Sunday, April 14, 2013

Learning 21st-century skills requires 21st-century teaching

Posted by Tara Della Rocca

Rosefsky Saavedra, A. & Opfer, V. D. (2012). Learning 21st-century skills requires 21st-century teaching. Phi Delta Kappan. 94(2), 8-13.

This article discusses the various skills students of the 21st century are required to learn in order to be successful and suggests 8 things teachers should be doing to teach these skills.

The authors quote Tony Wagner who, based on hundreds of interviews with business, non-profit, and education leaders, suggests that students need the following seven survival skills:

• Critical thinking and problem solving;
• Collaboration and leadership;
• Agility and adaptability;
• Initiative and entrepreneurialism;
• Effective oral and written communication;
• Accessing and analyzing information; and
• Curiosity and imagination.

"Regardless of the skills included or the terms used to describe them, all 21st-century skills definitions 
are relevant to aspects of contemporary life in a complex world. Most focus on similar types of complex thinking, learning, and communication skills, and all are more demanding to teach and learn than rote skills. These abilities are also commonly referred to as higher-order thinking skills, deeper learning outcomes, and complex thinking and communication skills."

The authors suggest that many schools are still using the 'transmission method' of education. This outdated mode provides students with knowledge, but doesn't develop the skills above. They suggest the following:

9 lessons for 21st-century learning
#1. Make it relevant.
#2. Teach through the disciplines.
#3. Develop thinking skills.
#4. Encourage learning transfer.
#5. Teach students how to learn.
#6. Address misunderstandings directly.
#7. Treat teamwork like an outcome.
#8. Exploit technology to support learning.
#9. Foster creativity.

My interest in developing thinking skills had me focused on this area particularly.
"Students can and should develop lower- and higher-order thinking skills simultaneously. For example, students might practice lower-order skills by plugging numbers into the equation like E=MC2 as a way to understand the relationship between mass and energy. To deepen understanding of that relationship, teachers might ask students probing questions that require higher-order thinking to answer, such as “Why does the formula use mass instead of weight? Can I use my bathroom scale to determine mass? Why or why not?” (Schwartz & Fischer, 2006). Addressing these questions successfully, while more difficult, contributes to flexible and applicable understanding and is exactly what students need to do to successfully negotiate the demands of the 21st century. 
Lower-order exercises are fairly common in existing curricula, while higher-order thinking activities 
are much less common. Higher-level thinking skills take time to develop and teaching them generally 
requires a tradeoff of breadth for depth. An approach popular in Finland and Singapore is to reverse the way students spend their time in the classroom and on homework at home. Instead of listening to lectures at school and doing problems at home, students can read content as homework and at school work on problems in groups while the teacher poses thought-provoking questions and coaches explicitly on development of higher-order thinking."

I appreciate that the authors recognize that teachers must EXPLICITLY coach for development of higher-order thinking. It is not natural for students to think in complex ways. And THIS, not the delivery of information, should be part of what schools spend their time focused on.

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