Curriculum for the 21st Century

Russell Yates

July, 1999

As we begin the new millennium, many changes in society challenge educational structures and methods to change with them. Transformation of our educational system cannot be considered an easy task because education, in the form of the public school system, is by nature a conserving institution in that it is designed to help replicate society and transmit societal norms.

Population in the United States is growing and changing. Current ethnic minority groups are increasing in both numbers and as a percent of the total population. Immigration from many parts of the world, especially Latin America and Asia, continues as a part of the American experience. Although the major cities continue to grow, rural America is increasing at such a rate as to create a "new rural population" that is larger than both the urban and suburban areas.

As population increases so to does the need for individuals to place themselves in the context of a smaller group, to identify themselves as unique individuals, accepted by others that are similarly unique. This trend manifests itself through labels such as environmentalist, Democrat, "Ford man" (referring to type of automobile), conservative, "Crypt" (referring to a street gang), biker, etc.

These trends that work towards the fragmentation of American society are counterbalanced with newer, faster, and more prevalent communication technologies. As world population grows larger, the world, in the sense of accessing all parts of it, grows smaller. Currently an email message takes less than 2 minutes to reach its destination anywhere on earth. As events unfold in the farthest parts of the world, they are brought into individual homes complete with pictures and sound the moment they happen. With a phone line, a computer, and internet access, anyone can learn about and discuss anything with anyone else similarly connected; distance is no longer a barrier to quick and substantive communication.

Because of these trends, communication is becoming the dominant curricular area in education. Communication is the one skill that allows the sharing of information, the understanding and acceptance of and between diverse groups of people, and the positive expression of unique individuality.

Specific Curricular Area

For the purposes of this paper, I will concentrate on the writing segment of communication as it may be experienced in the intermediate grades of 3, 4, and 5.

Three underlying concepts help define and structure this curriculum:


Communication in the form of writing will be a dominant means for individuals to learn, to express themselves, to effectively use technology, and to achieve empathetic understanding between themselves and diverse groups of people.

Goals and Objectives

This writing curriculum will help prepare intermediate aged students to communicate both information and expression of opinion to others effectively. The current "Six-Trait Writing" model provides a framework or structure for this. It includes the following writing traits to be used by students to assess and improve their own written communication: (1) ideas, (2) organization, (3) voice, (4) word choice, (5) sentence fluency, and (6) conventions.

Intermediate students will:

  1. Effectively communicate to others in writing ideas that they hold or are acquiring by creating writing that:
    1. is clear and focused.
    2. includes details that are important because they enrich the central theme or storyline.
    3. uses the writer's experience and knowledge to clarify the message of the writing.
  2. Use a coherent organizational structure in written communication that:
    1. uses logical, effective sequencing, good pacing and strong transitions to link ideas.
    2. includes a beginning and ending that work in harmony.
    3. has an introduction that is inviting to the reader and a conclusion that leaves the reader thinking.
  3. Write in such a way as their personal voice as the author becomes evident by:
    1. making the writing sound like it belongs to the writer.
    2. causing the reader to feel something and become involved with the writer and the writing.
  4. Use word choice to help their written communication convey intended meaning and add interest by:
    1. using words to convey the intended message in a precise, interesting and natural way.
    2. using strong verbs to create vivid images and memorable moments.
  5. Purposefully manipulate the overall structure of their writing in order to support sentence fluency that:
    1. when read aloud, has an easy flow and rhythm to it.
    2. has well-built sentences with strong and varied structure and that vary in length.
    3. has each sentence beginning in such a way as to relate to and build upon the one before it.
    4. shows the writer considered the sound, as well as the meaning of the words used.
  6. Successfully incorporate the conventions of written language into their work by:
    1. using standard writing conventions including grammar, capitalization, punctuation, word usage, spelling, and paragraphing.

List of Sample Student Activities

Students become familiar with the Six-trait analytical writing model through direct instruction, discussion, and independent practice.

Students cooperatively create a rubric to help access writing based on the Six-trait writing model.

Students analyze the characteristics of a good speech and develop strategies for persuasive speaking by studying a speech once given by a famous person. Students can listen to past presidential campaign speeches and inaugural addresses at: Students then write and present a persuasive speech of their own based on a topic of their choice.

Students study their own community and create a survey to administer to students in another community to compare and contrast information. Publishing their findings on a web page.

