I've been talking and writing for years about literacy, what I've been calling Contemporary Literacy, but also coming to call, Learning Literacies. Admitedly, it's easy to talk about this stuff academically. But picturing what it looks like in today's classrooms is a bit messier.

I'd like to start doing that -- figuring out how to collaboratively paint a picture of teaching and learning that is more relevant to today's children and their future. I have some ideas on how to do this, but I thought I would just throw this out here first, and get some first impressions and insights from you guys!

My ultimate goal is a document or product that teachers can come to and get a clear visions of what the 21st century classroom -- and more specifically, the 21st century assignment looks like.

Tags: 21c, basicskills, literacy, retoolingclassrooms

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I guess what I envision is some sort of document or product that would serve as a resource for educators to get a clear picture of what 21st century teaching looks like. I wasn't clear in my original post. I'll see if I can edit it.
David--I respect your work greatly, so I post this reply with great care and from a most humble position. What Skip said above, while flattering to my students and me, is perhaps indeed where we should be starting. We must listen to students first, and not suppose that we can, from our experiences in the past world, even begin to guess what their current and future worlds require of them. While many things stay the same, so many more things are changing! (yes, I did mean to turn that age-old phrase on it's head)

That being said, I'd like to offer the idea that this product you may perhaps may be envisioning must be provided to educators as a role model for how they need to be engaging young learners. We must stop indulging those educators who refuse to move forward. We must speak to them solely in the language of our dreams. A traditional document is certainly not what the future of education needs, as I have no doubt you're well aware, judging by your work.

Instead, we need a multisensory, engaging product that truly speaks, rather than simply tells our current educators HOW our children need to be engaged/taught/exposed to learning and thinking. After the product is created, it must require the educator to approach it in the way we expect our children to learn: collaboratively, multisensorily, with technology, intice engagement, and above all, require the educator to think and problem-solve. That is indeed a tall order for some of our less-willing educators to do. It must be done in this way and it must be done in a manner in which our target educators cannot avoid or subvert it.
Very well said Ginger and well thought out! I agree that stuburnly standing still, refusing to retool for today's children, today's information landscape, and the tomorrow that we are preparing them for, is unforgivable.

I also agree that much of what we need is already going on in the heads of our students. One of the main pieces of advice that I give to my audiences today is "Pay attention to your students" They are going to invent their future, not us. The clues come from them, not our past!

However, I would also caution people to carefully solicit insights from students about education. They to are limited to a historic sense of what the classroom should look like. I have worked with a number of school districts interviewing their students to learn more about what and how they want to be taught, and, although some of what I've heard has been enlightening, I find that most of the time they are thinking very much inside the box. In their mind, there is a pretty thick wall between their inside the classroom and outside the classroom information experiences -- and questions to them should be designed to transcend that wall.
I also agree that talking to students who've only experienced schooling in it's present one-dimension can yield somwhat limited results. However, students who've seen another side of the mountain usually have much more insight to possibilities.

Kevin Honeycutt has spoken with my students after our inaugural year of our new charter school. You can hear their words here, in his Driving Questions podcast series. He questioned the grades 5-8 students and created 3 podcasts called "Kids speak out about what education should be focused on parts, 1-3."

These kids just needed fertile ground and someone to listen to them. I talk with them frequently about what we're doing together and about how together, we're breaking new ground. They're developing metacognition in leaps and bounds, and I've learned more about teaching/learning this year than I have in all my previous years.

I'm also a bit envious of Kevin--he and I have a similar approach toward them, but because he's a sporadic and novel addition to their daily lives, they just SHINE for him! I'm learning to be content in all aspects of the "guide on the side." :) Again, together, educators have the ability to bring out the best in kids! (and a now for a shameless plug -- please consider popping in on a few discussions, spurring on the efforts of those of us in the Distance Collaborations group.)
I've watched that podcast already! Outstanding.
Hi David,

Teaching and learning in the new age--connected, interblended, messy, awkward, warm, artistic, geeky irreverent, bold, and naive. Often oriented towards making a difference, for social purpose, for sharing with an audience from whom you want support, encouragement, recognition, and questioning.

