Reimagine your role in the classroom in service of creating more opportunities for authentic learning.
Although it’s a different building, it still feels like home, the place where I spent the first six years of my teaching career. As I am buzzed into the main entrance, I see students filling the hallway, getting ready to leave for the day. I sign in and take the stairs up to Room 209, Ms. Cunningham’s room. I’m excited to see my former colleague, who has been teaching here for eight years.
Her classroom is decorated with flags, posters of student work, and the desks are grouped in quads. The large windows are a breath of fresh air after teaching in a building with no windows, and I joke with her about the increase in Vitamin D. After a brief catch up, we started talking about how Ms. Cunningham’s teaching practice has changed throughout the years, defining what authentic learning means, and how her role as educator has shifted to teacher as facilitator.
Ms. Cunningham: I think authentic learning really relies on the students and what they bring into class, showing them that their experiences are what make this class. It’s not that I have any preconceived notion of what they need to learn or what they need for education, it’s that they’re bringing their passions with them. I’m just here to kind of bring that out. And in doing so, I bring that out of every student.
Did you always have this mindset?
Ms. Cunningham: I think for the first half of my career, I was very much of a control freak about my classroom and what I was doing. At the time, I felt like if I was leading things and I knew what I was teaching was what was aligned to the curriculum, I could have “control.” After attending the Stanford Hollyhock Fellowship, I began to question my role in the classroom. My classroom is not about me. Before, I was the source, and now, I'm a facilitator. I think that has inspired me to do a lot more group work with students, more individual conferencing, and more conversations in general rather than looking for a product. Even today, we sat in groups; in my first three years, I could never imagine seating my students in groups, but by adjusting my role as facilitator, I showed them that I trust them more and that they have power in their learning.
What do you think has been the most noticeable change in your classroom practice?
Ms. Cunningham: Fostering curiosity. It should be the students bringing forth curiosity and interest; the teacher is there to aid in that, not necessarily just fill them with what they think students need to know. Am I coming into the classroom with a notion of giving the students what I think they should know, or am I coming into this classroom genuinely getting to know these students as people and then navigating how they want to interact with their learning? Ultimately, I decided that what really means more to me is giving students the space and opportunity to be curious. Learning does not come from me. Learning comes from the students, and they should guide their learning; I'm just here to help out. My role as a teacher is to help them make the map or point them in the right direction. Students tell me where they want to go, and I hope that I can get them there.
The mindset shift
There are a few things that really stood out to me during my conversation with Ms. Cunningham. The first was that this new teaching philosophy was encouraged through a mindset shift. She questioned if she was the source of knowledge, leading her to question the idea of knowledge as a singular term. This is not an easy task — demonstrated by the word “knowledges” being underlined in blue as I type this article — but being the courageous educator that she is, Ms. Cunningham challenged what she had previously learned about the role of a teacher. One person should not be the “keeper of the knowledge”, and students all bring their own knowledges to the classroom, knowledges that should be welcomed and validated.
The curriculum shift
As we continued our conversation, I asked Ms. Cunningham for examples of how she enacts this mindset shift in her classroom. She talked about starting new units with notice and wonder protocols, allowing students to ask their own questions about the information provided. These questions guide their exploration throughout the unit, prompting reading choices and potential final reflection questions. Through these student-led explorations, she provides resources, suggestions, and teaches the students skills they need to master in order to answer their questions and communicate their findings. Rarely will you find her at the front of the classroom.
The classroom space
This leads to the physical classroom space; Ms. Cunningham has arranged the desks in quads on this particular day, encouraging students to discuss their ideas and explore together. There is a couch in the reading corner, complete with several bookcases. Students are welcomed to use the space as they need, moving desks or sitting in the reading corner when they want to get some independent reading done. This classroom setup invites students to use each other as resources and can mutate to fit their needs. Without flexibility of space, mindset and curricular shifts wouldn’t be enough to make this teacher-as-facilitator role possible.
As the sun starts to set, I thank Ms. Cunningham for inviting me into her classroom and sharing her work with me. Her shift from teacher-as-knower to teacher-as-facilitator is inspiring and by no means easy. It requires educators to do what we want our students to do; question what we know, build new knowledge, and enact positive change.
How can you implement instruction that's grounded in curiosity and collaboration? Take part in 21 Skills for the 21st Century to expand your understanding of critical capacities that will prepare today's students for tomorrow's changing world.
Lessons from the Field: Practice and Professional Learning with the Global Mindset Framework
Making a 21st century skills framework meaningful for K-12 instruction.
Over the past century, advanced technology has made the world smaller and smaller. This has perhaps never been truer than the past decade, in which social media has made it possible for a tweet or an Instagram post to be seen around the world in mere seconds. Consequently, we see and have many more collective experiences. This was perhaps never more evident than over the past few years with the shared experience of a global pandemic and a rapid impact on learning in most parts of the world.
As we were thrust into new ways of thinking about teaching and learning, different mindsets, and different ways of imagining schools, we were faced with the truth that we can no longer sustain a 20th century in a 21st century world. The task before us is to educate students today for the world they’re poised to lead tomorrow.
