NCTE’s Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age makes it clear that the continued evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary.
Literacy has always been a collection of communicative and sociocultural practices shared among communities. As society and technology change, so does literacy. The world demands that a literate person possess and intentionally apply a wide range of skills, competencies, and dispositions. These literacies are interconnected, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with histories, narratives, life possibilities, and social trajectories of all individuals and groups. Active, successful participants in a global society must be able to
- Participate effectively and critically in a networked world;
- Explore and engage critically, thoughtfully, and across a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools/modalities;
- Consume, curate, and create actively across contexts;
- Advocate for equitable access to and accessibility of texts, tools, and information;
- Build and sustain intentional global and cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so as to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
- Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions;
- Examine the rights, responsibilities, and ethical implications of the use and creation of information;
- Determine how and to what extent texts and tools amplify one’s own and others’ narratives as well as counter unproductive narratives;
- Recognize and honor the multilingual literacy identities and culture experiences individuals bring to learning environments, and provide opportunities to promote, amplify, and encourage these differing variations of language (e.g., dialect, jargon, register).
Elements of the Framework for Literacy in a Digital Age
Applied to learners of English language arts, today’s literacy demands have implications for how teachers plan, model, support, and assess student learning. We believe that learning is a lifelong process which invites students and teachers alike to benefit from reflecting on questions associated with the continued literacy demands. Understandings of the definition of literacies used here have implications for learner agency, access, action, and opportunities.
Participate effectively and critically in a networked world
The internet is one of the primary information sources of the modern era, making it a necessity for learners to understand how to participate and navigate the networked world. Building and utilizing connections between people, ideas, and information provides opportunities for them to be critical consumers of information, builds agency in their own work, and prepares them for the global world beyond the classroom.
- Do learners select, evaluate, and use digital tools and resources that match the work they are doing?
- Are learners critical, savvy producers and consumers?
- Do learners build and utilize a network of groups and individuals that reflect varying views as they analyze, create, and remix texts?
- Do learners analyze information for authorial intent, positioning, and how language, visuals, and audio are being used?
- Do learners find relevant and reliable sources that meet their needs?
- Do learners take risks and try new things with tools available to them?
- Do learners, independently and collaboratively, persist in solving problems as they arise in their work?
- Do learners use a variety of tools effectively and efficiently?
- Do learners select and use appropriate tools and modalities for audience and purpose?
- Do learners take responsibility for communicating their ideas in a variety of ways with different modalities and clear intentions?
Explore and engage critically, thoughtfully, and across a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools/modalities
Learners have access to a wide variety of texts and tools. We engage with many multimedia texts in our daily lives for a variety of reasons. These texts not only give learners new information but also allow us to see our worlds in new ways. Engaging with texts that vary in format, genre, and medium gives us new perspectives and insights. Having knowledge and understanding of the various texts and tools available is important for using them intentionally. Being literate means making choices and using texts and tools in ways that match purpose. It also means thinking about texts and tools in new ways.
- Do learners seek out texts that consider multiple perspectives and broaden their understanding of the world?
- Do learners critically analyze a variety of information and ideas from a variety of sources?
- Do learners choose texts and tools to consume, create, and share ideas that match their need and audience?
- Do learners create new ideas using knowledge and insights gained? Do learners analyze the credibility of information, authorial intent, and its appropriateness in meeting their needs?
- Do learners use information and the ideas of others to solve problems and make decisions as informed citizens?
- Do learners strive to see limitations and overlaps between multiple streams of information?
- Do learners gain new perspectives because of the texts they interact with?
- Do learners use tools to deepen understandings, to share ideas, and to build on others’ thinking?
- Do learners develop new skills strategies to meet the challenge of new texts and tools?
Consume, curate, and create actively across contexts
As empowered learners engage in literacy practices, they need opportunities to move from consumers to producers of content. More specifically, learners need to move from content consumers to content curators to content creators. These stages do not have to operate in a sequence, nor should they be mutually exclusive as learners fully utilize the reader/writer nature of digital texts.
- Do learners analyze and evaluate the multimedia sources that they consume?
- Do learners examine the credibility and relevancy of sources they consume?
- Do learners consider the author, purpose, and design of information they consume online?
- Do learners review information shared online with a perspective of healthy skepticism?
- Do learners solve real problems and share results with real audiences?
- Do learners search and synthesize online texts to solve inquiry-based (personal and academic) topics?
- Do learners review a variety of sources to evaluate information as they consider bias and perspective in sources?
- Do learners consciously make connections between their work and that of the greater community?
- Do learners evaluate their own multimedia works?
