Saturday, May 07, 2011

Skills To Teach

My wife put me on to this article at Tweenteacher describing what skills "business and college leaders" think should be taught for College and Career Readiness. It's not a bad looking list at first glance, and while folks might well argue whether other skills should be added, it's hard to argue with the Top 5 she whittled her list of 13 down to
Collaboration
Communication
Problem-Solving
Questioning
Independent Learning
Yet as I read the essay, reflecting on my growing conviction over the years that genetic and prenatal influences are far more determinative of human outcomes than we used to credit, I wondered if the whole article exaggerated the importance of what a middle-school teacher contributes to the final product.
The next question is, are teachers at least using these 5 in their everyday lesson planning? And if so, how? The key is to use these skills to promote content in lesson planning, note taking, and assessments.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some lessons that you can do to address these skills and for you to mull over for Someday or use on Monday. Hope you’ll share some of your lessons with me and my readers in this thread as well. After all, collaboration is a key future skill and one that must be modeled by the teachers in the room.
I commented there, and expand upon it here.

This is not What Should Be Taught. This is a list of how we currently describe what bright, socially skilled, motivated students do already, and the businesses and colleges are telling us no more than “Hey, we’d like to have bright, motivated, socially skilled students. Make us more of those.” Most good students will pick up a lot of these skills on their own even with bad teachers. Even good teachers will have a hard time bringing these forth from dull, unmotivated students.

We all like to think what we do is important, perhaps even crucial or life-changing. It helps us get up in the morning and plow into the day's work even when we feel dull and unmotivated ourselves. Teaching is valuable and should be done well. But I think it is valuable primarily for the 10% of students whose life course is in doubt. Many will succeed in bad schools, many will fail in good ones. Guaranteeing them enough safety to concentrate, enough materials to have something to put their brains to work, and enough skill and good will from the adults to keep from damaging them, and the school has done 90% of its work. It is valuable to move even a small percentage of those from F's to D's, or from C's to B's, by better instruction. But moving kids from F's to C's, or C's to A's? That's rarer, and I think well less than 10%. Retrospective anecdotes tell us that some teacher rescued or ruined us by something they said or did. Eh, probably not.

I give the Buddha credit on this one. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

8 comments:

Erin said...

MA has bolted onto the bandwagon with this one. We're devoting precious resources & time to reworking all those wonderful school-wide standardized rubrics to now include the official MA 21st Century Learning Skills:

1. Higher order cognitive skills (e.g., synthesis, critical reasoning, problem solving)
2. Communication skills (verbal and written)
3. Information/media and technology skills
4. Life/career skills (e.g., time and resource management, collaboration)
5. Global awareness
6. Financial and economic literacy
7. Civic literacy and engagement

james said...

I think these should be doable:

1) Classical geometry class, with proofs.
2) English class where they make you write poetry, short stories, essays; and get up and recite stuff
3) Do they actually fail to pick these skills up?
4) Get a summer job
5) Read the newspaper/BBC news
6) Get a summer job
7) Civics class. Also, look at the pay stubs from your summer job and try to figure out who deducted what and why.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Erin, you have my sympathy. "Higher order cognitive skills" - yes, the best athletes know complicated moves and strategies in their games, so we should not teach children to run or throw, but the advantages of a 3-4 over a 4-3 defense instead.

All those skills on the MA list could be good things to know. They also contain permission for much mischief which can be called education but is really "teacher's favorite hobbyhorse."

David said...

The "business and college leaders" list is so generic as to be basically meaningless. "Problem-solving" could apply to anything from:

"Why is there almost always oil on the floor in this part of the plant?"

to

"How can we regain the market share that our Gerbilator product is losing as Harsterizers increasingly offer similar functionality?"

Domain knowledge matters. There *are* certain conceptual tools that are applicable across problem types--for example, the "ask why five times" mantra that came out of Lean manufacturing--but they are not likely to be the kind of things with which educators are familiar. Much more likely, a class imn "problem-solving" will be mush.

Der Hahn said...

Might be a tad cynical but it seems to me that a lot of this is stuff is an effort by the teaching profession to direct 'education' to things that are fun to teach, and hard to measure progress in.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Every student should have a course in Root Cause Analysis. That will solve about 75% of their life-learning problems. The other 25% -just use common sense.

jaed said...

I'm trying to think of how teachers might "teach" these traits (and they're traits, not knowledge or skills). And what I'm coming up with boils down to making students do those horrible little "group projects", plus give the occasional lecture on how important it is that you children be able to question and learn independently (and meanwhile, woe betide the student who actually challenges a lesson, or learns to read before being properly taught by licensed teachers).

It's the peril of using vague, fluttery, and absolutely non-evaluatable abstractions as your teaching desiderata, and placing them above things you can actually teach (such as knowledge and skills) because the vague fluff sounds ever so much grander. Surely "questioning" is more important than boring old math and rhetoric? Well, yes, but a questioning attitude is not really something you can teach, either. You can presume to teach it, and while you're wasting time doing that, you're not teaching the things that can be taught.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"...and while you're wasting time doing that, you're not teaching the things that can be taught. "

Succinct, that.