This Month in Literacy

The article as found below is the first portion of an article reprinted with permission from the following online source:

Leu, D.J., Jr. (2001, March). Internet Project: Preparing students for new literacies in a global village [Exploring Literacy on the Internet department]. The Reading Teacher, 54(6). Available:

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Internet Project: Preparing Students for New Literacies in a Global Village

Donald J. Leu, Jr.

You've felt it; I've felt it. Change has become central to life in the 21st century. Sometimes the speed of this change is overwhelming, especially in a world where the Internet places so much information right at our fingertips. While the Internet makes so many wonderful resources available, the most common question I hear is "How do I find the time to keep up?"

The pace of this change will be limited only by our ability to manage it. Our students will encounter even more rapid change when they graduate, especially in the information they will require to perform effectively in the workplace. Thus, the ability to read and write becomes even more important to our children's future than it was to ours. Rapid change will be increasingly a part of their lives, and we need to begin now to prepare them. This column will explore an instructional approach, Internet Project, which prepares children for their literacy future in a world where change is a defining characteristic of literacy and learning.

Literacy as Deixis

Elsewhere (Leu, 2000), I have argued that literacy is increasingly deictic (pronounced "dike-tic")—the definition of what it means to be literate continuously changes as new technologies of literacy rapidly appear in an age of information, creating both new opportunities and new challenges for literacy educators. If literacy is deictic, and I believe it is, then the central question for each of us is not "How do we teach children to be literate?" Instead, the central question is "How do we teach children to continuously become literate?" That is, "How do we help children learn to learn the new literacies that will continuously emerge?" The distinction between viewing literacy as static and literacy as deictic is central to any discussion of literacy education today. It suggests that the current debate over standards and high-stakes assessment, based on static definitions of literacy, is misguided. Neither side in this debate recognizes that the assessment of literacy must now measure children's ability to learn the new literacies inherent in the new information and communication technologies (ICT) that will regularly appear. Literacy is no longer an end point to be achieved and tested but rather a process of continuously learning how to become literate. Many of these new literacies will converge with the Internet.

In a previous column (RT, February 2000), I described why we must begin to change the focus of reading and writing instruction to include the new literacies of Internet technologies that will regularly emerge. The world of work has changed. Globalization, information economies, and economic competition have caused organizations to flatten their formerly top-down command and control structures. In order to operate more efficiently and compete successfully within a global economy, everyone within an organization now must be able to rapidly and effectively accomplish four important activities: identify important problems central to their own unit, gather relevant information and critically evaluate it, use the appropriate information to solve central problems, and then clearly communicate the solution throughout the organization. Literacy is at the heart of each of these four tasks.

Often, this problem-information-resolution-communication process takes place within collaborative teams in an organization. Often the best place to quickly obtain useful information is the Internet. Organizations that fail to enact these changes do not survive in a world in which change is rapid and continuous. To remain static is to become obsolete. This principle also applies to schools. That is why we must also begin our own journeys, changing the nature of literacy instruction within classrooms that are becoming connected through the Internet.

Internet Project

How do we prepare our students for the increasingly collaborative, problem-oriented, and critical nature of literacy in classrooms with Internet connections? Increasingly, teachers find Internet Project to be a useful approach. There are many definitions of Internet Project. Each, however, engages students in classrooms at different locations in collaborative work to solve a common problem or explore a common topic. As a result, Internet Project helps children acquire skills in the collaborative problem-solving, information, and communication activities they will use when they enter the world of work. At least two different types of Internet Project exist: more permanent Web-site projects and temporary projects.

Web-site projects

Web-site projects are more permanent projects, coordinated by an individual or group at a Web site. They are a wonderful starting point for teachers just beginning their Internet journey because they are precisely defined with clear directions for participation and a complete set of instructional resources. One example of a Web-site project for the youngest literacy learners is the Flat Stanley Project.

Please visit the Reading Online website to read this article in its entirety.

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