Chapter 7: Twenty-first Century Skills
Second, I am an IB teacher in an IB school- and as members of the International Baccalaureate Organization, we benefit from a similar parallel curriculum to pair with our teaching. If you scroll down, you'll see an overview of the terms included in the IB program. I quickly made a lot of connections between the IB program and the list of skills suggested by Paul Solarz- no need to add on another project, since I already work with such a similar framework (sorry Paul!).
Yes, it's also a long list.
Yes, it can get way more detailed than what you see below.
And yes, it takes time to learn it all.
The IBO has the benefit of being an established organization, with standard operating procedures- read: tricks and tips that can make a parallel curriculum accessible to all teachers. With ease-of-use and simplicity in mind, here are a few ways to make this parallel curriculum more user-friendly.
Teach through units
A novice teacher may think teaching individual stand-alone units is easier than planning a 4-6 week unit, but they would be wrong! While it takes some getting used to, planning and teaching in unit formats will save you time, effort, energy, and frustration in the long run. Here are a few reasons why I love units:
Divide & Regroup
Now that you are teaching in units (that was fast!), you can divide up your parallel curriculum, whether it be Solarz's 21st century skills, or the IBO program, or anything else and sprinkle the skills in your units throughout the year. What I mean by this is that you will not be able to hit all the skills and concepts you want to in one unit. That's okay. By focusing on 2 or 3 per unit, you can give each skill the time it deserves, and touch on most if not all of them throughout the year. Some skills also naturally lend themselves to certain units, so why not embrace that connection?
Keep it Documented
Through the IB program, teachers plan 6 units a year (6-8 weeks each). Each unit must touch on a few attitudes, attributes, and concepts. Since our units are so well documented, we teachers can ensure that all the outlined skills are taught during the year. When units are updated or retired, we can also make sure new units touch on the necessary skills.
Another benefit of the IB program, which I am not trying to sell, I'm just a big fan of such of this comprehensive and well-rounded program, is that the whole school has agreed to teach with this framework. This ensures all these skills are taught and reinforced every year, with every teacher! With teachers and students using the same vocabulary to highlight these skills, students are aware and reflective of this parallel curriculum.
In the end, whatever you choose to do, it doesn't have to be the IB program. Find a way to make it work for you. While I have no doubt that teachers are teaching a secondary curriculum, having a list, or program to refer to can help make sure you touch on all the skills you judge important. What system works best for you? for your school?
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Chapter 6: Active Learning
Well what do you know, the most significant learning experiences I've had in my life have been from actually doing what I was learning. Yes, the textbooks, and websites, and lectures, helped set up learning, but what really cemented knowledge acquisition was doing them.
You'll remember Edgar Dale's Cone of Learning from your university days. It makes sense that the highest retention rate happens when students do what they are supposed to be learning. Giving your students the opportunity to practice what they are learning and talk about it will make your class one of the most successful!
Solarz offers up 6 great ways to integrate active learning in your practice. but I will focus on simulation, because it's the one that transfers easiest to my job now as a grade 1 & 2 French Immersion teacher! (also, simulations are the best and tons of fun!)
What is simulation?
A friend of mine once called what we do "edu-tainment".
I think that great word is a start to describing all the crazy things teachers do! I love all the fun, imaginative things I get to witness and take part in as a teacher, and simulations allow me to do even more of that, with pedagogical goals in mind! As a teacher, you have the power to completely overhaul your students' classroom experience. Since you want learning to stick, and be as memorable as possible, why not have your students experience the concept you're teaching? At first, this requires a lot of creativity, and planning, but after a while, it becomes second nature!
Here is a most recent classroom example. A few weeks ago, I began a unit on transportation with my grade 2 class. The central idea is transportation systems are created to meet the needs of people. Throughout this unit, students will learn about different modes of transportation, how they evolved as responses to different people's needs, and their effects on the environment. The stage was set for The Amazing (grade 2) Race!
