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The Informed Parent

A Guide To 21st Century Skills In Education

by Catherine S. Tolnai, M.A.T.
Published on Apr. 23, 2012
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As we move our way through this millennium, it becomes evident to all educators that the world we need to prepare our students to face is bound to be vastly different than the world we live in now. The rate of social and cultural change, teamed with technological and scientific developments, is happening at such an exponential pace. We are expected to not only instruct children to be readers and writers but thinkers, evaluators, and assessors as well. Therefore, a new set of learning skills, termed “21st Century skills,” aims to arm the children with tools that prepare them to do all of the above. Below you will find background knowledge on key concepts in this theory.

Collaboration

This cooperative structure applies both to the classroom and the teacher community. In the classroom, children may be asked to work together on projects or informal activities. This often requires students to set out learning goals and an action plan as a team. Each team member is held accountable for these components as well as the end product. The teacher’s job is to guide the students in the initial steps and assist during the learning process when necessary. As for teacher collaboration, professional expectations are laid out for teachers to create lesson plans and cross-curricular projects so as to get the deepest processing from the children. It is becoming more and more typical for teachers to work in conjunction with others rather than in a professional vacuum. This team-centered approach is finding its way into the classroom, as well.

Critical Thinking

This approach to dissecting the steps of the thinking process is fast becoming one of the most major components of the 21st Century classroom. Students are changing the relationship that they have with technology and learning. It is the teacher’s responsibility to give the child explicit practice at reaching conclusions, making inferences, and evaluating resources that before were simply handed from a teacher to a student to work with. Information has been liberated via the internet. Students can now gain a strong fact base by themselves that can lead them to complex thinking patterns and application of facts in meaningful and personal ways. “In 1956, Benjamin Bloom headed a group of educational psychologists who developed a classification of levels of inferential behavior important in learning. During the 1990’s a new group of cognitive psychologists, lead by Lorin Anderson (a former student of Bloom), updated the taxonomy to reflect relevance to 21st century work.” (1) Further modification of this theory took place in the early 2000s as educators and psychologists noted significant changes to the accessibility of knowledge and the way students were interacting with it. Asking students to think about thinking (metacognition) sets them up to be more intimately involved with the learning process. It also raises the bar of expectations regarding choice and product within the classroom environment.

Differentiation:

While this concept is far from new, teachers are coming across new strategies every day to help meet the diverse learning needs of their students. Additionally, we are learning more about the ways in which students with differences approach the learning and collaborative process. It is no longer acceptable to simply set out to meet the high-, middle-, and low-level learners. Instead, teachers are expected to design lessons that offer multiple ways of presenting information: visually, orally, kinesthetically, musically, and technologically--to name a few. Textbook companies are producing teacher materials that engage these different modalities because it is understood that the differences in each child rest in the process of learning rather than just the level. For example, if my brain processes information best when I see it, then my teacher should aim to SHOW me the lesson as well as expose me to an auditory and kinesthetic component. Entering the information into my brain in three formats increases the likelihood that I will retain it. Perhaps I will only remember the visual example. But someone who needs to HEAR the information benefits from this approach, as well as the child who needs to INTERACT with the information. Eventually, I may develop a long-term memory associated to the moment in which my teacher made me SING the Preamble to the Constitution along with the “Schoolhouse Rocks” video that she showed us using YouTube on our SMART Board. The wider variety of learning strategies the teacher accesses encompasses the differentiated style of learning happening in classrooms today.

Next month we will continue with the Guide to 21st Century skills in Education.

1. Overbaugh, Richard C., and Lynn Shultz. “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Old Dominion University. Web. 03 Apr. 2012.   http://www.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.htm



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