21st Century Literacy: New Relationships with Content

Today marks the first day of my six summer literacy institutes.

This week I am thrilled to be working with secondary content area specialists in Clinton, Iowa as we focus on 21st Century Content Reading and Writing strategies and examine content area reading and writing strategies.

To prepare for the conversations, I asked students to describe what reading and writing is like in various content areas. The most immediate answers centered around “facts to be memorized,” “vocabulary to be defined,” and strategies to “remember EVERYTHING to pass the test!

In school, content reading and writing instruction revolve around consuming and remembering what someone else has produced.

In stark contrast, outside of the classroom, “content” is positioned in a drastically different way. We are simultaneously filters, producers, and co-creators of content. Successful producers of content must do more than simply churn out meaningless facts and ideas.

9ways Successful online writers use their creative and curious spirit to generate content not only to inform, but will inspire, even transform the lives of their audience. Success on this age of read/write web is not determined by how much you know, how many pages of content your produce, or how long you have been “expert” in your content area. Success is determined by how your audience responds. If your readers are not impacted by your message, then how much you know matters little.

We must prepare our students for a very different relationship with content. Perfect penmanship, knowledge of participles, and the perfect 5-paragraph essay will not be enough to adequately prepare students for the content that will be mediated and vetted by a global audience that demands consideration.

Our students must leave our classrooms understanding how to communicate what they know and beleive in a way that considers, honors, and believes in their audience. Author and Entrepreneur Rajesh Setty writes a brilliant piece on how audiences respond to content.

  1. Spam: If your content does not provide a reasonable ROII (return-on-investment for an interaction) for the reader or is self-serving or simply useless, the reader will mark it as spam. Posting something that may be assessed, as “spam” is the fastest way to losing credibility.
  2. Skip: The reader makes an assessment that he or she won’t lose much by reading it. In this case, the reader has not written you off yet but if you consistently create content that is worth “skipping,” the reader might write you off.
  3. Scan: The reader thinks there are only a few parts that are of relevance and wants to get right to the core of the content and skip the rest.
  4. Stop: The reader is touched by the article and stops to think about the article, it’s relevance and what it means to him or her personally and professionally.
  5. Save: The content is so good that the reader might want to re-visit this multiple times.
  6. Shift: The article is transformational. The reader is so deeply affected (in a positive way) by the article that it shifts some of their values and beliefs. In other words, this piece of writing will transform the reader and make him or her grow.
  7. Send: The content is not only useful to the reader but also to one or more people in the reader’s network. The reader simply emails the article or a link to it to people that he or she cares.
  8. Spread: The reader finds the article fascinating enough to spread it to anyone and everyone via a blog, twitter or the social networks that he or she belongs.
  9. Subscribe: This is the ultimate expression of engagement and a vote of confidence that you will continue to provide great content. When the reader wants to continue listening to your thoughts, he or she will subscribe.

I might suggest SCAMPER as a 10th

The article also uncovers four things every content producer (writer) should think about before writers hit “send.”

What would instruction be like if THIS was our new 21st Century writing rubric?

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