6 Reasons to Promote 21st Century Skills vs 21st Century Tech



Keith Williamshon

Any educator that aims at completeness must be at once theoretical and practical, intellectual and moral.” Aldous Huxley, Words and Their Meaning, 1940.

There are many skills that go into creating that ‘complete’ learning experience that we want for our students. Theory, practical, intellectual and moral principles all play important roles in the development of a strong pedagogy. Good pedagogy evolves with the times – just like technology. The higher order skills we need to educate our students about are still basically the same, however, we may have some new ways of imparting these skills on our students based on new technologies and concepts we have access to in the 21st Century.

So, what are 21st Century Skills?

There is a difference between teaching students 21st Century skills, and 21st century technologies. We need to find new ways of implementing seamless tech and pedagogy simultaneously – yet not one replacing the other.

The caveat is however, that 21st century skills are not necessarily new at all, but have been firmly planted in pedagogy for centuries, dating all the way back to philosophers such as Plato and Socrates. Sound Pedagogy, as taught by these famous philosophers have always encompassed the following important skills:

1) Critical Thinking;  2) Problem Solving; 3) Communication; 4) Metacognition; 5) Reflection; 6) Ethics and Morality

These skills do not change just because we have entered the 21st Century of Technology, Globalization and Social Media. However, these skills can be easily forgotten with the pressures to integrate new technologies into educational programming.

Despite the fact that these skills have existed, and been identified and shared by the likes of Socrates and Plato, they are often called 21st Century Skills. I would prefer to call them the Key Learning SkillsLet’s explore the reasons why we need to embed Key Learning Skills into our Pedagogy.

6 Reasons to Promote Key Learning Skills vs 21st Century Technologies

1. In the 21st Century, we have new terms, such as Globalization, Media Literacy, Digital Citizenship, and Social Media. Students without question, need our Educational Systems to help them build solid Frameworks for these terms, to help them build, create, and integrate 21st Century Skills.

2. 21st Century Technology and 21st Century Skills are not one in the same. Merely using the technology, and engaging with it, is much different than dissecting it and using it to build critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, metacognition and reflective skills. Students still need the basics of good communication regardless of the type of media or platform being used.  21st century, or any century.

3. Sound Pedagogy is not about training individuals for the global market, and making them competitive in today’s markets. We don’t want to lose sight of that. Students need 21st Century skills to create and meet their own goals, contribute to the world, pursue true knowledge, and create personal success in life.

4. Human beings have not changed that much over time. Despite the fact that we exist in the 21st Century, the same basic problems that have plagued humans since the beginning of time have not ceased to exist. Humans still have the same basic needs for obtaining food, water, sustenance; communication and connection with others; shelter, safety, and privacy, love and acceptance.  Therefore, we still need to have sound Pedagogy to help all people continue to meet their needs, and engage in the pursuit of true knowledge. People will always need the skills and knowledge to be able to handle all of the changes and challenges that come up in life. 

5. Without these Key Learning Skills, students have the potential to damage reputations, digital footprints, and future job prospects. For a very long time. In the 21st Century, more than any other time in history, everything that a person does online will never fully be erased, and will follow someone for a lifetime. I am an adult, and even I don’t understand the full ramifications of 21st Century technologies. We cannot assume our children do.  


6. Educators still need to still need to attend cultural diversities in our schools and school systems. It is still important to infuse culture into all areas of the Educational system, including 21st century technologies, and is absolutely essential to sound pedagogical practice.

On a final note, all educators can engage in sound strategies that promote Key Learning Strategies and much akin to the 21st Century skill sets promoted by many. Nevertheless, we must not confuse 21st Century skills with 21st Century technologies.

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


FNMI & Literacy


The Aboriginal population is the fastest growing population in Canada, it is essential to not just accommodate any FNMI students in our classrooms, but to also help the classroom, school culture and community to be aware of rituals, ceremonies, traditions, and knowledge. This is what literacy is all about.