- Do learners evaluate content they find online before sharing with others?
- Do learners apply ethical practices when using media?
- Do learners evaluate content and develop their own expertise on a topic?
- Do learners collect, aggregate, and share content to develop their voice/identity/expertise on a topic?
- Do learners use tools to communicate original perspectives and to make new thinking visible?
- Do learners communicate information and ideas in a variety of forms and for various purposes?
- Do learners make creative decisions with intention, developing and using skills associated with modality?
- Do learners communicate information and ideas to different audiences?
- Do learners articulate thoughts and ideas so that others can understand and act on them?
- Do learners evaluate multimedia sources for the effects of visuals, sounds, hyperlinks, and other features on the text’s meaning or emotional impact?
- Do learners have the skills to make informed decisions about their own design choices as much as their choices about text?
- Do learners share and publish their work in a variety of ways?
- Do learners share and publish original content with a consideration of the intended audience?
- Do learners respond constructively to published work and to responses to their own work?
- Do learners publish in ways that meet the needs of a particular authentic audience?
Advocate for equitable access to and accessibility of texts, tools, and information
Not only should learners have opportunities to explore and engage with a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools, but they should also be provided equitable access to these texts and tools on a frequent basis. Learners must have ready access to information and information professionals that provide expertise in print-based and digital-based texts and information sources. Additionally, learners with disabilities should be provided equitable access to text, tools, and information and, when necessary, advocate for this access in all of their learning experiences.
- Do learners have readily available classroom access to a variety of texts and information sources?
- Do learners have access to well-funded school and public libraries?
- Do learners have opportunities to engage with and learn from school media and library professionals?
- Do learners make decisions in information-rich environments?
- Do learners recognize information gaps or information poverty?
- Do learners advocate for their own individual and community’s access to texts and tools?
- Do learners attain a greater understanding of text through accessible text structures?
- Do learners use visual cues (headings, subheadings, boxes, graphics) to support their reading of a text?
- Do learners access digital texts that adhere to web accessibility principles?
- Do learners with disabilities receive equitable access to texts, tools, and information?
Build intentional global and cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought
Learners need communicative skills in order to work collaboratively in both face-to-face and virtual environments to use and develop problem-solving skills. Cooperation is not collaboration, and learners need to be actively working with one another to pose and solve problems and construct narratives. When learning experiences are grounded in well-informed teaching practices, the use of technology allows a wider range of voices to be heard, exposing learners to opinions, perspectives, and norms outside of their own. Understanding the ways in which connections support learning and being intentional about creating connections and networks are important for learners.
- Do learners work in a group in ways that allow them to create new knowledge or to solve problems that can’t be created or solved individually?
- Do learners work in groups to create new sources and ideas that can’t be created or solved by individuals?
- Do learners collaborate with others whose perspectives and areas of expertise are different from their own?
- Do learners listen in a way that allows them to intentionally build on one another’s thinking to gain new understanding?
- Do learners develop new ways of thinking and/or new responses from disagreements and grapple with diverse perspectives in ways that positively impact work?
- Do learners gain new understandings by working with others in sustained ways?
- Do learners make intentional moves to learn from and with others?
Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions
Culturally sustaining communication provides an opportunity for (and is possible when) learners draw on racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse sign systems/modalities to consume, curate, and create in face-to-face and digital spaces. Teaching practices grounded in this framework create opportunities for learners to inquire about how language and power converge in print or digital texts to create and perpetuate biases against marginalized communities. Learners need opportunities to practice recognizing patterns in discourse which are rooted in the oppression of nondominant groups (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, ability) and a variety of strategies they can use to interrupt this discourse.
- Do learners have opportunities to raise questions about bias and privilege when consuming, curating, and creating texts?
- Do learners have strategies for interrupting discourse that marginalizes people based on race, culture, sexuality, language, gender, and ability?
- Do learners have opportunities to identify and discuss how to detect and report fake news/deliberately misleading and false information or information that promotes hate speech and violence?
- Do learners create texts across modalities for a variety of audiences and consider how diverse groups would respond?
- Do learners have opportunities to collaborate with people/learners from communities that hold different views/ideas/values/beliefs, life experiences, racial, ethnic, and cultural identities, and economic security to address social issues that impact all of our lives?
Examine the rights, responsibilities, and ethical implications of the use and creation of information
Networked, digital spaces offer the opportunity to instantaneously share, aggregate, and access torrents of information from others. These spaces also raise questions about aspects of intellectual property and ownership of ideas, content, and resources online. The rapidly changing digital texts and tools create new categories of ethical dilemmas around these issues. It is important for learners to understand the ethics, or “principles governing an individual or group,” as they interact with information in current and future contexts.
