Reflections on 21st Century Learning

competencies

If there’s a pedagogical hot button that makes my hackles rise, it’s the ubiquitous catch-all “21st Century Learning.” Bandied about by teachers, school boards, policy makers and social media, it is used so often to refer to so many different elements of learning (mostly the integration of tech tools into classrooms) that it has ceased to have meaning. It sounds progressive, but promises nothing in terms of improvement to student learning, achievement or educational experience. While I recognize the importance of preparing our students for the uncertainties, the changes and the possibilities the future holds, I frequently feel bogged down by the “21st century”.  Dragging your iPod from home to school is not innovative education. Replacing a pen and paper with a laptop is not differentiated instruction.  Using Google to copy and paste information from a website in response to a low-order thinking question is not research or inquiry. The suggestion that “all we have to do is give kids the technology – they’ll figure it out, because they’re digital natives!” makes my head spin. These are some of the problems I had with the loaded term, “21st century learning.” Until last week.

This past Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend the Ministry of Education/Faculties of Education Forum in Toronto, where I participated in a variety of meaningful and interesting discussions, the most engaging being around the  21st Century Competencies – Draft document, which currently resides on the EduGains website. The facilitators from the Ministry of Education were sincerely interested in feedback from educators from around the province and the discussion we had was rich and engaging. The discussion focused around our goals for the graduates of 2030 – and the document addresses the development of cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills in students. 21st century learning is more about helping to create global citizens than about tablets and robots.

There is a focus on lifelong learning: providing teachers with support and the opportunity to develop their practice through deep learning and establishing teaching partnerships. In addition, the document places a priority on learning environments, including learning commons and makerspaces as places to foster skills in critical literacy, innovation and creativity. The document also calls for digital resources to be made available to students across the province in the interest of equity and accessibility.  These areas align beautifully with the principles and guidelines suggested in both the vision document Together for Learning (2010) and the CLA publication, Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Libraries in Canada (2014). It is exciting to see how the values I hold so dear, and the pedagogies I know to be sound, are being reflected from so many sources.  I have been inspired by the session leaders and the participants around my discussion table, by the students and teachers in my school, and by the Teacher-Librarians and classroom teachers in my PLN; the potential for teaching and learning in the province of Ontario continues to grow and develop. I am excited to be on this path of lifelong learning – the possibilities are endless!