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 21st Century Literacy:  Teaching in the Information Age


Keith Manos

Course Description

This course provides teachers in grades 3-College practical, research-based strategies for creating engaging lessons that help students improve their skills at collaboration, critical thinking, communication (both print and digital), and creativity – the 4 C’s of the 21st century classroom. Teachers will learn how to make students college and career ready with lessons that adhere to Ohio’s Learning Standards, utilize technology, demonstrate professional accountability, and lead to student achievement.

Participants should bring a laptop if possible.


Course Objectives (Participants will be able to . . .)

1.         Clarify the important terms related to 21st century literacy and then design effective          lesson plans aligned with the Ohio Learning Standards and 21st century literacy.

2.         Create a student-centered classroom grounded in a study of literary, historical, and            cultural literacy.

3.         Produce engaging lessons that foster problem solving, promote critical thinking, and

            involve students in collaborative work.

4.         Assess student progress with a variety of assessments and rubrics, both formative and      summative, that align with the Ohio Learning Standards.

5.         Define what it means to be literate in the 21st century and contrast it with previous            centuries.

6.         Connect language literacy to vocabulary instruction in innovate ways.

7.         Identify websites to explore and add to their “teaching toolbox.”

8.         Deal with allusions, symbols, and historical events to improve students’ reading    comprehension.

In short, participants should expect to leave this seminar with a series of useful, classroom-tested strategies to help their students not only become truly literate but also succeed on state-mandated tests.  The real value of literacy hinges on how students first understand the terms and events that literate individuals are expected to know and, second, apply them.  Creating 21st century literacy should be a focus in all content area classrooms.

Learning Experiences

Through discussion, direct instruction, demonstrations, videos, and collaboration, participants will learn how to use research-based and classroom-tested activities that strengthen grades 3-12 students’ background knowledge of historical, cultural, and language literacy as mandated now by Ohio’s Learning Standards. 

What does it mean to be literate in the 21st century?

Cultural literacy is familiarity with and the idioms, allusions, and informal content that create and constitute a dominant culture. From being familiar with street signs to knowing historical references to understanding the most recent slang, literacy demands interaction with the culture and reflection of it.

Knowledge of a canonical set of literature is not sufficient in and of itself when engaging with others in a society, as life is interwoven with art, expression, history, and experience. Cultural literacy requires familiarity with a broad range of general knowledge and implies the use of that knowledge in the creation of a communal language and collective knowledge.


20th century model = students doing the same thing at the same time.

21st century model = students working at an individual pace; no more one size fits all kind of teaching.  Students direct their own learning based on choices they make and the teacher becomes their guide, even regarding standardized testing.

The factory school model of the 20th century was designed to mimic what factories needed in their workers.  Now, employers want kids who can really work through issues to generate solutions that work without being dependent on someone at the top to solve it for them.

Prose Literacy—the knowledge and skills to read, comprehend, and use continuous texts (e.g. editorials, news stories, brochures, and instructional materials).

Document Literacy—the knowledge and skills to search, comprehend, and use texts in various formats (e.g.  job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables, and drug or food labels).

Quantitative Literacy—The knowledge and skills to identify and perform computations using numbers embedded in printed materials (e.g. balancing a checkbook, calculating a tip, etc.)


Atwell, Nanci. In the Middle: New Understanding About Writing, Reading, and Learning.  Boynton/Cook Publishing.  Portsmouth, NH.  1998.

Block, C.  Improving Comprehension Instruction:  Rethinking Research, Theory, and Classroom Practice.  Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.  2002.

Close, E.  A Middle Mosaic:  A Celebration of Reading, Writing, and Reflective Practice at the Middle Level.  NCTE.  2000.

Commission on Adolescent Literacy.  Adolescent Literacy:  A Position Statement.  International Reading Association.  1999.  www.readingonline.oeg.

Dinesh, Asha. “The 21st Skills Students Need to Learn in School.”  EZ School.  2013.  June 21, 2013.

Fountas, I.C.  Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6):  Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy.  Heinemann. Portsmouth, NH.  2001.

Kay, Ken.  The Leader’s Guide to 21st Century Education.  Pearson Publishing.  Upper Saddle River, NJ.  2012.

Marzano, Robert. What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. ASCD, 2003.

Marzano, Robert, et. al. A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works.  ASCD, 2001

Miller, B. “21st Century School House” blog.  2008.  June 21, 2013.

