Tag Archives: skills

Are we teaching our students the skills they need for their future?

Are we teaching our students the skills they need for their future?

Do we know what these are and if we do, are we aligning these to our curriculum? Are we making the shift necessary for this to happen?

Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group has identified what he calls a “global achievement gap,” which is the leap between what even our best schools are teaching, and the must-have skills of the future: * Critical thinking and problem-solving * Collaboration across networks and leading by influence * Agility and adaptability * Initiative and entrepreneurialism * Effective oral and written communication * Accessing and analyzing information * Curiosity and imagination

Here are the 10 future work skills identified by The Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute.

  1. Sense Making
  2. Novel and Adaptive Thinking
  3. Transdisciplinary
  4. Social Intelligence
  5. New Media Literacy
  6. Computational Thinking
  7. Cognitive Load Management
  8. Design Management
  9. Cross Cultural Competence
  10. Virtual Collaboration

For teacher librarians, these skills clearly identify our areas of expertise at a time when some principals are making decisions to reduce staffing in school libraries, or replace teacher librarians with librarians or technicians, indicating their loss of faith that teacher librarians are an essential part of the teaching staff. Our strength lies in working with teachers to embed these skills in student learning, to encourage collaborative platforms and relational learning through the connections made possible by social media platforms, to embed critical, digital and information literacies into student learning.

Read more about the skills our students must have for their future here and here. Please share more if you have them.

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Filed under 21st century learning

The rules of school, or what is worth knowing?

It’s a great day when I discover a great blog, or, should I say, a person whose writing reveals someone I would love to meet. Just yesterday I came across Steve Shann’s blog, Birds fly, fish swim, and I don’t think I’ll be able to read anything else until I finish reading his posts.

In his post today, Steve describes what happened when he blasted his Year 11 students for not taking their writing responsibilities seriously on the class ning. The responses that followed in the ning were surprising (to me, at least) and revelatory. Here’s what one student (eloquently) said in this post entitled ‘Play the game’:

…in Years 11 and 12, it’s barely even about the learning at all. … In most subjects, we learn how to pass the exams… how to structure an essay, how to deliver a speech the way they want it, etc. School is all about how you play the game these days. It’s all about doing what you can to get an A, regardless of what you’re learning. … And I guess it does teach you stuff about the real world. Teaches you to try to beat the system, that menial busywork sometimes is what you need to do to do well in life, and, most importantly, no matter how much you hate your job, the best revenge is success.
I don’t think this is what the people who planned this school system had in mind. I guess those guys at the Board of Studies think that the system as it stands is a genuine attempt to educate kids in the subjects they selected for us. Simply put, they’re wrong.
…The reason why we (I) am having trouble with this course at times is because I have been trained to think like that. I do what I can to do well in the HSC. And I think some others in the class (although they may not know it) think the same way. Blogs aren’t marked, so I don’t do them; projects require organised creativity as opposed to just knowing shit, and suddenly I’m confused; Dr. Shann asks for dedication to the course but he can’t put a date or a number on it, so we just don’t try, et cetera, et cetera. 

I’ve already vented my dislike of teaching to the test, so I won’t say it again. Instead I’ll pull the same paragraph out of Greg Thompson’s post on his blog, Constructing meaning, as Steve did. Only I’ll include a little more of it because I think it’s worth the read:

Standardized textbooks work nicely for standardized testing. However, they do not do much for the idea that life is a big picture. Integration of content into a whole is hard work. It is far easier to teach a fractured curriculum because the result demanded is a standardized test that seeks the ability to see myopically, one subject at a time. Dr. McLeod is correct. This fractured approach has long been the model for education. The assembly line reality of the industrial age required each worker to do one thing and to do it well. Employee A did not need to know what Employee B did to complete their task five feet further down the line. That worked. Today, standardized testing requires each student to know how to do each thing in exactly the same way in order to produce the same product. The world they live in however, requires them to see the integrated picture. The test does not fit with reality.

I really do think that we must keep in mind the integrated picture when we teach, but it’s not going to happen unless we move things around in our education system, and in the way our classes and curriculum are structured. I can’t blame Steve’s students for not doing anything that falls outside of what is required for the final testing in year 12. Sometimes, when I talk to teachers about changing the way they teach, trying something new or integrating technologies into their curriculum to promote engagement and creativity, they will take on the challenge in the middle years, but the final 2 years of school really are devoted solely to the teaching of content that will get students their final ENTER score. If I were teaching senior years, I’d be torn between feeling responsible for students’ final scores, and wanting to  teach skills relevant to the world they were just about to jump into. It’s no doubt possible to do a bit of both, but I don’t think it’s easy, especially when students have been so carefully prepared for the test-readiness game.

