The Seven Survival Skills

Global shell I've read several books in the past couple of years that have profoundly changed the way I look at teaching and learning. Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, the Heaths' Made to Stick, Ken Robinson's The Element, and Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap (among others).
Well, I'm actually not finished with Wagner's book. But I want to post some of his thoughts as I read in hopes of encouraging some discussion here and at school.
~The subtitle is: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need–and What We Can Do About It. He is a former teacher and principal, and now serves as co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
He says:

…effective communication, curiosity, and critical-thinking skills, as we will see, are much more than just the traditional desirable outcomes of a liberal arts education. They are essential competencies and habits of mind for life in the twenty-first century.
The simplest explanation for the low level of intellectual work and general lack of curiosity found in classrooms–even our best high schools–is that our schools were never designed to teach all students how to think.

The first skill:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Wagner says, though "critical thinking" has become somewhat of a buzzword, his interviews with CEO's and college professors  show clear similarities in finding a definition. Be curious about why things are the way they are and be able to ask good questions, throw out the textbooks, use less linear thinking, have strong analytical skills, don't take things at face value, apply abstract knowledge and figure out a solution.

His criticism of most classes, including AP courses, is that we create students who can follow a prescribed set of instructions, answer questions posed by the teacher, and see what is–but not what might be.

Ask our students to be the ones who question– not just the ones who answer.

Next, Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence.

Uploaded on March 16, 2007
by Gaetan Lee

Looking in the mirror…

I've been thinking about reflective teaching this year, trying to determine if reflection is what will make us better teachers. Content matters. But no content matters unless learning takes place.

So how do we become better learners? Reflecting upon how we learn best, reflecting upon what we want to know, and reflecting upon whether or not we know it.
John Dewey said,
“…thinking enables us to direct our activities with foresight and to plan
according to ends-in-view, or purpose of which we are aware.  It enables us to act in deliberate and
intentional fashion…”

Sound simple, doesn't it?
Susan Black examines reflection as the basis of good teaching:

Teachers who have the right
dispositions for reflection — being open-minded, responsible, and wholehearted,
for example — study and question their own beliefs and practices and
those of others through the light of different prisms, says Dewey. Reflection
begins with a problem, he says, such as motivating reluctant students.
Some teachers tackle classroom problems by turning to outside authorities
for step-by-step solutions, but that's not what Dewey calls
actice: Reflection is "a way of being a teacher"–a holistic
approach that involves solving problems with one's heart as well as
one's mind.

But she cautions that reflection doesn't necessarily equate to excellence in the classroom:

Teacher reflection doesn't
automatically lead to improved practice, Zeichner and Liston argue.
The notion that
teachers improve simply by examining their actions and
considering their effects on students oversimplifies a "complex
reality," they say. And it's risky:
Some teachers might reflect
on classroom episodes and still come up shortsighted.
Teachers who blame
classroom problems on students or administrators or others, Zeichner
and Liston write, and those who refuse to accept responsibility when
aren't learning, can actually solidify bad practices through

As our Powerful Learning Practice team continues to develop our end of year project today, I hope we will consider Michigan State University's statement and work toward this.

Teaching demands
self-awareness, reflection, and continual growth. Teachers must
be self-reflective, as persons and professionals, understanding
that their development occurs over the course of their careers.

But let's make sure when we look in the mirror, we're not seeing smoke.

Uploaded on November 8, 2006
by Grant MacDonald

They laughed….

I don't think there's anything better than knowing students "get it."
We are reading The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde. We have been reading in class, taking turns playing characters, but the students must also must read sections at night on their own.
Today, we had reached the point when Cecily shares with Algernon that she has been engaged to him for three months (all in her head), even though they have never met.
I wondered if they would understand what was happening…because it all hinged on their having done the reading last night—carefully.
Suddenly, a giggle. Then a snicker. Then the whole class burst into laughter.
I could hardly keep from laughing myself, enjoying the moment when my students could fully understand the contradictory events, Wilde's cynicism, and the Victorian era's layers of rules and rule-breakers.
As they filed out, a boy…. A BOY…came up to me and said, "I didn't think this would be very good, but it's really funny!"
Oh, and in addition to reading, the students are annotating their work by finding references to history, jokes, and class discussions. They use the tools in Word to create comments and then hyperlinks within the document. They've also used Inspiration and other graphic organizers to create plot maps, plus they are writing their own scripts in pairs on wikis and Google Docs. The supplementary tech tools have certainly helped them with their understanding of drama, the Victorian period, and this play.
But today it was the laughter that made my day.

Uploaded on June 30, 2008
by new-ars