Empowering our students to be ‘critically literate’

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A professional learning conference has highlighted the diversity of teacher librarian roles at Sydney Catholic schools, and how they are empowering students as literacy evolves.

Sydney Catholic schools teacher-librarians were among nearly 100 Catholic and independent school staff from across NSW and the ACT to attend the May Teacher Librarian Professional Learning Community (TLPLC) Conference at the State Library of NSW.

Hundreds of others accessed presentations digitally to get around COVID-19 restrictions.

“A lot of the skills that are required for children to navigate through technology are literacy skills – critical thinking, problem-solving, and being able to understand how to sift through all the information and make sense of it”

 – Simone Johnston

Literacy consultant Jennifer Asha highlighted the importance of students becoming “critically literate.”

Literacy consultant Jennifer Asha presents via video link at the TLPLC conference. Photo: Gene Ramirez

“We need to break both visual and verbal codes as readers,” she told conference delegates.

“We break those codes so we can actively participate in the different socio-cultural meanings of the texts, and know that we use texts for different purposes and functions.”

Ms Asha used text examples including Aaron Becker’s wordless picture books, Philip Bunting’s Who Am I?, and Christina Booth’s book about the extinction of the Thylacine, One Careless Night, to highlight ways teachers could encourage students to analyse and challenge a text, develop empathy, and appreciate subtlety and meaning.

“If we have connected learners, we’re setting up for a more fruitful, sustainable society”

– Simone Johnston

WRITING CHANGE

Indigenous authors Gregg Driese and Charmaine Ledden-Lewis recorded video presentations for the conference, as did Looking for Alibrandi author Melina Marchetta, who spoke of the importance of cultural identity in books.

Spoken-word poet Miles Merril shows teacher librarians how to make literature engaging in other ways at the TLPLC conference. Photo: Gene Ramirez

Other guest speakers included children’s author Tristan Bancks, and Sydney spoken-word poet Miles Merrill.

Mr Merrill, who works with students from all parts of Australia and cultural backgrounds, said he often asks students to pick a moment of change and describe it through their senses to encourage them to develop their writing.

“You’re also trying to empower them to have an opinion,” he said.

“They’re not just getting up and expressing an opinion, they’re embedding that in a story; so it’s also about getting kids to be participating early in the public debate.

“That sense of empowerment is infectious.”

LITERACY FOR LIFE

Teacher librarian at Villa Maria Catholic Primary School Hunters Hill, Simone Johnston, collaborates with teachers in Years 3 to 6 to develop tasks that hone students research and digital literacy skills. She said encouraging students to create and not just consume could help to alleviate plagiarism and inspire empathy.

“If we teach our students to become creators and not just accept what is there, the thinking and social justice and respect changes as well,” she said.

“It’s really making them think ‘What could I have done?’ and giving them more accountability.

“They’re going to be much more excited about creating than just sitting back and consuming information.”