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21st Century Skills
October 2011 • Sue Jackson

Over the next few months, the Teaching Tips will deal with topics relating to 21st century teaching and learning. This month's tip focuses on the question: What are 21st century skills?

Twenty-first century skills are learning and innovation skills considered by experts to be crucial in preparing students to handle the challenges of life in a changing world. "Information and communication technologies are raising the bar on the competencies needed to succeed in the 21st century . . . and they are compelling us to revisit many of our assumptions and beliefs." (21st Century Literacy Summit Report, 2002, p.4) Simply put, 21st century skills are: ways of thinking, ways of working, tools for working, and skills for living in the world. The following chart outlines the skills with accompanying descriptors of student behaviours:

Creativity and Innovation
  • Imagine
  • Brainstorm
  • Design
  • Create
  • Invent
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Identify problems
  • Evaluate options
  • Justify arguments
  • Analyze and evaluate evidence
  • Make decisions
  • Synthesize information
Collaboration and Communication
  • Ask questions
  • Write compellingly
  • Present effectively
  • Build an effective team
  • Exercise flexibility
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Organize group discussions
Personal Development
  • Set goals
  • Identify mentors
  • Be a leader
  • Work independently
  • Be a self-directed learner
  • Explore jobs and careers
  • Leverage strengths of others to accomplish a common goal
  • Take initiative
  • Demonstrate entrepreneurialism
Global Citizenship
  • Understand multiple perspectives
  • Understand other nations and cultures
  • Work effectively in diverse teams
  • Respond open-mindedly to different ideas and values
Information and Media Literacy
  • Develop a research plan
  • Analyze media
  • Organize data
  • Access and analyze information
  • Evaluate sources of information
Digital Competence
  • Use software and the Internet appropriately
  • Protect self on the Internet
  • Use technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate and communicate information

In your classroom, try to incorporate a range of techniques to encourage development of these critical skills for the future. Students need to think in original and innovative ways, they must see failure as an opportunity for learning and improvement, and be open to the ideas of others. Teaching 21st century skills doesn't necessarily mean using a lot of technology—sometimes it's simply a matter of approaching an assignment differently to allow students to demonstrate skills such as teamwork, collaboration, and self-directed learning. Equally important is making sure students understand how to advance to the next level of a skill. This is often done with rubrics that explain clearly what effective skills look like in practice.

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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