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06 Dec 2023

Rethinking literacy in a changing world

Rethinking literacy in a changing world

Literacy has changed. Remember when it was just about reading, writing and speech? Now, literacy has a more expansive meaning, with applications throughout education.

Nowadays, literacy seems to be more about how we confidently and skilfully navigate life. As the founder of LinkyThinks, I have spent the last decade applying my mixed background as an artist and linguistic neuroscience researcher to new approaches in literacy. LinkyThinks is about making learning more accessible, through ‘linking different ways of thinking.’ As someone who champions interdisciplinary approaches, I believe literacy should be an interdisciplinary pursuit.


Where English literacy meets emotional literacy

Empathy and ‘theory of mind’ play an important role in reading comprehension. Inferring a literary character’s feelings, motivations and inner lives is impossible without some understanding of the mechanics of emotion. Words also play an important role in recognising our own emotional worlds. Children tend to stop acting out their emotions physically (hitting, kicking, biting) when they learn to vocalise them. Moving beyond ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ into more nuanced language, like ‘resentful’, ‘frustrated’, ‘anxious’ or ‘apprehensive’ gives children the toolkit to recognise what they are experiencing. From there, they can see emotions in relation to others and communicate in a healthy way. It’s something we, as adults, often struggle with, but modelling healthy emotional communication is an essential part of teaching children to function in the world.

Where emotional literacy meets social literacy 

There is no understanding of a social world without empathy. Conflict is inevitable, especially among children, but it’s the moment of ‘repair’ that comes after a social ‘rupture’ that has a lasting impact. When a child understands the motivations and emotional drives of another, they can process their discomfort, own up to their mistakes and forgive the mistakes of others. Fostering healthy conversations about the subtleties of emotion has a widespread impact on all other areas of education, not least behaviour management, conflict resolution and social harmony. 

Where social literacy meets professional literacy

We often talk about how schools neglect to teach certain life skills, such as managing one’s own finances, for example. But more than this, when I was at school, there were no careers talks about professional gaming or making a living from TikTok. That’s because these things didn’t exist yet.  Part of supporting professional literacy is about teaching an awareness of how society shifts, and the flexibility of thinking required to move with the times.

Where professional literacy meets critical literacy 

Our education system encourages children to choose their careers from around the age of 15, deciding on GCSE subjects to determine their future. But how many 15-year-olds really know what makes a fulfilled life? Purpose-driven pedagogy is a solution to the hopelessness many young people feel regarding their futures. The idea of critical literacy is to know how to decipher all the confusing, conflicting information we receive on a daily basis, how to recognise trustworthy sources and to make grounded decisions in life. 


Where they all come together 

The connections between all these areas of literacy are practically infinite. Once you start seeing them as interlocking pieces of the puzzle, it’s clear what literacy can really achieve. To communicate fluently is not confined to essays and stories but expands into the nurturing of personal relationships and the rhetoric of professional success. To think critically is not confined to reasoning tests or philosophy lessons, but the attitudes and choices that make an examined life; one of social responsibility, mental wellbeing, financial stability and kindness. By linking these different ways of thinking about literacy, we can move beyond teaching children how to be exam-passing machines and truly give them the skills to leave school as well-rounded, empathic, cultured, reasonable, fulfilled and literate people.


Alexander Rosenberg, Founder and Creative Director of LinkyThinks, is an internationally recognised artist and educator, having received multiple awards for his innovative educational resources and approaches. LinkyThinks’ mission is to link literacy to life skills, both in the classroom and at home.


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