What Does It Mean To Be Literate?

Alec Couros, , Jul 04, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Alec Couros is asking, as he prepares for a conference presentation, what it means to be literate? "I will be sure to share all submissions openly for others to see," he writes. I have my own ideas on the subject, of course, and to me literacy breaks down to the following sets of skills and abilities:

  • recognizing patterns, regularities, rules, similarities, processes
  • understanding sense and reference, connotation, association, meaning and truth
  • using expressions, having an impact, asking and interrogating
  • describing, defining, inferring, explaining
  • recognizing and defining context, framing and placement
  • using and understanding flow, connection, change, timing and progression

These are what I call critical literacies, with the sense that these underlie all forms of literate activities, and not merely the use of language. Minimally, any 'literacy' (such as, say, 'emotional literacy', or 'digital literacy') must account for all six elements, and these six elements fully describe any such literacy. All in my view, of course.

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