George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reflecting on 21st Century Literacies

Reflecting on 21st Century Literacies

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As teachers, we keep talking about the 21st century skills our students need to acquire. One day soon, I trust someone will come up with a new way to reference these skills that does not connect them to the century in which we live. Someone might simply and boldly state that these are just 'skills’ which every educated person needs to own in order to be a productive member of society.

We need to go beyond talking about these skills and move towards ensuring that our students actually possess them before they graduate. When the children we teach go out into the world, they will navigate a world that looks very different than the one in which we who are adults grew up!

There are a lot of resources to consider. Here are a few links to consider for your own reflection:

Today’s young people will be the makers of the future, and they will mold and shape it into something we can only imagine right now. So, what are the skills students will need for the future? How can we teach those skills to our students? If we can teach them, when are we going to start, if we have not already yet begun? And, what is the cost if we don’t rise to the occasion?

Big questions, but perhaps the answers are not so very hard! Got any ideas? Want to share? Let’s have a conversation about the skills we need to teach today for the world of tomorrow!

I look forward to your thoughts and ideas, your comments and your questions, and for the sharing of resources you have found most helpful.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

We've been working with these for over 25 years at Antioch. We find it interesting that many of the "21st Century Skills" are actually things that Dewey espoused in the 19th. We use the language "skills and dispositions," but the model we work with to teach them (the Critical Skills Program) works for both our skills and dispositions and for the home-grown lists that more schools and districts have been creating lately. You can learn more at or at

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

I'm a huge proponent of teaching 21st century skills in the classroom. I truly believe that jobs in the future will be different and require skills like innovative thinking, problem solving, and fluid use of technology. One way to incorporate many 21st century skills into a curriculum is through project based learning. A large, multi-disciplinary project can allow kids to access and use all sorts of skills.

For example, students can create games on scratch for a unit in math or history:

Or perhaps creating a blog or website to document results of a research project.

I once interviewed an elementary school teacher who had the students decide on a project for the year - in this case it was the water purity in their town - and figure out how to research the problem, design a solution, and create/deliver a presentation to stakeholders. These are the types of skills our students will need in the future. Providing the framework and freedom to use them in the classroom is the hard part!

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Don, I agree with your sentiment that it's time to drop the term "21st century" from our vocabulary and just start referring to them as Skills. I'm very fortunate to work with Laura at Antioch and the Critical Skills really are a powerful framework for things we most want our students to be able to do in this or any century.

I like Becky's phrasing of the "fluid use of technology." Too often children are taught how to use specific tools instead of the broader skills they need to succeed when those tools become defunct. I make it a point to do my best to emphasize the things we want to accomplish with our tools over the tools themselves in my instruction.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

I was talking with a colleague last week, and the fact that YouTube was founded in 2005 came up in conversation. Think about that: YouTube is less than decade old, and yet how much impact has it had on global culture and on the way we spread information and entertainment?

Technology is changing way too fast to get locked into any one system.

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

I have had numerous conversations on this topic with my youngest son who is 21. He really thinks that we "older educators" need to do more asking of the kids about that "they" think they need. He really feels that, that doesn't happen enough and consequently SO many kids are unmotivated in school.
His high school years were a disaster in a so called award winning school. I worked hard to advocate for him, but consistently hit a brick wall. The lack of creative opportunities and/or cutting edge strategies being used by teachers, just weren't there.
So IMHO as we consider what it is kids need to be ready for the world that they will grow up in, let's consider, asking the kids. Let's bring them into the equation, and get their feed back. Let's do morming meetings, that allow kids to reflect, give input and be a part of designing their learning experiences.

Derek Pinchbeck's picture
Derek Pinchbeck
Head of Primary Years Nanjing International School

I could not agree more. As it is now 2013 almost as long into the 21st century as WW1 was into the 20th I see no relevance of referring to a century that every students below 7th Grade was born in to make things seem forward thinking! Equally important surely the skills usually refereed to as 21st Century are timeless ones which is why educators feel them important in times of rapid change and unknown futures.They will not cease to be important when we hit the 22nd Century as many of our current students will be alive to see.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

This is interesting to me, as I'm preparing to present a program to our school district on digital citizenship. You don't have to go any farther than the headlines to know that many adults (even the former head of the NSA) don't really understand privacy any better than the rest of us, yet parents and teachers need to model this for kids. If we want kids to be good collaborators, communicators, critical thinkers and creative problem solvers, we have to provide more opportunity for them to do that, using every tool available to them. This can be PBL, but it doesn't have to be. Technology is part of it, but just as important is helping kids find their voice and their sense of who they are, so they can build on this foundation. And I agree 100% with Lisa- kids need to part of the discussion about what's relevant and important to them, not victims of what we decide on their behalf.

@creativityassoc's picture
Director, Education Division, Creativity & Associates

I teach students on all levels from K through graduate school. I find that as students become older, they fixate more on the outcome, rather than the process of learning. "What exactly do I need to do to get the quantitative assessment I want?" That statement puts up learning blinders, which block out the creative impulses outside of their scope of vision. It's not conducive to stacking up many 21st century skills beyond compliance to a rubric. I suppose what I am offering is that students would benefit from sitting in more process-oriented education, like project-based learning to build the skills they need as adults. The learning objectives are more open-ended, which stimulates intrinsic motivation and curiosity. And, they learn that sometimes a wrong answer is the right answer to a different question, just like in life.

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