the many forms of literacy

Type the word ‘literacy’ into a search engine and have a look through the image results. Better yet, before you complete that search, predict what kinds of images you will see and compare to the actual results. Were you right? Did anything surprise you?

This is one of the first image results that comes up on Creative Commons when you search ‘literacy’. “Women at an adult literacy class” by World Bank Photo Collection is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

I did the exercise above before I began writing my blog post this week, and it was a great jumping off point for ideas! My predictions were right in that there were many images of books, reading, words, pencils, etc. These are the things we typically associate with literacy – reading, writing, speaking; the command of the written and spoken word. Christine summarized this well in her section of the Topic D group video. However, I was surprised to see mentions of digital/media literacy, art, math, and science in the mix of search results as well.

In summary, I was heartened to see that our understanding of literacy in today’s world has evolved past a singular notion or type of literacy.

A Holistic View of Literacy

To use a concept that is prominent in early years programming, I believe that our understanding of literacy should be a holistic one. Pre-K curriculum is divided into 4 domains of holistic learning, rather than subject areas.

I think each of these areas of holistic learning can also encapsulate its own domain of literacy.

In order to be fully literate, we need to have social emotional literacy (which Leah described in relation to media literacy), physical literacy, spiritual literacy, and intellectual literacy.

When considering this holistic view of literacy that I am proposing, I found this definition of literacy to be quite interesting.

The traditional definition of literacy is listed first, but I honed in on the second definition of literacy as “competence or knowledge in a specified area.”

Isn’t the goal of education and raising children to give youth competence and knowledge in all domains of learning and living? Using this view of holistic literacy, we are providing youth with opportunities to have many types of knowledge, and be competent in a variety of areas (or, phrased another way, for youth to be ‘fully literate’).

Having someone who is proficient at reading and writing is great, but if they aren’t socially emotionally literate as well, the primary use of language (to communicate with others and express thoughts and feelings) is, essentially, lost. Each of these domains of learning (or literacy) work together to create a well-rounded (holistic) person.

Where Does Media Literacy or Digital Literacy Fit Into This Holistic View?

So where do I see digital/media literacy fitting into this? I think it can easily be a sub-category in the Intellectual domain. Pre-K already has two sub-categories under the Intellectual domain:


-Language and Literacy

The Intellectual sub-category deals with math and science concepts that are the more traditional ‘academic’ skills of counting, position/direction words, recognizing attributes and characteristics, problem solving, etc.

The Language and Literacy sub-category encapsulates the traditional language-based view of literacy.

I think we could have an additional sub-category that teaches students digital/media literacy. If we want to make our students fully literate for their futures, teaching technological skills and the responsibilities and attitudes that go along with using technology is going to be paramount.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘literacy’?

What are your thoughts on my holistic model of literacy?

Until next time,



2 thoughts on “the many forms of literacy

  1. When I think of the word literacy, I think of my first Master’s degree and learning about Paulo Freire. Before learning about him, I though literacy meant reading, writing and counting. I didn’t realize that it meant way more than that. Freire talks about literacy as being able to read the world around you. How insightful for someone that said those words quite a while ago. Whether it is being literate in technology, or reading the environment in which you live, everything is about literacy.

    • I think you’ve highlighted some reasons that Freire is such an impactful and inspiring scholar! I wonder if society’s view of literacy will shift towards this more holistic perspective…

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