As a founding organization of the Global Learning Alliance (GLA), we have been thinking about reimagining education and preparing educators for the future for quite some time. The GLA is the outgrowth of our groundbreaking research in five of the top PISA-ranked cities around the world on the features and practices surrounding 21st century teaching and learning, and is committed to cross-cultural research collaborations as an effort to define a pedagogy that takes into account the dynamic needs of our changing world.
Through this work, we are dedicated to understanding, defining, applying, and sharing the principles and practices of a world-class education within a wide range of educational contexts.
As part of research and collaborations with K-12 schools and university partners around the world, we have developed the Global Mindset Framework, which identifies five mindsets that have emerged as most relevant to the future success of today’s students. Each mindset includes four key skills that demonstrate the actions that can be seen when cultivating the mindset.
But just having access to a framework doesn’t mean it’s automatically linked to classroom practices — and some of these mindsets haven’t been typically taught in schools. As a result, we always consider how we can help educators to analyze, apply, and adjust learning frameworks as they incorporate them into their everyday teaching practices.
Putting the framework into practice
The challenge with any educational framework is translating it into meaningful practice for the teachers and students it's intended to serve. We were privileged to partner with the Brunswick School to integrate 21st century practices into a wide range of courses across all grade levels. We customized our professional learning approach to maximize the time we had together so teachers could have meaningful conversations, practical applications, and space to reflect on their experiences for deeper learning. We used a blended approach to professional development that included customized, professional learning videos and synchronous 75-minute sessions to explore the meanings of each component and practical application for classroom practices.
As we worked across department teams, we wanted to model the mindsets of the framework, so with each new mindset that we studied, we created a customized video with the basic facts, and then planned for an interactive face-to-face session where teachers developed practical strategies after watching the video and discussed the impact of the framework on their classes.
Some teachers noticed that incorporating a new mindset each month allowed them to expand their learning outcomes beyond simply “critical thinking skills” and that they were setting critical goals for collaboration through group work and discussion, as well as creativity where they used imaginative writing prompts to help students expand their thinking. This kind of integrated thinking helped the teachers test and tweak their learning strategies immediately.
By creating heterogeneous groups in these sessions, we were also able to support cross-grade professional learning conversations that generated great ideas from different vantage points. Teachers from the upper grades were amazed at the different planning and pedagogical moves made by the teachers in the lower grades. Similarly, the teachers in the lower grades benefited from learning more about student expectations in the upper grades. These realizations created space for metacognitive reflection about their practice, and challenged some of the assumptions we all have when thinking about planning for our specific grade/content area. Like working with students, we know that placing adults in strategic and flexible groupings is a powerful lever for keeping learning fresh.
During the culminating session about their learning, each teacher was given an opportunity to share a lesson, unit, or project they implemented or planned to implement by applying a single or multiple mindset from the framework. Their learning was evident through their sharing and evidenced in the artifacts from their student work. In one case, a teacher hoped to have students investigate COVID-19 using actual numbers and data to unpack the pandemic. After interpreting the data, they would design charts and graphs to share their findings, make predictions for the long-term impacts of COVID-19, and offer recommendations for next steps. Throughout the project, students would implicitly be asked to demonstrate the Global mindset from our framework, as they strove to solve real-world problems.
When educators consider the implications of the Global Mindset Framework within their own curriculum, we’ve seen how they cultivate their own mindsets, in addition to making direct connections to new teaching practices.
Our partners demonstrated that when we scratch the surface of 21st century skills, we see that there are not only many innovative practices, but many unanswered questions.
Some of our big learning moments and new questions included the following:
In education, we often encounter frameworks — whether it’s a framework for literacy, a framework for evaluation, or a framework for instruction — that should translate into practice. This translation can be achieved through thoughtful and intentional professional development that respects the knowledge of teachers and honors the ways adults learn. By structuring these professional learning sessions in both synchronous and asynchronous engagements, and using cross-content and grade-level groupings, teachers were able to interpret this essential framework in meaningful ways.
Wondering what this work could look like in your community? Reach out to us to discuss how you can bring essential 21st century skills to your students and community.
In order to succeed, students need to practice connecting and empathizing with others.
As I sit here at my computer, I could also be video chatting with a relative in Argentina while checking airfare prices, ordering pizza to be delivered in an hour, checking the weather for next weekend, finding an inspirational quote to add to my workshop tomorrow, and checking who the seven dwarves are because it’s been bugging me. And the funny part is, none of this would seem unusual to you! With a smartphone or computer and a good wifi connection, knowledge and information is a click away. Watching my own children attend school from home this past year gave me insight into how much technology is affecting schoolwork. Yes, they are still doing math, still reading, still writing, but there is also this: “Alexa, how do you spell “suggestion?” “Alexa, which fraction is larger- ⅔ or ¾?” Yikes!
When we think about the future, we tend to imagine the remarkable technology that will continue to develop. And so, when thinking about what skills our students need to thrive in the 21st century, the gut response is more tech skills, more computer savviness. But acquiring more tech skills can only get us so far. What students need is the ability to think critically, and the ability to collaborate with diverse thinkers. To do this, our students need to be taught how to connect and empathize with others.