This idea of audience is pretty new. It used to be that a teacher would share a student's really good product with the class, then maybe the school (on a bulletin board?) or parents. Big time, huh? Those were the days of two-dimensional paper products and ephemeral performances, selected by teachers or authorities, posted as proper and meeting the defined standards.

Well, the work from those days (a few years ago?) was qualitatively different from what is happening now.

Now a student can make a product and share it with the world. Selection of audience becomes an essential variable. When was this true before, at such scale? Selection of audience is dicey and uncertain, with important issues of safety... Teachers have to "navigators of performance space," fiercely protective of their charges. (But the students don't need the teachers to go forth, so how can we even watch over them? And even if they'd ask us to help them navigate, do we know enough?)

That's one difference. The ability to make and share a product. That's about output. What about input?

I love how in this day and age we can ask any question of pure information and probably find the answer within 10 minutes. I love to race people "like a bloodhound" to see who can most quickly come up with a reliable source that offers at least one perspective on the answer. What a sport: information hunting. What a Golden Age, that we can do this. How amazing, satisfying, and glorious!

Isn't it great to teach the children how to hunt? Information track-down, that's the key. Of course, to be a hunter you have to know what you're catching. It's got to be the real thing, verifiable, accurate. It has to represent a state of world knowledge, shared by experts, also true in common experience. This aspect of teaching used to be so much less dependent upon one's skills of hunt, selection, and discernment. We have to be on our toes so much more, constantly evaluating. But the thrill...

If only I could take my dad on a tour of this new age. He died before the internet was available for ordinary people; that was 1993. I periodically think about how I'd tour him through the new age, if suddenly he came back and wanted to know. I'd sit him down in front of the computer: Look at the medical information we can access! Think of how this has changed and is changing patient-doctor relations! Look at the scientific papers, demonstrations, travelogs, photographs, videos, studies, writings, reflections, data that we can access RIGHT NOW! Go ahead, ask any question... What fun it would be to play around with my old-age dad, finding out anything we wanted to know. I'd show my dad how we do this, nowadays. I'd talk to him about what it's like, teaching my students how to do this. We'd remember how he and I were so happy, when I went to undergraduate school at the University of Michigan, that I could get into all those libraries and look up anything at all. I had ACCESS.

We'd talk about how, then, I would go from one library to the other (art history, science, grad, undergrad, archaeology libraries, those stuffy but intriguing old buildings), I'd hike from one section of one library to another section of another library. I'd carry card catalog numbers on file cards, and hunt through narrow corridors in basements, looking for obscure volumes of work, searching for actual hold-in-the-hand objects: books! That was back then: modern times for him, but nothing like modern times now. I'd show my dad that today on the internet not only do we often have all of those old libraries' information available--without the walking--but we also have access to millions--gazillions-- of libraries and databanks. We have access to the latest information: articles and studies, just coming out right now! I'd show him my internet science magazines, the cutting-edge studies of today. And we'd laugh as I joked, saying, "I'm supposed to be the teacher! How can anyone keep up with the knowledge?!" And then, after so much touring and thinking, we'd be tired.

To relax, I'd show him some of the museums-of-the-world sites. And there we'd bask, in a delightful state of awe.

By imagining that I could take my dad on a tour of this new age, it's readily apparent to me how things are different. In 10 minutes today, I can do what would have taken me days in the old libraries. And there's so much MORE knowledge, too. Today, we have and never-before-thought-of access to information. It's profound.

Ok, so output's different and input's different. We put out and take in information at lightning speed. Then, input makes the output different. Output makes the input different. Everywhere we look there are qualitative changes in information flow taking place at a geometric pace.

As a consequence, our minds are different. Teaching and learning today requires new kinds of cognition. That's a whole different story, one unfolding before us as we speak. It's hard to say how our individualism and tribal natures will shift, as we immerse ourselves in a world view beyond the "me," beyond the "locality" of our previous alliances.

In addition to cognitive changes, there are constantly shifting authority structures. Who's the teacher, who's the learner? Kids often learn new technology skills faster than we do. How can we remain responsible guides for our students? We are now all in the state of learning, together.

Difference in output, input, cognition, and authority.

