Literacy for the 21st Century by Gail Tompkins: Summary & Tips

Instructor: Alicia Taylor

Alicia has taught students of all ages and has a master's degree in Education

Literacy for the 21st Century by Gail Tompkins introduces teachers to both theory and methods for developing literacy today. By focusing on literacy as a process of making meaning, Tompkins explains how to teach students to take in all forms of media, from movies to blog posts.

Many Media Forms

Not so long ago, media was predominantly delivered through one form: words on a page. Everything published like this passed through an editor or company set up to handle the expensive process of printing. Needless to say, it wasn't a perfect system. If you wanted to publish something image-based or unpopular, you probably couldn't.

Classy Lady Reading Old School Style

Now, anyone with a high-speed internet connection and a dream can instantly publish anything from book chapters to videos. Advantages? We have so many ways to communicate. And, no one's voice is suppressed. Disadvantages? Readers have to become really good at understanding many forms of media. And, since no one is screening publications, the reader also has to learn to sort between the worthless and the worthwhile.

The Big Picture in the Big Book

Who's going to make sure readers are ready for this brave new world? Gail Tompkins. Her book, Literacy for the 21st Century, tackles these issues. Tompkins tells us that students must be able to make meaning of various kinds of media. Foremost, they have to understand why they are reading or viewing this picture book or that TV show. Whether students are viewing movies or reading stories, that's the heart of her approach: students making meaning.

Front Cover of the Book

Tompkins tells us that literacy now means ''the ability to use reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing for a variety of tasks inside and outside of school'' (page 2). For students and children to become good readers, they need strategies and training in these new kinds of literacy.

Tips on Being an Effective Teacher

The book begins with a section on being an effective teacher. The key? Keep the focus on the student. Effective literacy teaching comes from understanding how students learn at each level of cognitive development, how classroom community fosters learning, and how to differentiate instruction to meet each student's needs.

The teacher must also know the mechanics behind making meaning. Tompkins introduces the reader to the cueing systems, characteristics of language that help readers understand meaning. From the most basic form, the phonological system of understanding the sounds indicated by certain letters, all the way up to the paralinguistic system that the student uses to understand how their reading relates to society, the teacher needs a good understanding of these elements.

Tips on Being an Effective Reader

After describing the effective teacher, Tompkins defines the effective reader. This is not the kid who can sound out every letter but can't remember the story. The effective reader sees reading as a process that includes Prereading, Reading, Responding, Exploring, and Applying. Good reading is interactive.

For the literate student, writing is a process, too. Tompkins recommends Prewriting, Drafting, Revising, Editing, and Publishing as the major steps.

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