With one prominent exception, 21st century teaching and learning best practices are largely the same even if the century numbers are inverted. Sound, effective educational best practices in the 21st century share certain strategic, timeless characteristics. To that end, we have identified ten experience based Hallmarks of 21st Century Teaching and Learning that can be used as touchstones in the educator's pedagogical approach to teaching and learning.
The overarching caveat, of course, is that technology in the 21st century has permeated most aspects of education and culture and has changed everything. How we, as educators, use technology with our students is now the key to unlocking those 21st century global skillsets so that our students can lead and compete in a world where geography has become, in many ways, superfluous.
1. Project Based Learning
Project Based Learning is the primary gateway through which the Hallmarks are realized. There are consistent characteristics that make a Project viable. Some of these are that Projects should be:
- Student Centered
Just as any discussion about the design of 21st century teaching/learning spaces includes, by nature, flexibility of those spaces, so too the design of 21st century teaching and learning must also be flexible. With technology an integral aspect of our lives, more than ever our students have individual learning styles that must be taken into account. PBL provides a plethora of opportunities for students and teachers to be engaged in ways that are best suited to their optimum learning styles.
This short video demonstrates a real world boat building Project featuring middle grade students at a Philadelphia charter school that authentically models these characteristics:
2. Ownership and Engagement
When students are interested and invested in the completion of a school-based project, they begin to own their educational processes. With ownership, all aspects of their school career, including mastery of curriculum become important to them. With ownership also comes:
- Personal responsibility
- Strategies like critical thinking and generating hypotheses and extension of learning becomes commonplace
- Motivation to succeed
Ownership starts with you, the teacher! Get invested in the processes of PBL. Initiate projects with your students that interest you, so you can authentically model ownership.
Ownership and engagement are essentially 2 sides of the same coin. When students take ownership and personal responsibility for the successful outcome of their Project, it follows that they are engaged and interested. Any good Service Learning project will present students with many opportunities to think critically, make hypotheses, and extend what they have learned. Engagement is the door to performing these important skills, which in turn, engenders academic and civic success.
This high school Project activity using the built environment is a great example of student engagement:
3. Collaborative Teaching and Cooperative Learning
Teacher collaborations present powerful opportunities for educators to learn from each other, which can increase the strategies available to them in their pedagogical toolboxes. With technology, it is now just as possible to collaborate virtually with the teacher across the globe as it is across the hall.
Students working cooperatively in small groups to achieve project-based goals is a powerful strategy to achieve curricular and standards based objectives. Moreover, when students are focused on the goals of a project, they are more inclined to negotiate with their peers which clarifies their understandings and solidifies their learning. The cooperative nature of small groups working together for successful completion of the project also has an extremely positive effect on the classroom climate and behavior issues are significantly mitigated.
This Project with post graduate students demonstrates experientially collaboration and cooperation:
4. Citizenship, Leadership, and Personal Responsibility
Development of good citizenship skills as part of the fabric of teaching and learning is critical to the long term, real-life success of our students.
Civic skills give greater depth, context and meaning to student mastery of curriculum and standards. Integral to a Project is the inclusion of Community Partnerships. Professionals who freely give their time and expertise to benefit students are models of good citizenship.
Project Based Learning requires administrative and teacher leadership while developing those qualities in our students. One of the key components of effective leadership is having the humility to know what you don't know and having the ability to listen and learn, from those who do. So, for teachers and administrators:
- Leadership involves having the inner strength to make decisions and to take personal responsibility for the consequences of those decisions
- Leadership is enabling those whom you lead to be innovative problem solvers without feeling threatened by their success
- Leadership is being able to buffer and protect those you lead from distractions and impediments so they may carry out their responsibilities unimpeded by those distractions
- Leadership is the ability to turn mistakes into "teachable moments" rather than "blamable moments"
- Leadership is knowing when to step back to give opportunities for those in your charge to take the lead, while understanding that ultimate responsibility rests with you
- Leaders understand that leadership is a way of life and therefore unbound by the time constraints of the school or business day/week
It is incumbent upon us as educators to instill in our students that, as much as the teachers have a responsibility to present information in interesting, informative, and innovative ways, students also have the personal responsibility to make sure that they have mastered the requisite information to satisfy the goals and objectives of the Project. Student engagement, ownership, and interest in the successful completion of the Project engenders personal responsibility. Ultimately, one of our most critical functions as educators is to inculcate this sense of personal responsibility in our students.
5: Community Partnerships
Community Partners are the heart of Project Based and 21st century teaching and learning. Having real-world professionals and others in the community work with our students to help address real-world problems present powerful opportunities for students to get involved and engaged as citizens and leaders while achieving and retaining, curricular and standards-based proficiencies. Community Partners also model good citizenship/leadership and provide opportunities for taking class trips that are fun and demonstrate real-world learning skills.
This video demonstrates how Community Partnerships both in, and out of, classrooms can have a transformational effect on students:
6. Mastery of Curriculum and Higher Order Thinking Skills
The primary rationale to employ Project Based Learning is, in fact, as a tool for student achievement, both academically and socially. A project's success is ultimately determined by whether the project-based activities are connected to grade appropriate curriculum and state standards and more importantly, whether these connections enable students to achieve mastery across a range of academic disciplines. We have seen that when students work within the Project Based methodology they own their educational processes, are engaged in a project's activities, work cooperatively to achieve success, and see citizenship modeled by the Community Partners, then mastery of curriculum becomes more likely.
This video shows second graders making and testing hypotheses:
Universal access to the internet by our students has changed the equation of how they learn, whether we, as educators, are ready for this change or not. Unlike the traditional teaching and learning experience, with the Project Based methodology students are gaining knowledge experientially. Rather than feeding the students disconnected facts to be regurgitated on a test, Project Teachers coach the students to apply that knowledge to real world situations which engenders Higher Order Thinking Skills like evaluation, synthesis, and analysis. Many of the videos on the Guerilla Educators blog authentically demonstrate HOTS in Action.
7. Technology and 21st Century Skills
Technology is the #2 pencil of the 21st century. As such, any good Service Learning project will be embedded with a wide array of real-world technology-based applications. We still, by and large, teach interminably about how to use tech applications with our students. Well, that ship has sailed given the fact that the younger we are, the greater our ability to use technology in an agile way. So now, more than ever we need an educational paradigm shift away from learning how to use technology and towards using it.
This high school Project activity using the built environment is a great example of students using technology:
8. The Teachable Moment
Agile educators nimbly take advantage of those "off the curriculum grid" spontaneous learning opportunities when they occur. These teachable moments are powerful opportunities for effective, authentic teaching and learning to take place. Being able to identify and use real-time teachable moments is one of those transcendent qualities that good educators possess.
9. Reporting and Celebration
Students will report out to peers, school staff, and the larger community:
- What they learned
- How they addressed the problems or issues
- Their final products
- They will be celebrated for their important, authentic, real-time work
As a 4th grader concisely put it some years ago, "Teacher John, if it ain't fun, why would we do it?" School and Fun? While the terms are usually perceived to be in diametric opposition to each other, students having FUN within the framework of their school-based activities is an integral aspect of Effective Teaching and Learning and is one of the overarching links that facilitate academic and civic success.
This short video is a compilation from 2 elementary schools conducting on-site water monitoring and having FUN: