Literacy: What It Is, Types And Stages Of Development

A concept that refers to the ability to create knowledge from reading.


The learning processes through which we acquire information and knowledge are many and varied, and research around them increasingly takes into account factors and aspects of the environment which influence the development of our ability to learn.

One of these concepts is that of literacy, a term referring to learning processes that takes into account not only individual capacities in terms of literacy, but also the influence that the sociocultural context and the role of the person have on this. process.

What is literacy?

Literacy is understood as the concept that refers to the set of competencies and skills that enable the person to collect and process information in a certain context by reading and converting it into knowledge, which can be expressed orally or by writing.

However, the concept of literacy is characterized by emphasizing the sociocultural vision of learning. In other words, it goes beyond the borders of cognitive abilities. Literacy not only takes into account recognition and understanding through language, but also recognizes the influence of social context, the roles and dynamics of the reader and the writer, as well as possible interlocutors.

Types of literacy

This sociocultural conception of learning through the written language specifies that various types of literacies can occur. Some of them are vernacular literacies, which refer to reading learning in everyday life, and official or regulated literacies.

In addition, there are a large number of areas in which literacy can be given. Learning theorists have come to propose such as financial literacy, employment literacy, critical, information literacy, digital, or disciplinary, to name just a few of them.

Taking into account this great variability within literacy, the abilities and skills that make a person an expert in a certain type of literacy are also very varied, which means that the ability to read or write is only part of the set of faculties necessary to develop and obtain literacy in a specific area.

Key concepts

There are two concepts that are key when it comes to understanding the notion of literacy. These are the Literacy Events and Literacy Practices.

1. Literacy events

Also known as literate events, they refer to all everyday or day-to-day situations in which written language plays a fundamental role. These literacy events are evident in reading signs, posters, forms, pamphlets, or documents.

However, for these actions to be considered as literacy, the person must possess in their repertoire of skills the knowledge of the rules and conformities that are tacitly in the situation, known as literacy practices.

2. Literacy practices

Literacy practices, or literate practices, encompass the social and cultural rules and conformities mentioned above. These provide meaning to the situation or context in which the act of reading occurs.

What are the principles of the rule?

As a result of what is described by the theories that define the concept of literacy, we can break down a series of principles by which it is governed. These principles are specified in the following statements:

  • The acquisition and learning of literacy is possible through the combination of explicit and implicit learning. In addition, these are given gradually so that it can be improved and perfected.
  • For literacy to occur, the mediation or influence of sociocultural factors is necessary .
  • These skills can be given beyond the school environment, and can be developed regardless of the sociocultural group or age.
  • In addition to the ability to understand written letters and symbols, literalism requires knowledge and interpretation of all kinds of representations of information, such as, for example, icons and graphics.

Finally, in order to acquire literacy, people require situations or contexts with a meaningful purpose that allow them to put literacy into practice. In the same way, it is necessary to present all kinds of opportunities to apply them in different situations that motivate it.

How is it developed and expressed in learning?

Although there is no “protocol” or fixed and predetermined stages that regulate the literacy learning process, we can distinguish a series of phases that, although they appear diffuse, serve to guide us in how people acquire these capabilities.

There are three moments through which literacy develops: emergent literacy, formal learning, and literacy.

1. Emerging Literacy

From the first years of people’s lives, they are exposed to all kinds of information and messages represented in writing, which they must interpret and work with their uses and meanings.

Before starting school, the child is surrounded by books, advertisements, brochures and catalogs and all kinds of press or documents with letters and symbols, all associated with the culture to which the child belongs.

This phenomenon, which occurs long before literacy or formal learning, is called emergent literacy and can be reflected in the child’s ability to know how to use a book or what the symbols he perceives refer to.

2. Formal learning

Next, the school stage begins in which the person acquires the formal skills that allow literacy, as well as phonological skills, which at first consists of learning in itself (learning to read and write) will become a means of learning other knowledge.

3. Literacy

At the same time as formal learning, the person acquires, gradually and through the experiences of their daily life, all the necessary skills that make up literacy.

These situations favor the improvement of these skills, which will become specific literacies for each of the subjects.

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