Students use the Internet to exchange letters with email "keypals."

Students participate in scavenger hunts via the Internet to gather specific information (North American environments, etc). They then write a summary or written presentation of the information gathered to show any connections found, comparing their papers with others.

Students participate in "writers' workshops" in which they complete authentic writing tasks that allow for choice and individual pacing.

Needed Resources

Computers with word processors and printers or the like.
Computers networked to the Internet with appropriate software.
Common school supplies such as paper and pencil.
Physical and/or virtual environment set up so as to facilitate collaboration.
Reference materials such as dictionaries and thesauruses.

Assessment Plan

This curriculum is somewhat unique in that embedded within it is an assessment plan. The Six-Trait Analytical Writing model helps students to assess their own and others written communication as an integral means to writing improvement. Standardized measures of student achievement and thus of instructional effectiveness based on this model include the current writing portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). As we proceed into the 21st century, this measure will undoubtedly evolve to better match the technological and student needs of the future, but as of right now, it is one of the most progressive standardized measures of writing achievement implemented.


The central skills that professional educators now possess will still be necessary and valuable in the 21st century; human nature won't change that drastically. However, some of the tools of teaching will change. Perhaps the easiest to currently identify is computer technology. Its integration into the learning environment will progress at an increasingly rapid pace as the technology becomes more seamless and less visible. This will mean that teachers will need to be familiar with computer technology as a tool of teaching and of learning. It also means that new management techniques will have to be incorporated into every teacher's repertoire; techniques that will match some of the new learning environments brought about by the progress of communication technology.

Inservice (including multimedia presentation)

One of the difficulties with present-day staff inservice or workshop programs is that they are most often done as a "one-shot deal." The staff assembles at a particular place and at a particular time to take part in the training, having the advantage of all participants hearing and discussing the same information at the same time. The difficulty arises when one considers that this approach assumes that the school's teaching staff is static, that it will not change for a number of years. This is simply not the case; enrollment numbers change, teachers retire or move away, new teachers are hired, and teachers' knowledge and abilities change over time. In addition, the building-based educational system may be on the decline as communication technologies advance and become more widespread. For these reasons, teacher workshops and inservices need to be structured in such a way as to allow for dissemination of the training over time and perhaps even distance. They also need to be done in a way that models the likely changes in the learning environment. The best format for this is what is now termed distance learning. Other than programs structured in a traditional way but formatted to fit in a distance-learning model, few online or distance inservice models currently exist. Tom Layton has recently developed a model that he has titled World Class Teacher Training and has begun putting it to use in Eugene, Oregon (

With consideration to all of the difficulties associated with the traditional inservice structure and considering some of the likely changes away from building-based education, I see change in the way inservice instruction is delivered. In the 21st Century, I envision curriculum inservice programs to be based online and be under the direction of the curriculum coordinator(s) (perhaps administered via a consulting system). I also see these online workshops consisting of the following elements:

I have created an online template showing this possible inservice format. It can be found by following this link to the Online Workshop. This inservice will be in a multimedia format that includes the following: reading of both paper text (checked out through the school's media center) and online text, sound resources accessible online, short video clips showing parts of the curriculum being implemented (likely to be viewed online allowing for multiple viewings), and of course interactive written communication between the curriculum director or administrator of the inservice, and the participants.

Sample Student Lesson

Lesson Title
Persuasive Speaking

Lesson Overview
In this lesson students will learn to write a persuasive speech by first listening to and then analyzing some historical speeches online.

Lesson Questions
What are the elements to an effective persuasive speech?
How can these elements be used to write a persuasive speech?

Lesson Resources
Computers connected to the Internet with appropriate hardware and software to hear online speeches.

Lesson Objectives
Intermediate multiage students will analyze examples of persuasive speeches in order to cooperatively create a rubric to assess their own written speeches.

Intermediate multiage students will purposefully manipulate the overall structure of a piece of their own persuasive writing so that when read aloud it shows that both the sound and meaning of words were considered.

Lesson Thinking Skills
Students will use and develop the following thinking skills while participating in the following activities and meeting the above stated lesson objectives: observing, comparing, categorizing, applying, and communicating.

Lesson Activities
1. Ask students if they have ever seen on TV or heard on the radio a political leader, like the president, give a speech. (Note: if few have, show a video of a persuasive speech, many of Rev. Jesse Jackson's speeches would be ideal for this.)

