21st Century Literacy Skills

The Future is Now!

LLED 459 Creative Synthesis

Fiona Fraser

21st Century Education in New Brunswick, Canada

21st Century Education

The video clip above, from the New Brunswick Department of Education, demonstrates the need for change in our educational systems. This video is a powerful reminder of the rapid pace of change and why educators need to adapt to meet the changing needs of today's student.

Even small changes can make a big difference.

"Our students have changed radically. Today's students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach." Marc Prensky

There is a lot of buzz around 21st Century skills and how we should prepare students for the future. As the Prensky quote above demonstrates, today's students have different needs than previous generations, yet our educational systems have not adapted enough to meet these changing needs. As the world around us changes, it is important to adjust teaching practices not only to meet the needs of today's students, but also to prepare them for a future we have yet to imagine. The purpose of this newsletter is to begin a discussion around some of the key issues in education today, especially in relation to literacy, related to 21st Century skills. My hope is that the information regarding digital citizenship and critical literacy will be useful, relevant, and also inspire you to take a risk in your teaching practice.

What needs to change?

The following TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson highlights the need for changes to the current educational system. In this powerful talk, Robinson discusses the history of education and also argues that the education system needs to foster creativity and provide opportunities for personalized learning (2010). Check out this inspiring talk in light of your own teaching practice. Are there changes that you could make to incorporate more personalized learning opportunities that encourage creativity?

Digital Citizenship

"Digital citizenship isn't just about recognising and dealing with online hazards. It's about building safe spaces and communities, understanding how to manage personal information, and about being internet savvy - using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way." from Digizen.org

What is digital citizenship?

The concept of digital citizenship refers to the basic rights and responsibilities of online users. As the quote above demonstrates, being an effective and responsible digital citizen requires a great deal of knowledge and effort. Although many students today may be confident users of technology, they still need to be taught how to use online tools and spaces in a safe and responsible manner. Students must be taught that they are leaving a 'digital footprint' through all of their online activity.

What should students know about digital citizenship?

Although there are many components to being an effective and responsible digital citizen, the following are important topics to cover when teaching digital literacy skills:

· Protect personal information and pictures (for themselves and others)

· Use copyright-free or creative commons media (images, video, text, audio, etc) when using online tools and creating projects

· How to create respectful and useful comments on others' work

· How to effectively organize information on a variety of online tools

· Using online sites is a responsibility – students need to be aware of the digital footprint, positive or negative, that they are leaving behind

· The online environment is an extension of real world interactions and the same social conventions apply

· Students should report any inappropriate materials, comments, images, or any instances of cyberbullying

Digital Citizenship Links

The following websites offer a range of information about digital citizenship:



This website provides a wide variety of useful information and lesson plans regarding many aspects of digital citizenship, including plagiarism, copyright information, and social networking. The site offers information for students, parents, and teachers.

CORE Education - Top Trends 2012 - Digital Citizenship


This webcast provides a good definition of digital citizenship, as well as compelling reasons for why digital citizenship should be taught in schools.

Digital Citizenship website


This website provides a good description of digital citizenship, nine key elements to consider, and also a number of suggested links for more information. Created by Mike Ribble, an internationally renowned speaker on digital citizenship.

Youth Privacy website


This is an excellent website produced by the Office of the Privacy Commission of Canada that provides a lot of great information for youth and how to protect their privacy online.

Digital Literacy Resources


Produced by the UK based National Foundation for Educational Research, Future Lab provides a useful teacher resource aimed at helping teachers incorporate digital literacies into their classrooms.

Critical Literacy

"Critical literacy is defined as a person's ability to actively reflect upon and question the subjective nature of information and beliefs when making reasoned judgements and (if necessary) taking related actions." Keith McPherson

What is critical literacy?

Today's students are exposed to a wide variety of media sources and they need to be taught how to critically assess these information sources in order to make informed choices and decisions. Students need to be taught how to assess the validity of a source of information, the message behind advertising, as well as the intentions behind what is being said. Although these may seem like advanced skills, critical literacy needs to be taught at a young age, as today's students are constantly exposed to a wide variety of information and media sources and they need to be capable of critically assessing the world around them.

What does critical literacy look like in the classroom?

