Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Can the National Council of Teachers of English Keep Up with A Changing World for Literacy Teachers? Not Really.

I just came across the National Council of Teachers of English Policy Research Brief on 21st Century Literacies on my Twitterfeed, and though they take literacy past what it looked like in the 20th Century, it still seems quite rather distant from my vision of What a 21st Century Literacy Class Might Look Like Today.

Along with the Council’s outdated name (there’s so much more to it than teaching “English” in our globally connected world), their report, published in The Council Chronicle in 2009, gives little attention to what makes literacy in the 21st century so powerful, authentic publishing, Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), connecting via social media, establishing a professional digital footprint. There’s mention of MySpace (that’s like so five years ago), and social media software (uh, it’s not technically software), but nothing about the biggies like Facebook, Twitter, Ning. And, nothing about ditching the paper and hopping on the eReading and writing bandwagon.

The report suggests that global economies, new technologies, and exponential growth in information are transforming our society. Today’s employees engage with a technology-driven, diverse, and quickly changing “flat world.” English/language arts teachers need to prepare students for this world with problem solving, collaboration, and analysis—as well as skills with word processing, hypertext, LCDs, Web cams, digital streaming podcasts, smartboards, and social networking software—central to individual and community success.

Ugh. the report clearly was not written by those involved in the world of 21st century literacies. The language is outdated, key pieces are missing, and my personal bias, and teachers don’t need to use smartboards. The myth that they’re used as anything more than a projection tool in the real world of business is one the IWB companies are thrilled educators have bought into.

Wanting to give the NCTE the benefit of the doubt, I thought perhaps their 2009 policy brief Writing Outside of School may have touched on some of this. Nope. Okay, there’s some dabbling in the authentic use of online tools but the digital immigrant accent shines through loud and clear with examples that don’t make a lot of sense for instance: Two middle schoolers keep and share online journals in which they write reviews of music and films. Really? They keep online journals to write reviews of music and film. This is not how middle schoolers review music and film, and for the record, they don’t say “film.” Just not seeing that as the medium for this activity. Post comments and rate music and videos on YouTube is more in alignment with what students are doing. Another suggests: A teenager joins a group of his peers at 826 Valencia and reads his poem aloud. How about he posts his poem online to an authentic audience who rates, comments, and provides feedback becoming part of the student’s personal learning network where he connects with others with similar passions.

Looking at what I consider the big five, PLNs, social media, authentic publishing, eReading, and establishing a digital footprint, the NCTE gives little focus or attention to what is arguably some of the most important types of communicating our students need to learn to do. Here’s my suggested reading for the NCTE.

Crucial reading to develop the big five of 21st century literacy
PLNs, social media, authentic publishing, eReading, digital footprint development.

To help educators support students in authentic publishing read:To help the paper-trained become digital readers read: To help educators harness the power of social media read:To help educators learn to harness the power of a personal learning network read: To help educators support students in developing their digital footprint and 21st century voice read:So what’s this mean for innovative educators? It means look at your council. Do they look like your students? Are they interacting in their worlds? Are they bringing students into the conversation? Do they exist in online worlds? If the answer is no, they probably aren’t preparing you or your students for the world outside the classroom. But don’t worry, if you want it, you and your students can develop a PLN that will be there for you.


  1. Thanks for all of the links. I've been thinking that the NCTE is off where digital literacies are concerned for some time.

  2. A wonderful compilation of resources in response to an imperative need for all educators, thanks for sharing!

  3. Hey Lisa,

    FWIW, I actually think that NCTE is doing a good job of changing the conversation around literacy in the context of social learning tools. I've actually been in touch with a few people involved in their policy front and they are doing better than most to attempt to push people's thinking around this stuff. Their "Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment" ( articulates some clear changes in the definition of literacy and adds a set of guiding questions as jumping off points. I think they're purposefully not trying to get mired down in tools and instead focus on the shifts. Do they still have some work to do? Sure. But I think in general they are ahead of most others.

  4. Why don't you submit a proposal for the "Literacies for All" summer institute in July? Deadline is Oct. 12. Institute is in Las Vegas. You'd have a lot of great ideas to share.

    Have you ever attended an NCTE conference? You might be surprised at the range of sessions including blogging, wikis and other digital tools (even in 2008). This year in Orlando there will be five hands-on sessions with 38 HP tablet computers on Sat., Nov. 20. Lots of other sessions include technology as part of teaching strategies.

    Also, NCTE has published some terrific books and had webinar sessions with authors. Here's a must-have book: _Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students_ by Sara Kajder. "Sara Kajder examines ways in which teachers and students co-construct new literacies through Web 2.0 technology-infused instructional practices."
    You can order it here:

    Policy docs are usually written by committee and don't reflect the whole picture of the organization. The #2 person at NCTE, Mila Fuller, was formerly #2 person at ISTE. She has done a lot to help move the organization into digital thinking and actions in the short time she has been there.

    First NCTE session on technology in teaching English was in 1979 at San Francisco conference.
    Summary statement on multi-modal literaties posted more than 2 years ago: