Essential Understandings for 21st Century Literacy

Last week our elementary admin team along with our curriculum coordinators had an excellent meeting about the direction our school is moving in terms of technology and 21st century literacy. Here at ISB we have amazing resources, all the hardware and software you could ever want, and we’re focusing our professional development on authentically embedding technology into our core curriculum units of study. We have the most supportive admin team I, personally, have ever worked with and, of course, a fantastic tech department.

Basically, we have all of the big pieces in place for success, but now we need to really clarify our vision, to create a common understanding of what we want to achieve with all these resources. And, since I am, apparently, the “expert” (and I use that term quite loosely here) in 21st century literacy, I want to take the time to really synthesize my own thoughts on the topic. In all honesty, this is a post I’ve been meaning to write for ages, but keep putting off because it intimidates me. But, we have our next meeting tomorrow morning, so I guess I better get my act together now!

I have been bookmarking everything I find that has the term 21st century literacy involved, but there are lots of variations in everything I read. There is just so much out there that it can be overwhelming – especially for someone who may not be comfortable with the tools, or who may not be aware of the changes that are taking place in education and, more generally, in our society. I have learned so much in just this last year of blogging, and now, in the past few months with Twitter I feel like I’ve already exponentially increased my learning (another post in the works on that whole topic) that the task of distilling all this learning down to a series of essential understandings is a bit scary. But here goes:

The goal of 21st century literacy is to move beyond obsessing about the terminology and the technology, to accept that technology is a crucial and critical aspect of our lives, and that as such, it must be used as a tool to better understand our world, to search for solutions to the problems facing our global society, and to develop a better and brighter future. 21st century literate students and teachers are those who understand that their learning and creativity can, and should, directly and positively impact our world.

All and all, my big three concepts for 21st century literacy are that students and teachers must be:

Effective Learners

Students and teachers will understand that learning is a lifelong process and that the pace of technological change requires us to focus on learning how to learn, rather than learning specific tools. It is expected that neither students nor teachers will know how to use every available tool, rather that they will be comfortable learning how to use new tools independently.

Independent learning requires that student and teachers are able to evaluate information for authenticity, relevance and bias as well as evaluate tools for applicability and effectiveness. As independent learners, teachers and students will be able to filter out unimportant stimuli and information so that they can focus on the important and useful, to be able to navigate graphical interfaces as well as different types of text and media formats.

Lifelong learners are reflective, they routinely practice metacognition to think about how and why they understand what they do, and they constantly strive to look deeper at their own thinking, processes and practices. Lifelong learners are intrinsically motivated to better understand the world around them and to use that knowledge for self-improvement.

Effective Collaborators

Students and teachers will develop the behaviors, attitudes and dispositions required for working in partnership with others, whether in person or over distances. Global collaboration requires effective communication, social and cultural awareness, and flexibility. Effective collaborators actively take responsibility for their role, and are able to delegate or share responsibility when necessary. Effective collaborators are equally comfortable as either leaders or participants. Effective collaborators appreciate and internalize the essential interdependence of all human endeavors.

Effective Creators

Students and teachers will understand that an essential component of lifelong learning is analyzing, synthesizing and applying what they’ve learned to make an original contribution to society. Effective creators are critical thinkers who are able to “think outside the box” and analyze systems to identify and solve problems. Effective creators are constantly innovating and routinely use metacognition skills to evaluate and improve their own work. Effective creators are goal oriented, using time management and multitasking skills in order to work at their highest level of productivity. Effective creators understand that, as members of an interdependent society, their work must adhere to standards of ethics and social responsibility.

What are your essential understandings for 21st century literacy?

Tags: 21st century literacy, globalcitizens, collaboration, learning, creating, vision, philosophy, understanding

16 thoughts on “Essential Understandings for 21st Century Literacy

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  2. Effective Learners
    Effective Collaborators
    Effective Creators

    You pretty much sum up what learners will need to be if they are to be successful 21st century citizens. I am defining ‘successful’ as those who survive – Alvin Toffler put it well: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

  3. Kim
    You and I are on the same path this year with our respective new schools. It means coming to a shared vision and understanding of what 21st century learning is all about and how ICT and e-Learning can support this. It is also about how to spread the word and move on from thinking IT is in its own box, skills delivered via a ‘lab’ and that technophobia is the norm.
    I would add ‘Communication’ as an essential skill. I know you have combined this with collaboration above, but I think as a concept and a practice it needs its own platform.
    Darren, thanks for sharing the great 21st century learning resource.

  4. The same day that you posted this, I answered a question on David Warlick’s blog. http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/2007/10/03/im-not-teacher-bashing/
    He asked:
    * How would you define the 21st century teacher?
    * How would you define the 21st century classroom?
    * How would you define the 21st century student?

    I answered:
    Connected, Collaborative, Creative…and free of the limitations of standardized testing!

    I really like your idea of “Effective Learners”, it goes beyond ‘problem solvers’ or ‘critical thinkers’ and seems to be a great umbrella term for what we want our students to be… more than just creative collaborators, students that think about learning, and students that know how to learn.

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  6. Kim-
    Rick Biche pointed me to your blog and I am so glad he did. Our school is just beginning to look at the tools and technologies of 21st century literacy. Your descriptors for the three efficacies have helped me wrap my mind around the many different ideas I’ve read around the web on the topic. In fact, you’ve sent me on a spiral of instructional questions about how to translate these skills into something attainable and useable by all students, which I’ll post in my own space so as not to take up time here…but I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on the issue.
    In the meantime, thanks for the clarity!

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