The 21st Century Skills Movement: Who's With Me?

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It has been a long time since I have read an article that truly spoke to me.  As I was reading 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead I honestly felt like I was reading an articulated version of the thoughts and beliefs that are inside my head.  So, I decided to synthesize the article and highlight the big picture ideas.

The purpose of "school" is to ultimately prepare students for the workforce in the real world. As a Career and Technology Education teacher, I honestly feel that the American Public Education System is not effectively preparing our students for the 21st century workplace. There is currently too much emphasis on content knowledge, and not enough on workplace readiness skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and innovation. To truly improve education in America, we need to create rigorous and challenging curriculum, implement student-centered instruction, and administer assessments that measure students' ability to use workplace readiness skills in conjunction with their content knowledge.

Students are our most valuable stakeholders in education. We need to prepare them for their future in this demanding, rapidly changing world. Its time that we start making decisions that are in their best interest, not our institutions'.

Regardless of the decisions that are made in Washington, the 21st Century Skills Movement can still be achieved by leaders in education.  Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment (CIA) are the key components to a successful education, and teacher-leaders like you and me have the power to make these improvements in our own school districts!

It all starts from the ground up! Who's with me?

Below are highlights taken directly from Educational Leadership21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead

Leadership in Education

"A growing number of business leaders, politicians, and educators are united around the idea that students need '21st century skills' to be successful today. It's exciting to believe that we live in times that are so revolutionary that they demand new and different abilities. But in fact, the skills students need in the 21st century are not new."

"What's actually new is the extent to which changes in our economy and the world mean that collective and individual success depends on having such skills."

"For the 21st century skills effort to be effective, curriculum, instruction and assessment must be implemented in concert. Otherwise, the reform will be superficial and counter-productive."

Better Curriculum

"The issue is how to meet the challenges of delivering content and skills in a rich way that genuinely improves outcomes for students."

"Without content knowledge we often cannot use thinking skills properly and effectively. To think critically, students need the knowledge that is central to the domain."

"Students need exposure to varied examples before their understanding of a concept becomes more abstract and they can successfully apply that understanding to novel situations."

"Another curricular challenge is that we don't yet know how to effectively teach self-direction, collaboration, creativity, and innovation."

Better Teaching

"Advocates of 21st century skills favor student-centered methods—for example, problem-based learning and project-based learning—that allow students to collaborate, work on authentic problems, and engage with the community."

"These approaches are widely acclaimed and can be found in any pedagogical methods textbook; teachers know about them and believe they're effective. And yet, teachers don't use them. Why don't teachers use the methods that they believe are most effective?"

"For change to move beyond administrators' offices and penetrate classrooms, we must understand that professional development is a massive undertaking. Most teachers don't need to be persuaded that project-based learning is a good idea—they already believe that. What teachers need is much more robust training and support than they receive today, including specific lesson plans that deal with the high cognitive demands and potential classroom management problems of using student-centered methods"

"Unfortunately, there is a widespread belief that teachers already know how to do this if only we could unleash them from today's stifling standards and accountability metrics. This notion romanticizes student-centered methods, underestimates the challenge of implementing such methods, and ignores the lack of capacity in the field today."

"And of course none of this will be successful without broader reforms in how teachers are recruited, selected, and deselected in an effort to address the whole picture of education's human capital challenge."

Better Tests

"There is little point in investing heavily in curriculum and human capital without also investing in assessments to evaluate what is or is not being accomplished in the classroom."

"Although higher-level skills like critical thinking and analysis can be assessed with well-designed multiple-choice tests, a truly rich assessment system would go beyond multiple-choice testing and include measures that encourage greater creativity, show how students arrived at answers, and even allow for collaboration."

A Better, But Harder Way

"The past few decades have seen great progress in education reform in the United States—progress that has especially benefited less-advantaged students. Today's reformers can build on that progress only if they pay keen attention to the challenges associated with genuinely improving teaching and learning."

"Without better curriculum, better teaching, and better tests, the emphasis on '21st century skills' will be a superficial one that will sacrifice long-term gains for the appearance of short-term progress."

To read the full article, visit 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead


  1. Brad,
    I am with you! I have addressed this very same conundrum with a bent towards being literate with the use and consumption of Social Media.

    Social Media in Education « The Nexus for the 21st Century

    We have to overcome the institutional inertia that continues to drive us to the status quo of the traditional "industrial model" of instruction that we have long since outgrown and does not meet students’ needs in the 21st century. Conversation like this needs administrative advocates that lead by example by incorporating the development of these skills into their core values ... then into mission and vision statements ... and finally into action plans.


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