Opitz, M.  Flexible Grouping in Reading:  Practical Ways to Help All Students Become Better Readers.  Scholastic.  1998.

Rasinski, T.  Teaching Comprehension and Exploring Multiple Literacies:  Strategies from the Reading Teacher.  International Reading Association.  2000.

Sawyer, Keith.  “Assessing 21st Century Skills.”  Creativity and Innovation Wordpress blog. June 20, 2013.  June 22, 2013.

Tompkins, Gail.  Literacy for the 21st Century:  A Balanced Approach.  5th Edition.  Allyn and Bacon Publishing, Inc.   Boston, MA.  2009.

Wepner, S. et. al.  Eds.  Linking Literacy and Technology:  A Guide for K-8 Classrooms.  International Reading Associaiton.  2000.

Schedule of Tentative Activities

Day 1

1.    Introduction to presenter and course.

2.    Contrast between 20th and 21st century literacy.

3.    Discussion:  What does it mean to be literate in the 21st Century? 

4.    YouTube:  “A Vision of K-12 Students Today.”

5.    Groups:  Problem-solving activity #1.

6.    Introduction to the five C’s of 21st century learning.

7.    Altruism activity.

8.    Explanation of effective lesson planning.

9.    Democracy activity.

10.  Groups:  Problem-solving activity #2.

11.  Overview on critical thinking and Bloom’s taxonomy.

12.  Survey on selected historical, cultural events.

13.  Explanation of working cultural literacy in lessons.

14.  YouTube:  “A Vision of 21st Century Teachers.”

15.  Overview on Close Reading:  contextualization and breaking the stranglehold of the textbook.

16.  Overview on Inquiry Approach, self-discovery, and creativity.

17.  Contrast performance goals and learning goals.

18.  Overview on collaboration in the 21st century classroom.

19.  Groups:  Problem-solving activity #3.

20.  YouTube:  “21st Century Skills in Action.”

21.  Review key points from Day 1

22.  Q & A

Assign:  Locate a document

Day 2

1.    Review Day 1 key points:  What have we covered so far?

2.    YouTube:  “A Vision of Students Today.”

3.    Debate importance of face to face skills today.

4.    Examination of Farmers’ Insurance training methods.

5.    Read “21st Century Academic” and “Teachers of the Future.”

6.    Paradoxes about teaching writing / communication skills.

7.    Contrast academic v. workplace writing.

8.    Explanation on how to close the gap between academic v. workplace writing.

9.    Overview on classroom blogs.

10.  YouTube:  “My Blogging Essentials.”

11.  Read “What is Digital Literacy?”

12.  Overview on digital literacy, emails, texting, Twitter.

13.  Overview on writing across the curriculum and communicating with technology.

14.  Researching activity.

15.  Contrast Google and Bing.

16.  Facebook, Watpad discussions.

17.  YouTube:  “Literary Terms Rap.”

18.  Overview and practice on creating multi-modal assignments and using

19.  Review keys to teaching digital literacy.

20.  TedTalk:  “What 60 schools can tell us about teaching 21st century skills.”

Assign:  Review assigned website and prepare a 1-2 minute summary.

Day 3

1.    Review of Day 2 key points:  What have we covered so far? 

       Presentations on selected websites.

