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In writing this book, our author group held many conversations about what the future holds for the adolescents of today and how we can best prepare them to live and work in a global society. Our young people are using ‘phones, computers, and iPods to network across the country with each other; they link to sports, music, and information in ways that we could not have imagined for ourselves as adolescents. They understand that a tsunami thousands of miles away may show up as waves lapping our own shores.
We asked ourselves, “What does a fifteen- or eighteen -year-old need to know and be able to do in a volatile and changing world? What does it mean to be a ‘literate’ young person? What ways of using literacy are important for these times?”
This book is our attempt to answer these questions. The first two chapters present a teaching framework that identifies the competencies that all adolescents need in a global world and the specific literacy tools that adolescents can use to develop those competencies. Many twenty-first-century learning reports have outlined the competencies that a global society requires of students. These reports emphasize that the ability to manage information and understand complex issues will be prized in the workplace. They argue that inquiry is rigorous when students are engaging in competencies that include conceptual understanding, critical thinking, creative thinking, and collaboration and communication with culturally diverse peers. In most of the rest of the chapters, the book brings these competencies into the classroom and links them with a set of “multiliteracy tools” that students need to develop and engage in these competencies. Reading to understand, writing to think, accountable talk, and digital and media fluency provide the students the means by which to hone their twenty-first-century competencies in all the content areas they encounter.
The book brings together the content area competencies and literacy tools in lessons and curriculum units organized around some of the most compelling questions of our times. In the science classroom, students use digital and multimedia images to ask “What is the evidence of climate change in our country and across the world?” They use writing, drawing, and peer discussion to investigate what our human role is in global warming. In history and literature class, they engage in peer discussion of historical texts and a memoir of a Japanese family after World War II, asking what impact war has on families and what countries and families themselves do to survive war. In their English class, they follow the development of a character who is struggling to fit into her peer group and also hold on to her self-respect. They write and support their interpretations about the characters in persuasive essays. And in the social studies class, they read articles, pose questions, and create podcasts about immigration to explore the questions of why people leave one country for another and how immigration affects communities.
The book shows teachers engaging their students in these big twenty-first-century questions as critical inquiries that involve thinking about the causes of conflict for individuals and families. Within the Supported Literacy framework, critical inquiries involve all students, including those with disabilities, struggling readers, and English language learners, in using their minds actively. Students find personal connections to the questions. (For example, What is my family’s own immigration history? What is the carbon footprint of my school?) Critical inquiry is active and goes beyond simply gathering inert information. It links personal development with social critique and action.
But what about the sixth- or ninth-grade reader who still struggles to make sense of the written word? In addition to addressing the needs of typically developing learners, the Supported Literacy Intensive component addresses the needs of these struggling readers. And the book shows how a special education teacher, whose students have moderate cognitive difficulties, teaches her students the reading and peer collaboration skills they need to compare and contrast characters in a novel. This book takes the stand that all teachers in a school need to be connected and to work toward supporting all their students.
At a time when teachers are pulled in many directions and schools are seeking to provide professional development, Supported Literacy provides an accessible resource. This book includes classroom snapshots that capture the creative decision - making processes teachers use in developing their lessons. You can hear the voices of many teachers and students across different content domains and grade levels as they engage in a series of lessons from an extended curriculum unit. The book provides examples of curriculum units that can structure learning in a whole content area, building twenty-first-century competencies through a coherent and connected set of lessons.
Over the past decade, we authors developed the Supported Literacy framework through a series of collaborations between our organization, Education Development Center, Inc., in Newton, Massachusetts, and teams of teachers and administrators in Massachusetts and New York State and in the Southern states of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. We supported these teams in working as learning communities to refine ideas, to use the framework to design sample curriculum units, and to develop new ways of integrating twenty-first-century competencies and literacy tools into content teaching. These teachers are the heart of the story; we hope they inspire you as they use the Supported Literacy framework to take their students into the twenty-first century.
Catherine Cobb Morocco and Cynthia Mata Aguilar
Newton, Massachusetts
March 2008

