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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Becoming a 21st Century School or District: Embed the 4Cs in Curriculum and Assessment (Step 5 of 7)

Ken Kay

Ken is the CEO of EdLeader21

Welcome back to our series on becoming a 21st century school or district. For the earlier installments of this series, please scroll to the bottom of this page.

We often get asked to show folks what 21st century skills can look like in the classroom. Here is a video from the Pearson Foundation focused on High Tech High in San Diego.

Before the 4Cs can be embedded in the classroom, they need to be incorporated into curriculum and assessment. That is the goal of step 5.

Embed the 4Cs into Curricula and PD using Understanding by Design (UbD)

A methodology we recommend for embedding the 4Cs into curricula is Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design (UbD). UbD is well-suited to 4Cs curricula design for two primary reasons:

1. UbD is not agnostic about the goal of teaching and learning -- it focuses exclusively on student understanding.

2. UbD requires a backwards design methodology.

When it is done well, the process of backwards-designing 4Cs curriculum becomes the primary platform for professional learning throughout the district.

In Catalina Foothills School District in Arizona, over 200 teachers participate every summer in improving inquiry-based learning units in subjects such as middle school science. They use assessment data to figure out what's working and what's not to make their curricula and assessment systems more effective.

In their first year in North Salem Central School District, New York, Superintendent Kenneth Freeston and his deputy superintendent, Mike Hibbard, asked educators to work together in writing the curriculum, which focused on critical thinking and creativity. In the second year they looked back at the curriculum to determine what improvements were needed.

As Hibbard described it, "We wanted to look at the good, the bad and the ugly." The collaborative sessions among teachers occur during the school year, using release time and scheduled PD days. Educators found the sessions worthwhile because it was relevant and timely in helping them refine their own practices.

The 4Cs and Assessment

It is impossible to develop a coherent approach to curricula without diving deeply into assessment.

We know some days it doesn't feel like the rest of education is headed in the direction of 21st century education. But if one looks at recent developments in the Common Core standards, the AP exam and the PISA exams, it is clear that the assessment world is slowly but surely beginning to emphasize assessment of critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Some assessment strategies you can focus on in the near term include:

Rubrics

Many districts are working with us in EdLeader21 to develop a "master set" of rubrics for the 4Cs. That work should be available in the summer of 2012.

Portfolio Assessments

These are incredibly helpful for educators interested in measuring the 4C's. The Envision Schools in Northern California have made major progress developing a system for portfolio assessment for the 4Cs.

Assessment for Project-Based Learning

The New Tech schools have developed tools for assessing 21st century outcomes in the context of project-based learning. See the snapshot below for an example.

Click to enlarge


Capstone projects

In most cases, capstone projects tend to take the form of culminating projects at the end of middle school and/or high school. Upper Arlington City Schools (OH) have implemented a senior capstone approach that integrates the 4Cs into its assessment.

Reflection

For each of the student outcomes that you selected in step one as part of your 21st century vision answer the following questions:

  • Does your school or district have a widely adopted definition of this outcome?
  • Is the curricula designed to produce this outcome?
  • Do students and parents get feedback on how students are performing against this outcome?
  • Do teachers get feedback on how they are teaching this outcome?
  • Do you and your board get feedback on the degree to which the system is producing this outcome?

Conclusion

Now that you've read step 5, you can see how critical alignment is in the areas of curriculum and assessment. Next we will focus on a key ally in this process, your teachers. You can't get where you want to go without them, so adequately supporting them is essential. We'll work on that challenge next week.

See you then!

Used with permission by EdLeader21 (C) All rights reserved 2011.

Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Bruno Behrend's picture
Bruno Behrend
Director - Center for Transforming Education at The Heartland Institute

I know I'm one of the few people who raise this issue relative to education, but why do we even need school districts in the 21 Century (or any other for that matter?)

I would make the case that all of the above points (4Cs, 7 habits, etc.) are either made impossible or more difficult by the "district" infrastructure.

Districts are not independent. They are creatures of the state school code, which is increasingly a creature of whatever new fad they are promoting out of DC and the DOE.

None of these top-down bureaucratic infrastructures are necessary, or even conducive, to connect one neuron in one child's head. ALL of the ideas to improve "school leaders" and "school leadership" should be done at the school level.

The 21st century should be the century where we unwind the needless entity called a school district, and start the process of 1000s of new, independent schools.

Andrew Davidson's picture
Andrew Davidson
HS computer science teacher

In this article, you never state what the four Cs are, for the benefit of readers who might not know them.

