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21st Century Learning Skills: Collaboration And Communication
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21st Century Learning Skills is a hot term thrown around in the education world these days, but does anyone really know what it means? It seems like today's society is constantly changing - quick, download iOS 7! No, wait, 7.0.2...I mean, 7.0.4, yes, that's a more elegant and intuitive interface. Anyway, I digress. My point is: 21st Century Learning Skills coincide with this change in society. Ask twenty different educators what 21st Century Learning Skills are and I guarantee you'll get twenty different answers. Being the poet that I am, I'm going to tackle the first two alliterative 'c' terms of 21st Century Learning Skills in this article: collaboration and communication. Don't worry, there are plenty of other key factors in regards to 21st Century Learning Skills (creativity, critical thinking, civic responsibility, curiosity, problem-solving, synthesizing, digital literacy, etc.), but I will go over these in articles to come.
What's the deal with collaboration, anyway? Part of what makes today's societal advances so exciting is that they're not all happening because of one person or group of people. There are a myriad of organizations, fellowships, jobs, etc. that allow people to showcase their unique talents and work with others who compliment and advance these talents to create something rewarding. Sounds nice, right? When it comes to 21st Century Learning Skills, students must learn how to collaborate with others.
Having students participate in group work is just the beginning of collaboration. Engaging students in group discussion is one of my favorite ways to teach collaboration. In order for group discussions to be effective, you must maintain a safe learning environment for your students. Emphasize again and again that your classroom is a safe space for all ideas and opinions - respect for diversity is another element of 21st Century Learning Skills that will be discussed in detail at a later date. Once students are comfortable with sharing their ideas and opinions with one another in the classroom, then true collaboration can take place outside of the classroom. The collaboration skills learned in the classroom transcend the real world where students can feel accomplished with what they achieve together.
Hand-in-hand with collaboration is communication. We're past the age of students being sponges that our teachers pour knowledge into. I did my student teaching in Elkhart, Indiana this past spring, and one of the most memorable quotes I took away from my lovely students helps drive this point home, "Never leave your house without your charger. I mean never." Which charger was she talking about? Cell phone, iPad, iPod (do those exist still?), electric toothbrush? - I couldn't be sure; however, I believe there is a real lesson to be learned from this quote: communication is vital for survival in today's society. Seriously, we can't live without it. My iPhone is sitting right next to my laptop as I type this article (and I'm at work!) just in case someone needs to get a hold of me… who am I kidding? I just want to make sure I'm notified when someone tweets me or posts a selfie on Instagram.
I'm not saying teachers should communicate with their students via texting and social media (bad idea!), but I am saying that teachers must reevaluate the way they communicate with their students and how they teach communication skills. Make your classroom an interactive space where students are involved in their learning process. Always communicate what is expected of your students. Help your students see that there are certain ways to communicate and knowing the social cues will aid in effective communication. Students are, quite literally, in communication with each other 24/7. It's time to foster reality and work with the system of constant communication, not try to beat it with the old-fashioned teacher/dictator model.
Model, don't tell. Get on that runway and show students how to communicate and collaborate. How they perceive your catwalk is open to interpretation, but at least they'll have the foundation to add their own accessories to.
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