21st Century Skills vs. Core Knowledge

I really enjoyed this week’s readings.  Education is continuously evolving.  My days in elementary school were spent sitting at a desk with a teacher talking at us from the front of the classroom.  There was little student collaboration or discussion.  Today, I love what I see in classrooms.  Students are moving around the room, engaged and excited about what they are doing.  Things have certainly changed from thirty years ago.  The websites we visited this week discuss the paths educations need to take to help our students succeed in a global world.

I found Core Knowledge to be very persuasive in its argument for a coherent, content oriented approach to education.  I agree that education must cover the fundamentals of academic areas such as science, history, literature, and math.  Core Knowledge does not address how to implement inquiry based learning or technology into the classroom.  In fact, the only place I found the word technology on the website was in the frequently asked questions section.  The question asked: why isn’t there a section for technology?  Although many assume content-centered teaching must mean directed teaching, Core Knowledge does not address how the content is taught.  In fact, it states that, “Teachers are free to devote their energies and efforts to creatively planning how to teach the content to the children in their classrooms” (The Core Knowledge Foundation, 2012).  Teachers have the freedom to use inquiry based learning or technology tools such as Web Quests and student blogs to teach content.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) emphasizes the importance of the 4C’s: critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity.  While P21 advocates integrating these skills into the teaching of core subjects, it does not provide details about what to teach in the core areas.  Instead they focus on how to teach.  21st Century Pedagogy resembles P21 in that it emphasizes that how we teach must match how we learn.  This approach stresses problem solving, thinking skills and collaborative project based learning.  Again, it spotlights teaching content in context.

Each of these approaches allow for inquiry based learning.  While P21 and 21st Century Pedagogy emphasize inquiry based learning, Core Knowledge allows teachers to decide how to best teach content.  I believe one of the most important features of inquiry based learning is that it strives to increase the student’s motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic.  Students who are motivated are more engaged, take ownership of their learning and are inquisitive (Coffman, 2009).

I think my classroom would benefit from each of these schools of thought.  I appreciate how Core Knowledge and 21st Century Pedagogy stress an interwoven curriculum.  While investigating these sites, I thought about how I could weave a second grade social studies lesson on China into different aspects of the curriculum.  While studying China in social studies, discuss Chinese proverbs in language arts, endangered  animals such as the Giant Panda in science, the Terra-cotta Army in art and the guqin during music.

As I read the 21st Century Pedagogy, I thought about the ways students could better their collaboration skillls during the social studies unit on China.  Why not have students collaborate on a project with students in China?  As an elementary student I enjoyed a pen pal relationship with a student in Germany.  It was a wonderful experience although it often took weeks to get a reply.  How great is it that students can communicate instantly with students halfway around the world!  The learning pyramid also got me thinking about how I ran my classroom.  Did I spend too much time standing in front of them lecturing while they only retained about 5% of the information?  Did I give them chances to work collaboratively and teach others which would help them retain 90% of the information (Educational Origami, 2012)?

P21 addresses very important issues as well.  Students must learn to think critically and solve problems.  Memorization of facts is not enough to succeed today.  But how do you teach these skills?  How do you fit it into a schedule packed with material that must be covered to succeed on standardized testing.  Can these skills really be implemented without the core subject knowledge suffering?  I believe I can teach these skills while providing strong core subject knowledge.  The key for me is not what to teach, but how to teach.  One tool that could help me is the Task Oriented Question Construction Wheel based on Bloom’s Taxonomy.  This tool could help me create lessons that would teach content while developing the desired skills identified by P21.  I can guide my students to higher order thinking skills by choosing the right action verbs as I create my lessons (Coffman, 2009).  My objective should be to engage students and spark their curiosity.  If I achieve those objectives, I believe I can guide my students to develop both the strong content knowledge and the critical thinking skills necessary for success today.



 Coffman, T. (2009). Engaging students through inquiry-oriented learning and technology.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Educational Origami (2012). 21st century pedagogy. Retrieved September 7, 2012 from: http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/21st+Century+Pedagogy

The Core Knowledge Foundation (2012).  About our curriculum.  Retrieved September 7, 2012 from: http://www.coreknowledge.org


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