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Teaching & Assessing 21st Century Skills

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As the 21st century unfolds, the pace of change in the world is accelerating. The authors believe a combination of cognitive skills (skills students will need to succeed academically) and conative skills (skills students will need to succeed interpersonally) is necessary for the 21st century. This clear, practical guide presents a model of instruction and assessment based on these skills.

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Introduction

ePub

Teaching and Assessing 21st Century Skills is part of a series of books collectively referred to as the Classroom Strategies Series. The purpose of this series is to provide teachers as well as building and district administrators with an in-depth treatment of research-based instructional strategies that can be used in the classroom to enhance student achievement. Many of the strategies addressed in this series have been covered in other works such as The Art and Science of Teaching (Marzano, 2007), Classroom Management That Works (Marzano, 2003), and Classroom Instruction That Works (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). Although those works devoted a chapter or a part of a chapter to particular strategies, the Classroom Strategies Series devotes an entire book to an instructional strategy or set of related strategies.

As the 21st century unfolds, the pace of change in the world is accelerating while education in the United States remains stagnant or, at best, progresses in isolated pockets. Concern over the effects of an inadequate education system on the nation’s economy and innovative potential is growing, and it seems a crisis point is near—a point when the negative aspects of the education system will outweigh the benefits. The consequences of a poorly educated population would be dire, and in order to correct this trajectory, every level of the education system will have to undergo massive changes. Teachers and administrators must lead this cultural shift, which is perhaps as important and massive as the industrial revolution. In Teaching and Assessing 21st Century Skills, we present a model of instruction and assessment based on a combination of cognitive skills (skills students will need to succeed academically) and conative skills (skills students will need to succeed interpersonally) necessary for the 21st century.

 

Chapter 1 The Status of the 21st Century

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The specific skill set that students will need to succeed in the 21st century has been a topic of interest in education since at least the early 1990s. In 1991, the United States Department of Labor formed the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) and charged it with the task of examining “the demands of the workplace and whether our young people are capable of meeting those demands” (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991, p. vii). The commission’s 1991 report, What Work Requires of Schools, contrasted the old requirements for success in America, defined as “a strong back, the willingness to work, and a high school diploma,” with what students need in the new American workplace, defined as “a well-developed mind, a passion to learn, and the ability to put knowledge to work” (p. 2). The report criticized schools, saying that “despite their best efforts, most schools have not changed fast enough or moved far enough” to prepare students for the demands of the new workplace (p. 4). It also defined the criteria for success in the workplace in terms of five competencies and three foundational requirements. This was one of the first efforts to define 21st century skills and the role that schools should play in teaching them.

 

Chapter 2 Research and Theory

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In chapter 1, we identified a small set of 21st century skills that have been researched and vetted throughout the 20th century and will likely have great utility throughout the 21st century. Five categories of skills were identified and organized into two sets: cognitive skills and conative skills. Cognitive skills include:

1.  Analyzing and utilizing information

2.  Addressing complex problems and issues

3.  Creating patterns and mental models

Conative skills include:

4.  Understanding and controlling oneself

5.  Understanding and interacting with others

This chapter is a brief but representative review of the research and theory on the cognitive and conative skills addressed in this book.

The 21st century brings increased access to a vast plain of information. The video InfoWhelm and Information Fluency (21st Century Fluency Project, 2010) stated that our worldwide collective digital output by 2009 was five hundred exabytes of data. If you wanted to record five hundred exabytes in printed form, you would need enough books to connect Earth and Pluto thirteen times (and printing them would deforest Earth twelve times)!

 

Chapter 3 Analyzing and Utilizing Information

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Chapter 2 painted a sobering picture of information expanding at exponential rates in the 21st century with virtually no controls on that information. Therefore, analyzing and utilizing information will be a signature 21st century skill.

In this chapter, we address four general categories of strategies and skills that help students effectively analyze and utilize information: (1) navigating digital sources, (2) identifying common logical errors, (3) generating conclusions, and (4) presenting and supporting claims. (Visit marzanoresearch.com/classroomstrategies for a reproducible appendix with additional exercises for analyzing and utilizing information.)

Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that students are not experts at finding information. In a review of forty-nine research studies on the information behavior of young people, Peter Williams and Ian Rowlands (2007) stated that “there is little evidence that young people are expert searchers, or even that their search prowess has improved with time” (p. 9). They reported on research findings that suggest students have difficulty with selecting and modifying search terms, using keywords instead of natural language (sentences) when searching, narrowing their topics, using command language in databases, and planning their searches beforehand. They also noted that students have trouble evaluating their sources for relevance and credibility.

 

Chapter 4 Addressing Complex Problems and Issues

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Addressing complex problems and issues is the second category of 21st century cognitive skills in our model. As described in chapter 1, this new century often presents more complex and frequent problems and issues than the 20th century presented to its citizens. In this chapter, we present three types of strategies that, taken together, constitute a useful set of tools that apply to a variety of complex problems and issues: (1) focus, (2) divergent and convergent thinking, and (3) a problem-solving protocol.

Focus refers to an individual directing his or her attention to a specific issue over an extended period of time. As we saw in chapter 2, the concept of focus is antithetical to the popular notion of multitasking. Or, to state it differently, multitasking while trying to address complex problems and issues is a recipe for disaster.

Given the popularity of multitasking, an important awareness to instill in students is that while multitasking may sometimes be necessary, there are times when it can be detrimental to learning and even dangerous to one’s well-being. Perhaps the best way to broach this topic with students is to present anecdotes about the dangers of multitasking such as the following.

 

Chapter 5 Creating Patterns and Mental Models

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Creating patterns and mental models is our final category of cognitive skills important to the 21st century. In this chapter, we address six types of strategies for creating patterns and mental models: (1) identifying basic relationships between ideas, (2) creating graphic representations, (3) drawing and sketching, (4) generating mental images, (5) conducting thought experiments, and (6) performing mental rehearsal.

Cognitive psychologists tell us that the basic unit of thought for human beings is the proposition (Kintsch, 1974). In basic terms, a proposition is what we would think of as a single clause. More technically and more accurately, a proposition is a statement that can be affirmed or denied. The following are examples of eight basic propositions:

1.  Tina walks.

2.  Tina is pretty.

3.  Tina eats fruit.

4.  Tina is in Denver.

5.  Tina gave a toy to Julia.

6.  Tina hit Lindsay with a pillow.

7.  Tina runs fast.

8.  Tina was overcome with sorrow.

 

Chapter 6 Understanding and Controlling Oneself

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As described in chapter 1, conative skills have both affective and cognitive dimensions. Citizens of the 21st century will face an increasingly more complex world, and the ability to approach this world calmly and rationally will make them successful. As Goleman (1995) noted, people are well served if they cultivate “a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even amidst turbulent emotions” (p. 47). Understanding and controlling oneself is the centerpiece of maintaining self-reflectiveness even in the face of turbulent emotions. In this chapter, we address three types of strategies that are useful to this end: (1) becoming aware of the power of interpretations, (2) cultivating useful ways of thinking, and (3) avoiding negative ways of thinking.

It is natural to believe that our interpretations are reality. For example, a student might see another student frowning at her from across the classroom. She might immediately conclude that the other student is angry with her. In fact, however, the other student might be thinking of an unpleasant chore he must perform while he gazes out the window right above her head. She has interpreted the event as reflecting on her personally, when in fact it has nothing to do with her.

 

Chapter 7 Understanding and Interacting with Others

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In addition to the conative skills described in chapter 6, which concern understanding and controlling oneself, we present a complimentary set of conative skills that involve understanding and interacting with others. As the global population grows and interaction with others becomes more frequent and complex throughout the 21st century, there will be a greater need for schools to teach these skills. This chapter addresses three categories of skills that can help 21st century students understand and interact with others: (1) perspective taking, (2) responsible interaction, and (3) controversy and conflict resolution.

Perspective taking refers to a student’s ability to see an issue from multiple perspectives. While this skill has always been foundational for understanding and interacting with others, its importance has been magnified in a century that offers such rich opportunity for interacting with people across the globe. In order to be able to see an issue from multiple perspectives, students must first be aware that different perspectives can and do exist.

 

Chapter 8 Assessment

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As described in chapter 2, research has shown us that assessment is an important part of the teaching and learning process. More specifically, assessment becomes a powerful instructional tool when it is used to help students. It can help them articulate clear goals they wish to reach by the end of some interval of time, and it can provide them with feedback regarding their current status. Many researchers and theorists have discussed just how to do this in an academic subject area (see Brookhart, 2004; Brookhart & Nitko, 2007; Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2006; Wiliam & Leahy, 2007). However, using assessments to help students set goals and monitor their progress toward those goals for cognitive and conative skills like those described in this book has not been widely addressed.

At Marzano Research Laboratory, we have taken a very specific approach to assessing both academic content as well as cognitive and conative skills. Our recommendations are described here and addressed in several works (Marzano, 2009, 2010; Marzano & Pickering, 2011).

 

Epilogue

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In chapter 1, we noted that this book, Teaching and Assessing 21st Century Skills, only addresses a few of the changes that will be necessary in the coming years. As our audience is primarily the classroom teacher, we focus on those cognitive and conative skills teachers can immediately integrate into the classroom. However, there are systemic changes that will most probably take place in the 21st century as well. As Ian McCoog noted, “When we [adults] … went to school, the ‘three r’s’ were reading, riting, and rithmetic. … This idea has been replaced with the ‘three r’s’ for the 21st century: rigor, relevance, and real world skills” (McCoog, 2008, pp. 2–3). On a large scale, the education system will need to integrate technology into the classroom in a relevant and adaptable way, begin a fundamental accountability shift from the teacher to the student, and discard the time-based structure of the education system in favor of a proficiency-based structure. Briefly, we address these three systemic changes.

 

Appendix A: Answers to Comprehension Questions

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1.  How might you help students develop keywords to use when searching?

Using a thesaurus or doing preliminary online research (for example, browsing sites related to their topic) to create a list of related terms are both strategies that students might utilize. Making a list of synonyms, cause-and-effect words, more specific terms, or proper nouns related to the research topic can also provide meaningful keywords for searching.

2.  What are the defining features of errors of faulty logic, attack, weak reference, and misinformation?

Faulty logic is a failure to use proper logic. Attack focuses on irrelevant information. Weak reference means using untrustworthy or unreliable sources. Misinformation is the use of incorrect information or the misapplication of information.

3.  Why is it important for students to evaluate both the validity and the truth of deductive conclusions?

A valid conclusion logically follows its premises. However, if the premises are untrue, then the conclusion may also be untrue. Valid conclusions are not necessarily true.

 

Appendix B: Scales for 21st Century Skills

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• Applies the strategy in unusual situations, employs elements that were not explicitly taught, or both

No major errors or omissions regarding the score 4.0 content

• Analyzes and evaluates websites for the validity of their content

No major errors or omissions regarding the score 3.0 content

•  Can describe important considerations to keep in mind when examining websites

•  Can describe situations in which checking for the validity of information found on the Internet would be important

•  Can describe or recognize examples of legitimate and illegitimate websites

No major errors or omissions regarding the score 2.0 content

Even with help, no success

•  Applies the strategy in unusual situations, identifies logical errors that go beyond those that were explicitly taught, or both

No major errors or omissions regarding the score 4.0 content

•  Analyzes appropriate information for common logical errors

No major errors or omissions regarding the score 3.0 content

 



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