Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Forged By Reading: The Power of a Literate Life

By Brent Gilson

A record of this amazing chat can be found here

Just over a year ago I was sitting at dinner with my wife Julie, Bob Probst and Kylene Beers (pinch me it was one of the greatest moments of my life) and as we visited they mentioned a new book they had been working on. I was obviously excited because any time to learn from them is a welcome opportunity. A few months later I received an email asking if I would preview the book and provide a little blurb. I was so grateful to do so and dove into the book fully unaware of how important the content inside would be.

Power and Privilege

As a teacher, I would talk to my kids about what literacy meant all the time. We would discuss reading and writing as tools of literacy. That same weekend I mentioned earlier Kylene was presenting and asked that question to the audience, “What is literacy?” She listened and smiled as answers poured in and then she presented a different take. She spoke about literacy being power and how that power has been wielded as a tool of control and that it is our duty as teachers to wield that power in the name of disrupting the systems that have so often suppressed as we need to help provide our students with the power of a literate life to be the agents of change we need in a world still filled with so much injustice. This framing of what literacy was impacted my thinking last February and as I pored through the pages of Forged by Reading both the history of literacy and the damages that abusing its power has caused and the hope for a future where all students are informed and have the tools of literacy available to them to help shape a better, stronger, more just society were evident. Literacy has the power to do that.

Responsively and Responsible

As we learn more of the history of literacy and the power it has to be both liberating and suppressing I am again reminded of this idea that was first brought to my attention in the wonderful Disrupting Thinking. This notion that we need to be both Responsive and Responsible readers. In the simplest of terms, we have to be open to the idea that reading can impact us, lead us to think, create a sense of urgency to act and then we must act. We spend so much time teaching kids to read for information that we inadvertently teach them to ignore the feelings they encounter. As teachers, we are guilty of doing the same. When we not only recognize the thoughts and feelings that we have around a text but then act we are opening doors to new discussions and opportunities to grow and facilitate change. In Forged by Reading Bob and Kylene expand on a great Framework that they gave us in Disrupting Thinking to increase the role of responsibility in reading. The Book-Head-Heart Framework is an amazing tool to help readers be more responsive, providing a structure to responsibly organize their thinking around a text and reflect on the importance to them. In Forged by Reading it goes a step further asking what we can DO. BHH-D asks us to take that next step and our students are ready for it when the opportunity is provided because our students want to talk about and work to make better the problems of the world. Just sit down and ask them.

They will change the world; just get out of the Damn Way

In Forged by Reading Kylene and Bob share a list of items that students are interested in talking about. All of the major issues facing the world come up. Our students want to solve the problems of today because they will be inheriting the world of tomorrow. Too often adults determine what is “too much” for our students. As the world starts to face these tough conversations there are forces that want to keep these topics from the discussions we have with our youth. Lawmakers are trying to ban discussions around racial injustice, gun safety, poverty and the environment because they know that literacy is power and they want to hold on to that power themselves. When we work to make sure our students have the opportunity to address these issues, to challenge the status quo and work for better we start to do the work that will bring about change. Every year my students participate in #ProjectSpeak. They identify issues important to them and research the topic in hopes that presenting it to others will not only spread awareness but attract others to their cause. Topics have ranged from feed formulas so that cattle are better sellers to pay equity in sports and everything in between. When we provide the space to explore meaningful topics our students will always rise to the occasion.

We have the power to change the current reality.

The power of Forged by Reading and really any book is in the hands of the reader. The words and ideas that Bob and Kylene have presented us with are wasted if we do not take them and act both responsively and responsibly. One of my favourite type of Superheroes are reality manipulators, I think it is the idea that only their imagination can hold them back. Literacy has the power to unlock that imagination in all of us. It provides us with the tools to see the world beyond where it currently is. As I close I share this tweet from Kylene,

What is the reality we want our students to be able to imagine? What is the reality we want our parents and community to see? We have the power to change it. To make the shifts to a better place for our students and our future. The time for sitting back and waiting is over. The time of enjoying our comforts while others struggle to get ahead are over. We can and must do better. As someone mentioned in the chat, our students are world shakers. We as teachers either need to help or get out of the way. There is important work to do.