21st Century Learning Skills
Month of February- Social Responsibility
Teaching Social Responsibility
By Alan Shapiro
“Human existence depends upon compassion and curiosity leading to knowledge, but curiosity and knowledge without compassion is inhuman and compassion without curiosity and knowledge is ineffectual.” –Victor Weisskopf, nuclear physicist
“Social responsibility-that is, a personal investment in the well-being of others and of the planet-doesn’t just happen. It takes intention, attention, and time.” — Sheldon Berman, “Educating for Social Responsibility,” Educational Leadership, November 1990
“Students can and should be given opportunities to take part in the significant events in their world. As teachers, we can create very powerful opportunities for our students, both in the classroom and extending into the larger world….We can help them understand processes of group decision making and the political process. And, we can structure ways for them to participate in the empowering experience of acting to make a real difference in the world.” –ESR’s Making History
Some may question Berman’s definition of social responsibility. What constitutes “well-being”? Exactly who are the “others”? Will the well-being of others be promoted by free trade agreements? By immigration reform?
Others may question whether social responsibility can be taught. In two of Plato’s dialogues, Menoand Protagoras, Socrates considers whether virtue can be taught. In Meno, Socrates concludes that virtue is not knowledge and therefore cannot be taught. In Protagoras, he concludes the reverse. Since virtue has not been clearly defined, Protagoras argues, Socrates and he need to talk again. But Plato does not record another dialogue between them.
Since the definition of social responsibility is likely to provoke as much disagreement as that of virtue, Plato would probably hold that it cannot be taught as knowledge. But skills and understanding a student needs to exercise social responsibility–these can be taught.
Students can learn skills to help them work productively in a group, as well as skills in organizing, problem-solving, consensus-building and decision-making. They can learn skills to help them think critically, to inquire, to engage in dialogue and listen well. They can learn skills in conflict resolution.
Students can gain understanding as well. They can learn about our global interdependence–socially, economically and ecologically. They can apprehend the complexity of many public issues and multiple points of view on these issues. They can learn about the power of individuals and groups to make a difference. They can consider possible solutions. And they can learn a great deal in the process of working inside and outside of school to promote those solutions.
Even if social responsibility can’t be taught directly as knowledge, it can be “caught” in a variety of ways–through observations of the behavior of parents, friends and others; through reading and discussions; through a sense of injustice that demands personal action. It can also be caught through schools that encourage community service in some form or through immersion in a class project that, whatever its success, can transform a person’s life
Obstacles to citizenship and social responsibility in schools
“We don’t believe in politics,” a Virginia high school student wrote recently in a prize-winning essay for The Nation. She undoubtedly speaks for many young people (as well as plenty of adults) who feel powerless in a world of overwhelming problems and cynical, often with good reason, about politics and politicians. A teacher who seeks to develop socially responsible citizens will not have an easy time. But turned-off students are not the only challenge. Others may include:
- curricula that provide neither guidance on how to promote socially responsible citizenship nor the time necessary for it
- administrators who may be more concerned with orderly classrooms than with the
substance of the teaching and learning that takes place in them
- teachers whose view of citizenship and social responsibility is confined to flag pledges, voting, philanthropy, completing assignments and obedience
- teachers who are fearful about promoting active citizenship (sometimes with good reason)
- parents and community members who think a school’s primary function is to get students to memorize facts and score well on tests so they can get into college
- parents and community members who may protest student involvement in controversial public issues
Five Strategies for Teaching Social Responsibility:
Make Your Classroom More Democratic and Participatory
In the spirit of Occupy Wall Street, many teachers are considering how to “occupy the classroom” by infusing democratic principles. Think about how to give your students more say in the curriculum and what happens in your classroom.
Are you willing to let students determine classroom rules/guidelines and consequences?
How can students share their ideas about reading assignments, areas of study, and homework?
Can some decisions be made by consensus?
How about letting students take turns teaching the class, either individually or in groups?
Remember that it is human nature to be more invested in something if you have a say about it.
We’ve all felt the frustration of watching the same five hands shoot up over and over again in whole class discussions. Think about ways to get more students to participate. Mix up your teaching strategies to get more kids to contribute to the conversation: try small groups, pairs, fishbowls, collaborative groups, and micro-labs. Students who are usually quiet in class can sometimes be motivated to participate through activities that involve writing, theatre, or art.
Teach Kids to Solve Conflicts
Conflict is part of life. In fact, conflict often makes life interesting and can lead to greater understanding and deeper connections between people. Unfortunately, conflict in schools often causes disharmony, fighting, or even violence. That’s where social and emotional skill-building comes in. Having these skills will help students navigate their social world, and help them do better academically (as a new study of Morningside Center’s 4Rs Program – and other studies like it – have shown).
