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Learning Practices That Best Support Development of 21st Century Skills
November 2011 • Sue Jackson

As part of our continuing series dealing with 21st century teaching and learning, this month's tip asks: What learning practices best support the development of 21st century skills?

Integrating 21st century skills into daily classroom life takes careful consideration of teaching and learning methods. In their book, 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, Twilling and Fadel outline several learning practices evident in today's classrooms. The pairings of teaching and learning methods in the chart below represent both ends of the spectrum. In order to find the right balance for each learner, teachers must blend both. For example, a combination of approaches from modelling, shared practice, and guided practice are essential when students are learning to apply comprehension strategies independently.

Chart: 21st Century Learning Balance
Teacher-directed Learner-directed
Direct Instruction Interactive exchange
Knowledge Skills
Content Process
Basic skills Applied Skills
Facts and principles Questions and problems
Theory Practice
Curriculum-based Project-based
Time-slotted On-demand
One-size-fits-all Personalized
Competitive Collaborative
Classroom Global community
Text-based Web-based
Summative tests Formative assessments
Learning for school Learning for life
from Trilling, Bernie and Fadel, Charles, 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009.

Classrooms where teachers are shifting their practices to meet the needs of 21st century learners have some of these in common:

  • Learning is centred around "big ideas"
  • Inquiry is the core of teaching—questions promote problem-solving
  • Learning is relevant to students outside of the classroom
  • Students are highly engaged
  • Students have choice and voice in their learning
  • Students take ownership for their own learning
  • Teacher acts as guide/facilitator
  • Project-based learning
  • Classroom/school-wide projects where students explore passions
  • Student-driven research projects
  • Students collaborate in small groups, teams, partners
  • Higher-order thinking is imperative for all
  • Integration of curriculum outcomes
  • Technology is used to enhance and expand learning
  • Students work to support each other
  • Assessment is on-going and drives instruction and learning
  • Students use self-assessment to set goals

Sue Jackson, a classroom teacher for 20 years, is an enthusiastic and innovative author, speaker, consultant, and educator.

Scholastic Education
National Literacy Consultant

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Also available online, previous Teaching Tips for
Scholastic Education resources:

Literacy Place for the Early Years (K–3)

Moving Up with Literacy Place (4–6)

Stepping Up with Literacy Place (7–9)

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