Friday, January 23, 2009

21st Century Skills: A doomed fad?

I recently read an article entitled The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad: 21st Century Skills by Jay Matthews of the Washington Post. The title is really a bit misleading on the content of his article but does lead me to a it a fad that will come and go?

To answer that, I can say for sure it will come to pass...everything does. When we get to the 22nd century, 21st century skills will not be the moniker anymore.

To look at the article in more depth, I'll summarize Matthews' ideas by saying he calls it a trendy buzzword that has the pendulum swinging too far. He sees some value in the ideas but argues they aren't necessarily new nor does delivery or the implementation meet the expectations and rhetoric about it. However, people can't seem to get enough of it. He ends the article by saying:
Great educators tell me that teaching and learning are more about relationships than content, more about asking questions every day of everyone in class than depending on students to soak it up on their own. In our poorest neighborhoods, we still have some of our weakest teachers, either too inexperienced to handle methods like modeling instruction or too cynical to consider 21st-century skills anything more than another doomed fad. There might be a way to turn them around, but if there isn't, instead of engaged and inspired students, we will have just one more big waste of time.
Although I think his article could use more focus and substance for that matter, he hits on an important point of teacher quality. No matter what we are teaching, if we do it ineffectively then it will not be a positive venture. Teachers are the most important factor in improving student learning. The research on this is clear. Schools have to get the right people on the bus and professionally grow these educators.

If you are a teacher reading this, are you the right type of person for 21st century learning? Let me rephrase...are you willing to learn new strategics and techniques to engage students? to model authentic learning? to engage students on their terms rather than your own? To explore new tools available to you? Are you willing to put students at the center of their learning? Are you willing to release control as the expert imparting knowledge and live with a "messy" learning process?

Another point that Matthews touches on is authentic learning. What are students learning? Is it really valuable and driven by the appropriate outcomes? It is not about having students jump through hoops or "do school." We need students to engage in their learning, critically engaging and problem-solving real world challenges.

Lastly, although I may not invite Matthews to my writing class due to stylistic preferences nor may I agree with some ideas that he wrote, the concept of balance is necessary. Our learning environment does need to be transformed into a 21st century learning environment. However, that does not mean all that we have done in the past needs to be thrown out. We need wisdom and discernment to mesh the new and the old together to create something new in its own synthesis of ideas. It is not about what is new or what is old, it is about what is best.

Getting quality teachers to engage students in authentic learning that is relevant to the context of the 21st century era is critical...and it is not a fad. From my reflections on this article, you can see 3 principles that I believe lay the foundations for success, transcending any trendy idea.

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