Picture: Gareth Smit
Picture: Gareth Smit

Important role of literacy teachers in our post-Covid-19 learning

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 7, 2020

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By Dr Phumla Kese

We have heard about concerns and opinions regarding the data challenge and lack of equipment related to the switch to online learning during the lockdown.

From the repertoire of pedagogical coping mechanisms adopted by the teachers in addressing the challenge, we can think about the things to carry with moving forward post the Covid-19 era.

As much as I yearn to celebrate the strength of literacy teachers during this phase in education, my insights herein are rather steered into the direction of the role of a literacy teacher.

A literacy teacher’s view of the notion of “literacy” plays a fundamental role in the quality of teaching goals congruent with literacy outcomes.

In this dialogue, literacy may be regarded as a journey of building a skill of language use for understanding a specific phenomenon within the discipline of language and life skills acquisition, towards reaching an intended learning destination. This means that the literacy process as well as the product define the level of thinking and reasoning demands in literacy activities designed by the teacher, be it at home or school.

Expensive tablets or any technological devices could be supplied to the learners and teachers; but the bottom line is that they are programmable machines. Digital devices may support teaching and learning but not the actual pedagogical strategy.

The type of activities designed by the literacy teacher should assist the learner in being positioned at attaining cognitive advantage towards achieving sustainable or even life-long learning.

Henceforth, the core role of the literacy teacher, Covid-19 or no-Covid 19, is to facilitate sense-making in ways that train learners from early phases of education on how to work with information in whatever challenge the society might be facing.

Thus, I do not see how the “comfortable” rote teaching can produce literacy advancement with significance!

The pedagogy of conscience is sensitive to the academic profile of the learners and situations around their lives while being inclined to adjust towards meeting learning needs responsibly.

With that said, it is understandable that literacy teachers may struggle to cope with the demands associated with the change from on-site to remote learning which require specific pedagogical revisions.

However, it is imperative that they also guard against using digital portals for piling up school projects or homework that is not spaced reasonably.

Regarding e- learning, literacy teachers may, where possible, devise means of being accessible to the learners for engagement regarding clarity of tasks, provide clear assessment criteria and provide constructive feedback.

As the teacher aims to invigorate the intellectual activity when the learners work with texts and create knowledge, he/she may: 1) embrace curiosity and question formulation; 2) value learners’ home languages and 3) stimulate creativity.

1) An art of asking questions is supported by a pedagogical strategy that arouses an individual learner’s inquisitive mind. Curiosity triggers a literacy need, thus allowing for individuality in thinking while finding own voice in a literacy construction space.

My colleague Dr Rénee Nathanson once advised about a need for learners to ask themselves questions about the text rather than the norm of teachers being the only ones who ask comprehension questions.

2) However, for the above to happen in a multilingual environment, the literacy teacher may get learners to eloquently engage with texts by using mono/bilingual/multilingual diagrams individually by drawing from their respective linguistic or indigenous knowledge features.

With e-learning, successful multilingual activities would depend on a learner’s social context.

3) Another essential yet often ignored role of the literacy teacher is that of kindling creativity as an opportunity to break the comprehension ceiling. Critical, visual and creative literacies could allow for the birth of inventive ideas as well confidence in expression, hence heightening functional literacy. The teacher needs to understand that multilingual learning and creativity are compatible! In addition, creative functional literacy presents opportunities for self-discovery of hidden talents by the learners.

While the above three might sound potentially resourceful to literacy development, it is of paramount importance that literacy teachers evaluate their own practice!

Moving forward with the use of technology for academic purposes, it would be a great initiative to acknowledge the new literacy need by offering a new school subject about safety and vigilance on digital platforms such as social media. Literacy teachers would need a similar course too to exercise caution when designing online tasks in the current and envisioned post Covid-19 era.

While acknowledging that proper guidance for the children regarding the handling of online information and knowledge creation, parental involvement would be necessary.

The big question is: “What could be done in cases where the parents are not computer literate or perhaps struggle to keep up with the new technologies?”

Due to the magnitude of the literacy crisis in South Africa, adapting the above-detailed philosophy regarding literacy development might not yield overnight success, yet the pulse of enhancement could be secure.

* Dr Kese is a lecturer at the Department of Curriculum Studies – Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University.

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