When I think about students who have really stood out to me, from middle school to graduate school, I think of the students who could work with anyone — the ones that helped their classmates shine bright. Those are the students I remember the most. I’d like to make a case that it is possible to teach this, or put structures in place to teach students to think outside of themselves. To teach students the importance of getting along with others, and seeing the world from another point of view.
In a recent speech by President Joe Biden, he urges Americans to practice empathy for the health of our country. He reasoned: “For empathy is the fuel of democracy. Let me say that again: Empathy — empathy is the fuel of democracy, a willingness to see each other — not as enemies, neighbors. Even when we disagree, to understand what the other is going through.”
That ability to see “what the other is going through” is something we can teach. And as President Biden points out, this quality that may have once been thought of as a soft skill is one that we need to fuel our democracy.
One way to “understand what the other is going through” is through reading. While I am not an immigrant, I can dive into the lives of Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters in The Namesake and experience Ashima’s deep loneliness in Cambridge, longing for her family, feeling like a foreigner. I can also experience her delight when she realizes she can recreate her favorite street snack from Calcutta — a mixture of peanuts, Rice Krispies, onions, and spices.
As a teacher reading The Namesake in an English or Humanities class, I would invite students to sit with Ashima for a while. Live in her loneliness a bit, stew in the feeling of everything feeling unfamiliar. Offer students a choice for how they can engage with the characters, such as:
There are so many ways to empathize with characters in English or Humanities classes, through reading, writing, and discussions.
Connecting to content areas
In an interview with Life Magazine, James Baldwin explains, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” Baldwin reminds us all what it means to be human, and through literature we can feel each other’s pain, knowing we, too, have experienced the same. While the particulars may be different, we all have hard moments of hardship that have “tormented” us in some way.
But how do we explore this in subject areas other than English or Humanities? Or for students who may not be able to empathize in such a way? For content area classes, Facing History offers a tool to help students forge a connection with something they have read or are exploring.
Using this tool invites students to spend time thinking, probing, and considering how an event or problem is relatable in some way. Facing History suggests using these prompts with the chart above (available for download here):
Students can easily use this tool in History or Science, as they are learning about scientific discoveries or ethical dilemmas involved in scientific explorations. If we want to help our students become 21st century thinkers, we have to create scenarios in which they are stepping outside of themselves, extending into another’s world in some way. This is what will help students build ideas together. This is what will make our students think more complexly.
Our equations can always be situated in the real world, which offers our young people another perspective.
Another way to teach empathy in all subject areas is to normalize students helping each other, teaching one another, and working together to solve problems. Teaching students how to teach their classmates signals to them that you value collaboration, and that the ability to teach and work together are significant, valued characteristics. Encouraging students to step into a teaching role will also help them gain a greater awareness of the topic at hand — when students take on the qualities of a teacher, they are not only learning how to work with their classmates, but simultaneously becoming more of an expert on the subject.
Technology will continue to develop at a rapid pace, and knowledge will continue to be accessible to all of us. Creating situations where students learn to step outside of themselves is what will propel our students into more complex and critical ways of thinking. We must continue to focus on how we can help our students think about each other and our world, and encourage them to collaborate and share ideas. As President Biden put it, this is what fuels our democracy. This is how we will stay 21st century ready.
Breathe new life into book clubs and place students at the center of their reading experience.
G. FAITH LITTLE
Initiative Director, 21st Century Learning
Time moves forward, as it always does. We can take this time to reflect on lessons learned when we unexpectedly and quickly shifted from teaching in the classroom, to teaching remotely, and then into a next normal of blended in-person and virtual learning spaces. One big takeaway from this time of critical reflection is that we aren’t starting with a blank page. Whatever the season, we can adapt tools we already have to meet the challenges we’re facing.
Breathing new life into book clubs
New tools can breathe new life into our planning and our teaching, and creating a new tool doesn’t need to be done from scratch. By connecting Ten Tips for Successful Book Clubs with our Global Mindset Framework, we can quickly create a new resource that integrates teaching 21st century skills into each reading opportunity we plan for our students.
Book clubs offer many benefits to student readers, including:
A successful book club for your students will:
Understanding the Global Mindset Framework
Now that we’ve framed some of the characteristics of book clubs, we can connect each facet to our Global Mindset Framework. This will help us streamline our work when planning for our next book club iteration, or beginning a book club community with our students.
The Global Mindset Framework is the articulation of 21st century skills students need to navigate their present and their future, sorted into five categories of capacities: caring, collaborative, creative, critical, and global. The framework addresses key questions that teachers and school leaders struggle with as they attempt to make key concepts relevant to children in a changing world.
To understand the Global Mindset Framework, we can look to the Global Learning Alliance (GLA). The GLA is the outgrowth of our groundbreaking research on the features and practices surrounding 21st century teaching and learning. It has evolved from the seeds of a research project and is now a consortium of schools and universities around the world dedicated to understanding, defining, applying, and sharing the principles and practices of a world-class education within a wide range of educational contexts.
21st century capacities
Global capacity: The capacity for students to step outside the confines of their own familiar social world to understand distant realities in order to engage productively with the world.
