Leu’s literacy – it’s brand new all over again
Once again in my readings this week, I was struck by my skepticism regarding claims of “new” literacies (Leu, et al., 2011; Leu, Forzani, Timbral, & Maykel, 2015). In the 2011 article, David Leu and company refer to the “new” literacies required for online reading comprehension, then goes on to enumerate a set of skills that have been part of research and information-gathering reading comprehension throughout the print age. I would argue that the majority of the skills that he listed may be modified somewhat in their context or in some aspect of their quality or quantity required in an online environment, but that they are hardly new. I suspect that I am not the first person to take issue with his characterisation as I note that by the time he co-authored the second article included in the module (Leu, et al., 2015) the skill under discussion was re-named “online research and comprehension” (Leu, et al., 2015, title).
I responded to a discussion forum post by Stojana Popovska (2018) on this topic, and have copied that response here:
Do you really believe Leu et al.’s (2011) claim that online reading comprehesion represents a significantly new literacy? I found most of the factors that he described as “new” literacies of reading comprehension to be rather tried and true skills, perhaps modified somewhat in degree or format by the online medium, of non-fiction reading comprehension in a research or inquiry context. In fact, I found it quite illuminating that four years down the track, Leu, Forzani, Timbrell and Maykel (2015) were now referring to this supposedly “new” literacy as ‘online research and comprehension’ (pp. 139-140).
The factors described by Leu’s team (2011), including identifying important questions, locating important information, critically evaluating information, synthesising information and communicating information are all skills that are employed when conducting a research inquiry using traditional print materials. They hardly qualify as novel skills.
I would argue that their argument for new skills being required was most believable when related to locating information. Computer-based skills such as navigating hyperlinks effectively and employing keyword and boolean search strategies in search engines and using menus and submenus to navigate through website information are specific to online reading and research (Leu et al., 2011, p. 7). However, these do have analogues in the skills used to find print and microfiche materials in card catalogues and using tables of contents, chapter and section headings and indices to locate specific relevant information in large, complex print documents.
I feel that researchers who are quick to proclaim the overwhelming novelty of the literacies involved with current technologies actually do more of a disservice than a service with the alarms they raise. To my mind, a more useful and accurate approach would be to recognise the areas of overlap between skills needed to comprehend and synthesize traditional and online materials. After that identifying the specific computer-based skills needed to navigate and search for online information or highlighting the different degrees of care needed in areas such as establishing authority and credibility could be done. This would capitalise on the existing skills and knowledge of experienced educators rather than presenting findings in a manner that suggests they need to go back to the drawing board and completely re-invent reading instruction.
Leu, D. J., McVerry, J. G., O’Byrne, W. I., Kiili, C., Zawilinski, L., Everett-Cacopardo, H., . . . Forzani, E. (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1), 5-14. Doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.1
Leu, D. J, Forzani, E., Timbrell, N., & Maykel, C. (2015). Seeing the forest, not the trees: Essential technologies for literacy in the primary-grade and upper elementary-grade classroom. Reading Teacher, 69(2), 139-145.
Popovska, S. (2018, July 3). Digital narratives [Online discussion comment]. Retrieved from Charles Sturt University website: https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/discussionboard/do/message?action=list_messages&course_id=_32816_1&conf_id=_59197_1&forum_id=_125929_1&message_id=_1877671_1&nav=discussion_board_entry