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Connecting Literacy Skill Development to the 21st Century

Dr. Katherine McKnight


Connecting Literacy Skill Development to the 21st CenturyWhen we were in high school and college, we learned how to use the Dewey decimal system, note cards, microfiche, and setting the margins in an electric typewriter. We were the last generation of students that actually pounded out papers and research on an electric typewriter and actually memorized the abbreviated guide in the Periodic Guide of Literature as a means to save time.  


The embodiment of a “good” student in our generation was the ability to ferret out morsels of information that were buried in the library shelves and microfiche drawers. This took an exceptional amount of time. Some fellow educators argue that this is actually rigor and teaches academic discipline. Perhaps it did, or at least we’d like to think so.


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As literacy educators, we know that school is very different than our experience as teenage students in the 1980s.

Today, what took us hours to accomplish in the library, our students can accomplish in minutes. A Google search will produce millions of informational pieces that students need to quickly analyze and synthesize.  We would argue that this takes an rigor and academic discipline just as we did in the dusty library stacks.  But there is a very marked difference.  Out students can do this in minutes or even seconds.  

Applying Modern Literacy Skills to Bloom's Taxonomy

As educators we are quite familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy for understanding. If we look at the bottom levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, we know that the lowest level of understanding include recall and the harvesting of information.


As teenagers, we spent hours harvesting information because we went to school (a crazy thought) without the Internet! Now, that stage is almost eliminated.


As a result, we would contend that our 21st century students spend far more time in higher levels of understanding (according to Bloom’s Taxonomy) that include analysis, synthesis and representation. This is an essential difference in our 21st century students than what many of us may have experienced as students.

Modernizing Teaching Techniques for Using Texts

The ways, in which we read text, create text, use text, and how text effects us has completely changed.  As we readily know, we are now in the midst of the technology or digital age and as educators, we often talk about 21st century skills and what these mean now for our students (as most recently articulated in the Common Core State Standards).

If our students are spending more time and focus analyzing, synthesizing, and representing what they know and understand (rather than collecting and memorizing information) we know that this is far more rigorous.  Instead of facts and storing massive amounts of content, our students need to develop skills that facilitate the higher-level skills of analysis, synthesis and representation. Effectively integrating technology in literacy learning so that students are creating expanded and original expressions of comprehension and understanding.

Effectively Integrating Technology to Develop Student Literacy Skills

Start small and build. Integrate a few technology tools and build. The following short list is meant as a means to get started.

This list of suggestions is meant to be a starting point and is no means exhaustive.


Encourage your students to read blogs as well as teach students how to write blogs.  Warren’s students use blogs to research, learn, and comprehend new information. They also use blogs to share their work.  


Here are some sample student blogs from Warren’s students:

Use a Backchannel

When you have large group discussions or when the students are engaged in small groups, you can use a back channel like as a platform where students can report, question, and present what they know and understand.

Google Docs 

Warren regularly uses Google docs with his students as a tool for collaboration, classroom discussion and sharing information and ideas.  What is particularly exciting about Google docs is that students can see each other’s thinking as they all contribute to the document.

Web 2.0 with Edmodo

Think Facebook for education when you explore the possibilities with Edmodo  This web 2.0 tool is social networking site that can further classroom discussions.  In the work that Katie has done in schools across the country, she has seen teachers use Edmodo as a means to organize and share group work as well as continue and expand classroom discussions.

Remember, as you rethink and revise your literacy curriculum to develop 21st century “literacy skill ready” lessons, start by using applications that are familiar and build from there. For example, you’re likely to use Facebook in Education if you’re already using Facebook for social media.


Similarly, if you use Google as a search engine, and Microsoft Word to type and share reports then you are likely to find Google docs an accessible and worthwhile investment. In any case, we need to continually evolve the ways in which we effectively develop literacy skills in students.  


How do you integrate 21st century skills and technology to teach literacy skills? Share in the comments section!

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