The Literacy Revolution and Preliteracy

In his Wired Magazine column, “Clive Thompson on the New Media” (posted 08.24.09), Thompson considers the findings in the Stanford Study of Writing by Andrea Lunsford, a well-known figure in the world of composition studies. Thompson notes Lunsford’s observation that contrary to popular belief, young people are actually writing more–not less–than previous generations, which is spurring what Lunsford refers to as a “literacy revolution.” In other words, all the texting, blogging, and FaceBooking that people do is increasing their literacy. I’m not surprised to hear this because one of the truisms of literacy theory is that the more you read and write, the better you are at reading and writing, and the better you are it, the more you do it. It’s an upward spiral of increasing and using skills, and a very good reason to read to young children and engage them in writing games in order to give them preliteracy skills that will later develop into actual literacy. In light of Lunsford’s findings, can we broaden the definition of preliteracy skills to include playing with computers, learning how to turn them on, knowing what an email is, writing pretend emails, etc?


4 comments on “The Literacy Revolution and Preliteracy

  1. Many composition courses focuses on pre-writing techniques to get ideas flowing and to get students comfortable with the writing process. Facebook, then, is a pre-writing technique!

  2. I think the issue of “broadening our definition of literacy” is a key one. There’s lots of talk about “computer literacy” or “technological literacy” and even “cultural literacy,” but we should interrogate, I think, what we mean when we apply the concept of “literacy” to something other than “letters.” I’m not saying I’d restrict the definition of literacy, but it’s something we should pay attention to.

  3. The Telegraph article ( is particularly interesting to me on two different levels — the first is as a parent. I have been texting with my seven-year-old daughter for a little more than a year now because I believe that texting is a way that she can use a real world application of the spelling and reading skills she is learning at school. Gwen texts her grandmother, who lives half the year in Hawaii, several times a week. And while her grandmother uses textisms in her responses to Gwen (which I don’t necessarily approve of — consider your audience), Gwen responds in complete words and sentences. Gwen understands the textisms and, at some level, I feel this is important because (and this is the second level of interest) textisms are really just new cultural symbols, aren’t they? Just as Reid points out in “The Evolution of Writing” (, the use of symbols was a means of gaining “a social, competitive advantage.” Texting, much like social networking sites, give people that advantage because these tools enable people to network more effectively. Textisms offer a sort of shorthand for more time-efficient communication. I do believe, as the Telegraph article suggests, that proficient use of textisms requires proficiency with the language they aim to abbreviate.

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