Schools around the United States, as well as throughout the world, are discussing “21st century education.” Some are getting on with it, and some are spending considerable time just debating the name of the movement. The version of the phrase which seems to cause some folks the most consternation is “21st century skills.” From what I gather, some people get irritated because few, if any, of the skills named in any such list have just now become important simply because it is after January 1, 2001. [Some distractors even want to debate the actual start of the 21st century!] Of course…these skills have ALWAYS been important, but they are increasingly important now.
As for me, I say that those who want to spend time debating the best moniker to unite us all under a mutually agreed-upon banner are distracting the real essence of what students, educators, parents – ALL LEARNERS – should be discussing. Forget about the name! It is simply a categorical title to get us all talking about a set of shared language, shared knowledge, and shared values. Let’s spend our time talking about what’s best for learning in the 21st century…at least for the next 80 or so years! Can we just get on with what really matters?!
My vision, simply stated, for 21st century teaching and learning:
- The 20th century is thematically characterized by the Industrial Age. My vision for 21st century education accepts that learning is not about assembly lines, production widgets, efficiency, and adult convenience. Learning is integrated! Let’s really examine sending our most precious
commodity(see…our language is even habituated from an Industrial Age !) – CHILDREN – down an assembly line of siloed instruction in math, science, history, English, etc. The brain is a beautifully complex network of integrated systems. It is a SYSTEM! So should be school! [see Ken Robinson’s RSA]
- The 20th century is thematically characterized by “sit and get” instruction. My vision for 21st century education accepts that learning is project-based. Before people seat us in rows and columns of desks among four walls, we learn through “projects.” After formal schooling, we learn through projects. Learning is project-based! Context precedes competence. And there is a spectrum of “project-based.” The most advanced projects are those that integrate the all-too-departmentalized subjects, those that develop from STUDENT-learner QUESTIONS and INQUIRY instead of teacher-driven decisions, and those that make a real, authentic, relevant difference in this world – a world that begs for problem identifiers and problems solvers who recognize that great ideas emerge in “coffee houses.” [see Kiran Bir Sethi’s TED talk, Linda Darling-Hammond, Steven Johnson’s TED talk and/or RSA]
- The 20th century is thematically characterized by an overemphasis on assessment OF learning. My vision for 21st century education accepts that assessment is FOR learning. Assessment is FOR learning! We need to utilize assessment carefully and thoughtfully to maintain a strong, healthly lifestyle and attitude about learning. Autopsies are for dead people, and they don’t offer much assistance to those on whom the service is being performed. If we only do one thing for learners in the 21st century, we should assist their (OUR!) development of the growth mindset over the fixed mindset. [see Robert Marzano, Tom Guskey, James Popham, Rick and Becky DuFour, Bob Eaker, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, Alfie Kohn, Bill Ferriter, Joe Bower, Jonathan Martin, George Couros, and the list goes on, etc.]
“What?!” you say. “He didn’t even mention technology. What a fool!” Technology is just a tool to help us accomplish the three points above…it is a means, not an ends, even in our digitially-dominated world.
Let’s get on with it already! It’s about LEARNING!