I often hear the concern that our focus on Literacy and Numeracy in the province of Ontario is too narrow and that it hinders our students’ creativity or their ability to develop critical thinking skills. I have never understood this concern and the dichotomy that is sometimes created between literacy, numeracy and creativity or literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.
Dr. Michael Fullan’s recent paper regarding education in Ontario challenges us to think beyond narrow definitions of literacy and numeracy. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/reports/fullan.html
All would agree that our students need strong literacy and numeracy skills. These skills are foundational and include reading, writing, and math, the skills that everyone thinks about when they hear the words literacy and numeracy. Literacy and numeracy also include the ability to communicate, to problem-solve, to analyze and critique and to create.
Our focus on literacy and numeracy is only too narrow when we do not invite our students to think critically and deeply and to create possibilities, ideas and expressions. When we examine the tasks we ask our students to complete and when we assess the culture of our learning environments, do our students have the opportunity to think? Are they able to build on their interests and strengths to fulfill curriculum expectations? Do we invite our students to ask complex questions that together with fellow students they can explore? Do our students have options in the classroom? These questions are important, guiding us to personalize the learning for our students each day.
Standardized assessments in literacy and numeracy are sometimes blamed for making the curriculum too narrow. I have never understood this connection. It is my experience that when students develop literacy and numeracy skills in the broadest sense of the term as described above, they perform effectively on these assessments.
The expectations outlined in the Ontario curriculum state what students need to learn by the end of each year. These expectations do not suggest that students in a classroom are always learning the same thing at the same time, or that they are all completing the same task. These expectations do not tell teachers to ask all of the questions and to design how students will answer these questions. These expectations do not demand that teachers test students to memorize facts and ignore the processes they use to solve problems, create ideas, explore uncharted territory and to communicate their thinking.
We can create engaging learning environments that offer students opportunities to achieve because their interests converge with the curriculum expectations. In these learning environments, our students are thinking and writing, collaborating and exploring, developing and creating, presenting and evaluating.
We want our students to read and write effectively and to excel in math. We also want our students to think and create. Our focus on literacy and numeracy need not be considered in a narrow fashion, and this focus does not need to exclude creativity and critical thinking.
Literacy and numeracy, creativity and critical thinking are not mutually exclusive terms!