Such a typical moment in an average high school class, wasn't it? I paused for half a second to contemplate how I was going to deal with the issue, then I responded with, "So, what are you going to do?"
Secretly I was a little miffed with her, well, maybe not her personally, but with the students we have these days who come to class with $300 earphones on their ears so they can listen to their $500 phone's music playlist only to ask me for pencil and paper when it is time to get to work, I sometimes lose a little patience. I have to admit that being from a generation that never grew up with a computer in the home, cell phones or Internet, I find myself often thinking, "REALLY???"
Friends, please forgive me. I know I am terrible.
How often do we look at a moment like this as an opportunity to teach 21st century skills? When I think of the dozens of situations like this that I deal with everyday, it makes me realize that while 21st century skills are needed to be taught to prepare our students for the workplace of the future, they are more than that. What we are really talking about are life skills they need NOW. While I agree that we should design learning experiences to teach these skills and show students how to transfer them into the working world, there are opportunities in every moment to demonstrate how these skills are just good habits.
Take this example: Not that long ago I was out for a training and I had to schedule a substitute to cover for me. I left assignments for my students to work on based on a blog article I found in Spanish called The Bedroom Culture (don't worry, it was about teens who have so much in their bedrooms they never have to leave!). When I returned several of my students came to me explaining that they were incapable of completing the work because they didn't know what some words meant in the text of the article. Is it me, or doesn't this fall into Information and Technology Literacy? When I was their age I bought myself a Spanish-English dictionary just for moments like this, but these days who needs a dictionary when they have phones with tons of free apps to access?
Here are my Everyday Classroom Definitions of 21 Century Skills for Students:
- Communication - Ask questions. Actually listen to your teacher and fellow classmates. Know when it is appropriate to speak and when it is not. Respond politely and without sarcasm every time you talk to someone. If you send your teacher an email, start with an opener and be sure to sign your name in closing. She may not know who firstname.lastname@example.org is without your name. Know when text language is appropriate and when it is not. In an email to your teacher it is NOT appropriate. Don't call your teacher GIRL, ever.
- Collaboration - CO is the prefix meaning TOGETHER. It implies that everyone in the group does something to contribute equally. Your presence in the group does not equal collaboration. Additionally, CHEAT does not equal COLLABORATION.
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving - You need paper, but you don't have paper. FIND PAPER. You have a zero in the grade book for a quiz you didn't take because you were absent. Pause for a moment before SCREAMING at your teacher about why your grade is so low and REFLECT on your recent attendance. Is there something YOU haven't taken care of yet?
- Creativity and Invention - You spent an hour creating and practicing a secret handshake that you and your BFF perform every time you see each other. Are you trying to tell me you can't think of how to draw your family tree?
- Global Awareness - Ok, this one might take some teaching. First let's start with this. Not EVERY statement related to a person's race is RACIST. For example, if I ask Cindy Chen, "Are you Asian?" This is NOT OFFENSIVE.
- Information and Technology Literacy - This is more than how to post something on Instagram. Don't know a word, try a dictionary app. But more than that, LATA is not the right word for the sentence: Yo LATA cantar muy bien. When you look the word up, also read the dictionary entry well enough to know WHICH word for "can" is the right one for what you want to say.
- Self Direction - You come to my class EVERY DAY. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stop making me have to tell you to put your phones away before EVERY class. I mean, REALLY, do you really think I have changed my mind about the rule since yesterday?
I guess my point is that the 21st century skills we all keep learning about should be skills we demonstrate to our students in most situations in our classrooms every single day and if they are old enough to learn how to operate a vehicle, they are old enough to be accountable for these kinds of things throughout the day. YES, prepare those amazing 21st century lessons, project based units and tech based products, but also teach them how these skills apply to everything they do.
Stick to your guns and don't give in!