Infusing 21st Century Skills into Your Classroom

“You have to prepare students not to live in the world of 1950….The jobs of the future are not middleman jobs. The jobs of the future will require creativity, will require imagination, experience.”

-Dr. Michio Kaku, ISTE 2016 Conference

Educators and innovators like Dr. Kaku are touting skills that can’t be automated, such as critical thinking, creativity, and leadership, as the those that will make students successful as they enter college and the workforce. However, since these 21st century skills, also called “soft skills,” are less quantifiable than “hard skills” (such as the ability to perform mathematical computations or write a report), they’re more easily overlooked.

In today’s world, 21st century skills are essential in creating good workers and good citizens. They can be applied to any career path and prepare learners to innovate, take leadership roles, start businesses, form strong relationships, and even have more fulfilling personal lives. It’s important that we as educators mindfully incorporate soft skills when crafting and selecting learning materials so that these essential skills don’t get lost among the many demands of the curriculum.

Which 21st century skills are most important? Educators and employers alike often identify the following:

21st C Skills

So, what can we do to help students acquire and develop these skills?

For some skills—such as positivity, curiosity, and organization—we can start by modeling these traits and giving students opportunities to practice them daily. We also can be deliberate in working soft skills into classroom activities. The following are a few ideas to get you started this fall.

Collaboration is key

Collaboration is often recognized as an essential workforce skill, but traditional classroom set-ups and assessment systems tend to instead emphasize individual achievement. Projects that require teamwork while still holding students accountable for their individual contributions can help foster collaborative skills. Discussion boards and social media sites like Pinterest and Twitter can also be used to extend collaboration outside of class time.

Everyone can be creative

Nearly everyone agrees creativity is an important trait in workers and leaders, but not everyone agrees on how to engender it. Technology provides a number of exciting possibilities. Tools targeted at bringing creativity into classrooms, including 3D printers, video creation apps like Lego Movie Maker, coding and game creation apps like Scratch, collaborative drawing apps like Stoodle, and storytelling apps like Storyboard That and OPERAcraft, can be integrated into instruction in a variety of ways that spur creativity in students.

Empathy, inclusiveness, and global awareness

These are separate but related skills that are not always emphasized in traditional curricula but can have a significant impact on the types of citizens our students become. To foster these skills, expose students to different cultures and subcultures and assign projects that require them to put themselves in others’ places and consider how they would think and respond in certain scenarios. Even better, connect them with students around the world so they can share ideas and learn about each other’s daily lives.

Learning how to think

No one would argue that critical thinking isn’t important, but curriculum and instruction still too often focus on learning facts over learning how to think. Nudge students beyond identification and recall into the higher depths of knowledge (DOK) with activities and assessments that call for analysis, comparison, critique, design, and other types of critical thinking. Wisewire quizzes and playlists are designed to take students into deeper levels of thinking and can be filtered by DOK level.

Is fearlessness the new grit?

A few years ago, grit (also known as persistence) was one of the hottest 21st century skills, fueled largely by Angela Duckworth’s popular TED talk. Grit is still recognized as one of the skills most highly valued by employers and is well worth developing, but lately there has been more attention on fearlessness. To nurture fearlessness, celebrate students’ uniqueness and reward them for going out of their comfort zones. Make your classroom a safe space where students know it’s okay to try something, struggle, fail, try again, and share their fears and challenges with each other.