CCSS: A Limited Definition of Literacy


Kurtxio, Web, Flickr Creative Commons
Kurtxio, Web, Flickr Creative Commons










The fact that the Common Core State Standards reference to literacy is limited, and so, problematic, has been bothering me for a while now. However, with a brief search of various organizational, cultural and crowd sourced understandings related to to the meaning of Literacy, I now realize that it’s going to take a lot more time for me to make sense of this issue than I have at the moment! So…I’ve decided , (at this very moment!), that this blog post will serve as the very basic start for an ongoing Inquiry.


  • Most adults in the US and in general dictionary definitions, define literacy  as the ability to read and write; that is, a literate person can read and write.
  • The definition/understanding of literacy has changed with time.
  • The definition/understanding of literacy differs amongst cultures.
  • Transliteracy is a term that refers to multiple literacies.
  • A librarian’s area of expertise is Information Literacy
  • Information Literacy is often synonymous with Media Literacy which is often synonymous with 21st Century Literacies
  • Other Literacies commonly referenced: digital, financial, visual, cultural, media
  • My current definitions of literacy: an understanding; the ability to learn and communicate utilizing a shared means for communication.


Probable Hypothesis:   The Common Core State Standards are limited due to a limited understanding of the meaning of literacy.


  • Did the creators of the Common Core State Standards offer a formal definition of literacy as it relates to the standards they wrote?
  • Is the CCSS definition limited due to testable skills? (I know, this could be an I think I know!)


  • How much of literacy is knowledge/understanding as opposed to the skills necessary or ability to create knowledge?
  • How do other cultures define literacy?
  • Who is/what are the organizations that matter when it comes to the issue of literacy?
  • What are the biases that might exist with this issue?


  • What is the history of  literacy’s relationship with education in the United States?
  • Does literacy within content areas define student learning objectives in nations that we associate with advanced education systems? (Finland etc)=

Investigation Plan/Thoughts:

  • Be aware of my personal biases, (that a broader definition is necessary!), during my  investigation; do not discount explanations that I don’t agree with!
  • Start by collecting resources in diigo

Express Plan:

Other than a future blog post, I am unsure how far to take the results of this Inquiry. Possibilities include offering written findings to NJASL, AASL, Knowledge Quest, SLJ, Library Media Connection.

Note: If I find that someone else has already compiled complete and up to date findings with regard to my Inquiry, I may not take this any more further than sharing the conclusions that they’ve already come to!

That’s it for now!



Inquiry and Design


Stanford Design School's Design Thinking Process
Stanford Design School’s Design Thinking Process



Kathy Singerline and I have worked closely together in designing her 6th grade Critical Thinking cycle class. The learning goals have remained fairly static, however the way of achieving those goals has gone through a number of transformations, or in other words, a Problem Based Learning Challenge in and of itself!

Our goals for her students include the following skills, dispositions and responsibilities.

Questioning: SWBAT create, identify and practice questioning for learning skills. Students will develop an understanding of curiosity as a means for learning, growth and change. Students will realize their role in asking questions to promote collaborative learning and creation.

Information Fluency:  SWBAT find, evaluate and apply information based on needs and interests. Students will utilize a process for learning using information. Students will develop an understanding of how and why information is shared, the need for evaluating information based on author’s purpose, authority and currency and how information can be used for learning, creating and sharing. Students will realize that they have a role in sharing information ethically in a cyber connected world.

Design: SWBAT apply what they learned about questioning and information fluency within the Design Process. They will participate in design based learning experiences including game design. They will develop an understanding of the need for empathy, wonder, risk taking as it relates to design. They will realize the role design plays in in creating change.

This cycle, Kathy and I have been discussing how students can participate in a cycle long project that fosters most or all of these skills and understandings. We’d like to have their projects be problem based, student determined and real world, so that the learning would be authentic and at best, make a difference.


