Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Literacy through Sustainability

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Literacy through Sustainability

Article excerpt


In this Practical Strategies section, we will examine how you can use the topics in Sustainability to incorporate the teaching and learning of literacy in your classroom. For the most part, we will discuss traditional literacy, but we would also like to touch on the importance of emotional literacy and the great opportunity to incorporate scientific and geographical literacies into your students' learning. In the activities section, you will find some engaging ways to use sustainability as a vehicle for literacy across the middle years of schooling. All activities presented can be modified as necessary or appropriate for particular purposes and for particular year levels.

Defining sustainability

The term sustainability means many things to many people. Shelley likes the definition 'enough for all forever'. When engaging with students, she likes to explain that we need to have enough clean air to breath, clean water to drink and bush to go exploring in. To live sustainably, we need to look after the planet and make sure that our great-great-great grandchildren have the same resources to live as we do.

Sustainability can be a difficult concept for adults to define, so you can imagine how hard it is for some children when they hear terms like sustainability, environment and climate change. And this is before talking about the differences between natural environment and man-made environment. Before getting into the nitty gritty of developing some useful lessons, it is really important to make sure that the basic definitions are clear. It might even mean that you need to go over these terms at the start of every lesson, regardless of the age of your students; or consider what would be the benefits if you explore how sustainability is already understood within your community and then use that to scaffold to your definition.

Sustainability is cross-curricular

Sustainability is a topic that the Australian Curriculum identifies for cross-curricular learning (see Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, (ACARA), n.d.). Literacy, as one of the general capabilities of the curriculum, is thus inherently a part of any study of Sustainability (see ACARA, 2013). The sustainability priority is set out in Organising Ideas (see ACARA, n.d.). They reflect that sustainability and environmental issues are very complex topics and should be incorporated across the curriculum. Often this means considering sustainability through cross-curricular units and activities. The Australian Curriculum expects us to cover learning areas widely (and creatively); for example, when we look at waste and recycling; but how much more might be covered when topics come from community life experiences (e.g., maintaining gardens in drought)?

Have you read The Lorax by Dr Seuss (1971)? Through this classic environmental story about a dramatic consequence of cutting down trees for a perceived need, a clear environmental message based in facts is learnt from fiction. This particular fiction genre uses the mediums of literature, including poetry, and the arts, including cartoons. The content can cover Sustainability, Science, Geography, English and Communication and the Arts.

With picture book genres, children hear your voice and see the words that you are in the act of reading to them, at the same time as they see static images. They have time to observe these, which is a good basis for discussing them. And there is more. Pictures may convey more than the words, so being able to carefully observe adds another learning dimension. More comes in a discussion from text and/or images, rich in ideas and concepts and applications to the students' lives here and now. Anywhere through this, learnings from discipline-based subjects may occur to grow understanding of the environmental context. For example, in The Lorax, that trees provide our healthy air; in Waddle giggle gargle! …

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