Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Teaching 21st Century Literacy...

“The questions worth posing here are: Does literacy have the same meaning it had in the last century? Do we need a new literacy? What is it to be a 21 st century literate? Is reading text and communicating a good and clear spoken language enough to define literacy? What are the prerequisites of the 21st century literacy? Is digital literacy part of it? Are we in front of one literacy or multiple literacies?[1]”. These questions frame the continuing debates that encircle professionals dealing with educational renewal and student achievement in a 21st Century context. If it is not, then people are not focusing on preparing children for their futures adequately, and expertly.

For many years, we have attempted to encourage teachers to think in terms of what “21st Century Literacy” means, in light of the changing environment of education and technology. But, on a broader level, how can we get students ready for the future and be trained in this new literacy. As Jones-Kavalier and Flanagan (2006) point out, “prior to the 21st century, literate defined a person’s ability to read and write, separating the educated from the uneducated. With the advent of a new millennium and the rapidity with which technology has changed society, the concept of literacy has assumed new meanings. Experts in the field suggest that the current generation of teenagers—sometimes referred to as the E-Generation—possesses digital competencies to effectively navigate the multidimensional and fast-paced digital environment.[2]

According to the National Council for Teachers of English, they offer an excellent definition of literacy from this perspective:
“…technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies- from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms- are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to:
·         Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
·         Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally.
·         Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.
·         Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.
·         Create, critique, analyze, evaluate multi-media texts.
·         Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.[3]

If these guidelines in this noble mission statement are to be held valid and tenable, then we need to foster and encourage the discussions and professional development needed to see them become a viable reality in our schools, sooner, rather than later.

Traditional classrooms view literacy through a two dimensional model of print media. They read, write, and analyze the media on assignments provided by teachers presenting a narrow focus of expectations. While traditional media will always be necessary and required in our world, it is being overshadowed by the reality of student experience in a different model of three-dimensional learning, and the use of a variety of established media that are non-existent in the teaching repertoire of some traditional teachers.[4] “The new media literacy technical skills catapult traditional learning methods into orbit—traditional chalkboards and overheads with pens do not occupy the same realm as current capabilities. As an example, now teachers can do a PowerPoint presentation with streaming video, instant Internet access, and real-time audio-video interaction, and they can do it with relative speed and ease.[5]

Leaders need to move faculty toward this vision of expanded literacy opportunities, and find resources on the Internet a first-order activity. One place to start is the Center for Media Literacy (http://www.medialit.org/) which has a variety of resources that can assist teachers in understanding how these expectations can be developed. One such source is Media Literacy: A system for learning anytime, anywhere. Advertised as “an ideal resource for administrators and staff what want to implement a comprehensive and systematic media literacy program in their district or school with a research-based framework.”[6]

For a vivid presentation on how a school district moves ahead with this vision, check out the Henderson County School District, Hendersonville, NC website on their application of the 21st Century Literacy skills throughout all curricular areas.[7] There are excellent examples of projects, reports and curriculum maps that could serve as a starting place for teachers and schools to adapt accordingly.

We are in the 12th year of the 21st Century, and time for people to get moving with preparing kids for the future.

[1] Kharbach, M. (September 17, 2012). What teachers need to know about 21st Century literacy? [BLOG] Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. Retrieved September 18, 2012 at http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2012/09/what-teachers-need-to-know-about-21st.html?goback=%2Egde_2811_member_164442559
[2] Kavalier-Jones, B. R. and S.L. Flanagan (2006). Connecting the digital dots: Literacy of the 21st century. Educause Review Online, Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/connecting-
[3] The ncte definitions of 21st century literacies. (2008, February 15). Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/21stcentdefinition
[4] Barnwell, P. (2012). Evolving forms of literacy. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/35966.htm
[5] Kavalier-Jones, B. R. and S.L. Flanagan (2006).
[6] [Web log message]. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.medialit.org/