If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow. ~ John Dewey
Recently, I have had the good fortune of being involved in the planning stages of a new school. Our district is in the process of developing a hybrid/blended learning environment and they have chosen our school to pilot the program. This is both a tremendous honor, as well as an overwhelming task. So far, we have been given a great deal of latitude in designing a school that we feel will best meet the learning needs of our students. As an active participant in educational reform discussions–through blogs, Twitter and the virtual universe–you might imagine my excitement at the prospect of creating a dynamic learning environment for our seventh and eighth grade students.
As part of this process, we recently presented an extremely preliminary plan to our school board. This went well, but I have been mulling over one of the questions asked by a board member at the conclusion of the presentation.
As the students who participate in this program move into high school, what skills do you want them to possess that might be different from those that can be achieved in a traditional learning environment?
Certainly a valid question, but difficult to give a concise answer. After rambling a bit about “educational maturity” and using a few educational buzz words, I moved on to the next question. However, after giving this considerable thought, I have arrived at a five-point skill set that I would like to see our students develop during their experience at the Virtual Learning and Leadership Academy.
Student engagement is perhaps the most misunderstood, and overused terms in education. Unfortunately, it brings to mind visions of students, sitting attentively at their desks, nodding their heads in understanding as the teacher reviews the day’s PowerPoint presentation. However, true engagement means getting students involved, active and participating. The hamster is running, the wheel is turning, and the light bulb is on. Engagement is not about paying attention, it is about being an active participant in one’s education.
Students need to understand that they have control over their educational destiny. This is what I refer to as “educational maturity” – the ability to take charge of their learning, ask questions, search for answers and, perhaps most importantly, seek help when needed. Take control.
3. Creativity – Innovation
Pursuit of personal interests and development of creative solutions to problems is a critical skill for our students to possess. It is unfortunate that the current educational model’s focus on standardized testing has dampened student creativity and pursuit of innovative solutions to challenging problems. Students should not be so concerned with failure that they are afraid to stretch their thinking and test their ideas.
In a shrinking world, effective communication and the ability to work well with others will be essential to student success. Students must be able to respect differences and efficiently collaborate with diverse personalities. This skill is also essential for the full realization of innovation–as students work together to solve problems. Technology affords many avenues of communication and collaboration and as educators we have an obligation to assist students in the appropriate use of these tools to enhance these skills.
An awareness, and concern, for the plight and challenges of others is a uniquely human characteristic–one that we should take care, as educators, to foster in our students. In order to do this effectively, our kids need to possess knowledge of other cultures, possess the ability to speak multiple languages and develop a sensitivity to the traditions and customs of other nations.
This is certainly not intended to be a conclusive list – there are many other skills that are important for 21st century learners. I recently shared a Google spreadsheet, via Twitter, asking educators to share their ideas. If you would like view the ideas of others, or contribute your own, please feel free to view or contribute to the Google spreadsheet or add a blog comment.