Ind. Study - 21st Century Skills (Week #2)

21st Century Skills

To successfully face rigorous higher education coursework and a globally competitive work environment, schools must align classroom environments and core subjects with 21st century skills. 

This quote from Paige Johnson (Chair of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills) is the driving force behind what she and her colleagues have declared as, "The 21st Century Skills Movement" focused on, "Infusing 21st century skills into education."  What are these "skills" specifically?  I believed they obviously had something to do with all the new technology surrounding us, but this movement delves deeper by involving not only educators, but also community groups and business leaders to help determine how to increase student achievement and success in the work force.

What are these skills and knowledge?  According to the Partnership, they are:

1.  Core Subjects (LA, Math, Science) and 21st Century Themes (Global Awareness & Financial Literacy).
** At Haldane Elementary where I will be the new Teacher-Librarian in the fall, we are the Number 1 Green School in Canada and have reached Earth Status Level 5 for all the global and environmental activities we have completed.

2.  Learning & Innovation Skills (Critical thinking, creativity, problem solving)
**Alberta Learning's document Focus on Inquiry outlines the steps to implement these higher level cognitive skills while developing authentic, meaningful inquiries that the students are completely involved in.  Many activities carried out by "The Green Kids Club" at Haldane integrate these learning and innovation skills and I hope to further these activities in the library.  

3.  Information, Media, and Technology Skills
** These skills are the most underdeveloped at Haldane Elementary and will be one of my focuses this year in my new position through the creation of a Library Wiki, Staff Professional Development and student led inquiries with technology integration.

4.  Life & Career Skills (Initiative and Self-Direction)
** My husband (VP at a high school) and I were talking about some students and their lack of initiative and the deserving attitude of "What are YOU going to do for me?"  Also, many wait around expecting good things to happen to/for them, while not taking any responsibility for it themselves.  Students at his school were complaining all year that there was no school spirit and their final grad year "sucked."  He would reply with, "Do something about it then - don't wait around for someone else to step up."  Where's the initiative?  How do we create or instill these traits into students?

Apparently this integration of 21st century skills into the education system is not agreed upon by all stakeholders.  This was somewhat surprising to me personally, I must admit.  Preparing students to be successful in school, university and the working world in the 21st century is the main reason I began graduate level studies.  Charles Weis, ACSA President, mentioned the debate over 21st century skills of being "just a fad," or an important part of the learning process.  I firmly believe these skills certainly are not a "fad," that they are here to stay and will be critical to learn and build upon as our digital, socially networked world continues to change and grow.  The Partnership has gone so far as to term this digital and information literacy shift a "Time of crisis" and a "Good opportunity . . . to reshape our education system."

George Manthey discusses the knowledge versus skills debate in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Leadership, once again a debate I did not think possible.  What is there to debate?  Look around at the percentage of young people with smart phones and laptops, checking Facebook, blogging, tweeting, connecting with others around the world . . . who really thinks they're just going to stop all that?  Students are learning differently now, so too must the teaching within our education system.  Still, some are concerned that the core content areas will be comprised with the integration of 21st century skills.  Manthey reported on three individuals who criticized the 21st Century Skills Movement, one of them, E.D. Hirsch, observing, "That such 21st century skills are not like all-purpose muscles that can be applied in any context."  One only has to visit the P21 (Partnership for 21st Century Skills) website to view concrete examples of how technology has been infused across the curriculum, the latest within Art Education.  A group of librarians and educators in the Kamloops/Thompson District created an Information Literacy Continuum specifically for teachers to meet existing learning outcomes through the use of inquiry learning and integration of technology across the curriculum.

The three R's and the four C's.  We all know the three R's - readin', ritin', and rithmetic, but what do the four C's stand for?  I first came across this on the P21 website as well - critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation.  Ken Kay, president of P21, explains in a short video clip below the importance of fusing the three R's and four C's to ensure student readiness for the 21st century.  As well, the fact that in several states in the US, teachers are being given Professional Development on, "How to teach and assess the four C's in the context of the three R's."  I know that is one of the biggest obstacles for teachers in our District - they are given new information or curriculum, (such as the Information Literacy Continuum) but not taught how to implement, teach or assess it.

In my capacity as a new T-L this September my goal is to promote some awareness regarding the 21st Century Skills Movement and then begin to collaborate with staff on ways to implement these skills throughout the core curriculum.  Sharing websites like P21 and videos such as 21st Century Skills: How do We Get There and A Vision of K-12 Students Today (accessible on YouTube), are excellent ways to begin advocating for skills that I feel are necessary to be teaching our youth, but in the absence of action, making the necessary changes, these resources are not enough.  The debate over 21st century skills and knowledge, core content, should not really be a debate at all.  As Ken Kay stated of the debate, "There's no question from the beginning that our work has been built on the premise that skills and content support each other, and the notion that you have to choose between this is a false dichotomy."