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Reviewed by Terry Freedman

Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century, David F. Warlick, ISBN: 1-800-786- 5017.

To buy this from either the USA or UK, go to the reviews section of the ICT in Education website (http://www.ictineducation.org) and click on the appropriate link.

David Warlick, as anyone who has seen him in action delivering a keynote address or has followed his various blogs would agree, is the master of the counter-intuitive phrase designed to make the listener jolt upright and take notice. In this case, the quote on the back cover amply fulfils this function:

“If all our children learn to do is read, they will not be literate.”

That summarises the goal of the book itself: to actually redefine literacy. Nothing too major then!

The book begins by describing a scene of the future as if it’s the present. It’s always dangerous to do that, and although it’s a pretty thinking-out-of-the-box kind of vision, in a sense it is already out of date in some respects: namely, listening to a book on a tablet PC. It may be different in the USA, but certainly in the UK the tablet does not appear to have had the hoped-for unqualified success.

But that is, in a sense, to split hairs. The principles of the vision are sound, with technology being used and experienced as an integral part of the educational process (in the broadest sense of the term) rather than simply for its own sake. In other words, in Warlick’s vision of the future it is well and truly embedded.

The story, as Warlick points out, is founded on a number of assumptions about technology and other factors – for example, the children in the story are confident users of the technology: in other words, there is no doubt that they are “digital natives”. But, acknowledging, in effect, that everything dates, the author invites the reader to contribute to the debate online because, as he says, we know almost nothing about the future for which we are preparing our students. Scary.

The book provides a great overview of the digital landscape in an educational context. For example, bemused teachers will welcome the guide to instant messaging jargon (assuming their school hasn’t banned IM, of course!).

What I especially like about the book is its checklists of action items. So many so-called visionary tomes leave me thinking, “OK, but what do I do?”. Whether you’re a principal, media specialist, technician, teacher , student or parent, this book will give you plenty to think about and some practical things to try out.

For USA residents, the book is excellent value for money at around $26. For UK readers, at £25 it’s a little pricey but, on balance, worth the investment.

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