A Pinch, a Dash and a Smidgen ~ Blending 21st Century Skills with Proven Practices

I tend to be a simple cook.  Generally, I make what I am familiar with, either from what I grew up eating or what I figured out how to make when I first lived on my own.  I attempt to branch out but it takes extra time, focus and effort and life can feel too busy to try and find new ingredients at the store or to figure out if a cooking gadget I have will work instead of the fancy gadget the recipe says to use but I don’t own. I do try to mix it up though because it is boring to eat the same things over and over.  Last week, I tried a new recipe. It always feels a bit overwhelming at first yet the anticipation of having something new is exciting – for me and my family.  Once the meal is on the table, the dinner conversation tends to revolve around me giving disclaimers to my family (If it’s terrible, we can pop that frozen pizza in!).  We all eat the first few bites thoughtfully and talk about what we are tasting.  I reflect throughout the meal about what I will do differently next time while my husband and kids reassure me that it is good and that they really do like it.  Then, if it was actually good, I fine tune the recipe the next time I make it and as I make it more often, it becomes easier each time.  Eventually, the recipe is not in front of me but instead, a part of what I know.   

In reality, I already know how to do the most important parts of every new recipe, the basic cooking steps, it is just getting comfortable with the new ingredients, sequence or cooking style. I have also realized that each time I ventured out of my cooking comfort zone, I become more comfortable. This process and awareness of learning applies to how 21st Century skills can enrich prior teaching practices. The basic skills educators have gained throughout their careers do not become null and void just because there are new skills to fine tune and try out with. As a coach, I hope to inspire who I am working with to add a pinch of this, a dash of that and a smidgen of something new until they are using these skills more naturally in how they approach teaching.  Shifting one’s educational philosophy and pedagogy is not about changing everything at once but to instead mix new ways of thinking in to find the right teaching recipe that works for the them and the learners they are working with, which remains a tried and true pedagogical practice just with a 21st Century perspective thoughtfully added. This leads me to my question, how do 21st century skills influence the changing criteria for effective learning and technology integration? 

(Let’s look more closely with the idea of a recipe in mind)

21st Century Skills and 21st Century Learning 

(These are the basic cooking steps that we don’t have to relearn with every new recipe but are reimagined in a new way when new ingredients are added!) 

Educators have always had to keep up with the changing landscape of the world that they and their students interact with and live in. When thinking about how 21st Century Skills influence effective learning environments and pedagogical approach, there seems to be the theme of focusing on an updated process of learning rather than just the outcome of facts, data and what students know or do not know through summative assessments.  The National Education Association (NEA) goes beyond just the skills and talks about the elements of 21st Century Learning as: 

  • Emphasize core subjects 
  • Emphasize learning skills 
  • Use 21st century tools to develop learning skills 
  • Teach and learn in a 21st century context 
  • Teach and learn new 21st century content 
  • Use 21st century assessments that measure core subjects and 21st century skills 

I appreciate the distinction NEA has made between 21st Century Skills (often talked about as the 4 C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) and 21st Century Learning which encompasses the 4 C’s but also includes the elements listed above to reflect the technology, learning environment and content/context changes that connect past and present approaches. 

Learning Progressions 

(This is the time where you learn a new sequence of steps to blend with your prior knowledge of cooking that is required for your new recipe!)

In the article, Learning Progressions: Road Maps for 21st-Century Students—and Teachers, we are reminded that the pedagogical shift of 21st Century is about the progression of learning.  “…The focus should be on Learning progressions—the journeys that students take as they move toward mastering skills in specific areas or disciplines—rather than on outcomes in the form of scores on standardized tests “(Kim, H. & Scoular C., 2017).  Kim and Scoular focus on the idea of moving learners from novices to experts and that learning progressions emphasize how students move through the learning of the core subjects. 

“Tried-and-true progressions exist for those subjects [literacy, science numeracy], and we know they work. We can thus use this established approach to benefit our understanding of more complex skills—not just of the skills themselves, but also of how students demonstrate them at various levels.”  

(Kim, H. & Scoular C., 2017)

Building a Bridge Together 

(This is the part of the recipe where you are taking a risk and trying out the new and some unfamiliar ingredients, steps and/or cooking style to see how this influences the meal in a new and exciting way!) 

In the book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, Foltos reminds us that, “Educators and the Peer Coaches that work with them find it easy to talk about 21st-century skills but much more difficult to turn abstract ideas like critical thinking, analyzing and synthesizing information, transference, information literacy, and creativity into practical classroom learning activities.”  This is where coaches and educators benefit from strong collaboration and take the learning activities they are already familiar with and reimagine them by tweaking the process and end result to be more student centered and fine tune what they already have instead of reinventing the wheel.  Using a process such as the Learning Design Matrix (Peer Coaching, 2018) below can help to inspire rethinking and focus on the teaching, learning environment and desired outcome. 

21st Century Pedagogy  

(This is the part of the recipe that once everything is mixed in and cooked, you must finalize the meal with the last critical step – putting it on the plate.) 

While thinking about bridging the old with the new, it is important to realize how intertwined the new and old ideas, philosophies and approaches already are. It benefits all stakeholders to remember that focusing on teaching styles, learner centered instruction and 21st Century ways to showcase deeper learning is key to not becoming overwhelmed with thinking everything around education is new. Like always, each aspect relies on the other. Much like how basic salt and pepper, turning on the stove and trying out new recipes and tools enhances our basic ability to cook and better feed ourselves and each other.  

Below is an example of a new pedagogical approach: 

Context matters, and the diagram from edorigami captures this, though not from the perspective of the student and content knowledge, but the teacher and various pedagogical components themselves, including Higher-Order Thinking SkillsPeer Collaboration, and Media Fluency. (TeachThought Staff, 2018)

And finally… 

I thought this was an interesting way of thinking about past versus present – this was not how every classroom always was in the past or how it currently is for every classroom  in the present but elements of each ring true and what an exciting time this is for education and the changing landscape within and outside of the classroom. The powerful connection between school and real life…considering school is real life and learning forever embedded in the lives of the generations we are teaching today – 21st Century and beyond.  

Follow this link to see page 2 of the document: http://www.21stcenturyschools.com/20th-vs-21st-century-classroom.html

Resources: 

21st Century Schools. 20th Century Classroom vs. the 21st Century Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.21stcenturyschools.com/20th-vs-21st-century-classroom.html.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin. 

Kim, H. & Scoular C. (April 24,2017). Learning Progressions: Road Maps for 21st-Century Students—and Teachers. Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/learning_progressions_for_students_and_teachers# 

McAlpin, Renee. (2017) Brookings Institute. Skills for a changing world: The global movement to prepare students for the 21st century. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2017/04/24/skills-for-a-changing-world-the-global-movement-to-prepare-students-for-the-21st-century/ 

National Education Association. Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/34888.htm 

Peer Coaching. (2018). Learning Design Matrix.  

4 Replies to “A Pinch, a Dash and a Smidgen ~ Blending 21st Century Skills with Proven Practices”

  1. Great cooking metaphor. Reminded me of my Romanian grandmother who used to tell me, “we no measure honey, just a pinch.” Your metaphor applies to learning new strategies and concepts essential for 21st century learning beautifully. And, as you pointed out, its a great metaphor for successful coaching. Really thoughtful.

  2. Christine you tackled a big subject and framed it in a way that everyone can relate to. As you indicate, tying the new to the familiar is a way to make it more acceptable and less scary. I truly believe that the best teachers have always taught what we call 21st century skills – maybe not with high tech tools but with hands-on, experiential learning and by encouraging critical thinking. Your approach is much more likely to encourage teachers to try more student-centered, exploratory learning though because you recognize and respect the skills they already bring to the table 😊. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  3. Christine- First let me tell you how much I love your title for this blog post as well as the metaphor you use throughout it! I liked how you also provided an overview of the difference between 20th century and 21st century learning through both physical and emotional environments. As a coach, I feel like reflecting on the past and how things have changed can give you a better understanding of where some teachers are starting at and the environments they are used to teaching in. Great work and thanks for sharing!

  4. I love your metaphor it helped me relate and understand 21st century learning better. You had me hooked when you said, “Shifting one’s educational philosophy and pedagogy is not about changing everything at once but to instead mix new ways of thinking in to find the right teaching recipe that works for them and the learners they are working with” I think teachers plates are so full but this feels reassuring and doable! Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

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