wasting bandwidth since 1999

Tag: 21st century skills (Page 2 of 3)

Expanding the Concept of Literacy

In the title of a piece on the Time web site, the writer declares ‘Digital Literacy’ Will Never Replace the Traditional Kind’, which is a classic strawman since you would be hard pressed to find even the most ardent supporter of instructional technology claiming that it should.

However, I’m not even sure there is such a thing as “digital literacy”.  The “traditional kind” of literacy is defined at it’s most basic level as the ability to read and write. In other words, the ability to communicate with other people.

Increasingly students (and adults for that matter) need to know how to communicate using a variety of both analog and digital tools (including audio and video) to be considered literate, which expands the standard definition rather than replacing it.

Among all the straw, the writer actually tries to get at this point, although in a very condescending manner.

There is no doubt that the students of today, and the workers of tomorrow, will need to innovate, collaborate and evaluate, to name three of the “21st century skills” so dear to digital literacy enthusiasts.

Please name a few of those “digital literacy enthusiasts”. And why the skills usually lumped under the “21st century” label are necessarily digital. Or in any way different from those required by successful adults in the 18th, 19th, or 20th century, distinctly non-digital periods of history.

Anyway, she continues…

But such skills can’t be separated from the knowledge that gives rise to them. To innovate, you have to know what came before. To collaborate, you have to contribute knowledge to the joint venture. And to evaluate, you have to compare new information against knowledge you’ve already mastered. Nor is there any reason that these skills must be learned or practiced in the context of technology. Critical thinking is crucial, but English students engage in it whenever they parse a line of poetry or analyze the motives of an unreliable narrator. Collaboration is key, but it can be effectively fostered in the glee club or on the athletic field. Whatever is specific to the technological tools we use right now – and these tools are bound to change in any case – is designed to be easy to learn and simple to use.

Very true. None of those activities require computers, networks, and communications tools.

Unless, of course, you want to involve students with people and information outside of the relatively limited walls of their school building. And expand their literacy skills beyond basic reading and writing.

School Choice

It could be this year’s graduation time meme, or simply that many outlets are reproducing a single AP article, but there currently seems to be much discussion of whether sending every high school graduate off to college is really worth it.

Is a four-year degree required to learn the skills necessary for success in one of the professions most likely to have openings?

Professor Lerman, the American University economist, said some high school graduates would be better served by being taught how to behave and communicate in the workplace.

Such skills are ranked among the most desired – even ahead of educational attainment – in many surveys of employers. In one 2008 survey of more than 2,000 businesses in Washington State, employers said entry-level workers appeared to be most deficient in being able to “solve problems and make decisions,” “resolve conflict and negotiate,” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively.”

Yet despite the need, vocational programs, which might teach such skills, have been one casualty in the push for national education standards, which has been focused on preparing students for college.

However, as the Times article points out, suggesting that some students might be better served with a post-high school education that doesn’t involve greeks bearing drinks doesn’t go over well in this country.

Politicians and education “experts” repeatedly drill home to parents in the US that their kids will be failures without a college degree.  And in many schools here in Lake Wobegon East, discussing vocational programs is almost grounds for dismissal.

Maybe instead we should provide some clear options for high school students and then help them understand their alternatives so they can make realistic choices.

But Ms. Williams [a counselor at a high school in suburban New York City with a student body that is mostly black or Hispanic] said she would be more willing to counsel some students away from the precollege track if her school, Mount Vernon High School, had a better vocational education alternative. Over the last decade, she said, courses in culinary arts, nursing, dentistry and heating and ventilation system repair were eliminated. Perhaps 1 percent of this year’s graduates will complete a concentration in vocational courses, she said, compared with 40 percent a decade ago.

Of course automatically advising any student away from considering college is serving them just as poorly as making college their only post-secondary option.

We need to return to offering kids some middle ground.

Please Stop Saying That

As 2009 and the aughts come to a close, lots of people are presenting retrospectives on the year and decade past.

A few pundits and experts (not necessarily the same thing) are offering predictions of what to expect ahead.

This rant is neither of those.

Instead I have a request in the form of a short list of phrases that need to be retired from the public lexicon as we begin 2010.

21st Century skills

As we enter the second decade of the century, this is a cliche that has lost whatever meaning it might have had. Mostly it’s used by politicians and education experts as a catch-all for whatever concept they’re currently pushing.

The skills most often included – creativity, critical thinking, communication, etc. – are nothing unique to this century.

