Twenty-first century education is becoming…less fuzzy. Twenty-first century education is evolving. We are in the midst of a shift – we are “jumping the next curve,” as author Guy Kawasaki would tell us. To reach our 21st century destination in education, we must not only embrace but more importantly guide the change that is occurring in the way our students are now learning and living.
One such way to guide our students is to lay out new literacy standards – and indeed, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has laid out 21st century literacy standards. It is exactly work such as this that helps us wrap our arms around 21st century learning. The jump to the next curve in this instance is to look at literacy standards in a new way – in a 21st century way.
“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—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable,” according to NCTE.
At a gifted education school such as Quest Academy, students show great interest in becoming technology-literate because these literacies require higher-order thinking skills beyond reading comprehension. Furthermore, these literacies enrich learning – they offer far greater possibility to advance one’s reading and writing on any one given topic.
NCTE has laid out six 21st century skills, some of which I will attempt to expand on in the context of higher order thinking. According to NCTE, 21st century readers and writers need to:
1. “Develop proficiency with the tools of technology”
2. “Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally”
3. “Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes”
4. “Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information”
5. “Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts”
6. “Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments”
Just looking at Standard 3, it is becoming clear that one’s writing needs to become more focused than ever before on one’s audience. Technology enables our writing to be “consumed” throughout the world and to be “filtered” for special audiences. Gifted students will relish the opportunity to compare and contrast communication styles across the globe or determine if a text needs to be designed and formatted differently for older and younger generations.
Standard 4, for example, is already pre-loaded with classic higher-order thinking skills such as analysis or synthesis. Let’s suppose for a minute that 2nd graders have been assigned to research Martin Luther King’s life – a simple “google search” will steer them to a myriad of excellent…and – quite frankly – horrible web sites. Among the top five Google searches for Martin Luther King is a site entitled martinlutherking.org that includes racist statements. The site is camouflaged to “trick” kids. Kids need to learn to judge web sites in addition to knowing how to find out who publishes web sites.
Standard 6 speaks of ethical responsibilities – the topic of ethics itself is rich material for gifted students. The Internet can serve as a platform for gifted students to change the world to a better place. Creating web sites or games that promote ethical and service-learning related ideas are terrific opportunities for gifted students to put their creativity and intellect to practical use.
The gifted education community, in my opinion, would be wise to endorse these 21st century literacies. They represent rich and value-added opportunities for gifted students.