A new school year has started! Teachers are busy setting up their classrooms. New teachers feel excited and nervous as they adjust to a new school culture!
Students are happy to return to school and see old friends and new ones! The air at school sizzles with anticipation of the weeks and months to come. While positivity and an I-can0do-anyting spirit reigns, it’s time to change the focus of faculty and department meanings from schedule changes and administrative details to teachers collaborating to experience twenty-first century learning.
Collaborate to understand 21st Century Skills
To continue their education, compete in the job market, to be a contributing citizen in our democracy and a global economy, our students need to learn in classrooms that develop the four 21st century skills, called the 4 C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. You can motivate and engage teachers to consider what kinds of instruction develop these skills by having them learn during faculty meetings in ways that you want their students to learn. By emulating and experiencing what happens in great 21st century classrooms, innovative types of learning become a part of teachers’ DNA and open conversations about how the 4 C’s will impact learning in their subjects.
We recommend that you set aside three faculty meetings for teachers to experience the 4 C’s and connect what they’ve learned to classroom practices. It makes no sense for principals to expect students to collaborate and problem solve and then lead faculty meetings where teachers passively sit and receive information. Instead, start by dividing teachers into groups of four to six and have them choose articles to read about the 4 C’s and 21st century classrooms. In the box below, I’ve listed the URLS of five sources.
First Faculty Meeting
- Organize faculty into groups of four to six, introduce the 4C’s of 21st century learning, and invite teachers to discuss why these are important for the challenges our country and the world we face today.
- Have each group choose a spokesperson and share with everyone what their group discussed. Record teachers’ ideas on a white board. Have teachers choose two articles to read.
- Close the meeting by asking them to discuss ways they could integrate Collaboration and Communication into their classes. Groups share and you record their ideas on a whiteboard.
Second Faculty Meeting
- Recap what was discussed at the first meeting by posting the teachers’ ideasyou recorded on the whiteboard.
- Have groups read a different article, discuss it focusing on Creativity and Critical Thinking and how they could integrate these into their lessons. Groups choose a different spokesperson, share their ideas. Record these on a whiteboard
Third Faculty Meeting
- Recap what teachers discussed at the second meeting by posting the ideas you recorded on the whiteboard.
- Ask teachers to reflect on their experiences, discussions, and reading materials and create a list of learning experiences they could integrate into their lessons.
- Have groups share and record their thinking on a whiteboard.
- Give each group one of the 4C’s and ask members to offer specific ways to build their 21st century skill into lessons. Groups share and discuss.
Accept Where Teachers are in the Process
You’ll find that even with reading and discussing articles, teachers will absorb some information but not all of the key points. Like their students, their background knowledge and personal experiences will determine the type of suggestions they offer.
Below, you’ll find 10 ways that teachers at your school can foster and build 21st century skills into students’ learning experiences. It’s helpful for teachers to discuss these ten suggestions always through the lens of how each one fits into their subject.
Ten Ways to Integrate the 4C’s into Ways Students Learn
- Have students sit in groups of 4 to 6. Encourage teachers to abandon rows of desks that separate and isolate students. For collaboration to take place, for students to have opportunities to choose and discuss materials, they need to sit in groups that can work together or separate into partners who report back to the group.
- Bring choice of reading materials to instructional texts. Invite your school librarian to meet with English and Reading teachers and explain how he or she can help teachers select books that meet the diverse instructional needs of students in their classes. When teachers organize units of study by a genre such as biography, they can differentiate reading by having students read biographies at diverse instructional levels. The school librarian can select high-quality biographies and separate them into stacks of different reading levels. Then, groups of students can browse through biographies they can read and learn from and choose one that appeals to them.
- Initiate student-led literary discussions. Teachers can build on the turn-and-talk strategy that asks students to turn to their right or left and discuss a question about a read-aloud text or an aspect of a lesson. Next steps include having students discuss a text for 5 to 20 minutes with a partner using questions the pair composed. Then, students can make the transition to small-group discussions. If some or all of your teachers need background knowledge of student-led discussions, they can read and discuss one or both of these books:
- Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups (2nd ed.) by Harvey. “Smokey’ Danielas. Stenhouse, 2002.
- Read Talk Write: 35 lessons That Teach Students to Analyze Fiction and Nonfiction by Laura Robb, Corwin literacy, 2016.
- Use inquiry learning. Put the questioning process into students’ hands by having them compose interpretive, open-ended questions. A question is open-ended if it has two or more answers that text evidence supports. Students have to collaborate and communicate to write open-ended questions; they also need a deep knowledge and understanding of the reading material.
Teachers can also show students how to composes guiding questions; these work well when groups read different books about a genre or theme. A guiding question is broad and can’t be answered in one or two sentences. For example, eighth grade students reading science fiction wrote this guiding question: What warnings does the story give and what in our society caused these warnings?
- Invite students to debrief their discussions by asking: What worked and why? What can be improved and how? Such problem solving asks students to use their creativity and communication skills as they try to determine how to improve.
- Have students set goals. Groups can set goals after they debrief a student-led discussion. An effective goal also includes suggestions for reaching the goal.
- Integrate Technology. I use Google Docs and send all faculty or specific departments articles to read. Then, let the communication begin! Teachers pose questions and write their reactions to an article and everyone can read all the responses. Next step is to encourage teachers to use Google Docs with students.
Teachers can post a short reading selection on Google Docs for students and have them react to it with questions and written responses. Students can use the articles and all responses for a whole-class discussion. In addition, students can collaborate and write a blog, informational piece, play, etc. and post their work on Google Docs for peers to read and respond to. Google has tools for groups to do digital storytelling and design spreadsheets that turn data into visuals like graphs.
- Have students write about reading. The research by Steve Graham and Karen Harris make it clear that when students write about books they read their comprehension improves by 24 percentile points. Writing is informal—on-the-spot reactions, connections, evaluations of information, characters’ decisions, conflicts, themes, and short summaries.
- Use the jigsaw strategy. If you have several questions you want students to discuss, divide the work among groups. Once groups discuss, they choose a spokesperson who explains their ideas to the class. Not only does jigsaw advance all the 4C’s, but it also moves the flow and pace of a lesson forward.
- Try Chat Centers. These are a spin-off of jigsaw and they get students out of their seats and moving around the room. You can put questions about literary elements, vocabulary, or a common text on five to seven sheets and post these around the room. Assign groups a chat center, have them discuss, and then present their findings to the class. To communicate clearly and effectively, students have to adjust and clarify their ideas so that their classmates understand their thinking.
Whenever a strategy or learning experience is new to teachers, step back and provide them with the background knowledge and hands-on experiences that develop the depth of understanding needed to bring it to their students.
The ten ways to integrate the 4C’s into daily learning ask students to practice and refine their use of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. We encourage teachers to work closely with a colleague, choose a strategy they’d like to implement, share ideas, observe one another’s classes, debrief, and when they’re both comfortable, try another one. We always invite teachers to start small and add new strategies slowly to ensure success and maintain the desire to bring the 4C’s to students’ learning.