The goal is to make critical literacy a part of your daily teaching practice, rather than adding an extra element into your already busy schedule. There are many ways that you can build in critical literacy skills to be a part of your lessons.

Some ideas are:

  • Teaching primary students to distinguish between real and make-believe
  • Encouraging students to consider the author's background, education, heritage and how these factors may influence the writing style
  • Teaching students to evaluate sources of information for authority, accuracy, bias, currency, and coverage of information
  • Encouraging students to consider not only what the information is trying to tell them, but also what is missing - whose voice is not being heard
  • Instilling a sense of wonder or curiosity about the world
  • Teaching students to be critically aware of the intentions behind advertisements, marketing campaigns, movies, and TV
  • Teaching students how to discover the 'norms' within different groups and how to navigate within these spaces (virtual and real world)
  • Teaching students about appropriation - how to remix and sample content in a meaningful way
  • Providing rich learning experiences for students that include more mobility, community interaction, and a variety of resources

Critical Literacy Links

The following links provide information about critical literacy, as well as lesson ideas:



This website provides information about a range of critical literacy issues, as well as lesson plans to teach these skills. This would be especially useful for Grades 3 and up.

Read Write Think


There are many great lesson plans on this website, including lessons that teach critical literacy skills. All of the lessons provide detailed lesson plans and many also include printable graphic organizers or links to online resources.

Lesson Planet


Links to a wide variety of critical literacy lesson plans for Kindergarten to Grade 12. There are a number of excellent lesson ideas to help you include critical literacy into your teaching practice.

American Library Association


This document was created by the American Association of School Librarians and it provides a set of standards for the 21st Century Learner. It is a useful document to refer to when creating critical literacy lessons.

Snapshots of Effective Practice


This is a series of short video clips that discuss current trends in education, including critical literacies. These snapshots provide useful information as well as some suggestions for practical applications of these skills in the classroom.

Final Thoughts

"Good teaching is like dancing - gotta have a lot of dance steps so that depending on who your partner is and what the music is, you can shift with the repertoire." - Allen Luke

How many moves do you have in your teaching repertoire? Is time to add a few new steps?


In addition to the websites referenced above, the following resources were used to gain inspiration and knowledge for this project:

Boulos, P. (2006). Reflections of a Digital Immigrant. Retrieved January 31, 2013 from http://apps.medialab.uwindsor.ca/cfl/reflexions/volume01/issue02/Boulos4.htm

Crafton, L.K., Brennan, M., & Silvers, P. (2007). Critical inquiry and multiliteracies in a first-grade classroom. Language Arts, 84, 6, 510-518.

DK. (2012). CORE. Ten Trends 2012:Social Learning. Available at: http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2012/09/ten-trends-2012-social-learning.html

Fenaughty, J. (2012). CORE. Ten Trends 2012:Citizenship. Available at: http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2012/08/ten-trends-2012-citizenship.html

Froeschle, J. G., Crews, C., & Li, J. (2011). A school and technology based program: Healing families affected by cyberbullying. Available at: http://counselingoutfitters.com/ vistas/vistas11/Article_65.pdf

Hockly, N. (2012). Digital Literacies. ELT Journal, Volume 66, 1, 108-112. doi:10.1093/elt/ccr077

Kist, W. (2010). The Socially Networked Classroom: Teaching in the New Media Age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, A Sage Company.

Luke, A. (2011). Critical Literacies. Curriculum Services Canada. (March 31, 2011) Snapshots of effective practice. Retrieved from: http://resources.curriculum.org/secretariat/snapshots/learners.html

McPherson, K. (2005). Of course it’s true! I found it on the Internet: Fostering Children’s Online Critical Literacy. In Doiron, R. and Asselin M. (Eds.), Literacy Libraries and Learning: Using books and online resources to promote reading, writing, and research (p. 107-118). Markham, Ontario: Pembroke Publishers.

New Media literacies. (2008). Retrieved from:

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon. 9(5), 1-6. Retrieved from: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Prensky, M. (2012, August 9). Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom [Video file]. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnJzMIOdbxU

Robinson, K. (2010, October). Changing Education Paradigms [Video file]. Retrieved from: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms.html

21stCenturyNB. (2010, March 28). 21st Century Education in New Brunswick, Canada [Video file]. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjJg9NfTXos