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Q-and-A: Teaching students to become better consumers and producers of information

3 min read


Ernest Morrell, director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College Columbia University, is a leading voice in literacy and English education. In this interview with SmartBrief education editor Trigie Ealey, he offers his take on the state of literacy, technology, and collaboration as teachers and students across the country head back to school.

What is digital literacy education and how does it translate to the classroom?

The world is changing quickly. The available communications tools at our disposal have changed what it means to be literate. We have a generation of youth that is saturated with information and we also have a generation of sophisticated information producers. A digital literacy education will help our youth to become better consumers and producers of information in the digital age. We need to allow our students to produce and distribute information multimodally in classrooms. This includes adding blogs, wikis, PowerPoint slides, and digital videos to the usual class essays. It also means that we have to teach students to “read” media such as magazine covers, songs, films, television shows, and Internet sites. Our youth are forming views of themselves and the world based on information they receive via the media so literacy educators have to help them understand how to decode and deconstruct these messages. Finally, in the age of Google and Wikipedia, all of us are using the Internet as a research tool so part of our responsibility entails helping students to use the Internet more systematically and ethically in their academic research.

What is one current education issue that you predict will be a game changer for the future of  literacy education in America’s schools? Why?

Without a doubt, it’s educational policies that negatively impact the morale of the profession. Nothing matters more to the future of education than recruiting and retaining good teachers, and if we continue our public assault on teachers, I am concerned that it will be difficult to convince the best and brightest of our youth that teaching is a career that they should pursue. Teachers need resources, support, and praise, and we need to be doing everything we can to bolster our current generation of educators while we aggressively reach out to prospective teachers on our college and university campuses. I would love to see a national campaign to recruit the next generation of literacy teachers, and I would like to see more balanced reporting that also focuses on the outstanding literacy instruction that occurs in countless classrooms across the country every day.

Why is it so important for teachers to collaborate with other teachers?

I see collaborative inquiry as essential to the future of the discipline. When teachers are able to plan together, to ask hard questions of their practice, and when they can collect and share information about their successes, the profession grows and teaching improves. The answers to most of our pressing questions are in the classrooms, and no group is better positioned to provide those answers than our practicing teachers. I am excited about NCLE’s Centers for Literacy Education because they provide a forum for teachers to work together at their school sites and to share their journeys with colleagues across the nation. It was for this very purpose that NCTE was founded [more than]100 years ago.