Learners must understand and adhere to legal and ethical practices as they use resources and create information.
- Do learners share information in ways that consider all sources?
- Do learners consider the contributors and authenticity of all sources?
- Do learners practice the safe and legal use of technology?
- Do learners create products that are both informative and ethical?
- Do learners avoid accessing another computer’s system, software, or data files without permission?
- Do learners engage in discursive practices in online social systems with others without deliberately or inadvertently demeaning individuals and/or groups?
- Do learners attend to the acceptable use policies of organizations and institutions?
- Do learners read, review, and understand the terms of service/use that they agree to as they utilize these tools?
- Do learners respect the intellectual property of others and only utilize materials they are licensed to access, remix, and/or share?
- Do learners respect and follow the copyright information and appropriate licenses given to digital content as they work online?
Determine how and to what extent texts and tools amplify one’s own and others’ narratives as well as counter unproductive narratives
It is important for learners to have multiple opportunities to engage in multimodal literacy practices as a means to communicate information that supports participating in a diverse and democratic society. Learners are navigating digital spaces during a time when narratives are being constructed for a variety of purposes. Learners need a heightened awareness about how texts and tools can be used to produce and circulate biased narratives aimed at justifying exclusionary practices and policies that disproportionately impact nondominant communities. Learners also need sustained opportunities to produce counter-narratives that expose and interrupt misguided texts that do not represent the fullness of their identities or life complexities. To engage in participatory literacy practices, learners need opportunities within the curriculum to author multimodal stories in order to examine power, equity, and identities and grow as digitally savvy and civic-minded citizens.
- Do learners analyze narratives to address accuracy, power dynamics, equity, monolithic notions of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, or ability?
- Do learners explore multimodal narratives to identify and better understand the cultural practices that inform the creation of these narratives?
- Do learners have space in the curriculum to compose narratives across genre for a variety of audiences that center their life experiences and honor their cultural backgrounds?
- Do learners create and disseminate narratives that leverage the affordances of digital tools?
- Do learners share and critically analyze narratives they produce and consume in digital spaces?
- Do learners use multiple digital tools and print-based literacies to design and create multimodal representations of stories that communicate asset-based ideas?
- Do learners use multiple digital tools and print-based literacies to amplify the cultural wealth in their communities?
Recognize and honor the multilingual literacy identities and culture experiences individuals bring to learning environments and provide opportunities to promote, amplify, and encourage these differing variations of language (dialect, jargon, register)
The use of learners’ variety in narrative and lived experience enables us to use our own potential to achieve in deeper and more authentic contexts. In addition, the use of learners’ native dialects in education enhances the social, cognitive, emotional, and linguistic development of learners in and out of school. In a multilingual society, the issue of dialects in education, and more specifically the languages of instruction, often are not problematized or debated. The literacy identities and dialects invited into the classroom are often dependent on a variety of factors such as historical, economic, pedagogical, sociolinguistic, cultural, ideological, theoretical, or/and political. As learners utilize and enculturate in current and future digital contexts, they need opportunities to promote, amplify, and encourage differing forms of language. This includes variations within the same language, social and regional dialects, standard and nonstandard varieties.
- Do learners have opportunities to utilize digital texts and tools to validate their existence and lived experiences?
- Do learners have opportunities to connect them with their textual and historical lineage and narratives?
- Do learners explore and critique the premises, myths, and stereotypes that are often held by the dominant culture?
- Do learners have space in the curriculum to support positive racial and ethnic identity development while pushing back against marginalized narratives?
- Do learners have opportunities to increase engagement with reading and other academic subjects?
- Do learners have access to images and narratives of multilingual identities and cultures from marginalized communities?
- Do learners have space in the curriculum to provide healing from the damages to marginalized communities?
NCTE 21st Century Literacies Definition and Framework Revision Committee
- Shelbie Witte, Chair, Oklahoma State University, OK
- Bill Bass, Parkway School District, MO
- W. Ian O’Byrne, College of Charleston, SC
- Detra Price-Dennis, Teachers College, Columbia University, NY
- Franki Sibberson, Dublin City Schools, OH
We wish to extend our appreciation to the following individuals for their feedback at various stages of this revision:
- Sarah Bonner
- Jennifer Dail
- Patricia Dunn
- Chad Everett
- Danielle Filipiak
- Frances Glick
- Crag Hill
- Ken Lindblom
- Ernest Morrell
- Amy Piotrowski
- Kristin Ziemke
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.