What do your children need to be able to do in order for them to be prepared for their future jobs? In a previous post, we explored some of the 21st century skills that educators have identified as key for students’ success and that we believe will help students be effective servants of Christ, their families, their communities, and their employers.
21st Century Skills: The Literacy Skills
These three skills—information literacy, media literacy, and technology literacy—have to do with a person’s ability to find and process information.
Information literacy is the ability to process information in many different formats. Being able to read informational texts is part of this skill, but there is more to it. If your kids use textbooks, they’re already using informational texts all the time. But they should also be able to use visual analysis, or the process of reading graphs, charts, and other visual forms of data for information. For example, students should be able to understand commonalities from a Venn diagram or see sequences in a timeline.
Media literacy is the ability to find different kinds of information and knowing how to use those sources effectively. In the information age, we’re surrounded by information all the time, but it’s not always accurate. We often hear facts or details second or third hand and out of context. Children need to learn how to find reliable sources for their information. But given the constantly changing nature of information today, reliable and unreliable sources come and go. Wikipedia was once universally considered an unreliable source, but today, most people will admit that it’s usually reliable. To be able to keep up, children will need to learn principles for determining reliable sources. For example, does the source include citations for where information came from? Does it address both sides of an issue?
Technology literacy is perhaps the skill most closely related to the 21st century. This type of literacy is the ability to use the available technologies. New technologies are just resources, but they can be incredibly powerful ones for those that know how to use them. The best way to learn about technology is to use it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to enroll your children in a computer programming course. You can simply encourage their curiosity and give them time with the technology. How many dozens of timesaving features are buried in the average word processor that we don’t know about simply because we haven’t explored it?
21st Century Skills: Life Skills
The life skills—flexibility, leadership, initiative, productivity, and social skills—often have more to do with a person’s character than with his or her learning or ability. Some of these skills are the natural outflow of some of the learning skills, and all of these skills require active modeling in real life.
Flexibility is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances with grace and understanding. It has as much to do with how we respond to change as it does with our willingness to change. Flexibility has a lot in common with collaboration. As children work with other people, they need to learn how to adjust their plans and their approach to meet others’ needs. If they learn best while listening to music, and they have a roommate who can’t concentrate with music, then they can be flexible by listening on headphones or going to another room to study. The process of working with people and listening and understanding their needs is the best way to build a flexible character.
Leadership, at its core, is simply the ability to motivate others to work together. Children can practice it by demonstrating confidence in their abilities and the abilities of others so that they can accomplish a goal together. This skill also relies on both collaboration and communication, because to learn leadership, children must learn to trust in the abilities of others so they can be confident about those abilities, and they must be able to communicate their own skills and abilities.
Initiative is the willingness to fix a problem without an immediate reason to do so. It’s when your children do their chores without you telling them to, or when they pick up trash on the sidewalk simply because it’s a problem they could fix. Students need to learn to fix problems if they can, or to point them out if nobody has noticed them. Initiative is less a skill to be practiced and more a life philosophy that you can instill in your children.
Productivity, also called efficiency, is the ability to apply time management skills in order to accomplish more. It requires self-awareness as much as it requires knowing how to plan and effectively manage your time. For example, if you know you never look at or use planners, why would you use up time to put a whole lesson plan in a planner? Similarly, your children need to know how they work and learn best so they can implement a time management plan that works for them.
Social skills are simply the ability to be likeable—to present yourself well and to have awareness of what is or isn’t appropriate in a given setting. These skills also relate closely to communication skills. It’s much easier for kids to be likeable when they speak clearly and understandably. You don’t need to teach your children how to small talk. But they do need to learn how to listen and engage in a conversation that they may not have any initial interest in. They also need to learn how to have an appropriate conversation. Anyone who’s spent a few minutes with children knows they have few boundaries. They’ll share anything and ask anything. Awareness of what’s appropriate for conversation isn’t innate, nor is it universal.
Are these 21st century skills just another checklist to work through to ensure that you’re giving your children the best possible education? No. These skills are actually the foundations of a different way of looking at school. You may have noticed that most of these skills aren’t skills kids are going to learn from what we know as a traditional school experience—reading, lecture, homework, and repeat. But that is a conversation for a future post.