Steve closes his post on a positive note. He quotes a student’s reflection which gives hope to teachers looking for evidence of a yearning for learning beyond the test.

English Extension and Studies of Religion are the only classes that allow us to be creative and have a relaxed teaching style that is more about us becoming educated, reflective, well-rounded individuals (if you’ve seen ‘The History Boys’, that is exactly what I’m talking about).

So what I’m saying is, give us a prod every now and then like you did today, because we are trying to untrain ourselves from what we know, or at least I am.

I hope that most students, deep-down, will want their schooling to help them become ‘educated, reflective, well-rounded individuals’, and not only young people whose formative years are summarised and evaluated in the one final ENTER score.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, learning, teachers, teaching

A balance between teaching skills and content

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Photo by takaken2008 on Flickr

What are 21st century skills and are these skills different to those currently being taught in schools?  How radically do we need to change our teaching practices?

Daniel Willingham has written an informative post in Britannica blog entitled Education for the 21st century: balancing content with skills, in which he asks and answers the important question: why the sudden concern for 21st century skills.

Willingham quotes reports and books  that point to:

changes in the skills required for most jobs. Our economy is generating fewer jobs in which workers engage in repetitive tasks throughout their day (e.g., assembly line work) and more information-rich jobs that present workers with novel problems and that require analysis and teamwork.

 Willingham quotes Elena Silva in defining these skills as having at their core the ability to

analyze and evaluate information, create new ideas and new knowledge from the information.

He also adds to creativity and critical thinking the following essential skills for the 21st century from a report from the partnership for 21st century skills :

new knowledge … [and] global awareness, media literacy, information literacy, and other new content.

Now, this is where I start sitting up and taking note. Although I’m fully on board with the need for 21st century skills, I haven’t felt comfortable substituting content for skills alone. Memorisation of facts without the skills is obviously a waste of time, and I understand that you need the skills to locate, manage and synthesize the freely available information to create knowledge, but we still need a knowledge of some content, surely, otherwise the skills are free floating and without context. 

Willingham ties up the skills/content dilemma very well for me. He says that the 21st century skills require deep understanding of subject matter:

Shallow understanding requires knowing some facts. Deep understanding requires knowing the facts AND knowing how they fit together, seeing the whole.

And skills like “analysis” and “critical thinking” are tied to content; you analyze history differently than you analyze literature … If you don’t think that most of our students are gaining very deep knowledge of core subjects—and you shouldn’t—then there is not much point in calling for more emphasis on analysis and critical thinking unless you take the content problem seriously. You can’t have one without the other.

As usual, a balance is required to make things work effectively, and this should surely be common sense. This way we avoid the too often pendulum swings that have occurred in the history of education

between an emphasis on process (analysis, critical thinking, cooperative learning) which fosters concern that students lack knowledge and generates a back-to-basics movement that emphasizes content, which fosters concern that student are merely parroting facts with no idea of how to use their knowledge, and so on.

For me, this balance is the key to identifying the problems and solutions of 21st century learning. I’m trying to understand the shift in education more deeply to avoid a superficial conversion. I think that, for me at least, more discussion will enable a deeper understanding of the learning processes and the corresponding teaching processes that are essential to prepare students for work and life in these times.

As usual, I welcome and am grateful for any comments, and look forward to generating some discussion.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, debate, Education, learning, teachers, teaching, Web 2.0

Kids to tell schools what to teach

Calling all students! Edutopia has created a competition asking students to express their opinions about which skills they think their school should teach to help them succeed in life. Recognising young people’s expertise in technology, Edutopia has asked them to submit their opinions in the form of a 60 second video.

The competition closes October 15, and favourites will be published. There is no prescribed format for the answer to the question: ‘What do you think is the most important skill to learn for your future and why?’ – only that it is posted on YouTube and tagged ‘edutopiaskills’. Kids require proof of parental consent and must provide parental contact information. I’m puzzled about the choice to use YouTube, considering that YouTube is blocked by many schools.

I’d really like somebody to supplement this with adults’ guesses about what the kids would say. I’m not sure if I would be able say with any certainty how kids would answer this question, or how they would present it. Would it involve technology, social skills, financial know-how, health issues, emotional intelligence, practical knowledge, or??? I’m hoping that many kids would find transferrable skills and experiences the most valuable. I can’t wait to see the results.

What about learning that would be considered as a waste of time at school? Some might say that their whole school education was a waste of time. Most would isolate learning that they found unengaging or irrelevant. I could certainly make an extensive list of learning that screamed irrelevance: having to look up statistical facts about yawningly boring facts in a Victorian year book; sheep and sewerage; other things that I’ve successfully wiped out of my memory bank.

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