Critical capacity: The capacity for students to develop their full critical cognitive capacities in order to be discerning and informed citizens of the world.
Collaborative capacity: The capacity for students to develop habits of observation, reflection, and collaboration, and to be able to communicate in multiple modalities such as through images, words, sounds, gestures, or an integration of these modes in order to actively contribute to various discourses in the world.
Creative capacity: The capacity for students to follow their curiosity by questioning or imagining in order to contribute positive improvements or inventions to their world.
Caring capacity: The capacity for students to explore compassion, empathy, and self-awareness in order to develop caring partnerships with themselves, their communities, countries, and world.
Activating 21st century skills
Using the template below, we can imagine how we might combine various capacities from the Global Mindset Framework with our tips for success to generate a profile of a book club that integrates 21st century skills into student learning. We want to keep moving our teaching forward to meet the needs of today’s students, but we don’t often feel we have the time we need to recreate our plans. By layering the Global Mindset Framework over our book club planning, we can revise what we’ve already got going for us instead of starting from a blank page.
Connecting skills to next steps
Using the template above, we can customize our profile to fit a specific book — in this case, we'll use Malala Yousafzai's I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World. In this model, we start with our to-do list; we imagine some of our options, and what we need to collect to complete our plan.
The task before us all is to educate students today for the world they’re poised to lead tomorrow, and as we recognize that we can no longer sustain a 20th century in a 21st century world, we must remain flexible in order to meet the dynamic needs of our students. As we look for ways to build upon the expertise and techniques already alive in our classrooms, we can easily create opportunities for students to build 21st century skills, shifting from teacher-centered instruction to an environment that puts students at the center of their reading and writing experiences.
Resource: Global Mindset Framework
As we reflect on the current health, economic, and political crisis, equipping students with 21st century skills seems more important than ever before.
The Global Mindset Framework — a result of ongoing research with the Global Learning Alliance — is a tool that helps educators consider new skills for a new world. The Framework (free to download) explores 21st century skills across four mindsets, each articulating capacities that research suggests will be the most valuable and valued skills in the future.
Utilize this framework in your classroom in order to build on the importance of the critical thinking skills of the 20th century by fostering skills in collaboration, creativity, caring, and global consciousness.
To access additional free resources from our team, please visit our Resources page.
TAGS: 21ST CENTURY SKILLS, RESOURCES
This time of uncertainty can create new opportunities to cultivate 21st century skills.
In 2011, three researchers embarked on a journey to better understand how high-achieving schools around the world were preparing students for the 21st century. Their research took them to seven countries, hundreds of classrooms, and thousands of samples of student work. This seminal research had two significant results: first, the development of the original Global Capacities Framework — an outline of essential domains and capacities that outlines students’ needs in education for the next 100 years; and second, a dynamic, collaborative community of K-12 schools and university partners who appreciated the learning experience so much that they didn’t want the research to end. And that’s the story of how the Global Learning Alliance (GLA) came to be.
The founding members of the GLA — from the US, Finland and Singapore — formed the Governing Board, and the community grew to include delegations from China, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and South Africa. With roughly 15 partner organizations and 60 individual delegate members, the community comes together every two years to share promising practices, find connections on global issues, and deepen the research into developing 21st century skills through cross-cultural, project-based learning experiences. Professor Suzanne Choo of the National Institute of Education (NIE) in Singapore — one of the original researchers and the leader of our student research projects — said she is hopeful that these types of deep project work can not only jump-start students’ academic skills, but can be a bridge for students to develop lifelong friendships.
The biennial Global Learning Alliance Summit was scheduled to kick off in New York City earlier this year, with a focus on fostering a sense of student belonging at school. Enter: Coronavirus. As we collaborated with colleagues around the world, we were cognizant that COVID-19 was going to have a major impact on the Asian delegations — but we were hopeful that everything would blow over in a few months, so we proceeded with our planning. (Spoiler alert: it did not blow over.) We began discussing the need to postpone the event on behalf of our partners who were being slammed with cases in late February and early March, and then COVID-19 hit home.
Rocked by COVID’s impact on schools, every country has continued to make critical decisions that affect not only students’ learning, but their lives. We’ve learned a lot from one another as we’ve continued our collaborations during this time, and ironically, we’re still talking about the responsibility of schools to create a sense of belonging and connection for students. In fact, this issue seems even more important during a time of disrupted learning. Our approach to implementing cross-cultural projects for students has had a major impact on the development of 21st century mindsets, (outlined in our Global Mindset Framework) that can support students to tackle challenges like COVID-19 in the future.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly interrupted the opportunities for the GLA to meet together in person, but it has also reaffirmed the value of cross-cultural collaborations for students, school leaders, and academic scholars. Teachers College Professor Ruth Vinz reflected, “At all levels, what these projects can do is help us to make connections. When we work together, we learn together.” Clarinda Choh, Director of Staff Development at Singapore’s Hwa Chong Institution, believes that cross-cultural projects build a deeper awareness on learning how students learn, helping students and educators to bring attention to their similarities.