And they are, for the most part, the diametrical opposite of the test-driven crap that has been passed off as education reform during the past decade.

digital native/digital immigrant

As outlined in the original 2001 article, Marc Prensky’s concept of how kids differ from adults in their use of technology had some validity.

Today, it’s degenerated into another edtech cliche, far too often used by adults to excuse themselves from having to learn about the every expanding array of tools for communication and collaboration that have become part of daily life for many of us, not just kids.

web 2.0

New rule: anyone who wants to use this term, must first identify what on the web isn’t “2.0”. That should kill it fast.

And finally…

back to normal

This phrase has been used excessively during discussions about the economy but it is also invoked by leaders of companies and organizations (including those in our overly-large school district).

However, isn’t “normal” where we were when the wheels came off the bus?

In education, “normal” is the traditional system most people remember growing up with – and which isn’t working for a growing number of kids.

When it comes to teaching and learning (as well as the rest of American society), instead of longing for something called “normal” we should be working to rebuild into something better.

Ok, that’s my list. What would you add or delete?

Cutting the Future to Make the Present Look Better

Back to the continuing budget mess here in the overly-large school district.

The superintendent and others have been holding meetings with employee groups and community members (and distributing poorly worded surveys) to get suggestions on what programs and people should be cut to make things balance financially.

However, he’s asking the wrong question.

Instead the discussion needs to be framed around what we are all willing to pay for.

Just about anywhere you go in the US, it’s pretty much a political given that no elected official would even talk about raising taxes.

And around here, they would likely also be tossed out at the next election for suggesting that schools, or anything else, are more important than adding more asphalt and concrete for people to drive on.

Given those constraints (more like a straightjacket), the larger community should, instead of talking about cuts, be addressing the very difficult question: what will you pay real money for?

Do you want full-day kindergarten? Do you really believe art and music programs are essential or are they just a frills?

Will you pay for the training and support necessary to keep “well-qualified” teachers in every classroom or is that just something we can only afford during good times?

Is technology really a priority or is all that talk about the “future” and “21st century skills” nothing more than nice sounding decorations for political speeches?

Because in many ways, this money discussion is all about the future.

And that that brings me to the title of this post, which is stolen from a recent edition of the Business Week cover story podcast.

In that program a reporter makes the observation that, during economically rotten times like we have now, corporations are “cutting the future” through drastic reductions in their research and development budgets.

We do the same thing as a society with public education.

We slice things that will make future classrooms better – teacher training and technology being prime among those – in order to make administrators and politicians look good now.

So, maybe the bottom line question that needs to be asked about the education budget is: what are you willing to cut from the future to make the status quo look better?

I wonder how all those folks who keep sending me political crap mail and want my vote tomorrow would respond.

Probably not the way I would.

The 21st Century is Just a Fad

Last week at work was one of those that pretty well swamps everything else, which means this weekend I’ve been catching up on a very full aggregator (and the ever-popular email).

The RSS stream included Jay Mathews regular Monday opinion column from the Post (which, strangely enough, is printed in the news section of the paper version) in which he once again takes on 21st century skills, calling them “the last doomed pedagogical fad”.

Granted, the 21st-century skills idea has important business and political advocates, including President-elect Barack Obama. It calls for students to learn to think and work creatively and collaboratively. There is nothing wrong with that. Young Plato and his classmates did the same thing in ancient Greece. But I see little guidance for classroom teachers in 21st-century skills materials. How are millions of students still struggling to acquire 19th-century skills in reading, writing and math supposed to learn this stuff?

The target of his rant, of course, is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and I agree that much of their literature “should be tossed in the trash”.

However, in the process of trashing the Partnership’s materials, Mathews also misses two important points about what education should be in the 21st century.

First, he assumes (as do many others) that we must make an either-or choice between those 19th century skills and helping kids learn how to think critically, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and the rest (or we must prioritize one over the other).

Certainly students need to know how to read, write and use mathematics, but not in the same way as kids did in the 19th century, or even the 20th.

Like it or not, digital technology, simple-to-use communication tools, and ubiquitous access to information is drastically altering how the world works. Both the school curriculum and how it is presented need to be drastically altered in parallel.

And second, these “21st century skills” (I’m really growing to hate that term) are no “pedagogical fad”. They represent abilities that would be required of a successful adult at any point in history.

Maybe in this century we can actually acknowledge that and begin to build an educational system around them instead of just assuming students will pick them up on their own.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2021 Assorted Stuff

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