Has the role and skill set of the teacher ever changed at any point in history as rapidly as it is now? I can’t imagine that it has. The teacher always had more knowledge (in theory) than the students and thus it was the teachers role to pass that knowledge on to the students. The time it took to acquire information and the isolation of communities resulted in particular skill sets people needed to be successful members of society that are different than the skill sets that today’s students will be needing in the 21st century. Years down the road, people may look at the current period that we are experiencing in education and refer to it as a revolution.
The biggest change that has flipped education around is the accessibility of information. As little as twenty years ago if you were in need of learning something new it resulted in finding experts who could teach you, reading books, taking courses at school, etc. All of these options were time and labour intensive tasks that were often so daunting that you had to REALLY want to learn that something in order to consider the investment. There was a major opportunity cost to learning new things. We are all familiar with the phrase ‘google it’, which is about all you need to do to find the answers to your questions these days. Due to the accessibility of information, the skills that today’s learners need are different than the skills that all previous generations needed. More important than KNOWING a lot of stuff, students need to assess the CREDIBILITY of information. With the click of a button, you will often times have more information about a particular topic than you could ever hope to read, so the problem is not having access to information, but finding out what information is accurate. We can all be creators and publishers of information, but not all information is created equal.
The NCTE’s Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment identifies critiquing and analyzing multimedia texts as an essential skill. Teaching higher order thinking skills such as assessing credibility isn’t the simplest of tasks, but as a science teacher, I have used a 20 question guideline for assessing scientific claims with my classes that I have found to be very helpful to students. Now not every piece of information that students need to assess credibility for is a scientific claim, but many of these tips are interdisciplinary and I think just teaching students to think about what they read in terms of validity, just being skeptical, is a skill that is transferable and that critical thinking nature will become a part of who they are.
When wanting to teach students 21st century skills, the aforementioned skill of analyzing digital text should be a priority. As mentioned, the NCTE’s framework identifies it as an important skill and it is also identified in the ISTE’s Standards for students. Jeremy’s blog ‘Four Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Meet Necessary Future Literacies for Students’ highlights strategy number one as “Give students practice reading screen-based texts”. If we realize that content no longer needs to be our primary focus because we are not the sole source of student obtainment, then we are transitioning to teaching students how to be more independent and responsible for their own learning. This is wonderful, provided students can differentiate between good resources and poor resources. We cannot expect this to be an innate ability, but it must be taught to them, and I would argue taught at a young age, in all subjects, and practiced frequently. Just like Jeremy mentioned as strategy number one, we need to allow for students to practice reading screen-based texts, but in conjunction with that, we need to teach the skills to assess those texts.
While doing some googling of information, I found a resource that I assessed the validity of and found to be very good! ‘15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher’ by Tsisana Palmer provided a really brief overview of what she considers to be the 15 things we need to be doing with our students in the 21st century. Her characteristics closely align with the NCTE’s and the ISTE’s which is an example of the rule of three; using three different sources to verify information. I don’t think there is a whole lot of heated debate regarding what skills today’s learners need for the future world which should be an indicator to us teachers that since there is such a strong consensus about what students need from us, we need to get on board with these. Tsisana’s second stated characteristic, “students as producers”, is my personal favourite. I love seeing what students are capable of producing, and the self-motivation that can come with it is truly refreshing. If a teacher asks you how to transition to being a 21st century teacher, what do you identify as the first and most important step to making that jump?
Live long and prosper