21st Century Teaching

I recently read a blog that elaborated on the 21st-century skills every student needs.  You can see the blog here: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/21st-century-skills-future-jobs-students/  It’s not really that much different than the framework created by p21.org.  However, it got me thinking.  Why are so many businesses or corporations repeating themselves about these skills?  Is it that students are being graduated from high school or college without them? Or, is there something deeper wrong?

I’ve been an educator for almost 20 years, and an instructional coach for the past six.  The more I think about it, the more I wonder if it’s not a question of what are the 21st-century skills that students need, so much as what are the 21st-century skills that teachers need to make students workforce ready?  Maybe it is time for us to shift our thinking from students to the teachers.

There have been a few writers explore this shift, such as Gayle Allen in her book The New Pillars of Modern Teaching. In her book, she explores the needed shift from instruction/curriculum/assessment to design/curation/feedback.  I believe this is a good start.  However, I’m not sure it’s enough to really impact teachers.  When I enter a classroom for a learning walk or observation, there are eight student-driven things I look for:

  1. Examples of student voice
  2. Opportunities for student choice
  3. Time for authentic reflection
  4. Opportunities for innovation
  5. Examples of critical thinking
  6. Opportunities or examples of problem finding, not just solving
  7. Student self assessment
  8. Connected learning

When I work with my teachers, I adopt a type of 21st-century mindset that I urge them towards as well.  Although I’ve never put it down in writing until now, I work to shift my teacher’s mindsets in four different categories:

  • Digital-pedagogical Literacy
  • Character Building
  • Instructional Design
  • Assessing for Curation

Digital-pedagogical Literacy is best described as the ability for an educator to create networks and build a library of information for students to access that relates to the 4C’s: Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration.  It is based on George Siemens’ learning theory called Connectivism (published in Jan 2005).  This literacy includes the teacher’s ability to understand that learning is not primarily based upon the accumulation of information, but access to the information for direct application as well.  It comprises the majority of the context of what was previously taught in the classroom.

Character Building sounds like a 1970’s macho summer camp curriculum.  Instead, it is all about helping instill qualities needed for life: leadership, adaptability, persistence/grit, initiative, and curiosity.  These are done in such a manner as to connect to prosocial intrinsic behavior.  Whereby the students work collectively towards helping others either within a team or outwardly to solve a social problem in such a way that it reinforces those same five traits.

Instructional Design is very similar to what it was in the 20th-century.  The difference comes from the shift in loci.  Instead of the design being based upon what the best way to relay the context or content, the focus centers around students.  The teacher begins to design lessons where the intended outcome is a student driven classroom that looks identical regardless if the teacher is present or not (if out sick and replaced with a sub).  These lessons can only be designed once a positive respectful relationship has been built between the teacher and the students.

Finally, Assessing for Curation is not about quizzes or tests.  It is about creating an atmosphere where the teachers build student self-efficacy.  The students gain confidence in what they are doing by continually self-assessing their own progress and celebrating successes as they happen.  Sometimes this takes the form of gamification in the classroom, sometimes it is just a self-assessment.  The main point is that the use of assessments are not for grades, but rather as a measurement of where the learning is at a certain point in time.

Perhaps there are other categories or descriptors that better define what a teacher should be doing differently in the 21st-century.  




Allen, Gayle (2016) The New Pillars of Modern Teaching


Siemens, George (2005) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm

Hu, Jia and Robert Liden (2014) Making a Difference in the Teamwork: Linking Team Prosocial Motivation to Team Processes and Effectiveness https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jia_Hu23/publication/284720045_MAKING_A_DIFFERENCE_IN_THE_TEAMWORK_LINKING_TEAM_PROSOCIAL_MOTIVATION_TO_TEAM_PROCESSES_AND_EFFECTIVENESS/links/5657143508aefe619b1ed5f1.pdf

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