My official title at school is “21st Century Learning Specialist”. My work focuses on bringing 21st Century skills and literacies to educators and students.
I know…I know… many of you don’t like the term “21st Century Something”.
In all the current talk about school reform, there is one phrase that you will hear in every proposal, whether it comes from the president or the local school board. That phrase is 21st century skills. Provide students with 21st century skills for a 21st century economy. The label is a powerful one, heralding a new era, high-tech and prosperous.
But like so much in education reform, an idea that has some merit can quickly get reduced to a clichÃ©. In one document I read, the phrase 21st century skills was repeated 25 times in less than two pages.
The phrase [21st Century Skills] has inspired a flood of programs, […] But many teachers say it is just good teaching with a jazzy name. “The subject of 21st-century or, rather, current-century skills has been around ever since Socrates,” said John M. Clement, a science teacher in Houston.
As we enter the second decade of the century, this is a cliche that has lost whatever meaning it might have had. Mostly itâ€™s used by politicians and education experts as a catch-all for whatever concept theyâ€™re currently pushing.
The skills most often included â€“ creativity, critical thinking, communication, etc. â€“ are nothing unique to this century.
I have to admit, that I don’t mind the term! I understand that it bothers others as “21st Century” something this and that is being tossed around…that it might have become a cliche…
Maybe it does not bother me as much since, as a trilingual person, I don’t give too much importance to the actual letters… that make up a word…that is being used to describe a concept…an idea..an object. I know that these letter descriptions are not the important part of the language…but what they mean…what they stand for… I know that the description of ONE object, a concept or feeling will bring up many different words that do not sound or look alike in my mind…all at the same time…
[I would love to hear from other multilinguals, if they have the same relationship/detachments with letter-words than I do?]
Let me get back to my original topic though.
My job is to bring awareness, to support, facilitate, coach and teach to educators and students.
I think of the following as 21st Century Skills:
and 21st Century Literacies:
- Basic Literacies (reading & writing)
- Media Literacy
- Information Literacy
- Network Literacy
- Global Literacy
- Digital Citizenship
It is my job to bring the meaning behind those terms into schools. Lately, I have come to like the term “coach”, since it brings up the visual of an athletic coach in my mind.
Coaches are working with athletes…but… they can’t PLAY FOR the athletes. The coaches’ job is to prepare them, to teach them the rules of the game and to have a plan to condition the athletes to be at their physical best when it is time to play or compete. Teachers need to see us as their coaches. We can show them tools that will help them teach 21st Century skills. We can introduce them to projects, resources, hardware, software and materials that will support 21st Century literacies…but ultimately educators will have to go out on the field and “play”. We can coach them, but ultimately they will have to do the work to become “fit” for themselves. Imagine if the coaches on the Reality TV Show, The Biggest Loser, would do all the workouts with the contestants looking on. Who would lose the weight?
So, going through the motions of using a certain tool here, participating in a one-time project there, looking on as others make connections will not make you “fit” for the 21st Century.
In comes another 21st Century term: Fluency!
Fluency is defined by Free Dictionary as:
Ability to express oneself readily and effortlessly
The term is usually used in a language context, but I like how it is used at the 21st Century Fluency Project:
The 21st Century Fluencies are not about technical prowess, they are critical thinking skills, and they are essential to living in this multimedia world. We call them fluencies for a reason. To be literate means to have knowledge or competence. To be fluent is something a little more, it is to demonstrate mastery and to do so unconsciously and smoothly.
I like the distinction it makes between being literate and fluent.
– when you are literate, you still have to think about what you are going to do next
– fluencies are unconscious skills, you just “know” what to do next
The 21st Century Fluencies, according to 21st Century Fluency Project are as follows:
- Digital Citizen
- Information Fluency
- Solution Fluency
- Media Fluency
- Collaboration Fluency
- Creativity Fluency
If technology is a tool to practice and support skills with the goal of becoming literate in different areas, then are skills and literacies the stepping stool for fluency? If the goal is not being literate but fluent, what changes for me as the coach?