Teaching in the 21st century…beyond teaching creatively

 Guest post by Michael Valentine, Head of Online Learning at Hale School

The future of teaching in schools is a current, very complex education issue. Teaching is being informed that it must change and retain a focus on core skills to develop students who can participate in our 21st century society. Transformation of practice is often cited as a key goal for teachers' and their curriculum to achieve these expectations.

There are 3 important drivers of this conversation;

    1. Technology; over the past 25 years technology has been used to amplify our teaching methods, engage students with their learning and make educational infrastructure more efficient. Today, technology can transform teaching, classrooms and schools in ways we never considered possible 25 years ago. Individual teachers and some schools are exploring breathtaking innovations…educational innovation is as diverse as it is spontaneous and irregular currently.
    2. Brain science; the science of learning has revealed significant new insights into how students learn best and the unique nature of each students learning. We need to focus on developing the intellect of each individual and concede that the teach content and test content academic model falls well short in the 21st century.
    3. The future needs of students; to ensure they can be active participants in a 21st century society where citizenship, career and communication are envisaged to be so different to existing contexts.  We need to understand and cater for students, perhaps our brightest students, can now genuinely consider creating their own job rather than go to university or follow a traditional career path.

In order to develop students who are best equipped for the future a new core set of skills have been identified as being essential for successful participation in the 21st century economy and society. They are usually identified as;

1. being creative and innovative in their thinking

2. being able to collaborate, sometimes over distance

3. being able to problem solve

4. being able to communicate well in a different modes

5. being entirely comfortable and innovative with ICT.

Currently, creativity and innovation are two of these skills discussed in detail and many teachers seek to bring these qualities into their own teaching. They are rightly recognised for this advanced professional practice and often they are role models for the entire teaching team in their school. Their practice is often technology rich and innovative. Students respond well to this exciting new context as they prepare to be assessed on the content delivered more dynamically and in a context more aligned with their own IT-savvy world.  Schools rightly proclaim these individual classrooms as indicators of progress towards 21st century teaching and learning.

However, it is my contention that this is also causing some obstruction to the successful embedding of all the 21st century skills and intellectual qualities into our entire school curriculum. The focus on creative or innovative teaching practice is important; but it is overshadowing the need for students to undertake curriculum designed to teach them to be creative and innovative. We not only need to teach creatively; we need to teach creativity.

In order to embed enduring and substantive change into our schools' teaching and learning we need to ensure that the entire teaching team in any school is conversant with why it has to happen. And, that how it happens is not reliant on them becoming a dynamic, technology guru who can develop insightful educational practice on their own. It would be ideal and some will achieve it; but it is not reality for diverse and large teaching teams initially. However, in time, such professional qualities must be the norm.

Our first step in the transformation of teaching and learning must be for the teaching team to speak the same language when discussing the needs of students, understand that these needs have changed from those of the recent past and to understand that our students need us to teach them how to think creatively and how to be innovative…. How to work collaboratively and to problem solve….. And how to communicate powerfully and effectively…as well understand and interconnect the richness of the subjects in our curriculum. From there we need to ensure that curriculum design in schools embeds core 21st century skills in each subject right alongside the explicit content for that terms work. It becomes the role of teaching teams to design teaching that delivers and assesses the content, and the core 21st century skills, for each unit of work. Learning for students needs to hone communication and collaboration skills, provide opportunities for a variety of valid responses to the same problem. None of these changes devalue or diminish content. New science reveals it enhances understanding.

These changes challenge current teaching practice and current assessment models in all areas of school. They require teachers to rethink the outcome of their daily interactions with students in the classroom. Certainly, in the junior and middle years teachers need to grasp the reality that lecturing content and assessing that content in a test or essay falls well short of their students’ needs. The teachers of senior years may invoke external assessment pressures as a reason for neutrality in this current debate; but such an argument ignores science and educational momentum and the makes the inevitable change even more traumatic.

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