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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Literacy across the curriculum

Using language, symbols, and texts

Using language, symbols, and texts is about working with and making meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed. Languages and symbols are systems for representing and communicating information, experiences, and ideas. People use languages and symbols to produce texts of all kinds: written, oral/aural, and visual; informative and imaginative; informal and formal; mathematical, scientific, and technological.

Students who are competent users of language, symbols, and texts can interpret and use words, number, images, movement, metaphor, and technologies in a range of contexts. They recognise how choices of language, symbol, or text affect people's understanding and the ways in which they respond to communications. They confidently use ICT (including, where appropriate, assistive technologies) to access and provide information and to communicate with others.

From The New Zealand Curriculum

This key competency definition of using language, symbols, and texts opens our eyes to a broad view of texts. 

For example, in a statistics classroom:

  • What happens when a learner makes meaning while reading a graph?
  • Is there a specific audience this graph has been created for?
  • What is the purpose?
  • Who created that graph?
  • When was this graph produced and what was happening at that time to influence the ‘story’ this graph is telling?

Redefining written text

The written language diagram below suggests a wide variety of written text forms. If we overlay a cross-curricula lens to this mind map and add all other subject disciplines, we can see that text and written text forms are contextual, and depend on the audience and purpose.

Written language diagram

This diagram was taken from " Effective Literacy Strategies in Years 9 to 10: A guide for Teachers (2004)" p. 162.

Once you have explored how written texts and non-written texts look different between and within different disciplines, the next step might be to co-create a school definition of text. Here is one example a secondary school literacy team created:

Writing is creating meaningful text for a specific audience and purpose that has specific style and conventions.

This cross-curricular literacy team wanted to be inclusive of all types of texts, so rather than keeping a focus on written texts only, they broadened this view to be all-encompassing depending on the sociocultural context, purpose, and audience. This deliberate change from written to meaningful helps teachers and learners decide what kinds of literacy are meaningful.

What does your school and classroom value as meaningful literacy and language skills, knowledge, and attitudes?

Key resource

NZC Update 23 - Literacy across the curriculum

This Update focuses on the languages, texts, and literacy practices of the different curriculum learning areas.

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Updated on: 20 Mar 2018