Embracing 21st century mindsets
As we reflect on the Global Mindset Framework in light of the current health, economic, and political crisis, it seems more relevant than ever before. In particular, cultivating a Global Consciousness requires us to engage in Real-World Problem-Solving. In many ways, we are living through a case study of what to do — and what not to do —when approaching problem-solving on a global scale. Using current events, media sources, and government responses around the world will be instructive in how we are able to learn from these experiences and support students to develop the problem-solving and collaboration skills they need as they grow into adulthood.
At best, these are uncertain and unsettling times. Ironically, one of the 21st century skills that I have struggled with, Appreciating Ambiguity, is the one that’s most needed right now. We are learning to shift our mindsets to hold multiple truths: these are very difficult times, and we don’t know what the long lasting impact will be. In times of great uncertainty, there are opportunities for deep learning, powerful collaborations, and inspiring innovations. We don’t yet know when to expect the end of this global crisis we’re in, but we do know that the best way to get through it is together.
That being said, one of the Framework’s skills I’m most inspired by right now is the ability to Imagine. Especially when walking in uncharted territory, it is so easy to become overwhelmed by the pressures and fears within each day. It’s too easy to focus on what should be, rather than on what is. But when we begin to imagine, when we begin to envision what has yet to become, the world of possibilities opens up before us.
Can You Teach Creativity?
Breaking down the components of creativity so that we can begin integrating it into our instruction.
Some people have a true gift and talent for drawing, painting, sculpting, singing, acting or dancing. We sometimes mistake this talented artistry as creativity. This makes it seem like creativity is something you’re born with, not something you learn. But that’s a myth — there’s a big difference between artistry and creativity. Creativity is about developing the power to make something from nothing.
Our research-based framework for 21st century skills focuses on the creative mindset as one of five essential skills for the 21st century. Let’s face it, in a world where every piece of information is available to us within three clicks of a mouse or three swipes on a phone, finding facts is easy. The biggest needs we anticipate for future success is the ability to use information to innovate and solve complex problems. That takes creativity.
As educators, it’s our job to figure out how to teach creativity to our students. In order to teach towards creativity, we have to disavow the myth that creativity is an innate trait bestowed on only the few, and begin breaking down its component parts so that we can integrate it into our instruction.
We’ve defined creativity as the capacity for students to cultivate their curiosity by questioning or imagining in order to contribute positive improvements or inventions to their world. We’ve identified four skills that work together to cultivate creativity: imagining, questioning, simulating, and appreciating ambiguity.
A vivid imagination is part of childhood development that is sparked around toddlerhood, as children learn about the world through play and pretend. To pretend that something is true, when it isn’t, for the purpose of exploration and understanding (as opposed to deceit — which would be lying, or as a joke — which could be satire). We've outlined three simple entry points to incorporate imagining into instruction:
These are not the only entry points, but they should be accessible to us at multiple levels of instruction, and across different content areas.
Like imagining, questioning is also a normal part of human development that emerges as early as some children can talk (the classic, “why, why, why, why?”) and often lasts through early elementary school. Once in school, this skill often atrophies as traditional methods of teaching are structured such that the teacher asks the questions and the students answer, rather than having the students ask questions and work together to explore possible answers. Asking questions is a key factor of curiosity, and curiosity is a key level towards creativity and problem solving. Let's look at three entry points for supporting students to being asking questions, rather than simply answering them:
Simulation or embodiments are powerful, physical ways to connect and internalize information though experiences. We will never know what it was really like to be on the Oregon Trail, or to fight in the American Revolution, or to live in a Hooverville during the Great Depression — but through simulated learning projects, we can approximate the experience to gain deeper insights. Whether we’re engaging in a short, impromptu learning activity, or a long term project, here are three entry points for simulating:
Whether it’s nature or nurture, as human beings, we’re always looking for the right answer. And in school, we typically reward this kind of thinking. When students believe that there is one right answer, they may fall into the trap that being right is the goal of learning, when in fact, being right means we haven’t learned anything new at all. There is no absolute right answer in real life, and if we can shift our thinking from looking for the right answer, to looking for the possible answers, we shift the purpose of learning from something that is singular and narrow to something that opens us up to new opportunities. Entry points toward appreciating ambiguity:
When we regularly engage our students in lessons strategically designed to support imagining, questioning, simulating, and appreciating ambiguity, they become more and more connected to the topic, and more authentically curious about the process. Their imaginations are sparked with new ideas, innovative solutions, and new questions. Each of these traits works toward developing the mindset of creativity — resilient in the face of challenging circumstances, curious about the world, and confident that there isn’t any problem too big to tackle, or too simple to ignore.
Creating Dynamic 21st Century Projects
What type of learning experiences do students need to lead in the future?
I recently provided the opening remarks for an institute with international educators about developing a 21st century pedagogy. As part of the talk, I wanted to draw a comparison between how I grew up and how kids are growing up today. I described how, when I was growing up, I had to use the card catalogue to find sources for my research paper, wait for film to be processed before I could see my pictures, and how I learned to type on a typewriter. These all seem like ancient technologies to us now, but it was a good reminder of how much has changed, and how quickly. The impact of these changes has made the world smaller, and more complicated as the advancement of technology has created more opportunities for globalization, instant communication with anyone in any time zone, and insights into the celebrations and challenges people experience around the world.