2.    Overview on Ohio Learning Standards– important background details.

3.    Visit ODE website.

4.    Contrast OLS-based lesson v. non-standards-based lesson.

5.    Model lesson demonstrations – applying OLS to reading literacy.

6.    Discussion of OLS applications, pedagogy, and accountability.

7.    Deal with relevancy issues as related to the OLS and literacy.

8.    Compare and contrast. OLS by grade levels.

9.    Groups:  Analyze OLS Financial Literacy anchor standard and applying a standard.

10.  Overview on career readiness in the 21st century.

11.  Fredon story.

12.  Examination of My Next Move website.

13.  Visit ODE website to view Career Tech pages.

14.  Survey on 21st century job titles and job trends in the 21st century.

15.  Read “The Future of Work in Uncertain” and employers’ expectations.

16.  Deal with Networking Cards.

17.  Ted Talk:  Ashley Stahl.

18.  Discussion of 21st century workplace issues, freelancing, problem-solving, soft skills.

19.  Examination and critique of sample lesson plan.

20.  Discussion of entrepreneurship.

21.  Overview on creating a student-centered classroom.

22.  Read “Encouraging Student Input.”

23.  Contrast teacher-centered v. student-centered classroom.

24.  Summary of effective lesson planning in a student-centered classroom.

25.  Ted Talk:  “On Demand in the 21st Century Classroom.”

26.  Q & A.

Day 4

1.    Review Day 3:  What have we covered so far?

2.    Discussion of mastery.

3.    Video of classroom cooperative learning activity.

4.    Overview on importance of prior knowledge, mental models, self-correction, reflection.

5.    YouTube:  “Assessing Student Learning.”

6.    Contrast subjective v. objective assessments.

9.    Discussion of students’ views about assessment.

10.  Read “Guidelines for Assessing Student Learning.”

11.  Ted Talk:  “Testing, Testing” by Linda Darling-Hammond.

12.  Overview on basic assessment tools.

13.  Contrast rubrics and evaluation forms.

13.  Deal with prioritizing criteria, relating assessments to the OLS, distinguishing between process and product, and scaffolding.

14.  Discussion of evaluations in the 21st century workplace.

15.  Contrast formative and summative assessments.

16.  Video:  “Assessing Student Learning” by Andrea Peacock.

17.  Practice creating an assessment.

18.  Overview on diagnostics.

19.  Overview on assessments in the student-centered classroom.

20.  Demonstration of model lesson.

21.  Overview on self-assessment and

22.  Video of students performing self-assessment.

23.  Critique of selected evaluation form.

24.  Overview on how teachers give feedback on student work.

25.  Alternative assessments.

26.  Review summative assessments, readiness, remediation, and enrichment activities.

27.  View and study selected websites, including ODE.

28.  Ted Talk:  “Teaching Methods for Inspiring Teachers of the Future.”

29.  Discuss participants’ questions (Q & A).

30.  Closure and project work.




1.  Participation in class and group discussions during each class session – 20%.

2.  Primary Source Document Assignment:   Break the stranglehold of the textbook by locating a primary source document that you can apply to a specific lesson in your subject area. This primary source document could be, for instance, a letter, speech, or news article that would help students understand events and/or develop better interpretations about the subject matter. Explain in a single paragraph how this document would relate to a specific lesson. This is due at the beginning of class on Day 2 – 10 %.

3.  Website Assignment:  Explore and summarize the contents of an assigned website, listing the key points and interesting information that fellow educators (and students, in turn) could find valuable.  Be sure to address how colleagues could use this website to improve their own teaching and/or engage students to improve their digital literacy. Then prepare a two-minute presentation that will be delivered at the beginning of class on Day 3 – 10%

4.  Final Project:

The variety of communication and multimodal assignment formats allows for a variety of assignment and assessment options that any teacher can use with any lesson.  That said, you are to design a single lesson, assignment, and assessment criteria/rubric for the students’ final product. This product can be generated from a reading or writing lesson.


Project Directions:

1.         The Assignment - What exactly do you want the students to accomplish?  Be very precise          and explain in 3-4 sentences the purpose for using this assignment with your students,

            answering the question:  Why am I doing this with my students?). You should also include

            here the Ohio Learning Standard(s) you want students to master.

2.         The Lesson – What are some learning activities that you will use in the classroom to

            engage students in the lesson and develop their background knowledge, cultural literacy, and         communication skills?  Be sure to include a technology task(s) and career readiness tie-in in   the lesson, which should have a student-centered approach.  In addition, students must have         the opportunity to collaborate and use critical thinking.  List these in numerical order (a            minimum of six).   

3.         The Product - What will the final product look like - i.e., short-answer test questions,       summary, essay, report? How much writing, for instance, is expected of the students?       Provide the specific directions as if giving them to the students in either sentence or             bullet format.

[Pretend now that the students have completed their final product and are ready for it to be evaluated.] 

 4.         Provide the actual summative assessment form.  Consider:  How will you evaluate the   students?  What will be the evaluation criteria for the final assignment? What OLS standards      are they expected to have mastered?  Include the OLS on the assessment form.

  5.         What about remediation and enrichment?  Provide information about the scaffolding you

            would use for students who perform poorly on the summative assessment and the enrichment

            activities you would assign to students who demonstrate mastery. 

The final project will be emailed to Keith Manos at by the last class session.  This project is worth 60% of your grade.


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