All of this seems like a perfect #geniouscon opportunity! It seems fairly obvious that the questioning and Information Literacy skills and understandings can best be learned within an an actual Inquiry based project. The design piece could also be incorporated within this framework. However, I’m not sure exactly how. What I can’t quite figure out is where the Inquiry Process and the Design Thinking Process intersect.

If you have any thoughts please share. In the meantime I will keep thinking and learning more about the design process!

Planning for Synthesis

Stripling Plan

This afternoon my senior Honors/AP English son was having difficulty writing an expository essay based on Equus. My son is a decent writer; words come to him much easier than they do to me, maybe due to practice, maybe a better writing education or maybe plain old genetics. However, it was not the writing that was causing him problems, it was his lack of proficiency with planning and research. Could you imagine, and his mom is a librarian to boot! If you’re reading this and you have High School aged kids you probably get this “Mom has no clue scenario” I have to say that I never help him with school work; he plain old never asks, and he’s been successful, I thought so anyway. He’s received good grades and never loses sleep about schoolwork, both literally and figuratively. Now I’m totally blown away with his lack of procedural understanding and wish that he’d came to me before his senior year!

The prompt for the essay was entitled Religious Traditions and read  “Explore how tradition and religion shape one’s moral compass and discuss their usage as a dramatic devise in the play”

What he had accomplished before coming to me:

  • He read the book and basically knew the areas that represented the author’s use of dramatic devices (Connect)
  • He collected literary database articles about Equus, which all dealt with religion since that’s basically what the book’s about! (Investigate)
  • He had a theses statement written which was basically the prompt made into a statement. Oh man!

These are the steps I suggested he take:


  • Clearly define the prompt, in this case the terms religion and moral compass using a credible source so that he could  cite it if needed.
  • Create an organizational scheme based on the religious issues the author dramatize. We created a rough web with the prompt in the middle, (with thought that it will change into a realized thesis later), and spokes for each significant issue exemplified in the play and how it was exemplified.
  • Add “what you think you know” examples from history, society and literature under each exemplified issue you’ve identified.


  • Record questions that arise during this process and after reviewing for uncertainties where they apply.

Note: For younger students we’ve been more formally talking about Plan here. Having them think about where and in what manner they will be organizing notes, collecting needed information and bookmarking found resources. For example, if they are researching to make an informed decision they may utilize a Pro & Con “T” Chart, or create a chart that  allows for comparison of different factors. They may use boxes and bullets if looking for evidence or a timeline if searching for important historical events.


  • He created a rough outline in a word or google doc that he decided to fill in as he wrote. He noted where he needed to research whether for clarification, exact detail, evidence or needed information.
  • He  reviewed the resources he had already collected to see if there was anything there that helped answer what he already noted or brought up important issues that he missed or didn’t think of. From this he added the issue of superstition and religion.
  • He needed my guidance for where to find much of the information he sought. Yes a little scary since he’s off to college in less then a year


Here’s where I think a more formal plan from the start assists with synthesis. Construct for me is part organizational (literal) and part constructing new knowledge (figurative). If this was a lengthier project, I would suggest that he keep adjusting his structure according to increased understandings. However, since this was an essay and really a lot of his knowledge was already constructed by reading the play, it will most likely stay the way he created it based on what he already knew. No matter, by making a formal effort to create an organizational Plan for constructing knowledge before beginning to Investigate, the process of synthesis is more easily realized within the Investigate process.


He’s writing away right now! (I almost wrote “as we speak”!)


At the middle school level, our district is emphasizing simulated research projects in which students are given carefully chosen resources in order that they spend less time searching and more time analyzing information. Similar processes for learning are suggested by Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project and the Library of Congress. The idea is to give students one piece of information to fully analyze. Then give them another and have them compare and contrast view points, tone or credibility; place in chronological order or connect in some way or another. Then add another and go through the same process. In this situation synthesis happens while students are investigating.

In order to allow the understanding of synthesis to be attainable by all students, we no longer can consider it something that just happens. Students need necessary scaffolds, whether it be by creating an organizational plan or by limiting variables and starting small.