Teacher01's picture

I think it is very important that when we are working with PLC's that we use assessment data to guide instructional planning. Collaborating in professional learning communities is a great way to share the responsiblity of increasing student achievement and learning. When we teach with the end in mind it allows us to be more reflective and analytical about our practices. The project-based learning, student portfolios, rubrics, and capstone projects mentioned are authentic ways to assess student learning and growth. Analyzing this type of data will be more beneficial than pencil and paper tests because authentic assessments are designed to meet the needs and interests of the students.

Teacher 1210's picture

I would also like to know what the four C's are. I agree with Teacher01 one reply hundred percent. I currently enrolled in a Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment masters program. Some of our topic have been about collaboration and reflection. So these topics are currently on my mind. Being a Intervention Specialist, I do a lot of collaboration and wish the teachers I worked with really understood your comment. Maybe we need to incorporate more PLC project-based learning into our curriculum. I do some project-based learning when I am doing solo teaching but not in the co-teaching settings. In the field of special education its essential to our students success to have portfolios, rubrics, and capstone projects. The last part of her post makes the biggest difference in ensure our students' success

Ken Kay's picture
Ken Kay
Ken is the CEO of EdLeader21
Blogger

I am sorry i didn't put the four C's in this blog. (they were in most of the previous ones.) The 4 C's are:
--critical thinking
--communication
--collaboration
--creativity
However, many of the districts that we are working with use the 4 C's as a starting point for their discussions. Many of them add other 21st century outcomes such as:
--global competence
--self-direction
--tech literacy
--financial literacy.
The 4 C's are just meant as a starting point for your school or district's discussion about 21st century learning outcomes.
Hope this is helpful.

Ken

Ken Kay's picture
Ken Kay
Ken is the CEO of EdLeader21
Blogger

I really want to address this question of whether we should be helping districts with their 21st century education strategy. I must say I'm a little amazed by the inference that we should help school leaders but not district leaders. To me, both school and district leaders need to understand the critical role each can play in 21st century education.

Those school reform advocates who just focus on school level reform, haven't gotten far enough. Their reforms don't work and don't scale if district leaders are not supportive. Moreover, district leaders currently hold the purse strings. For those reason we need a generation of district leaders who understand "distributed leadership" and what they need to do to support transformational efforts at the school level.

We were just with 150 leaders of education from around the country who are implementing the 4 C's and 21st century education at both the school and district level. It was re-affirming to see district leaders who really understand what they need to do to move the 4 C's forward at the school level. I think it is a mistake to write these visionary leaders off. Rather they can serve as role models for a new generation of district leadership. The liklihood that we can scale as fast as we need to by doing these reforms school by school seems very remote to me.

Daniel's picture
Daniel
Social Science teacher from California

I would agree that the idea of these 4 C's is a great start to thinking about the restructuring of the education system as a whole. I do feel that schools today lack the capability (for a variety of reasons) to properly prepare students for the 21st century work place. More importantly, I feel that students are not being taught how to actually use the knowledge that they acquire. We need to focus on how to actually connect the curriculum and standards to real life/job skill applications. Take social studies for instance, many of the standards today just focus on analyzing key events, which is good, but it does nothing for the students post-college. What we should begin to think about is how to teach social science in such a matter, that students can take what they have learned from key events in history and applying to present and future issues. I believe that many teachers can and would do this, however, the standards and the time restraints do not allow for us to do so. Ironically, the Four C's can thrive greatly in the social science department, despite the fact that social science today seems to be losing out in concern to Language Arts and Math.

Daniel's picture
Daniel
Social Science teacher from California

I would agree that the idea of these 4 C's is a great start to thinking about the restructuring of the education system as a whole. I do feel that schools today lack the capability (for a variety of reasons) to properly prepare students for the 21st century work place. More importantly, I feel that students are not being taught how to actually use the knowledge that they acquire. We need to focus on how to actually connect the curriculum and standards to real life/job skill applications. Take social studies for instance, many of the standards today just focus on analyzing key events, which is good, but it does nothing for the students post-college. What we should begin to think about is how to teach social science in such a matter, that students can take what they have learned from key events in history and applying to present and future issues. I believe that many teachers can and would do this, however, the standards and the time restraints do not allow for us to do so. Ironically, the Four C's can thrive greatly in the social science department, despite the fact that social science today seems to be losing out in concern to Language Arts and Math.

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