The reality is that the advancement of technology in the last twenty years has changed our culture in phenomenal and unpredictable ways, and we feel these changes acutely in schools. Whether it’s a challenge around developing and sticking to a cell phone policy for students, competing for time and attention in the YouTube generation, or how all of a sudden we find ourselves saying something like, “kids these days...” followed by something that was disappointing. As educators, we are confronted with the culture shift in powerful ways, and we know we have to do something about it.
Many teachers, schools, and even districts have begun adopting the concept of preparing students to be global citizens as we recognize that students who are currently in 6th grade will be 25 years old in the year 2030, and that this generation of students will be the adults who deal with climate change, global economics, and the impact of massive voluntary and forced migrations. So the question becomes, what do kids these days need to learn and be able to do in order to feel prepared for the future where they will be leaders?
Using the Global Mindset Framework
This question is always a motivation for me to think critically about cultivating a curriculum with 21st century skills. In its current iteration, our research-based Global Mindset Framework includes 20 skills and capacities for global thinking that can be used to develop a thoughtful 21st century curriculum by transforming 20th century assignments into dynamic 21st century projects. Using the framework to guide or develop a unit plan or project can quickly transform our curriculum and instruction.
One way we can begin to transform our curriculum is by acknowledging that our current curricula are most often focused on a traditional 20th century set of thinking skills connected to Bloom’s Taxonomy (Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation). Even in spinoffs like Marzano or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or our own Rigormeter, we see Bloom as the foundational underpinning of most learning goals, content standards, and teacher objectives. This is great, because teaching toward global citizenship or towards 21st century skills absolutely requires students to be logical, rational, and critical thinkers.
Small, deliberate changes
To begin transforming our curriculum, we’ll want to consider adding one new skill from each Mindset of the framework. By making small, deliberate changes to a simple task, we can transform a basic 20th century task into a dynamic 21st century project in a very short period of time.
Our first step is to begin with a basic task that we have taught in the past, or one we’re thinking of teaching in the near future. Let’s imagine that we’re teaching middle school Science and are in the middle of a unit on the solar system. Maybe the students’ assignment would be something like this: compare and contrast the features of the planets. We can easily locate this task in the Critical Mindset with a focus on analysis.
As we move on, we’ll want to add an element of the Collaborative Mindset. We can scan the list of collaborative skills and pick any one that seems interesting, relevant to the students or the task, or easily connected. For this example, I’ve selected multiple modalities. This means that students will work together and communicate their learning in different ways — through writing, speaking, drawing, and so on. How can they use multiple modalities to compare and contrast the characteristics of the nine planets? They could create a chart, use a program like Powerpoint or Google Slides to design a visual presentation, or they can present something aloud. That’s three modalities — that seems good.
Next, let’s add a skill from the Creative Mindset, keeping in mind that creativity isn’t about artistic ability, it’s about the ability to innovate and develop something new. The skills within creativity help students to think in stages that build toward innovation and imagination. For our unit on the solar system, let’s select the questioning skill. How can questioning connect to students’ comparison and contrast of the solar system and a presentation? Well, maybe part of their presentation includes questions that they’ve asked and found the answers to. This is a good skill because it will help students to focus on key facts and create more opportunities for them to take responsibility for their learning.
Next comes the Caring Mindset. We want students to be socially and emotionally engaged with themselves and each other, so we’re looking for opportunities to build these skills directly in our instruction. One element we can focus on is building confidence. It makes sense that if students are developing a project that includes an oral presentation, they may get a little nervous, shy or uncomfortable. That’s okay! We want to push students to be brave and confident, and school should be a safe place for that experimentation. As a teacher, I’ll ask myself — what I can build into the project that will help students develop confidence? With an opportunity to practice their presentation and get some structured feedback from another student on their team, they may improve their presentation skills and gain more confidence, and can reflect on their process (before, during and after the final presentation).
Finally, we get to the Global Mindset. I'll go through the exact same process and imagine how I can connect a skill from this mindset with the task at hand. Let’s go with real-world problem-solving. Students may think knowing about the planets or doing a presentation is an unimportant assignment, but framing this as a real-world experience can make the topic more engaging, more interdisciplinary, and more relevant. We can make a connection between their work in the classroom and the work of individuals in various careers. We can offer a scenario to students that includes a role for them to play, an imagined audience to present to, and a real-world format where this topic would apply. For our project, let’s imagine that our students are Scientists and Engineers presenting their findings to the UN in an effort to complete an international space mission.
Our reimagined, 21st century project
Let’s look at how our project has transformed. When we started, our 20th century task was to compare and contrast the features of the planets. Our revised, 21st century task looks more like this:
You are on an elite team of Scientists and Engineers who have been assigned the responsibility of developing a proposal for an international space mission to one planet in our solar system for the UN Assembly. As a team, you'll do the following:
This process can be used in any content area and is a fantastic way to explore the transition from 20th century to 21st century learning. As educators, we have a special opportunity during this unique time period to think deeply about today's students as tomorrow's leaders. What type of learning experiences do they need to lead in the future?
More technology doesn't always equal more success for schools.
