Sometimes I get asked why I am supportive of what has been labeled “21st Century Learning Skills” – and commonly identified as ‘creativity collaboration communication…
Then there are critiques of the shift in education such as http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/the-brave-new-world-of-21st-century-learning/article19355298/
Here’s what I know – when I went to school ‘back in the good-old-days’ where letter grades and %s ruled all, we entered grade 8 with a tad over 120 students in my cohort. By graduation there were slightly more than 60 that ‘made it’. That’s not good enough. I also recall my grade two class having a fight a week – in the classroom – with students who were highly disengaged (already)!
Here is what I’ve seen: a focus on learning instead of task-completion is hardly a new idea, but the support from colleagues is unmatched from the past thanks to technology (and twitter which has me networking with educators across the continent and around the world) and I have seen students enjoy school – enjoy learning. And unlike earlier educators (like my father) who encouraged a bit of positive disruptions in education, it’s not being done in isolation; where his Professional Learning Network relied on those he met face-to-face at work and at conferences, every day I can blog or tweet ideas or questions and take part in #conversations that let me know that “it’s not just me”.
But…..what about the basics of reading writing and numeracy? I am a big believer in these literacies, but they do need to be ‘done a bit different’ so that they enable learners to use them, not get stuck or bored by them. I would argue this has often been the case – when I think back to my favourite days in school, worksheets and rote memorization don’t pop up. Project-based-learning activities (and teachers who knew the power of relationships) are what I recall with fondness. The areas I enjoyed rote memorization were the subjects I had a passion for – the other subjects I ‘memorized for the moment’ – actual learning would’ve been much better for me…
Too much of the same journal-writing activity led me to not do daily written reflections until I re-challenged myself this year. The content-focused Q&A for everything that was read deterred my wife from reading for pleasure. My son refuses to complete math worksheets because he has “already shown he can do that” (multiplication drills) but will spend long times processing multi-step open-ended questions such as “looking at these stats, which athlete was the leagues MVP” (I never got a question like this when I was in school).
I want my children and my learners school experience to be better than mine (and I enjoyed most of my school experience!) where the focus is less on tasks (which I could easily and quickly complete but many of my friends struggled with and led them to dreading -possibly a stronger word could be used- school each-and-almost-every-day). So, much like my father before me, I am supporting a shift/change/evolution to the school experience.
When I was criticized by parents the first time I went away from spelling lists and towards a ‘making words’ concept, I learned that those same parents weren’t proud of their spelling skills, but still wanted the methodology that they experienced. And the students who I had that were good at recalling the 20 words for the test and then forgetting the spelling rules started to learn & remember how words work….and even ‘why’.
Reading evolved from ‘whole class’ reading the same novel to ‘differentiated groups’ focused on finding books that were either the ‘just right’ reading level or of the specific interest level to my learners. Literature circles with journal-prompts and ever changing ‘discussion roles’ led students to explore parts of books looking at things a little differently (ie from the point of view of the main character, secondary character, author…word hunter looking for ‘juicy words) got much more connected readers than what it got from comprehension questions at the end of each chapter.
Similarly with drill-and-kill math sheets with 50+ questions (or timed mad minutes!) – many of my critics who asked about these ‘extra work’ like what they had would then admit that hated math! (Sense a trend?). Some people might be okay saying “I’m just not good at math” but I’m not good at hearing that. My focus has shifted to skills & strategies and solving problems and keeping the interest in numeracy thriving while showing that “math” is so much more than + – x / .
And I strongly believe that the more literate our learners are, the more they can ‘play’ with words (poetry!) and numbers and prose! Oh! That’s where the ‘creativity, component works it’s way in! Likewise for collaboration (aka research) and communication (but the output of students is no longer limited to cursive script essays (I would’ve done much better in university with today’s tech).
I’m good with questions coming my way about this “shift” in education – which in my learning community is being connected with our use of eportfolios which is a much better way to “communicate learning” with students and parents than report cards which were designed to ‘report achievement’. Schooling is different than it used to be and I couldn’t be happier with what I am seeing and doing.