Teaching 21st Century Skills: An ASCD Action Tool

The ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) has long been a tremendous source for the professional development of administrators and teachers. In Teaching 21st Century Skills: An ASCD Action Tool, author Sue Z. Beers delivers a well-written and concise explanation of a workable framework of twenty-first-century skills, as well as delightfully easy ways to implement tools for advancing those skills in the classroom. The framework and the tools together knock down many of the barriers teachers, administrators, and boards face as they seek to build schools that are both transformative and relevant.

Models of twenty-first-century school skills have been floating around for at least the last decade. Sue Beers happens to use one of the most commonly applied frameworks from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (http://www.p21.org/overview), which emphasizes the mastery of core subjects at higher levels of understanding, learning skills and metacognition, the use of technology as tools, real-world application, and the mastery of diverse sets of literacies. At its core, the framework is a road map for good teaching. Lessons are artfully designed learning experiences that engage and motivate students to be intentional about their learning and monitor that learning carefully. Technology is embedded into the experiences, and students use devices where it is appropriate, but more important are the employability and life skills that are cultivated. Teachers build opportunities for students to collaborate, take responsibility for their work and outcomes, and reflect on how they have used these skills to complete the learning task. In its three small introductory chapters, this action tool explains precisely what twenty-first-century skills are, what they look like, and how they are allied with current best practices.

The true beauty of this resource, however, lies in the last two sections. What makes this book an action tool that is both handy for administrators and essential for teachers are the instructional planning tools and classroom tools for students. Designing learning experiences that advance twenty-first-century skills is laid out step-by-step using the checklists, tracking sheets, and planners that are provided. Because students are expected to track their own progress and accomplishments, templates for student learning plans are all included. Teachers will be delighted to find forty-five ready-to-use classroom activities including (gasp!) worksheets. A master list or key in the form of a grid tells which of the twenty-first-century skills each task addresses, thereby enabling teachers to plan a wide range of activities that cover the spectrum of skills. Each activity comes complete with tips, follow-up discussion plans for the teacher, and suggestions to use technology in the task. Each tool for teacher or student use is available for download at www.ascd.org/downloads and is accessible with a code found in the book. The files are in PDF format, and are compatible with both PC and Macintosh computers. There is a main menu that lets educators navigate through the various sections and print hard copies by individual document or by section. For students with access to mobile devices, apps such as GoodReader will allow students to annotate PDFs and hand them in by email or by remote cloud technology.

Many schools are struggling to find usable resources on the topic of twenty-first-century education. This ASCD action tool is a practical and readable resource for schools just starting along this journey, or for those schools who are further along but need accountability for teachers in documenting their instructional goals. For teachers, the greatest value in this resource is the ability to communicate to students the skills they are expected to demonstrate, and also to be accountable to administration for teaching and assessing diverse sets of skills and literacies. Those proficiencies good teachers have always addressed, but now require increased intentionality.

Teaching 21st Century Skills: An ASCD Action Tool removes many of the barriers that tend to prevent schools from setting and meeting integration targets. Schools that feel ill equipped to tackle twenty-first-century education will be pleased to know that most, if not all, of the tasks can be done well without technology. The skills and literacies defined and classified by the framework are not new. They are just in greater demand with increased globalization. Many of the activities teachers have been using for decades to engage students with collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking (the four C’s), remain integral to transformative instructional design, but within a new context and culture of accountability. Because technology is treated as an invited guest to the party, but not the poster child for twenty-first-century education, schools can use this tool to employ the framework and advance their mission to include transformative and relevant realms. No matter on what side of the digital divide a board or staff has taken up residence, Teaching 21st Century Skills offers a menu of instructional activities that cultivate understandings and skills that benefit students and aid us in our mission to educate students to become passionate disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.