As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, technology is consuming more aspects of our lives than ever. Schools everywhere want to give their students as much access to different devices, apps, and software that not only makes their lives easier and education more effective, but also helps train them in 21st century skills that they likely need as adults. Each year, the world continues to change at an increasingly rapid pace, and the needs of students continue to evolve with it.
To help meet those needs, schools and teachers are constantly looking for new ideas and approaches to innovate their classrooms and instruction. However, more technology doesn’t always equal more success. Sometimes, in fact, it only complicates matters, or introduces new problems. The challenge then becomes, how do we effectively use technology to the benefit of our students? It’s not as simple as buying them the newest, shiniest gadget and thinking it will immediately make everything better. I’ve taught in schools with varying levels of technology available, and I’ve been able to experience both the good and the bad of it.
Weighing the benefits of classroom technology
Having easy access to devices such as laptops or tablets can open many possibilities for a classroom teacher. There are many different services available online, but the most ubiquitous is Google Classroom. Getting students familiar with using Google Classroom (or any similar program) instills in them valuable digital literacy skills — the ability to access materials posted by their teacher, collaborate with each other on their writing or assignments, and submit their documents for review. Not only are these skills that will be necessary in college, but they are becoming increasingly vital in everyday life. With so much of life happening online, having the skills to navigate through content and communicate with others to achieve a desired outcome is something that students will benefit from greatly.
However, technology does not automatically improve a classroom. Like handing a screaming child a smartphone to quiet him down, devices in the classroom are similarly used sometimes as pacifiers. Instead of being a supplemental tool that aids instruction and adds an extra dynamic to learning that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, it’s easy to allow technology to take over the class entirely. While giving students an assignment and having them work independently for the period might be tempting for a teacher, it’s not creating the type of engagement and collaboration we want as educators. Technology should be used to make our lives as teachers easier and our pedagogy better, not as a regular stand-in for actual instruction.
It’s important to remember that the presence of technology doesn’t always benefit the classroom — its success depends on how it’s being used. Technology should not be seen as a quick-fix that once implemented, instantly makes everything better. Just like most aspects of teaching, it takes a lot of planning, experimenting, evaluating, and reflecting to make it work in the way we want. Technology and the internet connects us like never before, but it can also be incredibly isolating, and a distraction from engaging with those around us. As educators, we should strive for the former, and by doing so we can hope to raise the skills of our students so they are prepared to take on the tasks of a 21st century world.
TAGS: 21st CENTURY SKILLS, JORDAN VETTER
If we want to ensure that our students are developing the skills needed for the next hundred years, we must begin considering a new pedagogy for a new era.
When I was in high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Horn, required her students to write a research paper. This process included daily trips to the school library, where I used a card catalog to look up the name of a book that may, or may not, have the information I was looking for. Once I found a book in the card catalog, I had to hunt for it using the Dewey decimal system, locate the book, and then begin searching for the basic facts about my topic. Mrs. Horn was a stickler for notecards. Our research papers needed to have 75 accompanying index cards so that we could organize our information one fact at a time, before typing it out on the word processor or typewriter.
How times have changed. Most school libraries today have more space dedicated to technology than books, and the long process of searching through dusty publications or old-timey microfiche has become a thing of the past. But here’s the thing: the importance of research papers hasn’t changed. And the importance of research hasn’t changed. What has changed is our access to information.
Shifting educational landscape
The radical advancement of technology and the internet has fundamentally changed our relationship with information. A 20th century education taught us how to find information — but finding information is no longer a problem. If anything, in the 21st century, we have access to too much! With hundreds of thousands of hits through internet searches and recommendations for related information, the question is no longer how to find the facts, but what to do with the information that’s literally a click away. How do we interpret this information? This is the question that teachers and school leaders struggle with as they attempt to make key concepts relevant to children in a rapidly changing world.
These advances in technology have not only changed our relationship to information, they’ve changed our relationship to other people. Instant connection, instant messaging, and instant information-sharing have changed the landscape of interactions.
Educating students for tomorrow, today
We can no longer sustain a 20th century mindset in a 21st century world. The Global Learning Alliance (GLA), with its commitment to cross-cultural research collaborations and a desire to define a pedagogy that takes into account the dynamic needs of a shifting educational landscape, knows that the task before us is to educate students today for the world they’re poised to lead tomorrow.
The GLA is the outgrowth of CPET’s ground-breaking research on the features and practices surrounding 21st century teaching and learning. It has evolved from the seeds of a research project and is now a consortium of schools and universities around the world dedicated to understanding, defining, applying, and sharing the principles and practices of a world-class education within a wide range of educational contexts. As a result of ongoing research, we have been customizing the Global Mindset Framework, a tool that helps educators consider new skills for a new world.
The Global Mindset Framework builds on the importance of the critical thinking skills of the 20th century by fostering skills in collaboration, creativity, caring, and global consciousness.
If we want to ensure that our students are developing the skills needed for the next hundred years, we must begin considering a new pedagogy for a new era. We must consider the implications on our curriculum, assessments, and instruction, if we are going to add these essential skills in our schools.
Incorporating time and space for key 21st century skills.
