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21st Century Skills | Feature

Three Key Literacies

To provide students with the 21st century skills needed to succeed in college and the workplace, the K-12 curriculum needs to focus on three key literacies.

In John Q. Netizen, writer John Waters explored what it means to be a digital citizen, and examined how higher education should prepare students to assume the mantle of citizenship. It's not a subject confined to higher ed, though. Indeed, K-12 schools will play an integral role in ensuring that students are ready to tackle the challenges of 21st century scholarship at the college level--and of a rapidly evolving workplace. To learn about how K-12 schools need to adapt, CT sat down with Heidi Hayes Jacobs, the founder and president of Curriculum Designers, executive director of the National Curriculum Mapping Institute and Academy, and author of the groundbreaking Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World.

Campus Technology: What inspired you to develop the curriculum plan you set forth in Curriculum 21?

Heidi Hayes Jacobs: In teaching and curriculum design, my focus has always been on choices. It's always been that we, as educators, should be making astute and responsive choices that prepare our students for the future. Unfortunately, it's become clear that the future that many schools are preparing their students for is 1980. Ten percent of the 21st century is over; the question now isn't "whether to," it's "how to." The plan I developed gives teachers and educators a handle on how to reinvent, reboot, and replace aspects of what they teach, and how to modernize and upgrade their curriculum.

The Three Key Literacies for 21st Century Curriculum

Digital literacy: Students must have the ability--either through keyboard, voice, or touch technology--to access digital tools, and the knowledge necessary to select the best digital tool for the task at hand.

Media literacy: Students must develop critical and creative capabilities to both receive and assess the quality of messages from all forms of media, and to generate and create quality media of their own.

Global literacy: Students should use digital tools to access a global network of peers and to develop a sense of place and people. Curriculum should provide context and background to further students' understanding of global economies and current events. 

CT: Curriculum reform can be an overwhelming undertaking. How did you identify and develop your three key literacies for 21st century learning?

HJ: While researching and writing Curriculum 21, I worked with teachers to explore and identify key areas of instruction that educators should focus on once they've made the choice to upgrade their curriculum. It was immediately clear that new points of articulation and meaning-making had emerged that required students to have the ability to take some of the great classical traditions of print literacy and apply them to new forms of accessing information and articulating response. 

There seemed to be three related but distinctive toolsets--digital literacy, media literacy, and global literacy--that had become key in helping students navigate through the curriculum that they need to master and the investigations that they need to make in order to prepare themselves for right now, let alone for what they'll face 15 years from now when they're in the workplace.

About the Author

Jennifer Demski is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY.

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