Content vs 21st Century Skills – “Integration” – NOT “Separation”

Think of it as a “balancing act.”

  • Filling a student’s head with “content” without equipping the student with skills to actually DO something with that content is ridiculous. You may enable the student to score well on some standardized test, but you don’t prepare the student with the sorts of skills needed to function effectively in the 21st century.
  • Filling a student’s head with “skills” without a solid foundation of content from which the student can understand the basics of a problem is equally ridiculous. Such students may score well through a performance measuring assessment such as “authentic assessment,” but he/she will have difficulty choosing the right answer from multiple choices in a standardized test.

The push toward 21st Century Skills is an effort to teach critical thinking, analytical and technology skills which most experts (including this one) claim will be essential in the future world that is shifting toward a global, entrepreneurial and service-based workplace.

Critics contend that you can’t separate the teaching of content and skills, and that states that are implementing Common Core Standards might focus too heavily on discreet skills instruction rather than core academic content.

From our examination of the Common Core Standards, we contend that this is just simply NOT the case. Care has been taken in the creation of these standards to INTEGRATE the teaching of content WITH the application and practice of critical skills. (In further posts, we will point this out in various critical skills areas.)

  • Teaching “critical skills” outside the realm of the core curriculum is done all the time – albeit in what are called “extra curricular activities.”
  • Students practice information, analytical and communications skills when they participate as members of a debate team;
  • Students practice teamwork skills in sports activities;
  • Students practice communications and teamwork skills as members of a speech team;
  • Students practice communications, production and teamwork skills in the performing arts;
  • Students practice communications, production, information, analysis, teamwork and technology skills as members of a “Field Study” team.

It is true that teaching and assessing “critical skills” within the core curriculum presents challenges to the educational system. For example, in such a setting, it is important that:

  • Students know and understand what the critical skills are and the importance of learning them through actual practice;
  • Students are engaged as active participants in class discussions;
  • Students are engaged in presenting oral and written arguments regarding issues discussed in class;
  • Teachers understand what the critical skills are;
  • Teachers are prepared to engage the students in open discussion about issues such as might be presented in a case study;
  • Teachers – and the educational system – understand the principles of “authentic assessment” where student assessments can be made through direct observation of student performance against expectations.

The debate about “Content” vs “21st Century Skills” is NOT an “either or” situation.

It is BOTH.

The challenges to the educational system, to administrators and to teachers are large – but they are crucial in the development of our future citizens.

Effective implementation of Common Core Standards and the integration of 21st Century Skills into the educational process will be difficult – but certainly doable.

The challenge is to reach a consensus of “balance” and then get on with it.

We will have more about this later.




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