What Defines Literacy?

In our everyday lives, we are constantly interpreting, evaluating and constructing meaning out of information that is expressed or presented to us through a variety of media. Within the context of learning, it is critical that young children are equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skills that will enable them to exercise these abilities throughout their schooling years and beyond.

Literacy thus embraces a range of cognitive and physical capabilities that are intrinsically linked to language and provide individuals with the opportunity to ‘function smoothly’ (Freebody, 2012, p.4) in complex settings. What Freebody highlights here is the ability of individuals to perform and understand reading and writing related tasks with greater precision, fluidity and confidence. Nevertheless, in recent years the challenge to define literacy emerges from the idea that its meaning continues to change with the times. Therefore, literacy in a sense is not restricted to a specific skill but pervades many learning areas (National Curriculum, 2009, as cited in NSW Department of Education and Training Learning and Development, p.12) whilst extending to include the manner in which individuals articulate and project their ideas, emotions and perceptions.

While it is important for children to be literate, literacy skills on their own are inadequate to guarantee success within and away from the classroom environment (Barton, 2007, as cited in Freebody, 2012, p.4). In addition to literacy skills, particular behaviours and dispositions may motivate and drive students to apply their knowledge of language to broader situations (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2013, p.1). Such situations may encompass children learning to work independently or interacting with others co-operatively.

Literacy. What is it?

Literacy. What is it?

Tan, S. (2008). Tales from outer suburbia (pp.8-19). Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin.

Children can develop their literacy skills within an engaging learning environment.

Children can develop their literacy skills within an engaging learning environment.

Chylinski, L. (2013). Composition in architectural rendering [Illustration]. Retrieved 16 March, 2014, from Creative Media Illustration Inc., A New Classroom, http://www.cmistudio.com/blog/Classroom/Classroom.htm#.U4sqWShpcV4

Oral literacy is inherent to written literacy.

Oral literacy is inherent to written literacy.

Woodson, J. & Blackall, S. (2010). Pecan pie baby (pp.1-32). New York: Putnam Juvenile.

Literacy: Growing a repertoire of English usage (ACARA 2009, p.6)

Literacy: Growing a repertoire of English usage (ACARA 2009, p.6)

Jeram, A. (2002). I love my little story book (pp. 1-26). London: Walker Books.


Freebody, P. (2012). Knowledge about language, literacy and literature in the teaching and learning of English. In A. Simpson, S. White, P. Freebody, & B.Comber (Eds.), Language, Literacy and Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2012). Curriculum Development Process (pp.3-19). Sydney: Author.


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