Our first simulation was driving to New York City! Students created their driver's licenses (probationary, of course!) and their passports (great way to integrate some math -measurement- in there!). We made steering wheels out of straws and connectors, and each got in our own "cars" (chairs moved to the front of the class). Excitement levels were high, and that's something that happens with simulations- student engagement! We buckled our seat belts, and drove off to The Big Apple, watching a driving simulation from YouTube. I joked with a few my students that their inattention to the road or speeding might cost them their license, and this prompted a great discussion- shouldn't some of us be getting in the same car as our friends? It's not very good for our planet to take 19 separate cars to the same place, we should share! One student said we should have taken a bus. Another student said his dad's car is electric, so that's good for the environment.
That discussion maybe could have taken place without the simulation. But my students were engaged, had fun, and will remember the loud afternoon we drove down to NYC! Since we need to cross a border to get the city, they even got to experience a border agent verifying their passport (your truly) and get a new stamp in their passport. Who said learning can't be fun?
I hope this book, or this blog, prompts you to try one of the 6 suggested forms of active learning in your classroom! There is so much fun to be had by experiencing learning first-hand, no student should miss out!
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Chapter 5: Responsibility
First, a little quiz. Read the following statements, and, on a scale of 1-10, how much do you agree with the following statements. (1: disagree completely, 10: completely agree!)
If on average, you agree or really agree with the above statements, you might be a power-hungry teacher. You are probably also very tired. Uh oh! What if I told you there's a way to get things done, and have energy and time for yourself- it's possible I tell you!
It's time to hand it over!
Frees you up to focus on teaching!
Makes your students more independent!
Responsibility gives kids ownership over their space!
What this looks like in my classroom...
There are a few things I like to do so that students feel their voice is heard in our classroom. Some jobs are one person jobs, and are part of our classroom jobs board. These jobs change when my students tell me it's time to change it (seriously, I love hearing a second grader tell me we haven't changed the jobs in a while, and we probably should- because they then get to put their idea in place, gather the class, and change it up!). Here are a few examples.
What about your classroom?
Please, share with me what jobs your students take charge of. I am always looking for opportunities to empower my students and make them more independent. Actually, my students are now the ones that look for jobs they can do- they love finally feeling like big kids! I can't wait to hear about the responsibilities you've shared with your students!
As always, to buy the book for yourself, click here!
Chapter 4: Improvement Focus vs. Grade Focus
Let's talk about feedback, folks.
This chapter prompted a lot of self-reflection. How do I give feedback to my kids? What verb tense do I use when I give feedback? Who can provide my students with feedback? What do I hope to achieve when teaching a lesson? Most importantly: what is my goal for my students?
That last one, I can answer easily: my goal is to guide my students to become lifelong, self-propelled learners. Feedback is such an important part of this objective- this is how we can help our students learn from their mistakes, and learn how to learn. With that in mind, let's dive into it: how can an improvement-focused classroom help your students become self-propelled learners.
. If your schooling experience is anything like mine, you may remember studying (cramming) for an exam, memorizing key terms and dates only to regurgitate them on the test- and a week later, you would have forgotten everything. From a teacher's perspective, that's a nightmare. From a student's perspective, that's a pain in the butt. It's useless for both teacher and students.
Now, let's learn about the remedy for that nonsense. An improvement-focused classroom is one that focus on growth, and progress. There is no "end" to learning, and there is no limit on learning. There is always room to improve.
Here are some characteristics of the improvement-focused classroom:
When a class's focus shifts from results to process, feedback becomes increasingly important. If you seek to help your students grow at every opportunity, you need to be providing them with frequent feedback. If you really want to step up your game, teaching your students how to give feedback will be a game-changer. It will both free you up to work with other students (finally, you won't be the only person your students can turn to) and your students will get used to receiving feedback form different voices.
By focusing on the process of learning, you can help your students make connections that may have otherwise been overlooked. As we know, the more connections your students can make, the more relevant learning will be to them, and the more it will stick.
some final thoughts...
I am sure the classroom environment described above is what every teacher dreams of. In the real world however, we have deadlines, report cards, government testing and all the rest of that kerfuffle. It's important to acknowledge that the road to an improvement-focused classroom may not be easy. But just because something is difficult, it doesn't mean it's not worth doing.
I also think that changing your focus from grades to improvement is an investment. It may be difficult at first to convert your students (and parents, and colleagues, ...) but let's imagine a world where teachers changed their focus. Let's imagine what type of students that would produce. Isn't that worth it?
I'll end with this important saying, from one of my favourite professors.
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My name is