How can we create meaning when we don’t share and get everyone caring and participating in this knowledge?

Differentiation and Culturally Responsive Teaching

Differentiation via Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices can increase reading scores. Reading is closely linked with increased awareness and mutual understanding of our diversity. Educators don’t necessarily need to know each and every culture, but we should aim to understand that they exist, and aim to understand each student as a whole person, including the cultures that make each and every one of them special and unique. This is the only way to make literacy programming truly meaningful.

Differentiated Instruction practices, and using a wide variety of resources, including the students themselves, and other members of the community can help to infuse diversity into the classroom as well. If we are using resources that do not include diversity, this can also be an important discussion point, and opportunity to engage in further inquiry, and critical thinking.

Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices can be infused using a variety of Differentiate Teaching strategies, talking circles, Holistic Teaching practices, and through students own research and sharing within the classroom.



Reading Lessons can begin with ‘Talking Circles’, and incorporate other FNMI friendly strategies including:

The following books are excellent:



Teaching Strategies & other Practices:

  1. The use of ‘Talking Circles’ within the classroom to introduce Stephanie’s cultural perspectives. Additional benefits of Talking Circles can include turn taking, respect, creating a classroom community, sending positive messages relating to Character Education & Inclusiveness, and building Community, Culture, & Caring into the Education system.
  2. Engaging in Holistic Teaching in our Balanced Reading set up to help students to connect personal feelings, emotions, and experiences with the knowledge to create meaning.
  3. Integrating Medicine Wheel Teachings into the Curriculum First Nations, Metis & Inuit perspectives, and create a positive classroom community for behavior and learning, and helping students reflect on their own gifts & strengths, and to set personal and educational goals. The Medicine Wheel is a sacred symbol for Ojibwe cultures.
  4. Engaging in ‘Storytelling’ where students can create their own ‘Stories’ or legends about their special gifts. This will also engage the rest of the class and make connections.


Practices can also Include:

  • Inviting her family in to tell stories, share
  • Offer family to help fill out paperwork etc.;
  • Going that extra mile to help make personal connections to teachers and staff
  • Incorporating cultural teachings across the curriculum into content areas including science, art, music, language, history, geography, & social studies
  • Helping to connect families to community network supports
  • Teaching students to deconstruct bias in learning resources
  • Inviting Aboriginal Elders, Storytellers, Authors & Artists into the classroom
  • Using resources that represent an Authentic voice
  • Technology may or may not be used within the home, so use this form of communication with caution. We must use it in ways that support our families and students, not alienate them.


There is also a FREE iPad app from @ogoki learning systems for the Ojibway language!



Additional References to Check out:

Image Attribution:

“Royal Military College of Canada Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year drum” by Victoriaedwards – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Royal_Military_College_of_Canada_Aboriginal_Leadership_Opportunity_Year_drum.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Royal_Military_College_of_Canada_Aboriginal_Leadership_Opportunity_Year_drum.jpg


Deborah McCallum

Boys Literacy Initiatives: Time to Evolve with Growth Mindsets

 Educational Technology and Mobile Learning . By : Med Kharbach

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning . By : Med Kharbach

I think we have every right to have concerns about the literacy skills of our boys in our schools. Certainly, there are many wonderful strategies for differentiation within our literacy documents as well. Strategies that include the provision of high interest resources to engage students, opportunities to practice skills each day, and opportunities for students see themselves reflected in the literature. I don’t think that anyone would refute these instructional strategies.

However, I have concerns when it comes to the research that we are finding about boys and literacy, particularly through data from our standardized tests. Are we promoting fixed versus growth mindsets?

The data from standardized tests consistently demonstrate that our boys are struggling to keep up with the girls when it comes to literacy scores. But what else could the scores mean? Are there other ways to empirically interpret the scores?

