Literacy as a Survival Skill

I have been impacted as an educator, a parent, and a citizen by the work of Tony Wagner writer of The Global Achievement Gap (2014) and co-writer of Most Likely to Succeed (2015).  In the years before exposure to Wagner’s work, I was equally impacted by Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the 21st Century.  I am not one to accept much I read as all-encompassing truth or holistically change my life- or work-style based on even the most solid work of an investigative journalist.  What I am willing to do is be reflective about what I know of the world around me and adjust where it seems most logical for me and those I influence.  

More recently, as part of my work on a cross-content curriculum team, I was asked to re-read an excerpt from The Global Achievement Gap.  One of the takeaways from a critical reading of what Wagner calls the “survival skills” for the “new world of work” is that literacy interventionists must possess many of these skills in order to be truly effective.  I suspect all educators must have a takes-one-to-know-one attitude about these skills. As professionals, Wagner posits that we should possess all of these skills to be employed, contributing citizens in the 21st century?  I can only assume they are also easier to pass on if one knows what they look like, feel like, sound like, etc. However, when asked to work with a population of students who have been through a plethora of ineffective instructional efforts intended to close the gap in their literacy journeys, impactful literacy interventionists at the secondary level have to possess something extra, something different.  We have to convince the nearly un-convincible that we have something essential to offer that is worth their effort and will contribute to their survival.  

So after contemplating for myself all the ways I engage these skills as a literacy educator, leader and advocate, I took the list before my professional learning community of high school literacy interventionist to see what they thought.  First, I wanted to know how they believe interventionists engage, or should engage, in these skills as we fulfill the requirements of our practice.  I also wanted to know how we require, or should require, students to engage these skills. Where should we make adjustments?

The World of Work and the Seven Survival Skills” (Wagner, 2008) How I use these skills as a teacherHow my students use these skills as they learn
Initiative & Entrepreneurialism Developing new and differentiated materials and processes to help struggling readers

Implementing action research for instruction to enhance metacognition and related skills
Analyzing personal assessment data and identifying areas of desired growth

Setting and monitoring personal goals and seeking growth through personal effort
Effective Written and Oral Communication Discussing data and developing instruction in professional learning communities

Writing and speaking to parents about student needs and strengths

Conferencing with students to provide feedback and to apply strategies to independent reading
Discussing data and developing instruction in professional learning communities

Writing and speaking to parents about student needs and strengths

Conferencing with students to provide feedback and to apply strategies to independent reading
Curiosity & Imagination Exploring research for areas of interest or to support action research

Engaging in action research to determine solutions for instructional challenges
Questioning to extend thinking about a topic and set a purpose for further inquiry.

Seeking information (inquiry) based on specific interesting or curiosity
Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Skills Matching student needs to instructional strategies

Monitoring for and reflecting on student evidence to adjust instruction

Using a variety of data points to diagnose and remediate literacy needs
Identifying what makes text confusing and determining clarification strategies

Intentionally thinking about thinking to solve cognitive challenges around literacy across contents

Evaluating sources, points of view, and arguments as part of making meaning of text
Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence Collaborating with PLC members (literacy teachers across the district) to develop curriculum, assessment and instruction for intervention

Leading a literacy team and guiding professional learning for content teachers

Co-teaching as literacy access teachers in content classes to build student transfer of skills
Participating and leading reciprocal teaching group discussions about text

Relaying and modeling literacy strategies among peers in content classes

Leading class presentations around strategies and strategy application
Agility & Adaptability Monitoring learning & adjusting instruction in real-time.

Planning and adjusting to content needs in co-teaching setting
When encountering confusion, attempting and adjusting strategies to clarify confusion

Identifying and adjusting the purpose for reading a text

Identifying evidence to adjust predictions and inferences
Accessing & Analyzing Information Conducting pre-assessment, continuous formative assessment, and post assessment to identify patterns in student growth and needs

Analyzing student data to determine needs and strengths to differentiate instruction
Analyzing the connections between ideas in text and real-life

Evaluating sources, points of view, and arguments as part of making meaning of text

Reviewing personal data and identifying their own areas of strength and need.

I am sure we have missed some ways these skills are embedded, as I am sure there are many more ways we could be intentional and effective at deepening real-world application.   We must do that while not losing focus on our the foremost skill of need: to make meaning out of an overabundance of complicated texts with which they must engage as adults.

Wagner relays multiple times that these survival skills aren’t seen in educators or taught to students, repeatedly noting that we are still teaching for the needs of the industrial age. He veers away from blaming educators specifically and focuses more on blaming the educational system as a whole.  I do think there is a solid movement to engage students in truly practical and effective 21st century survival skills. Maybe that movement was fueled by voices like Wagner’s, but there are educators taking the lead on this. I believe I know some of them personally, and I have had the privilege to see them in practice.  I also realize the shift hasn’t been universal.   What do you think?What can education do to make a holistic, systemic shift? Where must that transition start?   Would you add any skills that aren’t listed among Wagner’s list of 21st Century “Survival Skills?”

Our district focus on employability skills includes many of Wagner's survival skills.

Our district focus on employability skills includes many of Wagner’s survival skills.

2 thoughts on “Literacy as a Survival Skill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *