What are the skills our students need to successfully participate in life and work in the 21st century? How can we, as teachers, help support our students in developing these skills? All teachers today are hopefully asking themselves these essential questions.
The Four Cs for 21st Century Learning
Beginning in 2002, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity as the four key skill areas most necessary for success in the 21st century (P21, 2016). You’re probably familiar with these terms already, but let’s consider each one briefly. Communication of course is the ability to interact with others. Importantly, we have to remember that communication can happen in many ways and across many formats. For example, communication can happen both in body language and spoken interaction, and it can also be face-to-face or digitally mediated in some way. Collaboration means working effectively or productively in groups or teams to accomplish a task or goal. Critical thinking happens when we analyze a problem from diverse perspectives and evaluate different solutions. Finally, creativity involves producing innovate and original ideas in ways that would not be expected.
If these are the skill areas valued most by employers and by society in general, then educators of course need to consider how to incorporate these skills into the classroom. When we think about language education in particular, we have to think about the unique challenges faced by students trying to learn to communicate and think critically in a second, third, or even fourth language.
Digital Skills and New Media Literacies
Another key for 21st century students is digital literacy. Students in the 21st century need the digital literacy skills to not only find and critically analyze information, but also to create, edit, and publish information of their own. This shift toward a new emphasis on creating and sharing information has been called participatory culture (Jenkins, 2008). Aside from the four Cs, full involvement in a participatory culture also requires skills such as transmedia navigation, social networking, and multitasking.
Taken together, we can see a range of digital and new media literacy skills that young people today need to possess. The challenge for language teachers of course is how best to support the development of these skills in the classroom.
Into the language classroom
One easy way to encourage students to make use of 21st century skills is to combine elements of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and Project-Based Learning (PBL). Thinking specifically about the four Cs for example, it is not hard to imagine a range of interesting projects that could help students target these skills. And if teachers ask students to produce and share videos as one project outcome, we can also have students working on new media literacies as well. Learning in this way is valuable because classroom language use becomes the means rather than the end. When students are collaboratively working on projects, they are not only gaining valued 21st century skills, but they are also utilizing language for an authentic purpose.
P21 (2016). P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning: The 4 Cs research series.
Jenkins, H. (2008). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning). Chicago, IL: MacArthur Foundation.
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