I think we need to look beyond the ‘symptoms’ and results that we continually receive from our standardized test scores. We need to look deeper into underlying causes of literacy scores. This includes our prescriptive and non-prescriptive; formal and informal; conscious and unconscious methods that we use to assess, provide feedback and manage our schools.

Praising for Intelligence only after a Success

When we start to look more closely at the research of Dweck & Mueller (1998). I believe that we are onto a very ‘BIG IDEA‘ here if we can extrapolate this research and apply it to how we define boys literacy. I think that this research can help us to start to understand and disrupt some of our own behaviours as educators when it comes to literacy instruction.

As I read Dweck & Mueller’s basic research (1998), there is strong evidence that suggests that praising for intelligence after success creates a fixed mindset, and that the same  students will continue to choose problems that will enable them to continue to show the same good performance. The will not show a growth mindset to explore ‘other’ interests or take learning risks.

This is in contrast to children who are praised for hard work. These students are more likely to choose problems and learning opportunities that are interesting and will increase their learning potential.

I wonder if this essentially means that the girls with higher IQ’s and standardized test scores are more likely to adopt mindsets that will enable them to give up? I also wonder if this means that boys on the other hand, when given difficult material, are taught to see it as a challenge- because they are praised for just being able to sit still and give attention to their work?

There are serious implications here if this is true.

We need to look more closely at how culturally we have come to praise our girls and boys differently.

Do Girls Love to Read more than Boys? 

We see more conforming behaviours among girls in school – but I do not believe that this means that they enjoy the readings any more than the ‘boys’ do (despite what the standardized tests scores may ‘indicate’). In fact, I think that the typical praise for girls to conform and succeed on specific tasks may actually promote ‘fake reading’ in many cases. After all, if you do not like what you read, but are motivated to obtain praise for succeeding on a task, and have been reinforced to figure out the ‘formula’ for success, why wouldn’t you continue ‘fake’ it to obtain that high grade or score? Regardless of whether you learned anything or not?

Where is the motivation and reinforcement to make yourself better and follow your passions in life?

Are we inadvertently training many students to successfully ‘fake’ their way through the reading process?

Another key point that stood out to me was that when children are praised for intelligence and success on performance tasks, then these students also prefer to find out how everyone else did, rather than what they can do to improve their own performance.

This is very profound.

If we assume this research is ‘true’, just imagine the other implications for school and life. For instance, how much variability in student behaviours on the school yard can be attributed to this praise for intelligence based on success? How will girls and boys compare themselves to one another in their peer groups, how does this affect social heirarchy’s and further reinforce adaptive and maladaptive school behaviours? How does this account for behaviours surrounding cooperation versus competition? Self-esteem in peer groups, not just in the classroom? Bullying?


Interests & Motivation:

And finally, the research showed that when we praise children for performance, they value the performance itself more than following their own interests. They value the actual task more than their own interests and motivations. And why wouldn’t they? It is human nature to respond and learn based on reinforcements – feedback is a strong way to reinforce behaviours, including conforming behaviours.

Does this contribute to a sense of loss for many students when they do finally walk out of the doors of our educational institutions for the last time? Or does it give them a sense of security that they can be contributing and loyal members of society?

Perhaps Boys literacy initiatives are in fact continuing to reinforce the fact that it is okay for boys to follow their own interests in terms of what text they want to read. Yet girls are still praised for success with traditional literature, and being rewarded with higher scores on standardized tests.

I think that at the very least, we have strong evidence to follow for further research as it pertains to literacy initiatives, and gender differences.

As with every theory, current theories of boys and literacy are true until they are proven not true. We have empirical evidence now coming to light now that allows us to understand that previous research into boys literacy may need to be viewed from new lenses.

I think we need to re-package this initiative into new ways of thinking about boys and girls in literacy.

We need to look toward solving more global concerns of how schools are set up and run in the first place. How the feedback and praise are reinforcing for stereotypical behaviours in girls and boys. And how we are inadvertently teaching children that they are their test score.

