A recent Ed Week online article, “How Do You Define 21st Century Learning”, featured the thoughts of eleven people connected to the US education establishment as teachers, consultants or educrats. I take some solace that Ed Week thinks that what 21st Century learning will look like is still open to interpretation and controversy, rather than putting this topic into a neat little box and getting back to rearranging the deck chairs. Not that their framing doesn’t contain a very obvious bias and “box” in using the phrase “schools need to teach” rather than “students want to learn”. Crack the whip on all those teachers so they “leave no child behind” and their students are compelled to continue to “race to the top”.
Twenty-first-century learning embodies an approach to teaching that marries content to skill. Somehow to me, her first four sentences don’t seem to be the path forward to achieve the self-directed learner envisioned in the fifth. Twenty-first-century learning means that students master content while producing, synthesizing, and evaluating information from a wide variety of subjects and sources with an understanding of and respect for diverse cultures. Powerful learning of this nature demands well-prepared teachers who draw on advances in cognitive science and are strategically organized in teams, in and out of cyberspace.
I define 21st-century learning as 20th- (or even 19th!-) century learning but with better tools… But being able to Google is no substitute for true understanding. Adaptability, complex communication skills, non-routine problem solving, self-management, and systems-thinking are essential skills in the 21st-century workforce.
Twenty-first-century learning will ultimately be “learner-driven.” Our old stories of education (factory-model, top-down, compliance-driven) are breaking down or broken, and this is because the Internet is releasing intellectual energy that comes from our latent desires as human beings to have a voice, to create, and to participate. Twenty-first-century learning builds upon such past conceptions of learning as “core knowledge in subject areas” and recasts them for today’s world, where a global perspective and collaboration skills are critical. Students in the 21st century learn in a global classroom and it’s not necessarily within four walls. Finally Richard Allington, a professor of education and early-reading expert at the University of Tennessee.
I think we actually could teach everyone to read (the old way) and for the life of me I cannot understand why schools would spend funds on computers when their libraries are almost empty of things students might want to read. There are certainly other ways of parsing and organizing these thoughts on our educational path forward than the framing I have chosen. In all the current talk about school reform, there is one phrase that you will hear in every proposal, whether it comes from the president or the local school board. The phrase [21st Century Skills] has inspired a flood of programs, […] But many teachers say it is just good teaching with a jazzy name. As we enter the second decade of the century, this is a cliche that has lost whatever meaning it might have had. My job is to bring awareness, to support, facilitate, coach and teach to educators and students.

The 21st Century Fluencies are not about technical prowess, they are critical thinking skills, and they are essential to living in this multimedia world. If technology is a tool to practice and support skills with the goal of becoming literate in different areas, then are skills and literacies the stepping stool for fluency?
Educational Keynotes, Presentations, Workshops, Consulting, Coaching and Mentoring in the area of Modern Learning & Literacies, Globally Connected Learning, Blogging as Pedagogy, Digital Portfolios, iPads in the Classroom. In a broader sense, however, the idea of what learning in the 21st century should look like is open to interpretation — and controversy. Without skills, students are left to memorize facts, recall details for worksheets, and relegate their educational experience to passivity. Students demonstrate the three Rs, but also the three Cs: creativity, communication, and collaboration. Many will emerge as teacherpreneurs who work closely with students in their local communities while also serving as learning concierges, virtual network guides, gaming experts, community organizers, and policy researchers. Students still need to know and deeply understand the history that brought them and our nation to where we are today. From my perspective as a scientist and science educator, the most effective way to prepare students for the workforce and college is to implement and scale what is already known about effective learning and teaching. The knowledge-based results look a lot like free-market economies or democratic governments (think: Wikipedia). They are more inclined to find information by accessing the Internet through cellphones and computers, or chatting with friends on a social networking site.
In one document I read, the phrase 21st century skills was repeated 25 times in less than two pages.
Mostly ita€™s used by politicians and education experts as a catch-all for whatever concept theya€™re currently pushing. The coaches’ job is to prepare them, to teach them the rules of the game and to have a plan to condition the athletes to be at their physical best when it is time to play or compete.
Without content, students may engage in problem-solving or team-working experiences that fall into triviality, into relevance without rigor. They need to be able to enjoy man’s greatest artistic and scientific achievements and to speak a language besides their mother tongue. Loosely governed and highly self-directed, these teaching and learning activities exist beyond the sanction or control of formal educational institutions. They must develop strong critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills in order to be successful in an increasingly fluid, interconnected, and complex world. Similarly, many teachers are monitoring and issuing assignments via virtual classrooms… Many of our Bureau of Indian Education schools are located in disadvantaged rural and remote areas. The research, to date, has provided no evidence that having either computers or whiteboards in schools has any positive effect on students’ reading and writing proficiencies.

Our system perpetuates a racial and socioeconomic achievement gap that undermines our ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity. Instead, the 21st-century learning paradigm offers an opportunity to synergize the margins of the content vs.
Virtual tools and open-source software create borderless learning territories for students of all ages, anytime and anywhere. According to most 21st-century skills’ advocates, students needn’t actually walk around with such knowledge in their heads, they need only to have the skills to find it.
I believe the political and institutional responses will be to continue to promote stories about education that are highly-structured and defined from above, like national standards or (ironically) the teaching of 21st-century skills. The BIE is working with various stakeholders to ensure that our schools have a Common Operating Environment so that students and teachers can access information beyond the classroom… Within the federal BIE school system, we must rely upon the vision and the ability of our tribal leadership, parents, teachers, and students to work with the federal leadership to keep education a top priority.
But school and classroom libraries are well established as essential if we plan to develop a literate citizenry. To be fluent is something a little more, it is to demonstrate mastery and to do so unconsciously and smoothly. Integrating core concepts with key skills will prepare students for the workplace and college. These will, however, seem increasingly out-of-sync not just with parents, educators, and administrators watching the Internet Revolution, but with students, who themselves are largely prepared to drive their own educations. In this setting, educators can leverage technology to create an engaging and personalized environment to meet the emerging educational needs of this generation. Twenty-first-century learning means hearkening to cornerstones of the past to help us navigate our future. Twenty-first-century technology should be seen as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge, not an excuse to know less.
We need to move past mile-wide and inch-deep coverage of ever-expanding content in the classroom.
Embracing a 21st-century learning model requires consideration of those elements that could comprise such a shift: creating learners who take intellectual risks, fostering learning dispositions, and nurturing school communities where everyone is a learner. The opportunities afforded by technology should be used to re-imagine 21st-century education, focusing on preparing students to be learners for life. Imagine if the coaches on the Reality TV Show, The Biggest Loser, would do all the workouts with the contestants looking on.

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