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20 July, 2011

Look What Time Lets Happen II: 21st Century Skills

Thanks to another workshop the 10th grade team -- and the entire department if they would like it -- now has a document that clearly outlines Wagner's Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century.

The purpose of our workshop was, as my colleague, Barb, said, "to get a grip on what '21st Century Skills' actually means so it's not just a meaningless buzz word." To do this, we looked at the extended definitions that Wagner's book, The Global Achievement Gap, provides and whittled them down to blunt, articulate statements we feel are now easily understandable and usable. (See below for these definitions.)

What became evident as we worked to articulate the definition of each skill is that much of what we do in the classroom now is actually in line with Wagner's Survival Skills. This begged the question of "what actually is new about the 21st Century in terms of the skills our students need to master?" To quote my colleague, Kim from our document:

"The 21st Century is marked by access to and the usage of technology; however, technology is a means to an end. These contemporary tools should be used to reach the goals established through Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills. Therefore, technology can be used as a tool during a student’s creation process or his product, but it is not a necessity in thinking and learning. It is important for schools to provide access to these tools and the associated professional development in order for them to be effectively integrated into the 21st Century classroom." 


While technology is a main , constantly evolving, component of the 21st Century, it is not the "end all, be all" of it; instead, this Century is much more about learning for the sake of creating. A much larger portion of the workforce is required to have the creative and entrepreneurial skills that only a select few were required to have in the past. This means that there is a necessity for teaching risk-taking and leadership to all students, whereas in the past it was more about learning how to be a competent worker who could follow directions and be "smart" enough to perform the tasks he was assigned by a superior.


Many of the skills identified, like "Accessing and Analyzing Information" and "Communicating Efficiently and Effectively" do not feel all that new to me. How did anyone really do his job well in previous centuries without mastering those skills (if he was in a position to use them)?


Most importantly, we realized that we have quite a bit of discussion to do within the department if we are to figure out how to honor risk in our assessments and teach students how to take risks. It is not fair or encouraging to a student if we instruct him to "take a risk in his thinking" but then penalize him through a low grade if the risk-taking does not prove effective. A series of checkpoints within the creation process should help a student realize when his risk-taking is not going to prove effective and a change of direction is in order, but that too requires a shift in teaching.


All good things to keep thinking about.


21st Century Skills Defined

1. Critical thinking and problem solving involves:

  • the ability to ask the right questions in order to continuously improve students’ processes and products.
  • the ability to rethink and think anew since, “Yesterday's answers won't solve today's problems.”
  • re-envisioning a problem from a new angle
2. Collaboration and leadership involves:
  • the ability to engage in teamwork
  • collaborating with a virtual team within and beyond the classroom.
  • leadership skills
  • demonstrating the ability to influence others
  • using technology to create a wider audience

3. Agility and adaptability involves:

  • situation changes and the thinker needs to adapt accordingly and apply critical thinking skills to the changed situation.
  • the ability to think, be flexible, change, and use a variety of tools to solve new problems.  
  • change with the problems because a particular problem may not exist in the future since our culture moves so quickly.

Emerged Essential Question: How do we meaningfully change the situation for students and teach them to be flexible and adaptable within it?

4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism involves:

  • honoring risk taking even if it doesn’t yield success
  • using the failures in order to improve upon solving the initiative. Get back up after you fail.
  • redefining what it means to fail: failure is necessary on the road to success.

How do we create opportunities to honor risk? This seems to be an area of weakness for our department.

What is an intellectual risk?
  • is it a personal challenge?
  • is it “simply” not taking “the easy way out”?
  • student centered risk taking; being out of one’s “comfort zone”
  • being OK with the discomfort that comes with risk and new situations.
  • perseverence

What is entrepreneurialism?
  • owning an idea in order to develop it

What is initiative?
  • intrinsic motivation

5. Effective Oral and Written Communication involves:

  • verbal skills, written skills, presentation skills.
  • the ability to be clear and concise in purpose and argument when communicating
  • the ability to  create focus, energy, and passion around the points students want to make.
  • the ability to write with a real voice.
  • the ability to avoid ambiguity when communicating one’s ideas

6. Accessing and Analyzing Information involves
  • effectively processing the information
  • search for information
  • find information
  • evaluate information
  • analyze information

7. Curiosity and Imagination involves
  • learning to be inquisitive to solve the biggest problems and impact innovation.
  • Results are “beautiful*, unique, and meaningful.”
  • people's capacities for imagination, creativity, and empathy will be increasingly important for maintaining their own competitive advantage in the future.