We achieve and discover exactly what we set out to get.

If we set out to give different forms of feedback and praise to girls and boys, then this will impact their behaviours. It will impact standardized test scores. And we will extrapolate this to mean that boys are struggling more. We will treat the symptoms, but not the underlying causes. We may even use this data to justify more resources and supports to the most privileged populations in our Western societies.

A lot to ponder.

I will be continuing to explore my inquiries.



Dweck, C. & Mueller, C. (1998). Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s
Motivation and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52.


Educational Technology and Mobile Learning . By : Med Kharbach



Deborah McCallum


© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


My Classroom Blog: The Education Commons


The following is a link to my classroom blog. Informally, I like to think of it as the place ‘where the rubber hits the road’. I have had a classroom blog and website for years, but am starting fresh in my new role with literacy this fall! I have a lot of BIG ideas to continue to cultivate in the upcoming school year. It is always a work in progress!





Word Study & the SAMR

The following is a brief example of a literacy center idea I designed for integrating word study with edtech, Forest of Reading and the SAMR.

This is a center for the development of fluency and comprehension. Where students will learn to automatically recognize and read high frequency words. This is a design strategy to give students meaningful practice in reading the words in well-written books from the Forest of Reading’s Silver Birch and Silver Birch Express programs from the Ontario Library Association

Please contact me for more details or to share and collaborate via GAFE!

Deborah McCallum



How do you Balance Digital vs Traditional Literacy Instruction?

Traditional versus Digital Literacy

How do you know what strategies are appropriate for teaching traditional literacy? Are the strategies different than those that promote digital literacy?

We all know about learning goals and success criteria, rubrics, assessment for learning, etc., etc., But it never ceases to amaze me of deep and focused our strategies go for effective literacy programs. Strategies including cueing systems, sematics, pragmatics, graphophonics, syntax, contexts and reading for meaning – It causes me to ponder how we ever find enough time to provide the right balance of strategy and appropriate feedback to help students meaningfully deconstruct the content, process and product. Now enter digital literacy..and I don’t mean how to use edtech in literacy programs.


Digital texts have expanded at exponential rates over the last decade. Blogging, texting, social media, advertising, wikis, and the list goes on and on and on. Digital literacies are incredibly important and relevant for students, yet much of our instruction for literacy pedagogy is based on traditional texts. Should we be moving our efforts away from traditional literature forms and putting more focus on digital literacies? This sounds like it should be an obvious answer. Of course we should! However, depending upon the school culture, evaluation cycle, administration, moderation policies, standardized tests including reading scores, this turns out to be a very complicated answer.

Curriculum documents, publishing companies, board directed PD opportunities, teacher performance appraisals, standardized assessments, and a general lack of longitudinal research into digital technologies in education, all point to pressure to stay within traditional teaching methods. It is often the trailblazers that either have full support, or end up giving themselves permission to create new programs that incorporate digital literacy and digital technology. This leaves the instruction of new literacies up to innovative educators who are willing to engage in inquiry, action research and more to actively incorporate digital literacy into the program.

Is digital text really all that different than traditional text? Of course it is. Is my blog post different than an essay, scientific method, research paper, poem or fairy tale? Of course it is. Are there similarities? Yes of course.

If literacy is all about helping students to have the skills to actively make sense of the world around them, further create meaning from the world around them, and communicate effectively in many different ways, then we need to take a closer look at what we are promoting in our classrooms.

Program Design

The decision to design particular strategies must depend on particular needs of the learner. For instance, if students are using a sounding out strategy, they need semantic and syntactic cues, and if students are relying on contextual cues, they need attention and feedback focused on print and use of graphophonic knowledge.

If digital texts are too distracting then we can find strategies to manage this by providing digital resources that will help students be successful, ie., less advertisements, less visuals, or more visuals as the case may be. The following section will look at very basic strategies that can be used before, during and after reading – of any text.