Those are my brush strokes in the portrait of teaching and learning today.
This reminds me of August 2006 when school first resumed. Our district clamped down on nutrition and out went the colas and candy in the vending machines, and in came the bottled waters and granola type snacks. The local paper made a big bru-ha-ha, and interviewed many of the middle schoolers on their thoughts. Surprisingly the kids had great comments that showed they understood the rationale and were accepting of the changes. But the photo in the paper garnered a nasty letter to the editor the next day about the state of education and the lack of discipline and respect for schools and teachers because the picture showed students "lounging" in the seats, and books and assorted materials strewn across the floor. When I read the article, my first response was that the teacher of the class interviewed had evidently had an authentic lesson on nutrition, caloric intake, and what happens in the body when too much of the wrong kinds of food were eaten. The kids spoke knowledgeably, even making reference to how eating the right food would allow them to stay alert in classes they attend, and how a football player understood that energy from the right foods would help him on the football field--building muscle and slimming down at the same time. The children quoted were from my school, so of course I was proud and devoured every word. What a shock and dismay to red the angry readers letter. From his letter, you could tell in his opinion they were not going to learn anything unless they were in straight rows facing the front, and quiet. The picture showed cooperative groups of kids enjoying a lively discussion. Its such a shame that after 20 to 50 years, a lot of non educators think school should run the way it was when they were in school. I did not write a letter back, but assured the kids and teacher that I knew a lot of authentic instruction and learning had taken place in that room. It's too bad he (the letter writer) missed the boat on it. He could not get past the fact that the kids in the class did not "look" like he thought they should, and that included organization, structure, physical attentiveness, and dress. : (

It is a shame that because people went to school 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 years ago, they truly believe they are experts of education. This includes politicians, many of whom send their own children to private schools, while claiming to support public education. Going to school does not make one an educational expert any more than walking into a garage makes one mechanic. Unfortunately, everyone outside of education has an opinion (a passionate opinion) about what would make schools better. Going to school may give someone information on what doesn't work, but seldom on what does work.

Professional educators (ones committed to, and trained in the field) fight an uphill battle against parents, politicians, and ne'er-do-wells who believe they know better. "If it was good for me, it's good for them," they will exclaim. Their children sit by, embarrassed in many instances, and are denied the type of education that might just engage them.

I believe before we are able to assist David in Learning Literacy and the debates therein (i.e. tech literacy, info literacy, etc.) we have to discover some way to be taken seriously among people outside of education. We have a long way to go to be taken seriously. Education communities are at least a decade behind businesses, and yet education being mostly theoretical is afraid to experiment. We take few risks because we fear the consequences.

So how do we not only think outside the box, but get our message outside our education box?
You bring up a good point. I fully believe that actions speak louder than words and every single one of us needs to stop closing our classroom doors to do our work in isolation. Yes, it's tough to be exposed out in the big world with our work under public scrutiny. It's tough to not be the one who's doing all the good stuff with all the good ideas--and to actually see that some are doing more/better.
But taking away tenure and expecting us--EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US--to be learning and improving our skills as teachers (as evidenced by student products) will be the key to actual change. Right now, too many mediocre teachers are comfortable in their jobs. It's easy to blame parents/children/society for the changes in our teaching environments, but if business doesn't change for their customers, they die (or the workers are fired before the entire company dies).

Contrariwise, we need to be speaking loudly about the good each of us is doing. Yes, our consequences are high, but NOT doing anything is NOT going to make all the struggles *poof* disappear. It's time for us to put on our suits of honor-armor and bring the good to the people--by actions in the everyday classroom.

Well said. It has been interesting to me to hear/read that nearly half of new teachers quit before year 5. I have wondered why. Is it because it wasn't what they thought it would be? is it that they find something that pays better? Is it that they became disillusioned with the institution of education?

It also makes me wonder why teachers stay. Is it because they move up the ladder to adminstration (non-teaching role)? Is it because they become comfortable with the reality that with every new adminstrator/superintendent comes a new bag of tricks that removes the teacher's need to really grow in their craft...they just have to go along with whatever new idea is presented for a short period of time?

