Extending Bélisle’s Three Models of Literacy

monday musings

Photo Credit: Image shared under a creative commons license by Gaby Av


The recent consultation process has given me a lot to think about, particularly in relation to how the levels of the framework will look in the final draft. It was decided, through the feedback from the consultation, that the Expert level would be removed and that a Pre-Beginner level would be added. It was also noted that the labels for the framework levels needed further work (beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert).

We have taken all of the feedback we were given into consideration and have now decided upon the following four levels:

  • Entry – pre-beginner, basic skills.
  • Core – the minimum expected requirements, necessary for school staff to function within the modern classroom.
  • Developer – more self-directed, involving a range of practices and use of advanced features, opening up access to greater participation in the knowledge society.
  • Pioneer – supporting the development of others, actively seeking opportunities outside of those locally available, innovating and changing wider practice.
(Many thanks to Helen Beetham for her support and ideas which have informed the final level labels. Helen worked on the JISC funded Learning Literacies in a Digital Age project. Her blog can be found here)


For a while now we have been interested in Claire Bélisle’s Three Models of Literacy, particularly how the framework might map to the these levels. Josie Fraser discusses Bélisle’s work, among others, in her blog post reflecting on the Online Educa Berlin 2010 Conference. When we look at the framework levels above, and at Bélisle’s models, we can see there are cross overs present.

Three Contemporary approaches to literacy:

Functional Literacy

Bélisle sees this model as based upon the notion of literacy being a set of simple cognitive and practical skills required to function effectively within the community. UNESCO provides a further definition:

‘A person is functionally literate who can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his own and the community’s development.’ (2006, p.154)

The skills and practices pitched at the Core level of the framework can be seen to include those skills which make up the minimum requirement for staff digital literacy. These skills, for example, the ability to create original resources to support learners, are not only necessary for staff to function within today’s classrooms, but also for the development of others within the community – learners.

Socio-Cultural Literacy

‘The cultural dimensions of literacy involve attitudes, values, practices and conventions’ (Bélisle 2006, p.54). Therefore, being competent is being able to know which practices/values are adequate in a given situation. In the context of teaching, this means knowing which skills and practices are the best to apply to the learning situation. It involves having a range of practices that one can utilise where necessary and having the ability to think critically about the use of technology for learning.

Staff working at the Developer level of the framework will have an active interest in the development of their digital literacy. Their professional development will be more self-directed and they will be capable of thinking critically about the technology that they use and its appropriateness for the situation. As Bélisle notes, literacy  can be seen, through the socio-cultural lens, as knowledge acquisition – the capacity to continue constructing one’s own knowledge.

Transformational Literacy

According to Bélisle intellectual empowerment occurs whenever people equip themselves with new cognitive tools. She believes that digital tools provide us with ‘genuinely new raw materials to think with and to produce knowledge’ (2006, p.55). This model of literacy eventually enables a transformation of human thinking capacities – allowing us to see and think about the world in a new way.

The Pioneer has fully integrated technology into their teaching practice and shares their experiences with colleagues and others. They actively seek out opportunities to develop their understanding and skills. They are reflective about their use of technology and use their knowledge to bring about innovation both within the classroom and for whole school community development.


Bélisle, C. (2006) Literacy and the Digital Knowledge Revolution. In: Martin, A. and Madigan, D. (eds.) Digital Literacies for Learning. London: Facet Publishing.

UNESCO Education For All – 2006 Literacy For All (web) (pdf)

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