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Literacy: not a desk job, but an identity job.

It’s funny where an image can take you and what associations pop into your head. Steve Wheeler @timbuckteeth, egged on by Amy Burvall @Amyburvall, have unleashed a bit of a blogging sensation this week #blimage. The idea is, you’re presented with an image and you have to craft a blog post based on the thoughts that it conjures up. Steve threw down the gauntlet with this image of old school desks.

The image immediately made me think of the school in Beamish Museum (the living museum of the north); I’ve always had a thing for the social history of ordinary folk. Any way, I couldn’t help thinking of how reading and writing was done back then. I thought of the evolution of writing on slates with chalk, to writing in your jotter with a fountain or ball point pen, to nowadays when keyboards process your words. I thought of how you were made to sit at your desk, in rows, and how learning is heavily associated with classrooms. I thought of how these experiences of reading and writing are powerful and how they come to mean things to people, to mean different things to different people, and that these meanings are dependent on their situatedness.

I remembered (gosh, I’m starting to sound old) when I was doing my teaching placement, when I was confronted by one young lad, a recent school leaver, who would hardly pick up a pen in class (who am I kidding, it wasn’t just one). Any way, in the jottings of my reflective practice, he would have been called a ‘reluctant writer’. That is, until I encountered him in the Student Services, or Guidance, office where he was flourishing his pen with gusto as he completed paperwork to join the Army. He was reluctant to write in class as the tasks being set were, in all honesty, not ‘authentic’ and not aligned with the identity that he wished for.

So now, with all the talk of digital literacy and digital skills, I think it’s important to remember this little tale as it’s not just a matter of prescribing a set of skills for individuals to acquire, but a matter of developing them in context, mindful of the fact that it’s an identity job.

The #blimage challenge can be taken up by anybody. Go check out the hashtag.

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