- Begin by helping your class develop a sense of community by doing team-building activities and collectively determining the classroom rules (see above).
- Teach active listening and practice “I-messages” (saying how you feel rather than blaming the other person) to cut down on the number of conflicts.
- When conflicts do arise, don’t brush them under the rug; use them as an opportunity to teach skills and promote healthy relationships.
- Help students learn concrete problem-solving and negotiation strategies. Teach them how to stand up for what they need without putting down the other person in the conflict. We call this being “strong not mean.” Help them get underneath their position to identify their underlying need. Work towards win-win solutions.
Be aware that sometimes prejudice and stereotyping are the root causes of conflict. To address this, integrate concepts of diversity and intercultural understanding into your curriculum as much as possible.
Address Controversial Issues
We live in a world filled with controversy. It is all around us, and it is compelling. Students are usually passionate about the hot topics of the day, and will want to discuss them in school. Be both proactive and reactive: Bring up difficult or controversial topics yourself, and also respond to their questions.
If students’ questions come up at a moment when you don’t have time for a long conversation, don’t just change the subject. Acknowledge the question and come back to it if you can. Let the students know that nothing is off-limits.
Be sure to bring parents into the loop: Let them know what you’re doing and be sensitive about what topics might hit particularly close to home.
And of course, always consider what’s appropriate for your students’ age. For example, if your third grade students want to discuss a devastating earthquake that has been in the news, you might focus on the science of earthquakes, how people have helped the victims, and perhaps how students themselves could help. High school students can better handle discussions about the death and damage the quake caused.
Ask Essential Questions & Promote Dialogue
When you begin a new area of study, determine what students know and don’t know by listing and analyzing their questions. Start off by discussing content questions — who, what, where, why, and when. But eventually get students to dig deeper until they reach some “essential questions.”
For example, instead of asking “What is the role of different branches of government?” students might consider: “What would happen if we had no government?” Or if you’re discussing a piece of literature, a question might be: “What causes some people to prevail in the face of adversity and others to fail?” These kinds of questions will help students think more deeply and critically.
Help students explore their own opinions as well as others’ points of view. Do an “opinion continuum”: Read a statement expressing a particular opinion about something, and have students choose: I agree, I strongly agree, I disagree, I strongly disagree, not sure. Then have students explain why.
Assign opinion articles reflecting different points of view. Have your students interview people with different perspectives — each other, friends, or family members. This will complicate students’ thinking and encourage them to reflect more on the opinions they hold.
Develop Social Action Projects
Find ways to encourage your students to take action on issues that concern them. This not only fosters active citizenship and builds students’ leadership skills, it provides an antidote to feelings of powerlessness or apathy.
Whether the topic is the war in Afghanistan, climate change, or gay marriage, social action projects can connect students to your curriculum and to the wider world. Begin by having the students identify the problem(s) that need to be addressed. Brainstorm possible solutions, including a wide range of possibilities. Then vote or use consensus to narrow it down to a few options.
Actions can range from activist projects like letter writing, protesting, or testifying, to service-oriented projects like raising money or working at a local organization to help a group of people. Making the leap from investigation to action can be a powerful experience for young people.
Month of January- Communication Skills
Effective communication is the foundation on which companies and careers are built and a crucial component of lasting success. Whether the audience is an entire organization or a single individual, effective communication requires bringing together different points of view and relaying that information without losing clarity or focus. AMA seminars in communication skills will teach:
- Self-awareness and listening techniques: Communication is a two-way-street. Effective listening will improve your job-effectiveness and work relationships.
- Presentation skills: The ability to speak well in a public forum is what separates average managers from excellent leaders.
- Business writing: Organized, logical and persuasive writing will allow you to break through the clutter to get your message heard.
- Intervention and conflict management: Express your ideas in an honest and direct manner to take control of any conflict or situation without alienating others.
- Assertive communication: Asserting your authority without being heavy-handed is a delicate issue but necessary in earning the respect of those around you.
Whether it’s a face-to-face conversation or an email exchange, a meaningful message entails establishing a connection that leaves a powerful impression. AMA seminars in communication skills will help your staff develop a truly engaging and responsive communication style, leading to positive results for both themselves and the organization.
Students must be able to communicate not just with text or speech, but in multiple multimedia formats. They must be able to communicate visually through video and imagery as effectively as they do with text and speech.
Why it’s important: Communication is a broad term that incorporates multi-faceted levels of interaction and sharing information. Students love to communicate using technology. This is an essential part of Media Fluency. But it’s more than just being able to effectively use digital media. It’s about personal interactions as well.
