The Parish School Blog

Teaching 21st Century Skills

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Over the years, schools have taught students to follow directions, get along with others, work hard and be professional. All are still necessary skills. But to hold information-age jobs, students also need the ability to think deeply and critically, solve problems, work in collaborative environments, communicate clearly in various media (email, phone, social media, face-to-face), learn ever-changing technologies, and deal with a constant flood of information. That’s where 21st century skills come in.

“21st century skills” is a buzzword amongst educational professionals. The Glossary of Education Reform defines 21st Century Skills as “a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits and character traits that are believed…to be critically important to success in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs and contemporary careers and work places.” These skills are divided into the following competencies: (1) collaboration, (2) creativity, (3) communication, (4) critical thinking.

What are 21st Century Skills? These 4 C’s:

21st century skills infographic

Source: Infographic: “The 4 Cs of 21st Century Skills.” Simple K-12, April 13, 2016., infographic 1.

What is a 21st Century Education?

21st century education acknowledges the importance of including 21st century skills, which are vital to succeed in work, life and citizenship. These skills are blended with a traditional educational approach through information-rich and relevant projects where students develop and demonstrate understanding
of core standards.

Typically, projects start with a basic demonstration of core standards such as identifying and labeling to activate prior knowledge, set context and to determine each student’s knowledge base. This leads to developing key learning objectives and encourages questions.

Students then move into deeper understanding of the core standards, which requires comparing, categorizing, demonstrating cause and effect, debating, inferring and deconstructing. These projects focus on joyful and authentic work, collaboration and communication through teamwork and cultivation of cultures and communities.

Projects end with transfer of core standards by applying knowledge to solve real-life problems, conduct experiments and research and present information. This progression fosters critical, creative and analytical thinking.

Students are taught how to create and use rubrics that set expectations for their teamwork, presentations, critical thinking and creativity in different learning environments. Throughout the experience, students accurately reflect on their contribution through the rubric, while discussing the overall impact on learning and their community . Supportive teaching strategies and direct instruction occur as needed throughout these steps.

At The Parish School, we recognize the value of thinking critically about current educational models by determining their usefulness in our classrooms with our students. This year, we are engaging the students in Project-Based Learning that encourages the development of 21st century skills. One class has capitalized on student interest in countries, while other classes are collaborating to create and implement a project-based opportunity related to urban farming.

How can you Foster 21st Century Skills at Home?

At home, you can use strategies that teach how to think rather than what to think. Four strategies to consider implementing are to work together to create checklists, use planners and calendars, encourage independent problem solving, and use rubrics for longer term projects. It is important to shift away from using language that resembles quizzing (Why?, What did..?, etc.) to invite kids to think with you with phrases like “I wonder what…”, “Let’s think about…”, and “Help me think/learn about…”

Focus on shifting responsibilities by creating checklists for activities like making their own lunches and packing their backpack. And finally, to encourage future thinking, planning and organizing, use and model use of typical organizational tools like planners, calendars, rubrics and to-do lists.

By introducing this skill set now, we’re better preparing children to enter the workforce of the future.

“21st Century Skills.” The Glossary of Education Reform, August 25, 2016.
Golinkoff, Rebecca Michnick and Kathy Hirsch-Pasek. Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children. American Psychological Association, 2016.
Markham, Thom. Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert Tools for Innovation and Inquiry for K-12 Educators. Heart IQ Press, 2012.
McDowell, Michael P. Rigorous PBL by Design: Three Shifts for Developing Confident and Competent Learners. Corwin, 2017.
“The 4 Cs of 21st Century Skills.” Simple K-12, April 13, 2016.
Visible Thinking Routines. Project Zero at Harvard University, 2017, Accessed October 31, 2017.