Globalization, economic necessity, and low civic engagement compound the urgency for students to develop the skills and knowledge they need for success. The interconnectedness of our global economy, ecosystem, and political networks require that students learn to communicate, collaborate, and problem solve with people worldwide. Employers demand fewer people with basic skill sets and more people with complex thinking and communication skills (Levy & Murnane, 2005). Low levels of civic engagement highlight the recognition that rote learning about government is not a sufficient way for students to learn how and why to be engaged citizens (Levine, 2012).
But the movement toward 21st-century skills--as any movement--must define its objective, to wit, the skills that comprise the movement. Based on several hundred interviews with business, non-profit, and education leaders, Tony Wagner (2008) proposes that students need seven survival skills including:
* Critical thinking and problem solving;
* Collaboration and leadership;
* Agility and adaptability;
* Initiative and entrepreneurialism;
* Effective oral and written communication;
* Accessing and analyzing information; and
* Curiosity and imagination
The Assessment and Teaching of 21st-century Skills consortium (AT21CS), organizes skills, knowledge, and attitudes into four categories: ways of thinking, ways of working, tools for working, and living in the world (2012).
Regardless of the skills included or the terms used to describe them, all 21st-century skills definitions are relevant to aspects of contemporary life in a complex world. Most focus on similar types of complex thinking, learning, and communication skills, and all are more demanding to teach and learn than rote skills. These abilities are also commonly referred to as higher-order thinking skills, deeper learning outcomes, and complex thinking and communication skills.
Why students aren't learning them
The outdated, transmission model of education, through which teachers transmit factual knowledge to students via lectures and textbooks, remains the dominant approach to compulsory education in much of the world (OECD, 2009). Through the transmission model, students can learn information, but typically don't have much practice applying the knowledge to new contexts, communicating it in complex ways, using it to solve problems, or using it as a platform to develop creativity. Therefore, transmission is not the most effective way to teach 21st-century skills. Students are not developing them because they are not being explicitly taught (Schleicher, 2012) and because they are more difficult to assess than factual retention (AT21CS, 2012).
Despite the challenges, we can educate students differently. Learning scientists have taught us nine lessons relative to teaching 21st-century skills. All of the lessons are about how students learn 21st-century skills and how pedagogy …