It’s our 4th anniversary and we’re kicking off a new feature! Our first installment of “Busting some literacy myths” takes a look at the long-lived notion that literacy = reading. Learn one way this common misconception might be more accurate than it seems, and how this can help you in your practice.
It’s Health Literacy Month, and it’s the 4th anniversary of this podcast show! In celebration, I’m starting an occasional series, which I’m calling “Busting some literacy myths,” where I take on some of the more common misconceptions about literacy I’ve run into, and help you turn them around.
Hi everybody. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners, an independent health-equity focused education and communication consultancy. If your organization needs expert help on any topic in this series, visit healthcommunicationpartners.com.
Today’s episode sponsored by Maven Roth Group. You listen to this show because you’re good with language and you want to get even better. You‘ve got the words; let Maven Roth do the rest! From designing images, reports, logos, templates, and social graphics for your organization, to spreading the word thru digital, print, billboards, radio and television, Maven Roth has you covered, all the way to media buying and management. Visit mavenroth.com today.
You know that literacy doesn’t equal reading, but I’ll tell you, this myth dies hard!
And I get it. If someone is literate we take that to mean they can read. So it’s a short step to literacy equating with reading.
As it turns out, there’s not a single term that’s a synonym for literacy. No matter what camp you’re in in literacy world, everyone agrees that literacy is a collection of skills and practices. Early literacy research, yeah, was focused on writing and reading, and then expanded to include talk about reading and writing, and then images got pulled in there, and now digital forms of literacy are part of it, too.
So you may think, “Anne Marie, would it be fair to say literacy is reading writing listening speaking?” I think that’s a big step in the right direction. Let’s take it another step in that direction.
I mention this is our 4th podcasting anniversary, and one of our very first episodes was patient misconceptions and dealing with them. And that’s really the inspiration for literacy feature around myths. I’m going to attempt to walk my talk and do what I recommended you do when someone approaches you with a misconception.
For instance, the first step I made here was telling you, “I hear you, I hear the myth and I see how it makes sense, I see where you’re coming from.” Then I did a little bit of “here’s where I’m coming from.” Now I’m gonna attempt to build a bridge between us, between our understandings.
I’m gonna suggest that we work with this misconception that literacy = reading. Because I think there’s a way this kind of limited notion of literacy could help us get to a really rich notion, some new understanding about literacy. For this, I’m going to turn to Paolo Freire.
Effective Patient Education Audiobook Bundle
This bundle of audiobook, eBook, and supplementary materials will help make your life easier. And it might change the way you think about patient education, no matter your specialization or patient population. You get practical, culturally and linguistically relevant advice and research-based tools, in an unfussy, conversational format. All sales support this podcast series.
You may know him as the Brazilian educator, theorist, activist, and he’s probably best know for popularizing the idea of critical pedagogy. There is a phrase Freire is known for, very well, and that’s “reading the word and the world.”
“Reading the word and the world.” I remember when I first encountered this in grad school, I didn’t get it. And I struggled because it seemed that everybody else around me ‘got it.’ So I really had to work with this and kind of turn it over in my head. It took years for me to start to appreciate it. So what I want to share with you is one of the understandings I have come to about this phrase “reading the word and the world.” Because I think it might be helpful. And now it occurs to me as kind of obvious and straightforward, but I don’t know!
We read people. We read people, right? We read scenarios, we read situations. We read a room. We read body language and facial expressions. We read people’s intentions. In these cases, reading means a kind of noticing, judging, maybe formulating some thoughts about, making sense of. Situations, people, goings-on in the world. We’re always reading the world. We misread it too, right? We misread people or we misread scenarios as well, right? Misread someone, misread a thing that happened. So, reading as meaning making sense of, knowing that sometimes we read it wrong.
Now in literacy the idea of reading is broad, we can read a text. The idea of text is broad too. Texts can be written texts, they can be spoken texts. So when we hear someone talking, in a sense we’re also reading their words. We’re also doing more than that, we’re doing more than reading their words. We’re also reading them. Whether or not they’re there, right? Right now you’re listening to a podcast episode. It’s audio only, so all you have is the words.
Or do you?
Whether or not you’re doing it consciously, you’re also reading me, as the speaker of those words. You’re making some judgements about my intent, even my character, my intelligence, my very clunky sense of humor, my likability, my trustworthiness. You’re reading me– and that impacts how you read or understand and interpret my words.
But wait: there’s more.
We’re also always reading the situation. This is a big one so I’m just gonna give one question to start to unpack it a bit. Consider this: why are you listening to this episode?
I ask this question because part of the scenario you’re reading includes the reason you’re there. And this also impacts how you are ‘reading’ my words. I will explain! Quick example: many people listen to this series as part of a class. Ps if that’s you, please write me! Because #1 I love hearing from students and #2 I love hearing how these episodes go in a class. Kind of what happens, how it all goes down. So yeah social media, annemarie@h-cpartners please get in touch with me, I love hearing from classes.
So let’s say this is your scenario. You’re listening to this as part of a class, knowing that, say, you’re going to have a discussion about it afterward in which you will be expected to say or write something smart that will count, maybe even toward a grade. All of this impacts how you pay attention to and think about – how you read – my words.
In contrast, imagine you’re just listening to this on your own. You’re listening to this show because you like podcasts and you care about the subject. And you’re at home, and you’re emptying the dishwasher while you’re listening to it. Your read of the situation also affects how you pay attention to and think about – how you read – my words, which is potentially different in interesting ways than if you were a student in a class.
You’re reading the words and the world. And your read of the world has a huge impact on how you read the words. Wrapping your head around that, like I did, will help you to a more powerful understanding of what literacy is. So I’m gonna invite you to try. WHY? What’s in it for you? A lot, I think. But I’m going to connect it to practice in 2 ways.
- It gives you a way to think about people. Keep in mind, patients, clients, the public, you, me, we are all constantly reading the word and the world. You from your perspective, me from mine, other people from theirs.
- You have more options for action, for what you’re going to do. Next time you’re approaching a project or situation and health literacy is on your mind, remember: everyone is reading the word and the world, including you. This opens up ways you can come at a conversation or a situation or project. There are more pieces of the interaction that you know about now, and that you can choose to act upon.
Now I’m writing a whole book about health literacy from this perspective and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got thoughts or ideas or questions. I’m on twitter, I’m on linked, feel free to connect with me there, or go ahead and email me. Annemarie@h-cpartners and you can always go to healthcommunicationpartners and click on contact. This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. Audio engineering and music by Joe Liebel. Happy Anniversary little bro! I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel, thanks for listening.