21st Century Smart Learners Essay

By Dave Ross

In this globally and digitally interconnected world, all learners, from cradle to career, need new skills and knowledge to succeed. If we want to prepare our children for success in school, work and life, opportunities to learn 21st-century skills are essential.

These 21st-century skills are more important to students now than ever before.

They not only provide a framework for successful learning in the classroom, but ensure students can thrive in a world where change is constant and learning never stops. And they are also tremendously important for our nation’s well being. Our business community demands a workforce with these skills to ensure our competitiveness in a global economy. And at a time when our civic life feels strained, we want our learners to enter the world with an understanding of what it takes to be a good citizen—one who can be civically engaged, critically thinking, digitally literate, globally aware, and an effective communicator.

The organization I lead, P21 (the Partnership for 21st Century Learning), leverages the power of collaboration to turn this vision of learning into a reality. Representing 5 million members of the global workforce, we build partnerships among education leaders, businesses and community and government officials, all of whom are dedicated to ensuring that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Our Framework for 21st Century Learning, informed by this far-reaching partnership, emphasizes the 4Cs – communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity – skills that all learners need for success in school, work and life.

The 21st century is not in the distant future – it is today. We do not have a moment to lose in preparing our students, and our nation, to compete and to succeed.

That is why P21 is launching Skills for Today week; to help shine a national spotlight on the importance of these skills for our students, identify the critical elements of a successful education in the 21st century, and highlight the resources, research, policies and best practices that bring these skills to the classroom.

As an example of this, we have released a new research brief with Pearson that not only underscores the importance of collaboration from cradle to career, but also identifies the strategies that educators can use to teach and measure this skill across the K-20 spectrum. In turn, our work empowers teachers to know how to bring collaboration to the classroom.

During Skills for Today week, educators from the 79 P21 21st Century Learning Exemplars will celebrate examples of successful 21st-century learning and illustrate how the 4Cs empower all of our learners to gain the skills they need. Through webinars, social media and events across the country, educators will share how they make the 4Cs come alive for their students. The week will also celebrate the work of our member organizations, who will share new tools, information and resources to support educators as they bring the 4Cs into the classroom. These new resources and tools will support educators in making meaningful and sustainable improvements in education.

Over the course of the week, these partnerships will help underscore how the 4Cs are essential across a variety of educational settings—from early learning and beyond school to STEAM and global learning.

During our Skills for Today week and beyond, our exemplars and member organizations will help outline the building blocks for a successful 21st-century learning experience:

  • Children have early opportunities to develop the foundational skills that will help them reason, think creatively, analyze data and work collaboratively in the future.
  • Out-of-school programs—a vital part of learning—instill the 4Cs beyond the classroom; ensuring students have the academic, social-emotional and workforce skills to succeed in the 21st century.
  • Schools and companies can work together to encourage and support children as they develop the core STEAM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) that are essential to success in school and in today’s economy.
  • Students should have the opportunities to develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge to understand and participate in a globally connected world.

With these foundational outcomes and the 4Cs in mind, we will see that today’s classrooms are focusing not only on content knowledge—but also on ensuring that students develop innovative solutions, critically think through complex problems, and the ability to work and communicate across diverse teams.

In the process, we can then ensure that all of our learners are empowered to succeed with the skills for today.

For more, see:

David Ross is CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. Follow him on Twitter: @davidPBLross


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As education advances with the help of technology, it becomes very clear that the modern day classroom needs are very different from the conventional classroom needs.

The evolved 21st century classroom is a productive environment in which students can develop the skills they will require in the workplace and teachers are facilitators of their learning. The focus of a 21st century classroom is on students experiencing the environment they will enter as modern day workers and developing their higher order thinking skills, effective communication skills, collaboration skills, making them adept with using technology and all other skills that they will need in the 21st century workplace.