- Ask, "Was it a good speech? Why or why not?"
- Have students explain whether the speaker convinced them that he or she was telling the truth, and if so, how.

2. Explain to students that they'll go on the Internet to discover how people use their power-of-persuasion skills when giving speeches.

3. Have students visit this Web site for an opportunity to hear some examples of public speaking.

- URL:

4. Briefly discuss with students what they believe are the effective speeches and what they think aren't. Be sure to get their reasons for saying so. List these reasons on chart paper or on the board.

5. Have students visit this site so students can listen to some past presidential campaign speeches and inaugural addresses.

-Inaugural address etc. URL:

6. Again, briefly discuss the effective and not effective aspects of the speeches, listing student ideas on chart paper or board.

7. Tell students that they will be writing a persuasive speech about _____________ (topic to be of either student or teacher choice depending on student progress). They will be using what they have previously learned about the six-traits of writing and about persuasive speeches while drafting their speeches. These speeches will be given to the rest of the class (perhaps video-taped).

8. Tell students that knowing what they do about six-trait writing, about rubrics, and about persuasive speeches, they are to work in their cooperative groups to create a 3-point rubric for their speeches. Remind them to refer to the ideas listed on the chart paper or board.

9. The teacher monitors the cooperative group work.

10. Bring the class together to combine all the rubrics through discussion into one rubric that will be used by the entire class.

11. Note that in working out the final rubric they were all using elements of persuasive speaking to convince or compromise with their classmates.

12. Students write a persuasive speech. Remind them to concentrate on word choice and overall structure (as learned in previous lessons) to help their speech mean what they intend and to show that they considered what the speech would sound like when read aloud.

13. Allow time for students to practice their speeches. Explain that it is not necessary for students to memorize the whole speech but that memorizing the opening line and the last lines are good ideas. In this way, they can start and end their speech by looking at the audience. Sometimes nothing is more convincing than the honest face of a person who's not afraid to look you in the eye!

14. Have each student present his or her speech to the class. Allow the class to evaluate the speeches for effectiveness, based on the characteristics they attributed to a good persuasive speaker.

Lesson Assessment
Student participation in creation of the rubric will be informally assessed by the teacher through observation and recorded with anecdotal notes.

Each speech will be collaboratively assessed by the student and by the teacher based on the rubric created within the lesson and on word choice for meaning and sound.

Note: This lesson has been modified from the lesson Convince Me!, posted on the Link to Learn (L2L) website.


Following are the current Washington State Academic Learning Requirements for writing. I have included them here because they are an attempt by our state to create an open-ended framework for writing instruction for the 21st century and they are based in large part on the six-trait writing model.

1. Write clearly and effectively.

2. Write in a variety of forms for different audiences and purposes.

3. Understand and use the steps of the writing process.

4. Analyzes and evaluates the effectiveness of written work.


Center for the Improvement of Student Learning, Commission on Student Learning, Washington State, Writing. Retrieved June 25, 1999 from the World Wide Web:

Pennsylvania Department of Education, Convince Me!, Link to Learn. Retrieved July 12, 1999 from the World Wide Web:

Additional Resources

The Lesson Plans Online web page led me to a number of valuable resources. One web site I believe will be very helpful is Columbia Education Center's Language Arts Lesson Plans at: There are hundreds of individual lesson plans for all sorts of instructional needs associated with this curriculum area.

Another web site devoted to lesson plans that I believe will be helpful is IBM's Internet Lesson Plans at: There are many lesson plans for numerous disciplines listed here that incorporate the use of the Internet.

Integrating the Internet into the Curriculum at:, is another web site that contains a great tutorial about how to successfully integrate internet communication into everyday lesson plans.

The Link to Learn Activities Index is also a great site with very usable internet integrated lessons. Its URL is:


The Six-Trait Writing web site hosted by the Kent School District will be a good resource for this curriculum. It provides a good summary of the use of the 6-trait model in an elementary school. It can be found on the web at: I used this site to help with the above stated goals and objectives.

The World Class Teacher Training web site administered by Tom Layton and hosted by Eugene Public Schools, Eugene, OR, can be found on the web at the following URL: It is an interesting site and Tom Layton has created a service that is on the "cutting edge" of staff development.

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