Strategies to Activate prior knowledge, set a purpose in your eLearning environment:

  • Brainstorming – what you already know, what you expect to discover. Why would you access that blog post or wiki?
  • Predicting – use cues from features etc. (what are the features anyway of a specific digital text & why are they important?)
  • Asking questions – organize the search for info

Strategies to Build Knowledge and Collaborate:

  • Help make sense of digital text and monitor understanding. Create visualizations of what is being read. Make predictions
  • Confirm or modify initial predictions and continue to make predictions about what next steps are with digital media.
  • Ask questions about what one reads. Always ask questions
  • Visualizations about what you are reading – create your own? Or use the vizualizations provided via advertisements etc.?
  • Going back and re-reading when digital text does not make sense. Are we real or fake-reading with digital texts?
  • Making personal connections with the text
  • Making notes from text. Highlighting and annotating. Or writing with a pen and paper
  • What is the criteria of a high quality post vs a low-quality post.
  • How do we know the difference?
  • Interactive writing. How do we do this successfully on a wiki, google doc, etc.?

Strategies to Consolidate & Summarize:

  • Reflect on one’s predictions and how well they matched with what was actually read.
  • Think about and explain or map what one learned from the text
  • Drawing, dramatizing, video tape or take pictures that demonstrate understanding of the content
  • Talking to others about the text via online ‘chat’, ie., twitter chat
  • Retelling text in own words in a new form of media
  • Writing reflectively about the digital text(s)
  • Asking questions about the digital text(s)
  • Creating a new digital text

And then I finally ask, what is the difference between accessing digital texts versus traditional texts? How should we be teaching with traditional texts now that we are living in a digital world? How often should we be teaching with traditional texts? Are current curriculum documents, policies and procedures in place to effectively lead a digital literacy program?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

My next post, I will look more closely at comprehension strategies, assessment strategies, and feedback more specific to digital literacy.

What specific strategies do you use to promote digital literacy in your Learning Environment? How closely is it related to your traditional literacy programming?


Deborah McCallum




© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Strategies for Integrating Edtech in Learning

Incorporating edtech into our curriculum is essential, and can be integrated into the planning and assessment of our students. First, it is essential to develop an action plan. Know what it is you are going to teach, when, and how. Create your long range plan, but be flexible and allow for student needs and inquiry to take you where you need to go. Also, become familiar with social media and how to use it. If literacy is about helping students to create meaning in their lives, then we must use tools and strategies that are meaningful to the students.

Next, consider what students need to know before, during and after the unit.

1. Identify the strategies you need to Activate prior knowledge, set a purpose for your environment:

  • Brainstorming – what you already know, what you expect to discover
  • Predicting – use cues from covers etc.
  • Asking questions – allow for student inquiry to help facilitate the organization and the search for info

2. How will students build Knowledge and Collaborate:

  • Help make sense of digital texts and monitor understanding
  • Confirm or modify initial predictions and continue to make predictions about what will happen next
  • Inquiry: Ask questions about what one reads
  • Create Visualizations about what the material
  • Going back and re-reading when text does not make sense
  • Making personal connections with the text
  • Making notes either by hand, or via notemaking app

3. Provide flexible strategies to Consolidate & Summarize their learning:

  • Reflect on one’s predictions and how well they matched
  • Think about and explain or map what one learned from the text
  • Drawing, dramatizing, video tape or take pictures that demonstrate understanding of the content
  • Talking to others about the text via online ‘chat’, ie., twitter chat
  • Retelling text in own words in a new form of media
  • Writing reflectively about the text
  • Asking questions about the text
  • Creating a new product

Keep in mind learning goals, success criteria, journals, blogs, ePortfolios tweeting, wikis, Learning Management Systems, and GAFE in your planning and assessment. Finally, don’t forget to document the learning each step of the way!

What strategies do you employ and how do you integrate edtech?


Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.