia would be part of the world educating, using and creating reliable sources to promote knowledge. And from digital literacy the technology promotes new modes and new media to create meaning, and here is where new literacy hits the road to take into account all the diverse expressions of meaning such as music, singing, images, movement, painting and technology to cover a wide range of possibilities to construct knowledge. Finally, the challenge is huge but if we change our way of thinking and teaching everything will be possible in the new dynamic society.


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This entry was posted on April 30, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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