Twenty-first century learning can be defined as thinking that surpasses basic content knowledge. This is opposed to “dated” learning, in which students commonly sat and listened/took notes while a teacher lectured. Students were tested on the material before beginning the process over again.
Tony Wagner’s TED talk explains important points about 21st century learning, including that “knowledge is a commodity,” and that it’s more important to focus on the question: “What can you do with what you know?” This means that knowing facts isn’t the end goal. It’s more important to focus on the process of learning, such as becoming a problem solver and creative thinker. These skills, along with many others, will be most valuable for students as they move into the professional world after completing their education. As much as it pains me to say this, it is true that my English students don’t need to know what “dynamic character” means in their lives outside of school (unless of course they are going to teach English). It will be more important that they can think about characters as representations of people and the world, and that they can support their points well, along with other concepts.
Many different skills are listed as important to achieving 21st century learning. The points that are most reiterated and that stand out to me from Tony Wagner’s talk, Gary Marx’s article, and from Will Richardson’s ideas are: problem solving/critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, effective oral and written communication, digital literacy, global understanding and metacognition. I have plotted these on the scatter chart below using Richardson’s graph. “Importance of Learning” is the x-axis from least to most important and “Ease of Assessment” is the y-axis from easiest to toughest.
I think that oral/written communication, collaboration and digital literacy are the top skills that can be easily assessed. People need to effectively communicate in any potential job, especially the job market of the 21st century. Being able to work well with others, whether with coworkers or with the public, are important life skills. Our world has become digital and chances are by the time our students graduate this will be even more true. This is why digital literacy is a necessary component of teaching and learning. These three items can be easily assessed in a classroom as well because they are obvious functions observed in speaking, writing, group work and ability to access/use digital media.
Problem solving, global understanding and metacognition are all important skills that range from a bit to much more difficult to assess. Metacognition is how one thinks about his/her own learning. While opportunities for self-assessment can help a teacher to assess this skill, there is much room for error if not properly used. Students may be good at solving some problems while not as proficient at others. This again makes it difficult to assess. The case of the the boy making a crumpled paper ball as an example of thinking outside the box in “Paper Airplane Movie” certainly shows creative thinking, but this can be problematic if certain expectations weren’t met by the teacher. This proves that teachers need to be flexible about their expectations as well. Overall, my point is that these skills are on the subjective side and therefore can be challenging to accurately assess.
A technology that strongly supports the skills of digital literacy, collaboration, critical thinking and effective oral and written communication, which are all important to my subject area of high school English, is Google Classroom. Students have a common place to receive and submit work online. Teachers are able to link a variety of materials for student use in the Classroom, including links to websites such as You Tube, Google documents and more. Students have the ability to use Google Docs or Presentations to work collaboratively and then submit the work to the Classroom assignment. Creating presentations and having easy access to the Internet allows plenty of opportunity for creativity. I have used Google Classroom extensively this year in all of my classes. Unfortunately I can’t link to my Google Classrooms to show a sample because they are available only to my district. I highly recommend getting in touch with a technology supervisor in order to implement Google Classroom. I think it is a great starting point. If Google Classroom is not an option, Wiki Classroom is an alternate option with similar capabilities.
These 21st century skills are important components of education and students should have practice using them in their classes. The teacher’s job is to incorporate opportunities for this type of thinking in the classroom.
Marx, G. (2014). Sneak Peek: Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century – Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/marketplace/books/sneak-peek-21-trends-for-the-21st-century-gary-marx.html
McMillan, M. (2010, March 3). Paper Airplane Movie. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37TQZyDMEP8
Richardson, W. (2012, August 3). The “Immeasurable” Part 2. Retrieved from http://willrichardson.com/post/28626310240/the-immeasurable-part-2
Wagner, T. (2014, February 25). Ted Talk – 4 Min. Video. Retrieved June 8, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7eFyNvA1uU
Note: I used onlinecharttool to create my graph. The site was easy to use except for numbering the x-axis to my liking and saving the material. I made and lost two graphs before throwing in the towel. This graph is a picture representation of my first attempt which didn’t save properly. It gives a basic representation of what I hoped to express, although the link to it is missing.