21st Century Literacies

Teachers Changing the Way We Read, Write, Think, and Live

Big Ideas

Will Richardson suggests in his post on teachers as master learners, that teachers need to move off the center stage within classroom dynamics.  They should no longer occupy the only position of expert within the classroom because with the advent of technology and information, students are doing their fact checking in real time. Knowledge is available at exponential rates. Instead teachers need to model learning for their students.  What Richardson argues, is that essential to contemporary classrooms is a shift in educators’ roles. Teachers, filling the role that Vygotsky described as a “facilitator” of knowledge, need to be effective communicators and be able to spell out for students how they themselves process new information.


Out with the old, in with the new

Adapting classrooms to 21st century digital literacies inherently changes the role of the teacher. It is impossible to teach all of the knowledge that is now available; teachers are no longer the experts in a setting where children merely need to “google” their answers.  


As educators, we must admit to ourselves and to our students that we don’t know everything; instead, we must continue learning to adapt as our world changes around us. Isn’t this just some common sense here? The idea that we need to change our educational system is not new. John Dewey is known for having said “if we teach today, as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” Classrooms have maintained a status quo for over 100 years, where the teacher sits at the head of the classroom, presenting all of the vast knowledge he or she knows to students. In many ways, my own personal experience with education looked like that of my grandparents’. The teacher maintained control of knowledge and distributed it to the students.


In today’s world, knowledge is not infallible. The amount of information available in today’s world has exploded exponentially.   Ideas are tested by competing research, and they are supported or disproved regularly. In contemporary classrooms, we need to demonstrate to our students how to most effectively and critically examine information. Instead of presenting students with “knowledge”, teachers must adapt to grant students access to different resources, and show them how we, as critical thinkers, accept or reject the information presented within those resources.

How to move forward

So why is there a problem? For so many educators, in a lifelong quest to obtain degrees and certifications, and eventually careers, we push aside our joy for learning, and are tempted to turn our brains off once those goals have been achieved.  On our worst days, we forget that knowledge in today’s world really is fallible.  We forget that in all of our schooling, there was never really one right answer, and that the goal of education is to provide students with tools for navigating ideas. We run away from using technology in the classroom because we didn’t grow up with it. In doing so, we short-change our students by quashing joy in learning. We are educating digital natives. Even though we may not be familiar with it, we must align ourselves to digital environments. We have to be able to make mistakes and learn from them! And we must remember that, just like knowledge, we are also fallible. It is the human condition to continue to question that which has gone before us.


Eric Patnoudes argues that “the role of the teacher is evolving from having students answer every question, to teaching them how to question every answer.” We should be changing our methods of education; instead of relying on the teacher as the expert, bring those experts into the classroom. Instead of teacher-centered instruction, we need student-centered inquiry.


Change is difficult. The hardest part is getting started. What Richardson shows us is that we have the opportunity to reignite the passion that brought us into education. Educators have the opportunity to become learners again. We have the opportunity to reimagine the future with our students, to embrace new tools for imagining that future, and to work alongside our students to solve the puzzles of the world.

Views: 83

Comment by Courtney Brown on September 22, 2013 at 9:33pm

Kerri, Excellent work, you have set the standard for this blog.  Out with the old and in with the new for sure, I believe that we, the generation of educators working to begin our careers now, are in an excellent position to change the educator’s role.  We know how we like to interact and be taught in our grad class.  We understand how technology works to enhance our lives, for the most part.  And what is great about us, the digital immigrants going native, we want to learn, so we will ask our peers, we will create those relationships with our students as they push the correct buttons on the smart board, or link us to the correct URL, or even come visit on us lunch to show us an awesome website they found that they thought we’d like.  You hit the nail on the head when you said we need to change our methods as educators, we need student-centered inquiry for sure!  I absolutely adore the images you embedded! ESPECIALLY Boy Meets World! :)

Comment by Kerri Valesey on September 24, 2013 at 11:43pm

Courtney, I completely agree that we need to incorporate technology, and that we want to learn. Some of us are a little more reluctant than others, for fear of failure. However, I think that if we show our students our own vulnerability in learning, we open new doors for their respect. I think that by recognizing our own flaws and biases aids in creating a reflective practice that emphasizes learning on both sides of the scale- learning as teachers and as students. I think that utilizing such reflective practices requires a great deal of patience and an ability to admit that we are wrong in our own assumptions about how the world works! If we stall our with the status quo, we short change the creativity and potential within our students futures. I'm so glad that you shared some examples of how your own students accept you as a learner! It creates a state of equality in which students and teachers are motivated by collaboration!

Comment by Cynthia Sarver on September 30, 2013 at 10:04am

This animated GIF looks like our usual antics in 506 on Thursdays. :-) Where did you get this?  I was in an online course once where we were asked to make them.  Not so hard, really (which you know if you made this image).  Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking post and esp for that Dewey quote.  Just saved it!

Comment by Victoria Corning on September 30, 2013 at 7:52pm

Kerri, amazing job on this blog post! The visuals are extremely eye-catching, especially with the movement! The lay out of paragraphs as well as bold font titles help break up the reading and keep the audience's attention. The links, not only to Will Richardson's blog but also to other mentioned people such as Vygotsky, was a brilliant way to contain more information in your blog post and help readers who may not know as much about education, LEARN. Then, you not only discussed the problem with today's educational strategies, with a great John Dewey quote, but spent more time examining SOLUTIONS! The title, "How to move forward" could not be more effective in grabbing the attention of readers who just keep rereading the problem with our education and never seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I could not agree more that as educators we need to be model life long learners. I am so blown away by this blog post..AMAZING job! :)

Comment by Kerri Valesey on October 2, 2013 at 9:46pm

Cynthia, I found the gif on Buzzfeed in an article on going back to school! It was really funny, but I thought that this one specifically added a lot extra to the idea of more student centered learning, with teachers as model learners!

Tori- Thank you so much for the kind words! I really loved the ideas set forth by Richardson, and my biggest fear is that they are not being implemented in a world of high-stakes testing and assessment driven public education. I think that the best thing that we can hope for is a movement towards this style of teaching; and through our own instruction we can figure out ways to accomplish this most effectively! Collaboration with other teachers will definitely help get the ball rolling!

Comment by Rebecca Welton on October 6, 2013 at 11:20pm

I would have to agree with the previous posters in stating that your post was wonderful and comprehensive, and the graphics were very appropriate. I am curious though as to why educators brains seem to "turn off" their knowledge seeking function once they attain their career goals. Why do they not wish to pursue more? Why do they consider themselves to be "masters of their discipline"? I am curious if Richardson has any insight on this.

I do agree that, although these changes are necessary and important, it will take a long time for them to be picked up by educators. To add to this, are there any cautions that Richardson places upon diving right into the changes? Can you think of any?

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