Emerging Essential Question: *What is “beauty”, and who defines it?

14 July, 2011

Look What Time Lets Happen: 10th Grade Curriculum

A couple days ago I got together with a few of my 10th grade colleagues and we continued to hammer out a document that articulates what we value in the English classroom. Our mission was to create a document that explicitly states the pedagogical and philosophical practices to which we subscribe. As I said in a past meeting once, it is an effort to "create 'the page' so we can all have a way to judge whether or not we are all on the same one. If I'm going to do something that is not on 'the same page' as the rest of the department, at least I should be able to tell when I am doing that." In the same way, this document can be given to any new teacher to the department or to the course so s/he can have something in writing to refer to when designing assessments.


One of the reasons I pushed so hard for this document is because I don't believe any real change can happen from the ground up in an institution without explicit statements about what is valued. Without these explicit statements, I think people very easily fall back on what they think or feel the institution values. Without explicit statements, it also means that teachers can easily, without guilt, just close their doors and do whatever it is they feel like doing in the name of good teaching... or in the name of whatever. 

One of the realizations that I made during the creation of this document is that the course-wide goals are ones that mostly fit any other grade, not just 10th. I posed the question at one point, "what about these goals is specific to tenth grade?" One of the answers we realized along the way is that it is good to have questions that are not readily identifiable as "10th grade goals" because in order for our students to really learn anything deeply, they need to spend a lot of time on the same questions but in a developmentally appropriate manner. I liked that realization.

For reference, the course-wide goals we created are:


Students will learn to:
Read to comprehend, to appreciate technique, and to derive pleasure
Write to explore ideas, communicate discovered ideas, and to spur thought in the audience
Develop a sense of ownership and investment in intellectual work
Develop intellectual curiosity, originality, and honesty
Develop the habits and mindset of a successful, independent student
Embrace the ambiguity and nuance of complex issues rather than reduce them to the simplistic
Compare and analyze multiple perspectives
Perform at grade-level standards in reading and writing on the CAPT

I also liked the collaboration process we engaged with in order to create the sophomore curriculum document. It took a long time, and this document is a result of several discussions we had as a larger tenth grade group throughout the second semester in course-alike meetings and during time on the professional development days at the end of this school year. It wasn't just a select handful of people that decided they were like-minded and wanted to write down their thoughts. Actually, our process is a great model of what we would want our students to do in order to create a good product. There were multiple perspectives, bouncing ideas around to reinvent them and tackle this problem from new angles, and hey, we even used technology to help get the job done because it was more efficient and meaningful than what we could do without it. 

Best of all, this made me feel like we are moving forward. We have a product. It is a product that feels useful and innovative, and it helps us shape our world into something we believe in and want to be a part of. 

Good stuff.

08 July, 2011

Pilot Meeting: July 8, 2011

Personal goals:
1. At a minimum, blog on the first and third Wednesday of the month and at least two comments on other blogs.
2. Students will analyze their successes, failures, and thought processes. They’ll share this process with each other in meaningful ways.
3. At least one class of your students will produce, by the end of the year, a true portfolio that makes their thinking visible and identify and highlights growth.
4. Meet on the first Tuesday of the month for an entire period for the purpose of creating a portfolio of our work; such as, assignments, rubrics, blog posts, etc.

Philosophical goals:
1. Emphasis on honest, public, authentic assignments and reflections.
2. Cross curricular sharing: develop common language among ourselves, creating cultures of thinking/mindset.
3. Paying attention to students at ALL levels through appropriate learning strategies, particularly in teaching students to identify, reflect upon, and overcome self-limiting behaviors.
4. Model, in our project, exactly the same habits of mind and work that we want to see in our students (i.e., frank understanding of our failures and the ways our future plans demonstrate learning from those failures).

External support:
1. Request that administrators take on specific roles and tasks that they hold themselves accountable for.
2. Invite an outside expert (e.g., Bena Kallick) to provide input on materials and to observe classes.
3. Get money and release time to go to outside professional development: Project Zero, TC, Tri-State, Bena Kallick type.
4. Release time (and subs) on the first Tuesday of each month so we can meet in person. Get two hours in the August professional days instead of a September meeting.
5. Tech stipends ($1500 each) so pilot members can purchase the technology that will best suit their particular classrooms.