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Deepening understanding of 21st Century Skills

Although my school embraces 21st century skills in its four school-wide outcomes (personal responsibility, communication, critical thinking, and social responsibility), I realized at the beginning of the semester that I needed to do extensive reading because I had a novice understanding. It became clear early on, for example, that information literacy comprised just one aspect of the vast spectrum of 21st century skills.

In addition to our class discussions, which helped me brainstorm important 21st century skills, a PBS video helped ground me in the topic. “Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century” offers five case studies of schools focusing on the development of 21st century skills. In the one-hour video, one researcher defines 21st century skills as the “love of embracing change” and the ability “to navigate in a buzz of confusion.” I also appreciated a reference to a quotation by Dewey, paraphrased as follows: We rob our students of tomorrow if we teach them today the way we taught them yesterday. The video urges teacher librarians to become “academic coaches” and to challenge teachers to cultivate 21st century skills among students.

After viewing the film, I was ready for some rigorous reading. The book, 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn, became my main text, which includes essays by many educational leaders, such as Howard Gardner and Linda Darling-Hammond. The chapters by Pearlman and Reeves, in particular, helped me think less abstractly about 21st century skills. Pearlman offers ideas about how to transform learning environments to build 21st century skills, while Reeves gives insights about how to assess those skills.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills was also very helpful. The organization’s website details a clear rationale for explicitly teaching 21st century skills from the perspective of educators, employers, and the general public. The framework — especially the four learning innovation skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity — visually represents the relationship between the different pieces of 21st century skills. I was pleased, for instance, that the core subject understanding provides foundation for the rest of the 21st century skills.

Despite my heightened understanding of 21st century skills, I still have many questions to answer. For example, I am still worried that more time teaching 21st century skills means less time reading. Even though I recognize the importance of students taking in various types of text — and deciding whether sources are credible — I am still concerned. Instead of complaining, however, I commit myself to doing additional inquiry!

Please share your brilliant insights!