Wednesday, November 25, 2009

21st Century Skills, More than just buzz words

Partnership for 21st Century Skills

With the current economic situation, there has been an increased focus on preparing students for an ever-changing job market. One organization has been at the forefront of this movement is the The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Since it's inception in 2002, The Partnership has worked to develop and define what skills students would need in the changing marketplace and economy.As an educator in Tucson, the home of the Partnership, I am well aware of their ongoing work and the evolution of their framework.

The phrase 21st Century skills is one of the key things that is talked about in school reform, but some tend to think of this as just teaching students to use technology. A review of the Partnership's Framework for 21st Century Learning reveals that technology skills is just a part of the framework and not even the focus of 21st Century learning. In fact, their new framework design places an emphasis on the core subjects.Though they note on the site that "Partnership views all the components as fully interconnected in the process of 21st century teaching and learning " the design shows how the core subjects act as a foundation to the rest of the framework.The core subjects have always been a part of the framework, but more by implication than actual emphasis
As educator that has worked with computers or technology in a school setting for over 20 years, I really like how they have emphasized information, media and technology skills as being integral across the content areas and not just a discrete skill set to be taught in a technology class. Even today with all of the talk of technology integration into content area teaching, too much of the skills in these areas are expected to be taught by a technology teacher/aide. I feel that for true integration to happen, the classroom teacher should be teaching technology and info literacy skills AS they integrate technology.The Partnership has brought old ideas like cooperative learning back into the fold, emphasizing the importance of teamwork. The ability to work with people of various backgrounds is critical to survive in just about any job.

One of the best parts of what the Partnership is trying to do is to get away from the over-emphasis on standardized, high-stakes testing.  Their paragraph on 21st Assessments says it all, I think:
Authentic 21st century assessments are the essential foundation of a 21st century education. Assessments must measure all five results that matter — core subjects; 21st century content; learning skills; ICT literacy; and life skills. To be effective, sustainable and affordable, assessments must use modern technologies to increase efficiency and timeliness. Standardized tests alone can measure only a few of the important skills and knowledge students should learn. A balance of assessments, including high-quality standardized testing along with effective classroom assessments, offers students a powerful way to master the content and skills central to success.

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