I have been teaching Millennials for the past two years. Millennials, as defined by the Merriam Webster online dictionary, are persons born in the 1980s or 1990s. The Atlantic defined the group as “those born in 1982 and approximately 20 years thereafter”, up to 2004 (approximately, 12 to 34 years old). Therefore, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus are millennials. Kids born after the millennials still lack a designation and are called TBDs (to be determined) for discussion purposes. (I taught TBDs in the past because of my interest in Sped.)
I came across this fairly recent paper, “Teaching and Learning 21st Century Skills” by the Asia Society and Rand Corporation (Saavedra and Opfer, 2012). It is quite substantive and proposes ideas worth mulling over.
First, the paper defined 21st century skills as follows:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Collaboration and leadership
- Agility and adaptability
- Initiative and entrepreneuralism
- Effective oral and written communication
- Accessing and analyzing information
- Curiosity and imagination
The paper made a compelling case on why students need these 21st century skills: economic (countries need workers who can add value because of higher order thinking skills); civic (countries need to develop engaged and critical citizens); and global (we have a globally interconnected economy).
The paper then asked why the students are not learning these 21st century skills and offered three reasons: 1. Education is still via the Transmission mode where teachers transmit factual knowledge to students through lectures and textbooks (instructor); also because traditional educational systems are hard to change. 2. The skills (i.e. thinking skills) are not explicitly taught. 3. 21st century skills are more difficult to assess (vs. facts or rote memorization).
Another ERIC paper, “21st Century Teaching and Learning” (McCoog, 2008) offered a variation to the 3Rs for the 21st century: rigor, relevance and real world skills.
Dr. Michelle Bruniges, Director General of the NSW Australia Department of Education and Communities, in a 21st Century Skills Forum in Tokyo, Japan in 2012, mentioned 4Cs: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication – essentially the same skills previously mentioned.
As teachers teaching 21st century learners, it’s good to be aware that these issues exist, that policy makers are talking about them, and that education systems all over the world are attempting to address them. (There were no developing countries in the study even as some Philippine schools are already implementing programs to address these.)
Maybe the relevant question is not the role of instructor vs. facilitator; rather whether we, as teachers, can honestly say that we have what it takes to teach these skills to our students. Whether we can help our students (especially the TBDs) succeed given the complexity of our world.
How do I teach my students to think, analyze and ask the right questions? Sometimes, it frustrates me that discussions are not as rich as I’d hope they’d be. How do I encourage greater collaboration and entrepreneuralism? What should the metrics be for assessing these? Maybe it makes sense to start developing metrics for these 21st century skills.
The needs of 21st century learners also bring to mind how we as teachers need to constantly educate ourselves, formally or informally. We need to know what our students know, or more than what they know. We need to keep up. We need to seize opportunities outside of our classrooms. We need to hone our weak spots.
Dr. Bruniges puts it well. “Technology is a wonderful enabler for learning and innovation, but great teachers still need to have high expectations for every student, a deep understanding of their subject content, and a capacity to inspire and motivate students, just as they have done in previous generations.”
The challenge for me as a graduate school teacher is to keep raising the bar for myself and my students. Keeping the bar low will be a disservice to them.
*Originally written for an online class exercise dated 4 February 2016.