Catherine Cobb Morocco is senior scientist and associate director at Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) in Newton, Massachusetts. Her work focuses on improving students’ writing, comprehension, and discourse skills and teachers’ instructional expertise in literacy. As principal investigator of the REACH Institute (a five-year program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, she coordinated the work of three university partners to design instructional materials for content area classrooms, and oversaw the development of a schoolwide literacy approach—Supported Literacy™—for the language arts classroom. Through additional grants, she and her colleagues expanded the classroom component of Supported Literacy to a tutorial model to provide additional tutoring for adolescents lacking foundation reading skills of phonemic awareness, decoding, word identification, and comprehension skills. She has also directed or served as principal investigator for a series of studies of middle schools and high schools that have strong participation and positive results for their students with disabilities. She was first author of a recent a book, Visionary Middle Schools: Signature Practices and the Power of Local Innovation Disabilities, with colleagues Cynthia Aguilar and Nancy Brigham, and also produced a special journal issue, “Good High Schools for Students with Disabilities.” She has published in numerous scholarly journals and regularly presents at national conferences. She received her doctorate in language and literature from Harvard University.
Cynthia Mata Aguilar is a senior project director and adolescent literacy specialist at EDC. Her expertise includes adolescent literacy, special education and inclusive practices, school reform in the middle and high school, and diversity, multicultural, and anti-racism training. She is the author of several research articles and publications, including Visionary Middle Schools: Signature Practices and the Power of Local Invention. The August 2006 issue of Learning Disabilities: Research & Practice features “Good High Schools for Students with Disabilities,” another of Aguilar’s projects. Currently, she is adolescent literacy team leader for the New York and New England Comprehensive Centers, federally funded technical assistance centers that support states’ efforts to raise the academic achievement of secondary school students and meet the goals of No Child Left Behind. Her experience as a teacher, union president, researcher, and professional development specialist informs her work. She is the co-writer for several Supported Literacy curriculum units including “How Far Would You Go to Fit In?”
Carol Bershad brings more than twenty-five years of experience in developing curricula, books, simulations, and online courses in science, literacy, health, leadership, and school change, as well as designing and conducting professional development for educators. Carol was a co-writer for the Supported Literacy curriculum unit titled “How Far Would You Go to Fit In?” and designed and conducted Supported Literacy professional development for teachers and coaches. Carol has also written other middle school curricula integrating literacy and life skills, including a literacy-based module titled “Taking Action to Stop Bullying. ” Bershad has co-written books on nutrition and fitness for children, including Bodyworks (Random House). She also wrote an online teacher course for the WGBH public broadcasting station’s series titled Evolution (www.pbs.org/evolution). In addition, Carol has been a consultant for systemic school change, conducting national workshops and presentations for educators using the simulation she co-developed, Systems Thinking/Systems Changing™. She is currently completing two other simulations, one on leadership and academic achievement and the other on professional development design for science, “Building Systems for Quality Teaching and Learning in Science,” funded by the National Science Foundation. Bershad earned her M.S. in biology from the University of Michigan and has eight years of classroom experience teaching biology in the Newton Public Schools, Newton, Massachusetts.

Andrea Winokur Kotula is a project director and literacy specialist at EDC. She is completing a study, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, to develop a model of intensive differentiated reading instruction for the lowest quarter of readers at an urban middle school. This model has become a part of the Supported Literacy framework. She works with EDC’s technical assistance team in the New York Comprehensive Center to provide assistance to New York City and New York State literacy leaders and professional development to literacy coaches and leadership teams on implementing scientifically based reading research. Kotula’s special expertise is the diagnosis and correction of reading difficulties. Prior to coming to EDC, she was the director of reading and educational resources at the Franciscan Hospital for Children, where she trained and supervised staff who conducted educational evaluations as part of multidisciplinary teams. She has teaching experience at the elementary level, as a reading specialist, and at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She earned a doctorate in reading, language, and learning disabilities at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she was a research assistant to Jeanne S. Chall, a world-renowned expert on reading instruction, reading disability, and readability. She has been the president of the International Reading Association’s Special Interest Group on Readability since 1997 and frequently presents at national conferences.
Alisa Hindin is an assistant professor of educational studies at Seton Hall University (New Jersey), where she teaches courses in literacy and teacher education. Her research interests include literacy instruction, teacher preparation in literacy, and family literacy. She was a research associate for the REACH Institute at Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), where she played a major role in the development and field testing of Supported Literacy, providing professional development support to teachers in the project, and writing and publishing journal articles related to the work. Her most recent journal publications are forthcoming in the Journal of Literacy Research and Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice. Her doctorate is from Boston University.