Digesting: The Missing Piece

Oh Paris, Living Sculpture by Verner Panton, Flickr, 25 June 2011. Web.

Last week, at the invitation of and in accompaniment with, our school’s Literacy Coach, Jessica Rastami, I participated in an awesome four day mini institute on Content Literacy and the Common Core, at Columbia’s Teacher College, Reading and Writing Project.  Although I’ve yet to thoroughly synthesize all that we learned, I thought I’d take a moment here to reflect on some “aha” moments!

Utilizing “I Think I Knows” to engage researchers: The Institute’s first keynote, Tony Stead, suggested replacing  K-W-L charts with a method for analyzing nonfiction which he’s coined: RAN. Acronym aside, I like his idea of using “I think I knows” similarly to questioning, as a tool for focusing and fueling research.

Nuggets of information are not meaningless.  Our second day keynote, Donna Santman, after telling us a story about her daughter trading “Did you know?” nuggets of information with a friend, suggested the importance of these fun facts not just as an impetuous for learning more, but also for the discovery in and of themselves.

Questioning and synthesis go hand in hand throughout the learning process. Although I’ve always seen questioning as something that fostered deeper learning throughout the learning process, I failed to see synthesis similarly. I tended to think of synthesis as some kind of magical something that only happened after you’d digested enough information. Now I see synthesis as a way to digest the information. Making connections is not only the end result, but a also part of the process for deeper learning.

Synthesis can be strategized. Although I still believe that librarians are well equipped at fostering “learning to learn” skills, dispositions and responsibilities, I had no clue that there was a way to strategize synthesis, other than maybe mind mapping or traditional outlining as a means for organization. In fact, my education, even in note taking, other than using electronic tools and two column Cornell style notes, was unclear.  I knew little about tools such as: boxes and bullets, Venn diagrams, cause and effect, timelines, question and answer as a mean to both note take and analyze and synthesize information, throughout the learning process. I was blown away by the concept of Thinking Maps, enthusiastically shared by a participant as her district’s chosen means for directing learning. They even use Thinking maps in all of their PD sessions including deconstructing the Common Core. Students are taught to draw the thinking map from memory that best fits his/her thinking need. Love this!

Librarians are invaluable for providing needed “text sets” across various media platforms. Our four day long study centered around the Civil Rights movement. Teachers College’s chosen means for learning includes primary source centers, read-alouds, mini lectures, all class discussions and debate. Teachers, (posing as students), deepened their learning using music, photos, letters of note, personal accounts, video, historical fiction and nonfiction picture, narrative and survey type books. Other than me, being maybe the only teacher-librarian in attendance, other participants were overwhelmed with the thought of gathering all of these resources. All were sharing my tweets sharing resource portals!

Transfer and an Inquiry model for Learning. In their research on best practices for incorporating Common Core literacy skills within content area learning, Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project seemed to lack librarian guidance. At the basic level, a website was shared with over a hundred people, as being a good resource, and all I can say is that it is far from a credible! Also, in reaction to the question “Where did you find this picture?” the response was, “I just googled civil rights.” (In note, this lack of understanding was only evidenced in one presenter’s presentations and so is not indicative of the team).  On a larger level though, there was no discussion about independent investigation or a complete model for Inquiry. I would have liked more discussion on how students might transfer the process skills learned within this framework to independent research. Note to self: we need to work on this integration!

Librarians need to be part of the beginning, middle and end. Providing students and teachers with needed information, however, is not enough. Teaching them how to find and evaluate the information they need is necessary, but still not enough. Teaching students ways to express and share what they’ve learned is important, but still not enough.  To stay vital now, we need to be the middle piece too: the piece that helps students digest the info, figure out its place in their bigger picture understanding, and make it their own.

Note to self and any other TL’s who are reading: Teacher-librarians must attend conferences which emphasize literacies across all content areas. We must join Twitter talks such as #sschat which are predominated by content area teachers. We must join curriculum committees in all learning areas. We must  speak the literacy talk that’s emphasized in all things common core. We must be at the essence of student learning, because that is where we belong!