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Thread: The value of so-called "21st-century skills"

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    Default The value of so-called "21st-century skills"

    Today's Boston Globe contained two interesting pieces on so-called 21st-century skills.


    I say "so-called" not because I doubt the value of these skills, but rather, take some exception to their being so labeled.

    In November of 2007, I attended the "A New Day for Schools" conference held at the UMass Boston campus. As part of the agenda, I sat in on a session entitled, "Integrating 21st Century Skills: Deepening Learning Opportunities and Student Engagement."

    A panelist who worked for Intel spoke of the "employment gap:" those skills valued by employers but too often missing from job candidates (based on a national study of 400 companies).
    1. Professionalism/work ethic
    2. Written/spoken communication
    3. Teamwork/collaboration
    4. Critical thinking/problem solving

    This list aligns well with the skills cited in the Globe editorial ("media literacy, critical thinking, and working in groups;" "reasoning and problem solving") and the Globe op-ed ("Think strategically. Use technology. Work collaboratively. Communicate effectively. Recognize how the world around you connects with everything else;" "problem-solving, financial and business literacy, global awareness, and innovation").

    The editorial isn't so much against these "soft" skills as it is cautious about how teaching them might displace "hard" academics. In particular, the piece lauds how well Massachusetts students perform against the best international students, counseling the state Board of Education to "protect these hard-won gains." The editorial concludes: "Teachers and parents across the state just don't know enough about 21st-century skills. The unnerving part is that the proponents don't seem to know much more."

    For its part, the op-ed piece cites a report by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's Task Force on 21st Century Skills. That report spells out in some detail how to integrate these skills into the K-12 curriculum. The op-ed piece ends: "This is hard work, and must be done in a careful, thoughtful way, but it must be done."

    Like so much in life and education, common sense tells us that an appropriate balance must be found between the poorly-named "hard" and "soft" skills. For my part, as an employer, I prefer to help employees with strong "process" skills (of the 21st-century variety, which in my opinion include reading, writing, and math) acquire "content" than I do the converse.

    To that end--both employment narrowly and citizenship more broadly--I continue to encourage the Wayland Public Schools and its administration to keep raising the bar regarding the thoughtful (and where possible, evidence-based) integration of "process" and "content." I'm curious to hear the thoughts of others on this topic.

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    The assumption seems to be that learning one kind of skill can only occur at the expense of learning the other kind. I suspect this to be a false tradeoff. One can learn both kinds of skills in a synergistic manner, for example collaborating as a team to understand and report on period in history, or a culture, or a style of government, or a technology. Well-chosen synergies might actually accelerate skill acquisition by making the activity more exciting and memorable.

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    Dave, well said--my post would have been better had I said that explicitly. The Maura Banta op-ed piece in favor of these process skills made precisely that point.

    But even Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, a critic of the 21st-century skills movement, was forced to rethink his position after reading a recent report by the Education Sector. The turning point for him was a simple phrase: The best learning happens "when students learn basic content and processes . . . at the same time that they learn how to think and solve problems."

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    Default Philadelphia Story

    Interesting, tangentially related story on Philadelphia's "School of the Future." The eSchoolNews.com piece begins as follows.

    When it opened its doors in 2006, Philadelphia's School of the Future (SOF) was touted as a high school that would revolutionize education: It would teach at-risk students critical 21st-century skills needed for college and the work force by emphasizing project-based learning, technology, and community involvement. But three years, three superintendents, four principals, and countless problems later, experts at a May 28 panel discussion hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) agreed: The Microsoft-inspired project has been a failure so far.

    (more) ...

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    Default re: Philadelphia Story

    Poor leadership and miserable execution will kill any endeavor, regardless of its qualities.

    This quote from the article supports a point I've made here before:

    "We naively thought, I guess, that by providing a beautiful building and great resources, these things would automatically yield change. They didn't," said Jan Biros, associate vice president for instructional technology support and campus outreach at Drexel University and a former member of the SOF Curriculum Planning Committee.
    Last edited by Dave Bernstein; 06-01-2009 at 06:47 PM. Reason: add title

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    Interesting opinion piece in today's Boston Globe inelegantly arguing against process skills.

    The author apparently knows no gray, writing "But skill-centered, knowledge-free education has never worked." To my knowledge, even the most ardent "process skills" advocate has never come remotely close to advocating for such a silly thing.

    No, we need knowledge and process in balance. But to read this article, you'd never get that sense. To channel Dr./Ms. Ravitch, "knowledge-centered, skill-free education has never worked."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Interesting opinion piece in today's Boston Globe inelegantly arguing against process skills.
    "Inevitably, putting a priority on skills pushes other subjects, including history, literature, and the arts, to the margins."

    Another false tradeoff, draped with inevitability and demonstrating a distinct lack of critical thinking skills...

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    Post Lots and lots of words

    The partnership for 21st century skills is good bed-time reading!

    If we think about it, it's all happening in Wayland. There is "global awareness", "financial, civic and health literacy", ICT literacy. The partnership for 21st century skills tries promote "multi-dimensional abilities." In the old days it was called being "well-rounded."

    The schools need scholars in their subjects and they will hopefully impart a love of learning in lots of areas. Loving learning lends itself to 21st century skills. Global awareness happens now in Social Studies, History and English. Financial literacy should be addressed in math. Civic literacy happens in the high school and at home, health literacy is addressed in "wellness" classes. ICT literacy seems to be covered by library/media studies.

    I have a feeling that the partnership for 21st century skills is meant for poorer districts who may have students who don't want to immerse themselves in scholarly pursuits, but want (the schools)to impart some useful information about life-skills not always considered part of traditional schooling.

    Another alternative for those pupils who aren't interested in the standard high school fare is technology schools like Keefe and Minuteman. They can learn skills that don't require a college degree.

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    This past Sunday's Boston Globe (September 16, 2012) contained an excellent article entitled "What to Test Instead." The article makes the following case:

    Quote Originally Posted by Boston Globe
    Being successful in today’s world, as we all now recognize, requires more than an ability to think quickly and recall facts on command. And our education system has, however fitfully, moved to address those values. The problem is that our tests still lag behind.
    The article goes on to outline efforts at developing better tests and the benefits that might ensue:

    Quote Originally Posted by Boston Globe
    The researchers at the forefront of test design also have a bigger dream, rooted in the idea that tests aren’t just a static part of education, but can actively shape what teachers teach and what students learn. If you can really build smarter, more sophisticated tests, they say, you can change education itself.

    ...

    Things being as they are, we bristle at the idea of teachers feeling pressured to “teach to the test,” out of fear their students will otherwise score poorly on nationally mandated standardized tests. But what if teaching to the test didn’t have to mean mechanically training kids to crank out answers to invented questions? That’s the promise of a better test: By drawing a map that more accurately reflects our world, we may discover far more promising paths to get where we want to go.
    Last edited by Jeff Dieffenbach; 09-18-2012 at 04:26 PM. Reason: Incendiary remark removed

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