“Literacy for the 21st Century” on medialit.org offers a practical overview of classroom teaching strategies for a multimedia world. The authors, Elizabeth Thoman and Tessa Jolls, establish a working framework for applying analytical skills to visual and audio media. Premised on the notion that students “need to be fluent. . . in the language of images and sounds” in order to be successful citizens in a digital world, Thoman and Jolls put forth a comprehensive model for achieving that end (6). Due to the access students have to colossal stores of information, the main objective of modern schooling is not to supply facts and figures, but rather to guide students in the process of discerning which information is useful, relevant, and trustworthy. That notion is applicable to a wide range of media. Television shows, movies, commercials, product packaging, even buildings convey explicit and implicit messages. Students ought to practice noticing and reading the audio and visual cues that assault them in order to unpack intent and judge information intelligently.
While Thoman and Jolls explore that notion as it relates to visual media, the same premise of sifting through loads of information to identify something meaningful is also applicable to web reading, a domain of more pressing importance to students. The web has made research of all kinds faster, easier, and much more comprehensive. Capable of searching entire databases in seconds or scanning millions of websites for keywords at the click of a mouse, the internet has without question revolutionized how we search for and gather information. However, while a search engine can narrow it down for us, finding what we really want still requires a pair of eyeballs connected to a brain to skim texts and pull out relevant nuggets of information.
Students need help with that process of extracting pertinent bits from globs of information, according to Thoman and Jolls. It seems more plausible, though, that today’s student, probably logging several hours of screen time every day, is already adept at navigating the seas of information available out there. Bouncing around on the trail of a particular topic is becoming second nature. As those neurological muscles are toned, the ones built through prolonged attention and depth of thought begin to atrophy. What good is it to find the perfect article if you can’t remember what you’ve read once you put it down?
It’s clearly important to assist and guide students in this age of information abundance, but to lose sight of the necessity of disciplined focus is to do our youth an injustice.