Saturday, October 11, 2008

What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning?

Last week two completely separate events inspired this post. First, I had the honor of visiting three schools to respond to the topic of this blog, "What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning?" The topic was definitely on my mind. Then, while browsing Jeff Utecht's Universe, his link to Pro Blog Design's "25 Ways to Spice Up Blog Post Photos" caught my eye. I'm sure Jeff's intent was to link readers to tips for improving blog graphics, but I never got past the second paragraph. I stopped at, "A post without any graphs, drawing, or photos can look daunting." Now, I'm a brand new blogger and I am still learning the rules. I had not considered using pictures in previous blog posts. I apologize for publishing so much daunting text. That ends today!

I love images. I chose this fabulous graphic from the online collection Library of Congress Prints and Photographs to shape the theme of my presentation, What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning? Does it seem odd to select an image from 1905 to make a 21st century point? Bear with me, this historic image communicates an important message. Please understand, I am driven to help teachers know and be able to "lead the learning" of 21st Century skills in our public schools. While I admire the Framework for 21st Century Skills, published by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and I genuinely appreciate the enGauge 21st Century Skills model, I know teachers need to move beyond models to "cut right to the chase." They need a clear picture of today's challenge. Thus the 1905 image and my simplified response to a loaded question: What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning?

Take a close look at the picture the Library of Congress labeled "A modern training school." Girls are sewing and cooking. Boys are woodworking. The students are using the TOOLS of the era to prepare for the work of the era. The teachers are working beside their students, coaching and mentoring them as they refine skills that transfer beyond the schoolhouse to life in the real world. Zoom in. Look a bit closer. The TOOLS include needles, knives, chisels, hammers, picks, heat, ovens. The tools of the age are potentially dangerous - but they aren't blocked from the school. Teachers are teaching students to use the tools of the age - and use them safely.

One more picture to make this post less daunting. This image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs is entitled 1910 -1930 Infantile speech defects corrected by games. This class is playing "train," making "ch" sound. What a great example! The students are learning the CONTENT of the era using the highly relevant CONTEXT of the era. At the beginning of the 19th century, trains were a phenomenon. The railroads were slowly joining rivers, canals, coaches and carriages in transporting people and goods across the country. The "ch-choo" train was serious pop culture in 1919 and students must have engaged in learning about them. The "ch-choo" that was so relevant and popular in that era seems remote and out of place in the schools of 2008. Yet, we persist in "ch-chooing" when we could be "cha-chinging" the critically important 21st Century lessons of Financial Literacy. Our school train just hasn't engaged the context of the 21st Century.

Let me wrap this up. What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning? In very simplistic terms:

1. Students use the TOOLS of the era to prepare for life and work in the era.
2. Students learn the CONTENT of the era in the fascinating CONTEXT of the era.
3. Teachers COACH and mentor students who refine skills that matter and transfer to life in the real world.

1.)Tools. 2.) Content. 3.) Context. 4.) Coach. Not so very new or different. We just need to bump the focus of all four up a mere one hundred years - and we're here - in the 21st Century!

Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Digital ID: cph 3a15671
Digital ID: det 4a27732
RIGHTS INFORMATION: No known restrictions on publication.


  1. Great post and great pictures. The web allows us to be visual, expects us to be visual in fact. Using images to get your point across is what the web is about!

    Update our skills for the 21st Century. Your three steps are spot on!

  2. Interesting to test this out for yourself. Tell your class something totally antithetical to a photo you show them. In a bit of time, like after a break in the class, test what they remember. Images speak louder than words! Now my quest is to reach beyond that to have the photo speak to the audience and force them to development visual literacy. After all, what do you remember most, the Coke slogan or the picture of all those Coke drinkers in a crowd? What do you remember most, the words describing the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or the photo of the 3 kids in the train station? What do you remember most, the words your preschool teacher said, or the images of what your preschool looked like?

  3. Hi, Lisa!

    Great point. When working through your exercises, it is very clear that the images are most powerful. You and I know that we "move toward and become like the images we hold in our minds." I suppose that great thinkers throughout the ages impart ideas and new knowledge by creating images for our minds! Why I did not connect images to blogs on Day 1 is beyond me! I think I was nervous!

  4. Hmmm, Beth, I am just wondering what TOOLS CONTENT CONTEXT COACH would mean in secondary education business language learning...

    The tools we apply are non-electronic ones like monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, original texts, the Internet for learning and research as the electronic ones, a DVD- or cassette player, right?

    The content would be, as I understand it, communication in business situations like telephone calls, commercial correspondence, transport in business etc.

    The context would be situations which might arise and problems in communication, but also different habits and traditions which are important to understand.

    Coaching would mean, in my mind, to put up situational tasks, help the students to cope with language in different situaions and making oneself understood, so that you can swim in another culture like a fish in the sea.

    Unforunately, there are still contents in traditional language learning like grammar rules, vocabulary lists, pronunciation drills and the like. What they all lack is the CONTEXT in which they are used. If I apply your scheme, grammar rules and unknown words are self-explanatory.

    This is how I would like language learning to proceed, and it would,from my point of view, be much more effective.

  5. Hi, Emile!

    Good thinker! Good thoughts.

    I'm not a secondary teacher but IMHO TOOLS, CONTENT, CONTEXT, COACH should mean the same things in all grades and at all levels.

    You mention a variety of TOOLS - including books and the Internet for language learning and research. Have you considered integrating CONTEXT and CONTENT using web 2.0 communication tools for communication, collaboration, reporting, or story telling? I would LOVE to be in a French class that partnered me with a French student who was learning English. I think it would be fun to co-author a report or an original story that contrasted the cultures of the 2 countries. We'd publish it in both languages on a wiki!

    I'd like to "meet" my French "partner" via a Skype teleconference call. It would be interesting to see my partner face-to-face to interview each other in our non-native languages using online translators (like Bubblefish) to share information about our country's different habits and traditions.

    If we did these things - we would be working in a 21st Century CONTEXT! And you, Emile, would be COACHING by setting up the partnerships, providing the environment, guiding the students toward tools that enable them to learn "in the real world" with global citizens where the language barriers must be broken.

    Thank you for the opportunity to think this through, Emile! It's been fun!

  6. Well, Beth, this would be an ideal situation, and I would like to use the Web2.0. Actually, there are reasons that prevent me from doing that, that are not in my power to decide. First, the technical reason is that, although we are equipped with computer technology better than other schools, this technology is mostly used by the specific vocational subjects like accounting. Second, and more importat, as we are a vocational school providing the theoretical knowledge for the final exams, we have certain periods of schooling. In the end, I see the trainees at the most every three, sometimes every six weeks, and then for three to four lessons a week. So, I can barely give them a slight idea of what commercial English is about, and everything on top of that would be to their own decision of how to spend their spare time.

    Anyway, I will try to make an offer and see if it is accepted. It is worth thinking about, anyway.

    Those colleagues teaching at a general Secondary School have got more chances as their lessons are more constantly spread over the school year.

    And it gives me the idea that I should explain the German school system more in detail; it is rather complicated, but as international surveys show, less effective than most other educational systems.

    Beth, your suggestions for setting up and using partnerships is really a good way for introducing self-directive learning. For the time being,though, I will have to make the best use of the resources I have got.

  7. I really identify with the image you chose of the students undergoing vocational training and the application you made to 21st century teaching/learning. An hours presentation summed up beautifully in one image and a paragraph - well done!