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Bringing it all together: Literacy, ICTs and the 21st Century Skills

Stephen Pinel *

Literacy, 21st Century Skills, ICTs and a Common Pedagogical Framework seem to be flavours of the month in many schools, including mine. What’s not so evident is how schools blend these disparate strategies into one framework. Too often our lived experience is that the PD delivered for each of these strategies is delivered separately, in a piece-meal approach, and in ways that can contradict each other.

In this article, I’d like to share a framework that integrates these four important strategies, so that units of work can be prepared that take students from learning basic skills directly from teacher modelling, right through to the collaborative application of these skills against real-world, authentic problems.

I’m going to assume that people reading this article are across strategies for teaching literacies, and are onboard with the use of ICTs in education, so I’ll start by looking at the 21st Century Skills briefly, and a more detailed look at a pedagogical framework called The Gradual Release of Responsibility. Note that Literacy and ICT skills are already explicitly identified in the 21st Century Skill Set that I have used for the purposes of this article.

ICTs and 21st Century Skills

The 21st Century Skills have been hashed over by quite a few different groups over the last 20 or so years.  Fundamentally, the 21st Century Skills are those that employers and the community in general see as valuable for people to contribute economically and socially, as leaders or as active participants, and as entrepreneurs in our society.  I’m going to be using the 21st Century Skill Set as defined in the 21CLD Rubrics, written by the ITL Research Group, funded by Microsoft philanthropic organisation Partners in Learning Network. Their list of the six 21st Century Skills are Collaboration, Knowledge Construction, Self Regulation, Real World Problem Solving & Innovation, The Use of ICT for Learning and Skilled Communication. I like their definition of the Skill Set because they also provide specific examples, and describe what we will see students doing at different levels as they develop.  As an example, Collaboration is defined as:

Collaboration: Students work together when the activity requires them to work in pairs or groups to:

  • discuss an issue
  • solve a problem
  • create a product

Table 1: Examples of collaboration

Pairs of students give each other feedback. Students do their work alone. A small group discuss issues together. A whole class discussion on an issue. A student uses Skype to interview a student in another school or town Students use OneNote to share their story drafts and give each other feedback. Each student creates his/her own story and sends it to the educator for feedback.

A rubric for measuring the level of Collaboration in an activity


In this learning activity:

  • Students are NOT required to work together in pairs or groups
  • Students DO work together
  • BUT they DO NOT have shared responsibility
  • Students DO have shared responsibility
  • BUT they ARE NOT required to make substantive decisions together
  • Students DO have shared responsibility
  • AND they DO make substantive decisions together about the content, process, or product of their work
  • BUT their work is not interdependent
  • Students DO have shared responsibility
  • AND they DO make substantive decisions together about the content, process, or product of their work
  • AND their work is interdependent.

The Rubric also assists teachers in identifying how their unit can be improved in each particular dimension.

The Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) Pedagogical Framework

GRR is a structured pedagogical framework that, as the name suggests, gradually moves the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student.  There are four distinct phases in GRR.

  • Focused Lesson: the skill or process to be taught is explicitly modelled by the teacher, with students passively observing.
  • Guided Instruction: students attempt the skill or process modelled in the first stage, one step at a time, with teacher support or guidance, rather than modelling.

The first two phases are generally the easy part of GRR for teachers because they control the classroom activity entirely, and students do not need to be highly engaged for success.  It is enough that students are motivated by the desire to avoid negative consequences (detention, parental contact etc) for them to succeed at learning activities at this stage, if the activity is within their capacity.  Strategies such as Learning Intentions and Success Criteria will not generally be helpful for students as they are simply mimicking what their teacher is showing them.  Philip Schlechty describes this level of engagement as Ritual Compliance (see A Spectrum of Engagement).

  • Collaborative Learning: students continue to improve their skills at their own pace, but work collaboratively with their peers rather than the teacher.

In this phase, teachers start to let go of control of classroom activity and set differentiated goals and tasks for their students. Working collaboratively is a key element of this phase. This is not something that students do well at naturally, and so teaching students how to work together, to achieve common goals becomes an important role for the teacher. Phase 3 requires students to be more engaged in their work, as they are under less direct teacher supervision. As students start to take ownership of their own learning, Learning Intentions and Success Criteria also start to become important elements of teaching at this phase. Flipping can be a useful technique in this phase, to allow more classroom time for collaboration and peer coaching.  Philip Schlechty describes the level of engagement required for success in this phase as Strategic Compliance.

  • Independent Tasks: students apply their learning in new situations.

Phase four is the point in learning where we invite students to apply their knowledge and skills in new situations that are authentic and involve real-world problem-solving.  It is in this phase that students have the first real opportunity to choose an application for their new skills that are of personal interest to themselves, with guidance or advice from their teacher.For success in this phase, students need to show the full characteristics of Engagement as described by Schlechty, that is, both high commitment and high attention to the task at hand.  Students must be intrinsically motivated, and so it is important that the teacher does not arbitrarily assign a task, but involves the students in identifying a task to work towards that is seen to be authentic for the students. That is, Learning Intentions and Success Criteria must be co-constructed. PBL (problem based learning, or project based learning) can be a good a teaching technique that meets these requirements.

Integration of GRR with 21st Century Skills

In an initial attempt to integrate GRR with 21st Century Skills, Table 1 shows a mapping between specific activities related to each 21st Century Skill and the GRR phase in which that activity should be observed.

  1. In the 21CLD document, innovation is defined as putting students’ ideas or solutions into practice in the real world.
  2. The authenticity of a product/problem can only be decided by the audience or client, in this case, our students.  This reinforces the idea that students must be involved in planning which problems to solve, as they student themselves must see the problem as authentic, not just the teacher.
  3. Accessing Learning Intentions and Success Criteria is defined as these being both available to students, and actively being used by students.  Simply having them available for students is not enough to say they are being accessed by students.

Table 1: Student activities evident at different phases of the GRR model of pedagogy, mapped against 21st Century Learning Design. A spectrum of Engagement – Phillip Schlechty


* Stephen Pinel is Head of Science at Unity College, Sunshine Coast. He will be presenting a session and workshop around Whole School Engagement at the Leading a Digital School Conference, August 2018 – see the program for more

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