Developing a Keynote: Why Literacy Matters

screenshot of Literacy Matters Presentation
It seems like a long, long time ago that I was invited by my friend Ben Davis to give a keynote address to the Red Mountain Writing Project’s 21st Century Literacies Conference. And yet, here it is. Tomorrow, I will be presenting my thoughts and stories on what it means to be teaching in a world dominated by shifts to the Common Core, and technology as tools for writing, and more. (Today, I travel). I’m excited about the opportunity to visit Birmingham, Alabama, and of course, a tad bit nervous about the responsible of giving one of the keynote addresses (the other is by writer Sharon Draper). I hope what I have to say resonated with the crowd, and I hope I am not boring.

As I have been developing the ideas to present, I have been working hard to connect what I teach to not only what is expected of me as a teacher in this standardized environment (ie, Common Core influence), but also, how I can best engage my sixth graders as writers in this digital age when our definitions of writing is in the midst of some shift, and just what that may mean to a classroom teacher.  My aim is to share my own classroom experiences, and to relate how I try to “pay attention” to what my students are doing with their literacies outside of school. I’ll work to weave those stories together into a narrative that (hopefully) inspires others.

I named my talk “Literacy Matters” because it seems to me that now, more than ever, writing and literacy is at the heart of all that our students are doing — in school and out of school. When they communicate via text messaging, they are engaging in literacy. When they shoot a video and post it online, they are engaged in literacy. When they play a video game, they are engaged in literacy. When they write a story or an essay or a poem or a reflection, they are engaged in literacy. The technology aspect of composition sometimes hides the literacies taking place, however, and we need to make those ideas more visible, bring them to the surface.

That’s part of my intention, anyway. I hope it goes well.


Here is a handout that I developed to accompany my talk.
Literacy Matters Handout


Peace (in the keynote),


  1. This is a great point…
    I try to “pay attention” to what my students are doing with their literacies outside of school.
    If more of us paid attention would the shift of literacies be more natural?

  2. I so struggle with the “keynote” idea and try to do almost anything else to break the “lecture/speech” paradigm, because I don’t think that I can show people how to pay attention to student needs by giving a presentation prepared before I’ve met anyone.

    So I like to get up with an arsenal of tools – a YouTube List, a few PowerPoints perhaps, a TodaysMeet Room, a Google Doc or two, so I can flow with what seems needed in the room.

    But when I think “literacy” I think of the phrase, “its all narrative” because “it is all narrative.” Whether via print or audio or video or art or graphs or numbers, we are picking a story to tell, and telling it, or we are picking a story to hear and trying to comprehend it.

    And we want our kids to be good at narratives because we want the world to hear their stories.

  3. I don’t have to work with the common core, so I cannot speak to that, but your handout seems very organized with good resources to follow up on. Those teachers who are just beginning to ponder all the new literacy resources will love your talk and your weaving in and out of the classroom.

    • Linda
      You always leave the most wonderful comments. I don’t always get a chance to thank you, but: thank you. I appreciate that you spend time here and take time to add your own thoughts.

  4. Kevin, thank you. I tracked back because my e-mail gives me new comments & I want to reply to Ira saying that I agree so whole heartedly, that every thing is story. I teach my students that way, that no matter what, they are telling a story-beginning middle end-a memory, how to explain the causes of the Civil War, a poem about losing a friend, a game (as you’ve shown us)–it is all a story (or narrative). Great point!

  5. I always learn so much when I read your blog, Kevin…and the responses, too.
    Lately, I’m putting a workshop presentation together (which has much less pressure than a keynote, but is similar). I thought I was going to focus on student engagement and how technology can aid that process…but after reading your entry I may focus more on how I try to give my students opportunities to be literate in ways that are meaningful to them (again, similar but different). And I may throw in Ira’s comments on it all being a narrative — I’m telling a story about the story of my class and how they share their stories…
    And I think I will finish every sentence with “…which is part of the Common Core.” — just to keep people’s attention.
    Life is a weird story.
    And a fun one.
    Thanks for the volumes you write — you’re making sense (in case you wanted to know).
    (now go to sleep)

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