We must remind our students that responsible communication practice puts forth their best representation of who they are as individuals in every relationship and alliance they make in their lives. Whether talking face-to-face, blogging, texting, or creating a visual product, their values and beliefs are defined by how well they communicate with others. Encouraging them to develop and hone every aspect of their communication skills will serve them well in both their personal and professional lives.
Communication skills are essential for the successful future career of a student. In todays competitive world, communication skills in business are the most sought after quality of an educated person. Reading, writing and listening carefully are the three most important communication skills for students. These skills like most of the communication skills sounds too familiar as a result of which we take them for granted.
As regards reading and writing, the only thing that we need to tackle is to adapt with our growing age and concentration. With these two qualities, it is possible to develop reading, oral communication skills and writing skills.
Apart from reading and writing presentations, reports and speeches are a part of school curriculum. This has been introduced in schools and colleges for the overall development of students. This makes expressive skills and managing skills also important for a student. It is also important to develop communication skills in relationships.
What deserves more attention is that most of the students do not feel confident to make presentations and speeches. But realizing the importance of these skills in modern day life, most good schools have made it a regular part of their curriculum. Here comes the role of expressive skills and managing skills.
Expressive skills are those which are used to express our feelings, thoughts and expressions and thus get across our point successfully to the listener. To develop expressive skills, students need to learn is how to communicate effectively and get the full attention of the listeners.
After this, management is an important part of a students life so development of management skills is also important for the success of the student.
Listening skills are also an important skill that should be taught to a student. Listening skills should not only be limited to the classroom but also in a normal conversation. Students should be taught as how to give undivided attention to a person with whom a conversation is taking place.
Also, students should be taught as to how to show the other person respect when the other person is speaking. Such etiquette is a part of conversation in every sphere of life, be it professional or personal.
Now that we have learned as to what specific communication skill a student must have, it is important to learn how to develop communication skills in a student.
The first activity to develop communication skill in students is group activities. Teachers should limit group activities not only in the classroom but also ask students to complete assignments in equally divided groups. Also the teacher should continuously change the groups. This is so that there is more interaction among the students. This process helps a lot in the long run.
The next activity is to develop communication skills for students. This is to put in the habit of active listening. For this, the teacher should continuously read out something from newspapers magazines and other sources in order to ask questions from that. Also the teachers should make it a point to encourage active participation of the students.
By infusing a healthy feeling of competition and curiosity in students, it would become possible to develop communication skills for students. With these tips, go ahead with confidence and put them into practice.
Month of November - Creativity Skills
Robin Fogarty has celebrated creative thinking in the classroom since her first years as a teacher. Since then, while working as a consultant, teacher educator, editor, mentor and author, Robin has been one of the nation’s strongest advocates for developing the creative talents of teachers and students alike. Her most recent books coedited with Brian Pete and Jim Bellanca for Solution Tree Press treat How to Teach Thinking in the Common Core and Leadership Guide to the Common Core (also with Rebecca Stinson. In press)
Driving Question: How Do We Know Creativity When We See It?
A Chinese delegation visiting schools across America entered a College Preparatory High School on Chicago’s Near North side. After being greeted by the administrative staff the leader of the group enthusiastically voiced this request, “What we really want to see is your Creativity room. May we go there first?”
Americans are known for their creativity and innovation. In fact, it has been said by futurists that Japan may out manufacture us, but they will never out innovate us. Recent statistics in a Wired survey (2012) showed that 9 out of 10 of the most innovative companies in world are US companies. In fact in a slightly broader spectrum, 44 of 50 of the most innovative companies around the world are US companies.
Creativity is the ideation of a thought, while innovation is the realization of the idea.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills calls for creativity and innovation as one of the essential skill sets of future citizens. And, while we do not traditionally have a Creativity Room in our schools, we have a mandate to instill the skills of creative thinking to foster a never-ending stream of innovations.
There is a myth that says, we can’t exactly define creativity, but we know it when we see it. While that may be true in one sense, there are four elements often examined to identify creative ideas, products and performances. Going deeper into an understanding of the discrete skills of creative and innovative thinking, there are four areas that impact on the overarching category of creativity and innovation: 1) Fluency; 2) Flexibility; 3) Elaboration; 4) Originality. (E. P. Torrance, 1958).
