Friday, November 16, 2007

21st Century Skills: Working Out the Details

Larry Cuban wrote a number of years ago that systemic policy can stop when the classroom door closes. I think in some form or another many educators have experienced this. Something comes down from "above" that may not be agreeable, practical, coincide with their beliefs and values about teaching and learning, or demonstrate that it will result in learning. It's not direct opposition or intentional defiance; rather it's a matter of the degree to which immediacy is felt.

How well does this bode for 21st century skills?

I truly believe in 21st century skills. As a result, I spend a great deal of time reading and thinking about them on a global perspective, school perspective, teacher-adoption perspective, and how I can implement them in my K-8 technology literacy classes. Despite this, 21st century skills are still a bit fuzzy to me as a classroom teacher. While many great folks are working hard on this conversation, I still sometimes come up with the question of, "What are 21st century skills exactly?".

I think, a few things needs to be addressed to make sure this "policy" is carried out even once the classroom door is closed:

  • Discussion of 21st century skills in the context of subject matter (concrete details)
  • Consideration of teacher technology adoption (no adoption means less 21st century skills)
  • Demonstrate results of 21st century skills for teachers to show enhanced learning
  • Find systemic harmony/synergy between NCLB and 21st century skills
  • Provide models of how 21st century skills look for teachers
  • Assess the assessment of 21st century skills
We often rely on traditional teaching teaching since we know the results...most of us are a products of it. The results of educational technology and 21st century skills are a great unknown for many educators. What's even more unknown is the direct connection between 21st century skills and content areas.

How can a teacher teach genres, main ideas, polynomials, fractions, health, or art incorporating 21st century skills? Moreover, how are these areas to be taught knowing that students are expected to have a certain level of proficiency? Will schools risk test scores for 21st century skills?

Teachers are great practitioners. I think often times they are viewed too generally as someone who takes only takes the abstraction of curriculum, goals, and objective to guide learning and understanding. But there's so much more that goes on to make learning take place. Students have to read, they have to pick up pencils, talk, reflect, write, ask questions, build, type, watch, hear, and see to learn. Teachers need to not only offer these activities but also assess them too. This is the detailed level that 21st century skills need to get to, I believe, to be most effective and welcomed into the classroom. The conversations need to get to a level or granularity that is this specific. At this point in my thinking 21st century skills (like educational technology adoption as a tool) have to come from within the detailed activities not layered on top of teaching practices. The further something is away from the core of pragmatics, the easier it is not to be adopted.

I don't think we can expect the details of 21st century skills will work themselves out in the classroom at the adoption level without first considering all the details of the environment in which they need to be implemented. Said another way, we need to work out the details on the onset, not afterwards. 21st century skills are far too important to not be implemented once the door closes. I think we need to decide whether we want to pay now or pay later.

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