21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead

This was one of the first articles that I read from this issue.  My second reading was equally rewarding.  Some the principle points that I took from the article were the following:

Latest fad or future staple

One of the first points that Rotherham and Willingham makes is that unless educators remain faithful to the content underlying the new approach, 21CS is doomed to fad status.  We are most at risk of this in terms of the technology that is used in the implementation of these new strategies.  The first decade of the 21st century will be known as the “blog years” unless the content of the course and the core skills are held front and center above the technology used to practice those skills.  If blogs become assessment artifacts rather than vehicles for student creation and collaboration, the momentum of 21CS will peter out.

Skills and content as discrete elements

The first approach that a teacher may take in redefining the learning process is to take old lesson plans, and to adorn them with 21st century flair (e.g., a new technology, addition of a Harkness table discussion format).  Doing so prevents the skill (collaboration) and the content (topic of study) from becoming intertwined.  R&W suggest that we “must plan to teach skills in the context of particular contant and to treat both as equally important.” (19)

Get out the sledgehammer

The design of schools, even those constructed in the 21st century are all wrong.  The presence of walls encourages isolationism and fractured learning.  I don’t suggest that we all pile in the gym and sit on pillows in a circle, but there are thousands of creative mid-points between the “egg carton” and the “Brunswick stew” approaches.

Teachers training is a must

An obvious statement, but I admit that as I read this passage on p. 20:

What teachers need is much more robust training and support than they receive today, including specific lesson plans that deal with the high cognitive demands and potential classroom management problems of using student-centered methods.

my first reaction was “Hallelujah!  I need training!  Bring on the guest speaker followed by break-out groups, summarized neatly by a plenary session.”  I have actually thought that for a few weeks.  Then I realized such a PD model betrays what it is we’re talking about.  So here’s my revised statement:

Give me a small group of teachers with whom I can explore the topic, with whom I can build vital models for immediate and future use in my classroom.  Bring on the dialogue!

Make me the guest speaker, along with my fellow cohorts.  Give me access to expert voices, best practices and beta practices, and allow me to figure this stuff out for myself, BUT you must also give me time to implement, assess, and reflect on it.  Then, if it seems I’m worth all this time and money, you’ll let me take another round to try to improve on it for the next go-around.

Hence the PLC.

3 thoughts on “21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead

  1. Not much I can do but smile at that post, Ted…between your hard work in our PLC and the work you all are doing in the middle school at Westminster, I think you’re “getting it right.” It’s not about training, is it?

    I have some blogging practices to share with you, and our next session will focus on networks. I’ve got a few FL folks to connect you with.

    Also, do you guys use TPRS (I know I’ve got the acronym wrong)? I’ve got a little collaborative brainchild that you might want to consider…


    1. Laura,
      Thanks. I can tell it’s congealing, as evidenced by the sloshing sound in my brain when I walk.

      The only TPRS (or TPR) that I’m familiar with is Total Physical Response (Stimulus) which is essentially a kinesthetic teaching style. Is that what you’re talking about? If it is, I don’t use it, but I’d like to try.

  2. I definitely need to investigate “potential classroom management problems of using student-centered methods.” As you pointed out though, time spent in a traditional professional development session on the issue may still have me sitting at my starting point. I think your cohort model for addressing this issue will be much more effective.

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