The educational practices of the traditional classroom are no longer effective and teachers must develop new teaching strategies that are radically different from those employed in the traditional classrooms. The modern day classroom should be more centered on students and teachers should take the role of facilitators and guides instead of being mere providers of knowledge. They must ensure that they engage their students in learning and provide effective instruction using a variety of instructional methods and following different pedagogical approaches aided with technology. They should be active participants in their own learning and must seek out professional development to improve their performance and their students’ learning.

A 21st century classroom has many characteristics associated with it which distinguish it from the classrooms of the past centuries. The top 10 characteristics of a 21st century classroom are:

Student-centric: In these classrooms, students play an active role in their learning and teachers serve as mere guides. They are more facilitators of learning than lecturers. They help students think critically and learn by doing and act as a resource while their students discover and master new concepts. Student-centric classroom environments put students’ interests first and are focused on each student’s needs, abilities and learning styles.

Computing devices: Computers are readily available in modern classrooms, since they are essential tools for 21st century students and replace the utilities of pen and paper. They not only give students the means to conduct online research and master the technology skills they need, but they also give teachers the opportunity to enhance their lessons. The ability to deftly operate a computer is a critical 21st century skill. Computing devices greatly assist in teaching and learning and make them more engaging and effective.

Active learning: In modern classrooms, students are actively engaged in what they learn. Students participate in more active learning by working in groups or on computers and complete projects and other interesting activities that help them discover new skills. Students can learn actively by talking and listening, writing, reading and reflecting. When students are encouraged to take an active interest in learning, they are more likely to retain the knowledge they’ve accumulated.

Adaptive learning: Any classroom will always have students of different types of learning abilities in it which often makes it difficult for teachers to make sure that all of them understand the concepts. The modern approach of adaptive learning gives students the freedom to learn at their own pace and in the way they are most comfortable with. There are various kinds of software available for adaptive learning that teachers can use to enhance the learning of their students.

Invitational environment: The classrooms should not be cramped or overcrowded. Modern classrooms should have the basic material required for teaching such as, interactive whiteboards and LCD projectors. The BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) approach can be adopted, so that students can bring their laptops or tablets to the classroom for better personalized learning. Teaching with technological material is more effective, stimulates student engagement, eases the work of teachers and makes it easy for students to focus on learning.

Students understand and follow the rules and procedures: The learning environment is carefully planned and well-organized. Class rules, procedures, and notices of upcoming activities are posted in convenient places to help students stay on track. Students are constantly encouraged to remind them of their goals and responsibilities. They follow class routines and understand what they are expected to achieve each day and how they are to go about it.

Mutual respect: Teachers and students should always have respect for each other. As now the role of teachers is no longer to be the sage on the stage, students should not forget their value as they will always receive guidance from them. Also, teachers should encourage students to speak with confidence and value their opinions. In a well-disciplined environment, students should also co-operate with and respect their classmates.

Students take responsibility of their learning: As students are encouraged to actively participate in their own learning, they become responsible for their learning. Self-directed students not only encourage each other, but also work with their teacher to achieve academic and behavioral goals that they themselves have helped establish. Teachers should employ a variety of strategies to promote responsible decision-making and create self-reliant students.

Performance-based assessments: Regular performance-based assessments are carried out by teachers through various methods which are not restricted to tests. These can be by conducting quizzes and polls. Teachers can utilize projects as well as other products and performances as assessments to determine student achievements and needs. Assessments are tailored to the abilities and needs of the students.

Collaborative learning: Learning through collaboration is one of the most effective forms of learning. Teaching and learning in isolation are very restrictive and hinder progress. Learning in groups enhances the scope of learning and develops critical thinking. Collaborative learning activities include collaborative writing, group projects, joint problem solving, debates and more. Collaborative learning redefines traditional student-teacher relationship in the classroom.

Technology plays a big role in developing all of these characteristics for modern classrooms. These classrooms enhance the learning experience and better prepare students for higher education and workforce. Share your views and other characteristics that you would like to see in your 21st century classrooms. The Comment Box awaits you.

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Educational technology blogger, loves to research and write about tools and tips for educators on how to integrate technology into everyday instruction creatively and effectively. Fond of reading and writing.

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