The authors wish to thank the many people, particularly teachers, principals, and coaches, who contributed to this book. Supported Literacy for Adolescents was created with and for classroom practitioners working with EDC staff, and reflects the realities of what teachers cope with and accomplish daily in their work with young people. Each chapter includes the voices of teachers and other professionals who were part of developing and applying the Supported Literacy framework.
Teachers from Worcester East Middle School and Sullivan Middle School in Worcester, MA opened their classrooms to the EDC team and worked many hours after school to design initial curriculum units. Three Sullivan Middle School teachers, Terry Palumbo, Claire Scanlon, and Lilla Robinson, made additional contributions by allowing us to videotape their students in Supported Literacy lessons. These teachers and their students are the focus of the detailed stories in several chapters. Caprice Kopka from Worcester East Middle School stepped in at the end of the process to give us feedback on several chapter drafts. Principals John Bierfeldt and Kevin Keany encouraged all of these teacher contributions and made Supported Literacy an integral part of their schools.
In Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, teachers in every content area, including mathematics and foreign language, used Supported Literacy to develop their school-wide literacy coaching skills. We thank those teachers and their principals and the staff of Atlas in the Middle (AIM), who organized and supported that year-long training process. The AIM director, Glenda Copeland, and coordinators Ruby Midkiff and Barbara Hunter-Cox connected us with schools through these southern states, including Lincoln Middle School and Lake View Middle in Forrest City, AR; Henderson Intermediate School and Armstrong Middle School in Starkville, MS; Magnolia Middle School in Meridian, MS; and Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Monroe, LA.
Teachers and administrators from Collins Middle School in Salem, MA and Morton Middle School in Fall River, MA collaborated with doctors Kotula and Morocco in designing and piloting the Supported Literacy Intensive program described in Chapter Six. Principal Mary Manning and Assistant Principal Nancy Pelletier from Collins Middle School took on scheduling and staff development challenges in order to develop an intensive tutorial program for low reading students in grades 6 through 8.
Many people, in addition to our Worcester teachers, contributed to the content area curriculum adaptations we describe. For the social studies examples (Immigration in Chapter One and War and People in Chapter Two) we would like to thank Greg Hurray, K-8 English language arts coordinator for the Newton Massachusetts Public Schools, for sharing information about the integration of literacy into content areas in middle school classrooms. We thank Robert Parlin, Newton South High School history teacher, for sharing his immigration unit and teaching experiences, and Janet Buerklin, K-8 social studies coordinator, for talking with us about teaching about immigration and integrating literacy skills into history teaching. We treasure the contribution of Yoko Kawashima Watkins, author of My Brother, My Sister, & I, to our work with that text; she shared her life and her heart in a unit that became War and Families.
Many people contributed to Chapter Three, on applying Supported Literacy to teaching climate change. Two 17-year-old students, Floryn Honnett and Teddy Rosenthal, helped us understand how adolescents think about global warming. Michael Ernst, director of information systems at the Woods Hole Research Center, generously provided up-to-date graphs on climate change. Susan Mundry, associate director of mathematics, science, and technology programs at WestEd, and Deborah Haber, a former science teacher and now director of the Center for School and Community Health Programs at EDC, both provided helpful feedback on the climate chapter and science inquiry learning. Ruth Krumasi, an earth sciences teacher and member of EDC’s curriculum development staff, shared her curriculum and experiences teaching climate change. Jackie Miller and Marion Pasquale, also of EDC’s Science Center, allowed us to consult their Earth Science Curriculum Project and provided thoughtful feedback on Chapter Three. Karen Worth shared her science literacy curriculum for younger students and has been a partner in discussing science and literacy for many years.
Many other staff in our EDC brain trust have helped us over the years. Thank you to David O’Neil, director of publishing, for fostering our relationship with Jossey-Bass; to Nancy Ames for her great vision, insightful feedback, and draft of the final chapter; and Judy Zorfass and her Literacy Matters staff, for their help in bringing Supported Literacy to the country. Sherry Anderson coordinated book production, Andrea Goguen creating the early graphics, and Laurie Rosenblum edited the references. Cerelle Morrow reviewed several chapters. Emily Arwen Mott was an invaluable EDC research assistant during our early years of piloting the program in Worcester. We appreciate David Riley’s help in seeing the implication of the work for students with disabilities and providing us many opportunities to share the Supported Literacy work with teachers across the country in conferences of the Urban Special Education Collaborative.
Kim Elliott is the most extraordinary editor, whose developmental editing and deep copy editing immensely strengthened our manuscript.
Our work would not be possible without the contributions of our funders, both federal and foundation. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U. S. Department of Education provided the original grant for a five-year institute to look at curriculum for diverse students as well as a second grant to that focused on struggling readers. The first two authors directed the institute and developed Supported Literacy in that context. The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) supported the comprehensive school reform work with AIM literacy coaches in the South. The MetLife Foundation funded the development of a unit that applied Supported Literacy to a curriculum unit on health and social studies.
Finally, we dedicate the book to all middle and high school teachers as they work together to prepare their students for a world with formidable problems and infinite opportunities. We hope that you will find some powerful ideas and tools in this book to help you engage all of your students in critical inquiry and in advocating for their ideas.

Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) is an international, nonprofit organization that conducts and applies research to advance learning and promote health. EDC currently manages 325 projects in thirty-five countries. Our award-winning programs and products, developed in collaboration with partners around the globe, address nearly every critical need in society, including early child development, K-12 education, health promotion, workforce preparation, community development, learning technologies, basic and adult education, institutional reform, medical ethics, and social justice.

A Twenty-First-Century Classroom
Tom Howard’s eleventh graders are using a fishbowl format to discuss an immigration crisis in their community. The students vary in their reading and writing skills as well as in their cultural backgrounds, but most of them love this talking format. All are aware that U.S. immigration policies are a big subject of debate in the country—they know, because many students in the school have recently immigrated from Central and Latin America or Asia. Also, their town is grappling with an immigration crisis. Federal immigration officers raided a factory in their community that employs several hundred Mexican women, most working in the United States illegally, and quickly deported many of them to an immigration detention center in Texas. The eight students in the inner circle are talking about what happened and how this current immigration conflict relates to earlier waves of immigration to the United States. Fifteen other students are sitting in a larger circle around the speakers, listening and taking notes.
Mr. Howard: Okay, you in the fishbowl, from your reading and Internet search of press releases and reports, what happened at the New Rialto leather factory?
John: Immigration authorities burst into the plant and hauled away workers.
Tomas: Just ones who couldn’t show papers, but it was over three hundred people. And the factory was paying practically nothing and had terrible work conditions. And the factory is still open!
Teresa: They put hundreds on planes to Texas to detention camps. Some of the women have little children.
Oscar: Detention centers aren’t prisons, though they can have bad conditions. Social service people flew to Texas to see who has kids and needs to be home.
Ruben: Some parents have kids in our school. I’ve been to meetings with them.
Emma: We feel badly for these workers, but you know, they’re illegal [speaker’s emphasis]. My uncle is here legally, and he should have one of those jobs!
This discussion comes at the end of an eight-week unit on the causes and impact of immigration to the United States since the end of the nineteenth century. The unit is organized around questions of current interest: Why do people emigrate to another country? What different waves of immigrants have come to the United States, and why have they come? What issues and conflicts are arising around current immigration to the United States? The students have constructed family trees at home to learn about their family histories and to be able to bring their family and cultural identities into their understanding of present-day immigration issues.
They are using a multiplicity of literacy tools. They are reading textbooks and reading and listening to primary sources focused on more than a hundred years of immigration to the United States from Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Mexico, Central and South America, and Africa. The readings included narratives of earlier immigrants published in print books and on the Internet, online newspaper accounts of earlier immigration issues, and court briefs. They are writing summaries and analyses of their readings, and they bring that writing to peer discussions. Groups of four or five students have studied different immigrant waves and posted write-ups on the class blog (a Web site designed for students to post observations and comments) after presenting their findings to the class. Each group investigated why people came, how they were treated when they arrived, their economic situations, and how they fit into the economy at that time. For example, they contrasted the reasons why poor Mexicans are coming into the country now with the reasons why poor Irish settled here in the 1800s.
Mr. Howard encourages his students to connect what they’ve read about earlier immigrations with what is happening in their own community:
Ruben: It’s nativism [local people’s fears that immigrants will disrupt their jobs and way of life]. Like we discussed from studying the Irish immigrations. People are afraid they’ll lose their jobs to new people.
Teresa: And it’s economic. Earlier groups also came for work. I’m from California and illegal immigrants pick our grapes and oranges.
Tomas: My group read the Homeland Security Documents on how to treat immigrant detainees. Fine, the rules aren’t so bad, but we can’t just hold people. My grandparents came here from Russia and they’re citizens. How should people get to be Americans?
Mr. Howard: When you write up your group investigations next week, find as many connections as you can to this crisis in our own community. We’ll record your presentations and post them as a podcast [a digital sound file] on our class blog.
The students continue the discussion on the class blog. Emma offers to start the discussion of whether or not illegal immigrants should be allowed some route to legal citizenship. Over the next few weeks, students from two California-Mexico border towns who are also studying immigration issues—as well as living on the front lines of the debate—join the online discussion.
Mr. Howard’s students are grappling with a complex topic that affects their community and is part of many of their own family histories. Looking at their family trees fueled their curiosity and influenced their reading, writing, and talking about U.S. immigration history. These students are using the traditional literacies of reading, writing, listening, and discussing in new ways and using new technologies to gather information and communicate with each other and with audiences beyond their classroom.
Their readings come not just from libraries and textbooks but from digitized materials on the Internet that include print, oral histories, podcasts from other classrooms, photographs, video, and film. They are writing in ways their parents never experienced in school—on computers as well as on paper, and to each other and to adolescents anywhere in the world who read their blog, not just to their teacher. Some of the texts they compose integrate oral and visual materials and links to Web sites. But they are not just communicating in cyberspace. Their classroom discussions and interactions are honest and respectful of all students’ ideas.


The content of Mr. Howard’s teaching—immigration history and policies—reflects state and national social studies standards and twenty-first-century issues. His students use a wide variety of literacy practices and tools to investigate the complex question of why people move from one part of the globe to another. Mr. Howard believes that all of his students need to wrestle with historical questions and connect those questions with the present. Like you, and like many teachers across all of the content areas, Mr. Howard wants his teaching to be relevant for a different kind of world than the one in which he grew up.
Mr. Howard’s teaching responds to a call for change from education and economic groups in this country and abroad. In America’s Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation’s Future (2007), Educational Testing Service (ETS) calls this a pivotal time in history, in which we depend on education as never before to prepare students to live and work in a global, international society. Reports such as Tough Choices, Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE, 2007) and Results That Matter: 21st Century Skills and High School Reform from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2006) make a strong case to reform education to better serve students. In A Global Imperative: The Report of the 21st Century Literacy Summit, the New Media Consortium (NMC) argues that the use of digital and media forms are enhancing learning and that “as young people create casual multimedia, they are also creating the opportunity to experiment, learn, take risks, and become fluent” (2005, p. 3).
These reports urge us to rethink what and how adolescents are learning and what kind of literacy skills they need. The reports converge around the ideas that schools need to reflect the globalized world in which adolescents will work and live as citizens (Gardner, 2006; Suarez-Orozco & Qin-Hilliard, 2004). We use globalization here to refer to the process by which countries become more integrated with one another as a result of movements of goods, capital, labor, and ideas (Bloom, 2004). All these global movements pose challenges and present vibrant opportunities:
Movements of people. Recent waves of immigration to the United States from Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East are generating diverse U.S. communities and classrooms that reflect the larger world. As we write this, young people from 190 countries or more are getting up to go to school in New York City today (Linares, 2006). Many small town classrooms now have that same diversity. Does yours?
Movements of capital. Since 1990, three billion people in China, India, and the former Soviet Union have moved from closed economies to participating in a global economy (Wilson, 2005). Already, one in five jobs in our country is tied to international trade (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Your students ’ future employers will prize employees who understand economics and can collaborate with colleagues of varied cultural backgrounds and status.
Movements in science and technology. Scientists work in international teams, sharing databases to understand complex scientific questions and create innovative solutions in medicine (Friedman, 2005). They research issues—the spread and responses to infectious disease, the causes and impact of climate change—that have global implications. Your students need a rigorous science and technology education to enter these fields.
Movements in popular culture. Young people around the world wear similar clothes and follow global sports heroes like David Beckham, an English soccer player who lives in Los Angeles (Suarez-Orozco & Sattin, 2007) and Daisuke Matsuzak (“Dice-K”), a Japanese pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Because of Internet radio stations, music sites, and iTunes, your students live in a rich world of talk, music, and online discussions. In using social networking sites like MySpace, Friendster, and Facebook, adolescents are part of a larger global community where they discuss a plethora of topics including common interests, international events, and politics.
Your students are part of a generation of Millennials—youth born between 1982 and 1998—that has almost unlimited access to information and to different perspectives to spark their imaginations. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2005a), almost every K-12 U.S. classroom has been connected to the Internet since 2000. Many teens have access at home, libraries, and in community centers (Bruce, 2005). At the same time, many teens lack the skills, aptitudes, and competencies they need to benefit from these opportunities for global learning. Their teachers need to help them think critically about the abundance of information available to them. They need teachers who cultivate their curiosity and knowledge about other cultures.
Mr. Howard engages his students in investigating questions about U.S. history that expand their views of themselves as individuals. While other teachers and schools are also working to educate students to be engaged citizens and ethical human beings, too many schools remain “out of sync with the realities of a global world” (Suarez-Orozco & Sattin, 2007, p. 58).
More than ever before, your students need help to master important information, not as an end in itself but as a foundation for inquiry into questions that are important in your content area and in a global society. But inquiry is not only a process by which individuals develop and learn, it is the way a democratic society examines and renews itself. When Mr. Howard’s students connect their investigation of immigration history to themselves, their community, and their country ’s federal policies, they are engaging in a process called critical inquiry, linking history with personal identity and social critique. The process deserves that name because it is active and goes beyond simply gathering inert knowledge (Beach & Bruce, 2005).
In arguing for a more relevant way of teaching for a challenging new time, the twenty-first-century learning reports noted earlier emphasize that rigorous inquiry encompasses four kinds of competencies:
• Conceptual understanding
• Critical thinking
• Creative thinking
• Collaboration and communication
The following paragraphs present a brief description of each of these competencies. Because each requires literacy skills—the ability to use reading, writing, discussion, and digital and media skills for inquiry—we use the bulk of this chapter to define a set of multiliteracy tools that students need to build and engage in the four competencies of critical inquiry.

Conceptual Understanding

Mr. Howard’s students’ critical inquiry into U.S. immigration leads them to historical information and concepts such as nativism, immigration policy, and the causes and consequences of immigration. Prepared adolescents are able to build a deep understanding of that information and connect those concepts. To be prepared to work and live in the twenty-first century, your students must have a conceptual understanding that encompasses concepts in the traditional subject areas of history, science, literature, and mathematics, as well as new content in areas such as finance, world economics and business, and international humanitarian law.
Your students will develop deep conceptual understanding from asking questions and investigating them in ways that are distinctive in each content area. Scientists pose questions about the world, come up with tentative classifications and theories, design experiments to produce data that test those theories, and revise current theories in light of new findings. Historians investigate the past from existing data—albeit frequently scattered and contradictory fragments of information (Gardner, 2006, p. 28). Regardless of the field, to understand is to be able to apply an idea or concept in a new context (Blythe, 1998). In Mr. Howard’s classroom, students apply the concept of nativism first to a historical study of immigration, and then to a current immigration crisis in their own city.

Critical Thinking

Prepared adolescents have skills in analyzing the source and accuracy of print and digitized information. Your students need to be able to question data, evaluate the quality of the evidence provided for a finding, and determine why the author is providing that particular piece of evidence. They need to consider multiple perspectives on an issue or problem and test alternative views or hypotheses. These are all skills of critical thinking.
Your students also need to be able to detect patterns in information and synthesize information from many different sources. Mr. Howard encourages students to do this as they compare the participants in, and causes and impacts of, different waves of immigration. Howard Gardner argues that “the ability to knit together information from disparate sources into a coherent whole is vital” in a world where accumulated knowledge might double every few years (2006, p. 46). Daniel Pink (2006) argues that the workplace of the future will prize symphony, a term he uses for ability to see relationships between seemingly unrelated events or ideas.
As members of the twenty-first-century workforce, your students will need to go beyond gathering and synthesizing information related to a question to taking a stance and arguing their point of view with evidence and logical reasoning. Supporting an argument brings the individual beyond analysis to problem solving and lays the groundwork for social or political action.

Creative Thinking

Creativity encompasses innovation to sustain economic competitiveness, ingenuity in scientific research, resourcefulness in building human relationships, and imaginative expression in the arts. While the synthesizer puts together what is known into a useful form, the creator extends what we know and “ruffles the contours of a genre” (Gardner, 2006, p. 98). Creativity is the spirit of risk taking, which sends us in new directions and brings us “out of our minds ” (Robinson, 2001). Mr. Howard’s students open themselves to new ways of understanding immigration by posing their discussions on a blog and getting responses from students in California.
An international leader in the development of creativity, Robinson (2001) argues that schools are a crucible for helping individuals find their creative abilities and that these abilities take varied forms and show up in different learning styles. He describes Gillian Lynne, the choreographer for the Broadway shows Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, whose parents took her to a psychiatrist as a child because she would not sit still in school. Fortunately, Robinson jokes, the doctor told the parents that Gillian was a dancer and should go to dance school rather than take medication (Robinson, 2006). Creativity is also highly interactive; original ideas that are important (Robinson’s definition of creativity) emerge in multidisciplinary settings, where people examine issues or dilemmas from very different perspectives.

Effective Collaboration and Communication

Many twenty-first-century issues extend across national boundaries and disciplines and require people with different knowledge bases, perspectives, and cultures to work together to investigate problems. Prepared adolescents are accustomed to and adept at working with others on a complex question to bring all elements of a problem into its solution.
Teachers like Mr. Howard help build students’ capacity to collaborate by modeling the role of facilitator as students work with each other on inquiry projects. His teaching practices give students responsibility for their learning and promote attitudes of respect for others’ cultural histories and ideas. His use of a class blog extends their inquiry into immigration issues beyond the classroom.
To participate in collaborative problem solving, your students must, like Mr. Howard’s, learn and adhere to standards of ethics and moral behavior (Stewart, 2007). Howard Gardner defines the ethical mind for the workplace and for citizenship as “a conviction that one’s community should possess certain characteristics of which one is proud and a commitment personally to work toward the realization of the virtuous community” (2006, p. 129). Ethical collaboration is important in both distant and face-to-face work. Digital and media tools give students unprecedented access to other thinkers and also require that they use and share information with an ethical stance.
When you support students in developing these four areas of competence, you prepare them for rigorous and imaginative inquiry in their work and lives beyond school. They acquire the abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills to evaluate what they hear and read. They build their capacity to communicate well and to work with others of different cultural backgrounds. From their experience of collaborating with peers, they cultivate the habit of being open to and curious about new ways of thinking. They carry the moral and ethical stances they develop while they investigate issues in your classroom beyond the school walls, helping preserve the democratic values that define the U.S. national culture.
But what literacy skills can you teach to support their critical inquiry into important content areas and global issues and problems? While it is probably true that, as the National Adolescent Literacy Coalition (NALC, 2007) observes, “literacy will divide winners and losers” in efforts to prepare adolescents for the economies and problem solving ahead, what should those literacies be? Is reading still important to your students’ future? How should we define a text, and what reading skills do your students need for critical inquiry, given the many kinds of print and digital texts they access? Can your students learn to “read” visual texts—those that integrate print, video, photographs, and sound? Given the new tools for communicating information and expressing ideas, what classroom writing and discussion practices can you engage your students in to prepare them to work, participate, and reflect in a connected society? If digital and media literacies have value and energy far beyond casual communication and entertainment, what is their role in critical inquiry?
Figure 1.1 portrays literacy (or, as we name it, multiliteracy) as the core area of competence that supports students in developing and using the other four competencies. The section that follows defines the particular kinds of multiliteracy skills that students need to engage in critical inquiry and build the other four twenty-first-century competencies.


Supported Literacy is an instructional framework to guide your students’ classroom learning. It is also a curriculum framework that you can use to create rigorous and relevant new units in any subject or to modify and enrich existing units to better address the four key twenty-first-century competencies. The framework provides you with teaching strategies that help academically diverse groups of students gain a deep understanding of important ideas and concepts in traditional content areas and emerging fields. The strategies focus on fostering students ’ use of multiliteracies—intellectual tools and techniques that enable learners to access, process, and communicate information and ideas—that extend and enrich their critical inquiry. Using the Supported Literacy Meaning-Making Cycle, you and your students can investigate essential questions that create the conditions that promote critical inquiry and develop the use of multiliteracies.
FIGURE 1.1. Twenty-First Century Competencies.
Over the past decade, we developed the Supported Literacy framework through a series of collaborations between our organization, Education Development Center, Inc., in Newton, Massachusetts, and teams of teachers and administrators in Massachusetts, New York State, and the Southern states of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. We supported these teams in working as learning communities to refine ideas, to use the framework to design sample curriculum units, and to develop new ways of integrating twenty-first-century competencies into content teaching (Hindin, Morocco, Mott, & Aguilar, 2007; Kotula & Morocco, 2006; Morocco, Hindin, Mata-Aguilar, & Clark-Chiarelli, 2001). Today, we continue to provide training and technical assistance to enable schools nationwide to use the Supported Literacy framework.
The framework’s concept of multiliteracies draws from three areas of literacy research and practice. One area is National Institute of Child Health and Human Development research on reading comprehension that focuses on how students acquire the cognitive processes—such as phonemic awareness, decoding, word attack, and comprehension strategies—they need to understand print texts (NICHD, 2000). The No Child Left Behind legislation emphasizes reading as literacy and has pushed for basic reading skills in all groups of students. While Supported Literacy agrees with the centrality of reading, it assumes that students need to acquire a broad range of literacies for twenty-first-century learning.
A second area is research on multiple literacies—competence in using new technologies such as digital texts, Internet search engines, film and video, and integrated multimedia presentations. These researchers assert that print and nonprint literacies occur together in students’ lives outside school and that students build their reading and writing skills, as well as their sense of personal identity, as they use a wide range of literacies (Alvermann, 2007). Many teachers espouse this view as they integrate the Internet, blogging, Web quests (guided information searches on the Internet), podcasts, and multimedia tools into their teaching.
Supported Literacy multiliteracies also reflect a third area, new literacy research, which looks at the social contexts in which literacy occurs—in school, on the Web, shopping, and applying for a job. These contexts call for varied forms of participation and ways of using reading, writing, talking, listening, and digital and media activity (New London Group, 1996; Pahl & Rowsell, 2005). New literacy uses the term discourses to refer to the norms for how members participate, interact, and use language in these different contexts (Gee, 1999a, 1999b, 2003). Researchers in new literacy assert that students’ literacy reflects the skills and discourses they learn in their families and cultural groups, at school, on the Internet, and in peer groups. They posit that schools will be more equitable, motivating, and successful if teachers encourage adolescents to bring their diverse literacy- related skills and discourses through the classroom door (New London Group, 1996).
As a strategic fusion of these three strands of literacy research and practice, Supported Literacy encompasses cognitive, social and cultural, and technological components. The framework identifies four multiliteracies that students need to master:
• Reading for deep understanding
• Writing to build and express meaning
• Accountable talk
• Digital and media fluency
Teachers will not always be engaging students in critical inquiry and in the kind of extended investigations that we present in this book. When they do, these four multiliteracies have a core role to play and a wide application across the different content areas. They support students’ inquiry by helping them “extract meaning from experience as they engage in efforts to address questions meaningful to them ” (Beach & Bruce, 2005, p. 153). As you engage your students in content inquiry, these tools support the kinds of questioning, drive to understand, critical and creative thinking, and communication and collaboration that are the hallmarks of twenty-first-century learning.

Reading for Deep Understanding

As historical texts become rich and conceptually dense, readers may slow down—not because they fail to comprehend but because the very act of comprehension demands that they stop to talk with their texts (Wineberg, 2001, p. 69).