What is 21st Century Literacy?


“. . . 21st Century literacy is about more than being able to read and access information; when you’ve got literally anything at your fingertips, you need to know how to discern between what information is correct, reliable, meaningful, and/or articulate. . . . ” (National Writing Project, http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/5056#sthash.Kfhz2LFi.dpuf)

This gives us a definition, but it also raises the question is “why do we read”?  What motivates us to take the time to read and access information?  The author John Greene (one of my favorite contemporary writers) suggests that “reading is always an act of empathy” and it “gives us better tools to . . . connect to each other” so “we learn more about ourselves”.

So, as teachers we are called to design lessons for our students that address the “motivators” instead of just planning the curriculum.  We want our students to access information that is “correct, reliable, meaningful and/or articulate”, but we must reflect on students’ interests and the compelling reasons to read instead of the learning outcomes. This is what makes 21st Century literacy relevant and educational for our students.  This is what makes students want to learn.



Service Learning Does Not Happen with Community Service


Many schools offer community service for their students – it is an important part of their education.  This usually consists of placement experiences in the neighboring community where volunteers are needed.  We want our young learners to be ‘engaged citizen leaders’ and they can only develop that important skill by understanding the needs of those around them.

But many community service programs do not teach students to be ‘engaged’, nor does it teach them to be ‘leaders’.  At most, it will teach them some ‘civic responsibility’ through exposure to the community around them.  The service learning model is different from community service because it is based on repeated experiences with the same organization over time so the students understand how they make a difference.

At Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, we are embracing the service learning model through partnerships with neighboring organizations. These partnerships are a ‘win-win’ model for everyone:  Our students learn from valued organizations on how they can make a difference, and these organizations get volunteers to help them with their mission.  These relationships have long-term benefits for everyone.

So, why don’t more schools and organizations establish this arrangement?  Because it takes time and effort to find the best organizations to fit this model.  Mount Vernon has a long history of serving the community, and we have established relationships with many organizations over time.  We have identified synergies with our neighbors, and developed opportunities for our students to learn from them.

We are excited to offer these learning opportunities for our students.  Only service learning experiences will develop our young learners to be ‘engaged citizen leaders’ because they KNOW they make a difference . . . one organization at a time.