As I was sitting, brainstorming, trying to imagine how one would go about teaching literacy in the 21st century, I was having a terrible time with it. My thoughts were random, disconnected, and all over the map. Even using mind maps, I couldn’t seem to organize my thoughts about what a 21st century classroom would look like. Then it dawned on me that I didn’t have a clear picture of how literacy was defined. Since it’s obvious that the “Three R’s” are—while not irrelevant—mostly outdated, and David Warlick’s “Three E’s” are slightly nebulous, I wanted to define for myself what I believed 21st century literacy was. You can click on the graphic below to see how I laid out my ideas on how to define literacy.
The basic premise is three-fold in that 21st century literacy is comprised of three areas (I couldn’t escape the philosophical trifecta): Communication, Problem Solving, and Content Knowledge. The reason I broke it down in this manner is because I looked at myself and other working adults and realized that 99.9% of their waking lives falls into one of these three categories. Do these three (non-alliterated) branches replace the “Three R’s”? Not in the slightest. In fact, you can see from the graphic that both the “Three R’s” and the “Three E’s” are each present under each wing (represented by green lines) of my vision of 21st century literacy. For example, it is not possible to effectively communicate without the ability to read, write, or do basic math. It is likewise not possible to effectively solve problems without the abilities to “expose, employ, and express.”
While this could be the subject of an entire research project in and of itself, this was simply something I had to do to get to the real crux of the matter—imagining how to teach literacy in the 21st century. With my own definition of literacy clearly laid out (for me), the next step was to decide how one would instill this new literacy in students; what tools would a school/classroom employ to make their students literate in communication, problem solving, and content knowledge? A three-pronged (alliterated this time, naturally) approach of Collaboration, Creation, and Community (see graphic below).
All three of these approaches are served and delivered by what I called a “Challenge Team.” This team is not a grade-level team, per se (though it might be at the younger levels), but rather, just a team whose strengths and weakness are complimentary to each other so that every aspect of a student’s needs are met by at least one member of this team. This team would stay with the group of students for as long as was practically possible (K-12 in an ideal world). The team would include (or designate from within) one member who is a library/media/research specialist, and one who is an information technology (IT) specialist. It is the responsibility of this team to design (or gather) all curricula for the students, so that it is perfectly tailored to their strengths and weaknesses. They would also make sure to ask of each other “why are we learning this” so that they can make decisions on the value of the material before the students ever encounter it.
I won’t go into great depth about my “Three C’s” (again, source of an entire project), I would just say that I again looked at the “real-world” lives of people and tried to figure out how to best prepare students for this “real world.” Collaboration doesn’t only happen between the students, but also between curricula, and between what I called “cultures” (this could literally include foreign cultures/peoples, but could also just mean people from other schools or states). Community will be emphasized (as it is currently de-emphasized in modern academia) through service-based education, ethics-based education, and network-based education. In other words, learning in the context of the greater community (how do I get along with and work beside all the other people in the world?). Finally, students would learn the material for the purpose of creation. This not only forces students to cover fewer things in greater depth, but also helps them figure out (on their own) how one would “ever use this” in life. This also gives them the opportunity to teach what they have learned to others, for as we know, teaching others is the best way to learn for yourself.
I apologize for the length of this, but as I said, I had to put more thought into this than I had originally intended, so what you get is the result of all that thought. Please share in the comments below any thing you agree or disagree with and how you might change it.