Responding to Shifting Literacies

On Digital Learning Day, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has issued an updated version of the NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment, including its definition of 21st century literacies. This document not only celebrates the affordances of new digital tools and the contributions they make to literacy learning, it suggests that what it means to be literate has shifted—again.

Here's an excerpt from the definition:

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because 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 are multiple, dynamic, and malleable.

The definition not only calls for proficiency with emerging technology, it uses evocative new phrases to describe what literate people do: “. . . pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought. . . . Design and share information for global communities. . . . Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information. . . . Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts. . . . Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.”

As we move beyond earlier notions of “reading and writing,” the boundaries between literacy processes blur, and responsibility for supporting literacy learners expands to include educators across all disciplines.

The Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment builds on this more capacious definition of literacy by making explicit the implications for how teachers plan, support, and assess student learning. It helps teachers and school-based teams assess their progress by asking direct questions about current practices. For example:

  • Do students share and publish their work in a variety of ways?
  • Do students use information to make decisions as informed citizens?
  • Do students use tools to communicate original perspectives and to make new thinking visible?

As I watch the work of educator groups and teams unfold on the Literacy In Learning Exchange, I’m struck by the parallels between the student literacy skills and practices described in the Framework and the practices of educator teams engaged in collaborative inquiry.

For instance, the NCLE Asset Inventory challenges teams to evaluate how well they “work through a cycle of planning, acting, and reflecting on evidence about our practice.”

Isn’t that kind of analysis exactly what we would expect from educators who, as described in the Framework, are effective in helping students to ". . . share disagreements and new ways of thinking in ways that positively impact the work," ". . . gain new understandings by being part of a group or team," and be ". . . open to and intentional about learning from and with others?" 

Taken together, the vision of student learning and collaboration described in the NCTE documents and the vision of educator learning and collaboration supported by the National Center for Literacy Education provide solid guidance for deeper learning and richer literacy practice.

They place responsibility not only on the shoulders of students and teachers, but on everyone in our society to provide the conditions and resources needed for better learning.

It’s a challenge that is being met in new and innovative ways, as we discover in the many video clips, stories, and vignettes in circulation on Digital Learning Day.

  • File Type: Text
  • Selected Literacy Topics: Digital Literacies