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INDT 501 – Reflection Week 2 – Century 21 vs Core Content

I have a two year old. Often when we sit down to eat, she shovels food into her mouth like she will never see a meal again. My husband gets annoyed and snaps at her, but I ask, “have you ever tried to teach her to take small bites and chew between each forkful?” He thinks this is obvious, and to an adult, it is but if she has never been taught this she will figure it out her own way. This, to me, is the difference between teaching core content vs 21st century skills. We can shovel all the content into our students’ heads that we want, but without the skills to figure things out for themselves, they will figure it out their own way. Most of the time that results in waiting to be told the answer or searching online.

This is quite a hot topic! If you are involved with education in any way, you cannot get away from it, and I think that is a good thing. Forcing teachers to constantly reflect upon their pedagogy and the changing student population, keeps things fresh and exciting. This is my twelfth year as a teacher. I can hardly believe that! It’s easy to see how you can get stuck in old methods and reuse the same materials year after year, but if you do that you are failing as a teacher. The students I teach today are not like the kids I had ten years ago, and the job market is ever changing. Fifty years ago, teachers prepared students for jobs they could conceive and relate to themselves in some way, today we as teachers, really have no idea what opportunities will be available to our students when they enter the job market. Things are changing so rapidly we cannot be expected to know where our kids might be headed. It is for this reason that I am a proponent of 21st century skills.

I first read about 21st century education two years ago when I started at UMW. However a year before that, my department had come together to focus on changing the way we teach, and without knowing it, we were beginning to move toward 21st Century teaching. We decided that as English teachers, it was far more important to teach the skills our students will need in the future, than to focus solely on the content.

The Core Content and CoreKnowledgr.org

OK, so don’t get me wrong here, I know that there are somethings our students just need to know. I know they cannot progress from grade to grade without demonstrating at least a proficient mastery of the content. I am not against teaching facts or memorization in some cases. (I do not think that the 21st century methods exclude this in any way – but I am supposed to be discussing core content now, so let’s stay focused). Whenever I am asked to evaluate a website I first try to discover the motive for the website. Was the site designed to inform, to entertain, or to persuade. Usually the answer is some combination of the three. But when a website is designed to sell me something, I become leery of its content. The website is just one big ad for a product, and that alone makes me skeptical. This is the case for CoreKnowledge.org. Yes, there are some free downloads. I did look at those. You can download the sequence for free, but to out it into practice, you have to buy their materials. You can download the teacher guides for a few classic pieces of literature as well. But to become a school or teacher that utilizes this concept, you must purchase their program. Teaching from a “kit” is a scary idea to me.
As students of education, we learn that each child is different and that students learn best when education is tailored to their specific learning needs. I realize that it is not possible to teaching differently to 27 (or in middle and high school 127) different students, but having a set curriculum comes dangerously close to teaching to the masses instead of the individual.
According to the website,
β€œThe richer the knowledge base, the more smoothly and
effectively cognitive processes β€” the very ones that teachers target β€” operate,” notes
University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham. “So, the more
knowledge students accumulate the smarter they become.”

I realize the quote is from a “cognitive scientist,” but I just do not agree with that. In fact, I believe just the opposite. The more critically and creatively a person is taught to think, the more knowledge that individual will acquire. That leads me into the 21st century skills and the P21 website.

21st Century Skills and P21.org

More and more we are hearing that our high school students are unprepared for college resulting in colleges having to add more remedial classes. An expensive and daunting task.
Beyond that, companies are complaining that college grads aren’t prepared for workforce demand. According to a study detailed in the Washington Post last year,“two-fifths of high school graduates are unprepared for college or the workforce.” These numbers are simply unacceptable.

As a high school teacher, I can attest to the fact that our young people lack critical thinking and creativity. They know how to work in a group, but few know how to actually collaborate. The 21st century skills advocate teaching these thinking skills and letting the students discover the content through inquiry learning. Of course teachers will still have to just tell them somethings, there are pieces of knowledge that they must memorize without discovery, and if you look at the 21st century framework, these things are not excluded.
You can see that teaching 21st century skills is not to the exclusion of the core content, but rather it is an enhancement of how these things are taught.

As a teacher, have you ever thought, “Why am I even teaching this? I don’t remember this from school, most adults don’t remember this, why should I teach it?” I think most of us have had that realization once or twice in our careers. And it is a good question. If you cannot validate your reasons for teaching certain material, then you must re-evaluate what and how you are teaching. But when you are teaching students about thinking, about inquiry, about how to work collaboratively, and how to be creative, you never need to question yourself. You know that these are the skills that will guide them for a lifetime.

It’s like that all proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

de Vise, D. (2011, December 12). washingtonpost.com. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/study-two-fifths-of-high-school-graduates-are-unprepared/2011/12/12/gIQArZKnpO_blog.html

Gallagher, F. (2011). The partnership for 21st century learning. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/

Hirsch, E. D. (2012). Core knowledge foundation. Retrieved from http://www.coreknowledge.org/our-philosophy

~ by bwebber on .

INDT 501

2 Responses to “INDT 501 – Reflection Week 2 – Century 21 vs Core Content”

  1. Hi, Barbara.
    I liked your post this week.
    A couple of things hit home for me. First, I also have a 2 year old that shovels food. No, that isn’t true. She throws her fork onto the ground and jams her fist into her mouth with as much food as she can fit onto it. Taking bites? Not a concept she’s willing to get behind. It is for this reason that I still cut up her chicken nuggets and hot dogs. It drives my husband insane, but I’m trying to teach her to take bites! I can totally relate to this analogy.
    Secondly, when I was first introduced to the field of education in college (and that was about 10 years ago), I was told the first year would be the hardest because you have to start from scratch. Once you have all of your lesson plans, that’s it! You’re good to go year after year. And I think that’s really it — that’s how we get into ruts. We have binders full of lesson plans that we never get around to changing. We really have to train ourselves to be reflective, dynamic people if we hope at all to get these kids ready for the world that’s waiting for them.

  2. Great post Barbara! I agree with you, teaching 21st century skills is very important. The article that you quoted from the Washington Post is interesting. I agree, it is unacceptable. We can’t control the content we are required to teach by the SOL’s but we can control the way we choose to teach it and the skills we can give our students to help them for the rest of their lives.