I don't really know the full answers. However, I know from personal experience and observing others in my district, and reading ed-bloggers extensively that most educational leaders and school boards are still afraid of 21st century tools or unaware of them altogether. When teachers do "put on suits of honor-armor" the students benefit, but the students seldom have any say in which teachers are most valuable.

In business it is a risk-reward model. Higher risk can bring higher rewards. In education there is seldom, if ever, any reward for those who take risks. Risk in education almost always relates to consequence instead of potential reward. So is taking the risk worth anything in the educational arena? Again, it might be for a few students. But how many teachers want to become an educational martyr?

So we continue to fight the good fight, knowing that reward must be an intrinsic feeling of doing the right thing.

Best practices, as David seeks, are few, even though the ed-bloggers began the conversation of sharing best practices at the 2006 NECC. There are still few examples. I have read more about policy struggles than classroom successes. There are the Vicki Davis (private school), Brian Crosby (Skype for inclusion), and Miguel Guhlin (most wish he would come to our district) successes. Most of us still fight fear-filters, and leaders who think email is the end-all, be-all communcation tool, and an electronic gradebook demonstrates technological leadership.

In order to use many tools, I and others, have had to "go underground" so our students could be exposed to the literacies they need. I had classroom blogs, until our tech director heard the term and said the educational value did not outweigh the possible threat to student safety because they were in Blogger (2003). No blogs from any source are allowed. I created a wikispace page, until the tech director heard that wikipedia might not have 100% accurate information. Both were blocked, even though they were not related except for the word "wiki" (2004). I gave students Gaggle email accounts, but was told students could open viruses through email, so the accounts were discontinued (2005). Four of us fought for Moodle in 2005, and we have used it for two years. But because of student behavior (calling another student a name) there was consideration of disallowing Moodle. Moodle is housed on district servers, and inappropriate comments could "get the district in legal trouble" (2006).

Before we can get our students literate, we need superintendents, tech directors, principals, and teachers who are literate. You can't teach what you don't know...You can't know what you refuse to understand...You can't understand it if you don't use it...

This is too long, but perhaps someone can filter and edit for something useful in David's question as to what Learning Literacy "looks like."
Teaching and learning sure have changed. Even now, when we tell some of our friends what our kids in grades one through eight are doing in our technology classes, my co-teacher and I get some interesting responses. Most are along the lines of disbelief at what kids are learning.

But we HAVE to start them young. We are trying to truly get ingrained into their minds this concept of research and giving credit for information and media sources. It takes a while longer to teach a third grader how to use Citation Machine, true, but we will reap the rewards when they're in middle school and we're not teaching them each project as if it's the first time they've heard of it.

Another thing is that students are used to being told what to think and how. We're trying to get them to understand that paraphrasing is NOT copying and pasting and then just swapping out the big words for smaller ones. Just today, we were modeling for some of our third graders how to put something into their own words. You'd have thought I had three heads, the way some of them looked at me.

This is of vital importance. One thing they are always going to need to know how to do is analyze and synthesize information. They have to judge the quality of source material and then know how to use it for their work. The earlier we get them started, the less foreign this idea of fair use becomes.

I have a dream this day. I have a dream that my middle schoolers will not come up to me and ask if they need to use Citation Machine to cite the website where they got an image from. I have seen the promised land, at least in picture form. And its image URL is the only thing cited. I have a dream that, when students cite book sources, they do not ask me five projects in a row, "What do I do about 'edition' in Citation Machine?" And then there's the issue of Site Title versus Page Title. I may have been having them do this incorrectly all year. But more information, in these cases, is always better than less.

Now I'm just rambling.
I have a hard time imaging that your ultimate goal would be a document. I've been collecting quotes from different business leaders about what characteristics they are hoping graduating students will have, and the answers are not surprising, but are clarifying: in addition to be smart and well educated, they want their workers to be engaged, passionate, curious, lovers of learning, driven, self-motivated, prodigious, ethical, and serious. It's hard to imagine capturing that in a "document."

I can imagine a video much more easily, one that shows great *and* diverse examples of learning environments that are working, from SLA in Philadelphia to the absolutely fascinating and compelling Stover Upper Secondary school that Ewan McIntosh just blogged on (http://edu.blogs.com/edublogs/2007/05/rebuilding_a_sc.html) to home-schooling.



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