Fluency is the ability to generate a steady flow of ideas in a brainstorming session. Alex Osborn coined the term “brainstorm.” According to Osborn, brainstorm means using the brain to storma creative problem and to do so “in commando fashion, each stormer audaciously attacking the same objective”). The flow of brainstorming may follow a predictable fluency pattern as depicted in Figure 1. (Fogarty, R., 1994)
Fluencyis the brainstorming process that produces a flow of ideas. Typically, there is a burst of ideas, followed by an anxious pause. Then, looking over the list and associating to previously stated words, more ideas are added. Often, these ideas take on silly to the point of outrageous as creative risk-taking prevails. More times than not, even an X-rated flavor appears, as the flow goes random. Somewhere along the way, or at the point of a nearly exhausted stream of ideas, novel ideas emerge. There is no censorship in the brainstorming phase. Everything counts. The critical examination comes later.
#1 Fluency: How many foreign language words can you think of in 2 minutes? What was your most successful strategy?
Flexibilityis the ability to shift gears, make that right angle turn to a new idea, or make that tight U-turn that literally takes the original ideas in a drastically new direction. Flexibility in thinking is having a number of very different ideas, exploring diverse possibilities. The quintessential example of flexibility in thinking is illustrated with problem of disgruntled tenants in a new high rise. The elevators were too slow and after brainstorming all kinds of alternatives, the final solution proved to be a result of thinking outside the box. Mirrors were installed on all the walls by the elevators on every floor, and as predicted, most people stopped complaining. They we preoccupied by looking at themselves in the mirrors and were no longer annoyed by the delays. Far-fetched? Absolutely, but also quite innovative don’t you think?
#2 Flexibility: Imagine at least five different ways to resolve the problem of identity theft, an ever-increasing cyber challenge of 21st Century.
Elaboration is signaled by defining details, visible embellishments, fine-tuning and fussiness. Elaboration is finishing the product or performance with spit and polish, that last minute touch that gives a splendid flourish and the elegance of a masterpiece. Enhancing a fashionable outfit with a statement belt, or an exquisite scarf that brings the look alive speaks to the element of elaboration. “Accessorize! Accessorize!”. Similarly, in the classroom, elaboration is often addressed when working with word choice, adjectives and adverbs to enhance the emerging mental image. Also, with the simple question that begs for details in oral language explanations, “Tell me more.” Encourages students to extend their creative thinking.
#3 Elaboration: Draw one circle, large, medium or small and transform that simple shape into something elegantly recognizable. Use broad strokes to craft the image and then add detail after detail after detail until the intended object emerges brilliantly on the page.
Originality is marked by its signature uniqueness. The product or innovation is new, novel, extraordinary, distinguishable from the lot. It stands out! A recent experience at a formal affair showcased originality in all its glory. After guests were served their cocktails, they passed by tables of delicate hors d’oeuvres. At one station, there were small dishes filled with finely chopped, raw vegetables. The server asked for my selections, briskly plucked them out with his ice tongs, and placed them in a martini shaker, with my dressing of choice. He then placed the lid on the top of the shaker and fashionably shook the “martini” and “poured” it into a sparkling, stemmed martini glass. The final garnish for my “martini salad” was the cocktail fork, as he handed me his creation.
#4 Originality: Think about an unusual, original, outstanding, genius-level way to carry all of “summer beach stuff (book, sunglasses, brimmed hat, ipad, cover up, brush, sun guard, ipod, and flip flops, bottle of water, ball, float, and beach towel) to the shore.
Unwrapping creativity, this premiere skill of the 21st Century, is just one step in furthering the cause of creativity and innovation in our schools. Yet, with focused intention, purposeful projects, enlightening performances woven into the curriculum as a matter of course, students can be properly prepared with the tools of thinking attitudes of courage, courageous and a natural and unbreakable will to create. Creativity is the premier skill and the overriding mission for 21st Century learners.
Fogarty, R. (2009). Brain-Compatible Classrooms. Thousands, Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Osborne, A. (1979 3rd Ed) Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving. New York: Scribner.
Torrance, E.P. (1958). Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Month of September- Problem Solving Skills
Students need the ability to solve complex problems in real time.
Why it’s important: In the future, complex problems that we can’t even conceive right now will be everywhere. As society advances, so will the complexity of its manageable conflicts. The more we focus on students’ ability to devise effective solutions to real-world problems, the more successful those students will become. It means solving complex problems effectively in real time using unique and carefully designed solutions.
In addition to this, problem-solvers can work independently from higher supervision. They are initiative takers and enjoy risk, and they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and make mistakes. They also learn from those mistakes, and habitually debrief their processes to create more efficient and economical solutions.
These are the kinds of people who will be successful in a global marketplace like ours. Such an individual is an asset to any workforce. It’s worth mentioning that in this future we’re talking about, workers who are unable to think proactively towards solving problems will have a hard time finding employment.
“If we are not prepared to think for ourselves, and to make the effort to learn how to do this well, we will always be in danger of becoming slaves to the ideas and values of others due to our own ignorance.”
Articles on Problem Solving: