Preparing Students for THEIR Futures: 21st Century Skills and the Common Core


Teaching21stCenturySkills-Cover-BeersBy Sue Z. Beers, ASCD author of Teaching 21st Century Skills: An ASCD Action Tool

Two of my grandchildren visited this weekend. Their 2- and 4-year-old antics are the source of great joy and wonder for me.  And I wonder as well: How prepared will they be to enter a career and adult life that we cannot even imagine at this time? How will what they are learning right now contribute to their future success in life? How does education need to change to ensure that they are prepared to meet the challenges of a future that is mostly unknown?

The development of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was a vital first step in the process of defining the skills that will lead to future success in college and careers. Combine the common core standards with 21st century skills, and a powerful formula for teaching and learning is created.  By adding the four Cs of 21st century skills—communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity—to the design and implementation of the CCSS, students practice valuable skills that will be needed to continue to learn throughout their lives.

Putting this formula into action means that core content skills are grounded in and learned through the literacy CCSS standards and the 21st century skills. This enables students to become not just consumers of academic content, but creators and users of what they are learning. So what does this look like in practice? A classroom that is preparing students for their future

–  Applies content to real-world applications that call for students to solve problems, think creatively, and work with others to develop solutions.

–  Leads students to a deep understanding of the content through a carefully crafted set of questions that demand answers that are based on evidence from text.

–  Engages students in collaborative groups to conduct investigations, discuss and share learnings, and create products that demonstrate what was learned.

– Asks students to think metacognitively about what they have learned and the process they used to learn it.

–  Uses technology as a tool for learning and for connecting students globally to develop deep understanding of key ideas and concepts.

–  Requires students to wrestle with complex problems that engage them in higher-order thinking skills.

–  Gives students the license and the responsibility to craft their own learning paths and direct their own learning.

–  Helps students make sense of their world by connecting what they learn with what they know, with other content areas, and with other ideas.

–  Focuses instruction away from “knowing” to being able to use and apply information in relevant ways.

The key to effective implementation of both the CCSS and 21st century skills is active, interesting tasks. Students need to wrestle with real-life problems that are engaging and relevant. Involvement in the process of solving problems builds a culture of inquiry, in which the asking and answering of one’s own questions becomes the center of instruction. Students become creative problem-solvers who use high levels of thinking as they apply content knowledge in innovative ways. They are literate individuals who can read multiple types of text efficiently and who can share what they learn effectively.

This is an exciting and amazing time to be an educator. Even in the midst of titanic changes in curriculum and assessment, there has never been a time when so many have been moving in the same direction. With the advent of the CCSS and the knowledge of the skills necessary to be successful in the 21st century, we have a “perfect storm” of ideas to use in creating an educational system that will truly prepare students for THEIR future and not the world of our past.

How are you bringing the four Cs of 21st century skills to life in your classroom?

Editor’s note: Learn more about how to incorporate 21st century skills into instruction with Sue Beers’ ASCD Action Tool, Teaching 21st Century Skills: An ASCD Action Tool, available now in print. Free sample tools are available online.