G. FAITH LITTLE
Initiative Director, 21st Century Learning
By G. FAITH LITTLE
Being aware of 21st century skills as a common phrase and focus in our schools is a first step many of us have taken toward planning and teaching for our students. We are integrating the language. We may have even tried a project as an assessment for one of our units. Yet, making the shift into full integration of real-world projects that set the stage for our students to practice these skills regularly eludes us.
Uchenna Ogu and Suzie Reynard Schmidt, in their article The Natural Playscape Project: A Real-World Study With Kindergarteners beautifully articulate a design that can be applied across grade levels and content areas. Students are the authors of their own playscape, with teachers as their guide and support. In this case, playscape refers to the natural playscape created by kindergarteners — a “playground with as few human-made components as possible”. The process brings together research, exploration, and the hard work of thinking and taking action, both individually and collaboratively, where the playscape is not a final project for the purpose of assessing learning. The playscape is the unit.
Lesson: The playscape is “designed to bring children back to nature and offer a wide range of open-ended play possibilities that allow children to be creative and use their imaginations.”
Application prompt: What is the playscape for your classroom? Consider the landscape students could create and navigate in math, social studies, foreign language, physical education, literature, or science. What world could they build that would engage their senses and invite them to learn in order to create?
Lesson: “To begin the project, teachers shared their own knowledge from studies about play and sustainable schoolyards with the children.” Teachers went on to share a text the children read together and articulated some boundaries for their building: "You may build houses small and hidden for the fairies, but please do not use living or artificial materials."
“With inspiration and wonder, we set off to imagine, play, and invent small worlds for fairies and other fantastical and real woodland creatures at a nearby park and on an empty back lot on the school campus that eventually became our natural playscape.”
Application prompt: What knowledge from your own field of study do students need in order to begin to plan or build their playscape? What texts will open new possibilities for them or serve as foundations for their invention? Consider what knowledge students truly need to begin and what knowledge it makes sense for them to discover on their own. Invite them to discover for themselves, serving as a mentor or guide rather than an expert giving out all the answers.
Lesson: Plan and prepare for meaningful collaboration: “…teachers offered each pair of children a tray of sand. Teachers provided glass beads, twigs, seashells, and other natural materials, as well as time to play, experience, create, imagine, and explore. Children used these materials to create small worlds, miniature playgrounds, or fairy houses. Teachers then asked the children to draw on all of their previous experiences, both indoors and out, to generate a comprehensive list of materials that they might want or need when designing their miniature playscapes. Pebbles, seeds, dirt, grass, leaves, and flowers all made their way onto the list and eventually into their work…Next, teachers invited the children to collaborate in small groups to create miniature playgrounds for the fairies and small woodland creatures.”
In the third year, the second-graders, who were the originators of the project while in kindergarten, rejoined the process as collaborators and consultants.
Application prompt: What mini-scape could students create as a model for their larger playscape? Instead of listing the materials they may need, support students in generating their own lists of materials. As a mentor, you may do the advanced work of obtaining possible materials, but have them waiting in the wings. Let students take ownership by asking for what they need. When grouping students to collaborate, give each student a specific role that requires an outcome, so that each person’s contribution can be seen.
Lesson: Committees were formed to investigate a specific aspect of the playscape in depth. After learning more deeply about their subject, children shared what they learned. “For example, since it was important to the current kindergartners to invite birds to the playscape, those involved with the Birdhouse Committee researched native Missouri birds and built birdhouses.” The committee members expressed their love for birds through letter writing, addressing their notes to the birds themselves and including important details from their learning, “We are bird experts. We can tell you apart. You are really cute. We hope you like to splash in the birdbaths. We made them look like flowers, because we thought you might like that.”
Application prompt: What are some buckets of information or concepts all of your students will need to understand in order to create a useful playscape? Consider grouping them and naming the groups as it makes most sense in your field. Are they architects? Technical writers? Applied mathematicians? Statisticians? Commentators? In what genres do people in these roles write?
Lesson: “Being on the committees engaged the children by allowing them to research and pursue one aspect of the playscape with depth.” At one stage in the process, kindergarteners were matched with second graders to explore their design process further. “The two age groups facilitated and scaffolded each other's learning as they talked about, represented, reflected on, and began to evaluate aspects of their own and their partners' design ideas.”
Application prompt: Whether it’s pairing students in different grade levels or perhaps pairing students with complementary skills, how can you support students to listen to their partner, communicate clearly, and come to an agreement on next steps? What skills do you need to teach? What practices should students engage in to get the most out of their collaboration in order to sharpen their own critical thinking skills?
Lesson: Ongoing reflection is key. During: “Throughout the natural playscape project, teachers encouraged children to frequently reflect on their experiences.” After: “At the end of the study, as a way to help children reflect on their growth and learning, teachers asked them questions about their experiences.”
Application prompt: What structure will you support, or put in place, so that students reflect after each step of their process? This reflection will allow them to quickly make use of their learning, going back to foundations or taking a risk, based on their findings. What will the final reflection look like? How can you support student to design their own reflection?
Consider responding to each application prompt as you plan for next year. Whatever grade level you teach, incorporating space and time for creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and reflection for your students will boost their 21st Century skill set!