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21st Century Literacy

Evolving Forms of Literacy

A language arts teacher in Shelbyville, Kentucky says schools need to maxmize the use of new media to engage students.

by Paul Barnwell

In some ways, I’m old school. I love to read books and write Op-Ed pieces, short essays, and I’ve recently attempted to write a short story. But I also spend a couple of hours of the day reading blogs, seeking out information on the Internet, working on my website, visiting Facebook and or watching a video or two online. What is literacy? Do schools do enough to teach and practice evolving literacies?

I recently embarked with 12 fellow teachers at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English on an exploration of digital literacies, attempting to define media literacy, explore the possibilities of empowering students through new media work, and learn various practical classroom applications. We started on the first day of class by creating media timelines to compare and contrast our personal evolutions of media use and consumption. The timelines, unsurprisingly, revealed the exponential growth of personal and societal media production and consumption.

By the end of the first week of class, we were neck-deep in the exploration of evolving literacies.

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Classroom Tips and Strategies

On Tara Seales’ blog, Enhanced English Teacher, you’ll find scores of useful tips on using digital tools to teach reading and writing. Check out her suggestions for To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, and working with Ning.

Dawn Hogue teaches a class called CyberEnglish in Wisconsin. She shares strategies and resources on Ms. Hogue’s Online English Resources.

Kristin Hokanson is a high school technology coach in Pennsylvania. On The Connected Classroom, Kristin blogs about how schools are succeeding - and failing - to meet the demands of the digital age. 

Other great sites include:

 Bill Bass Online - a technology integration specialist in St. Louis

The Fischbowl - Karl Fisch, director of technology in Arapahoe, Colorado


What are some of the skills and competencies of 21st Century Literacy?

In the video below, members of Project New Media Literacies, an initiative of MIT, discuss what it means to be truly literate in today's interconnected world.

NEA Today: Turning the Page

Students are living in a digital world. Are schools ready to join them?

Twitter in the Classroom?

Check out this video on using the popular microblogging tool in language arts classrooms.


The Partnership for 21st Century Skills

The Center for Media Literacy

The New York Times: The Future of Reading

National Endowment for the Arts: Reading on the Rise