November 03, 2017
The future of learning and education is almost as elusive as a souped-up DeLorean or unexplained wormhole. If only we had a time machine in which we could travel forward in time to find out how we could better prepare students for the careers of tomorrow our jobs would be so much easier.
As I started wading through a dozen or so blogs, web articles and such, it occurred to me that educators and ed tech companies alike all are working towards a similar goal. We are all striving to provide students with practical skills and a meaningful education. Even though we can’t predict the future, there are a few timeless skills that will help prepare students for success. So what are these skills and how can we foster them?
Effective communication is essential in any kind of business. The ability to express your ideas clearing and confidently is important in creating new opportunities. Whether it’s drafting a proposal, emailing prospective clients, providing training, launching a new product, or even simply getting your foot in the door, solid written and verbal communication skills will lead to success. How do we foster these skills? It starts with creating an environment that encourages discussions, team work and opportunity. Watching a video on communication skills and pausing it to discuss effective body language, active-listening techniques and pronunciation is a great place to start. Give students the opportunity to record and reflect on each other’s work by using a combination of technologies, including video/audio recording and classroom response systems. For instance, let teams record and share their findings on a science experiment. Allowing students to work in teams reduces pressure and provides them opportunity to practice communication skills. Video or audio recording also offers multiple opportunities for self-reflection and verbal practice, because students can record as many times as necessary. Use classroom response systems to start active discussions on student work. Students can anonymously answer questions, therefore encouraging more in-depth discussions and honest feedback.
Self / Time Management Skills
In a world filled with so many distractions it is important to help students learn ways to stay focused. Help them see how their choices can make an impact. For instance, how changing their attitude and thoughts about a task can impact motivation and outcomes--encouraging students to look at an assignment less like a chore and see it as a challenge, puzzle or adventure. Encourage students to remain actively involved in classroom lessons. Provide a way for students to take notes, follow along and perhaps answer questions throughout the lesson. Technology, like the Qwizdom Notes+ App or even classroom response systems, can definitely can help students stay focused and on track.
Networking / Social Skills
In an economy driven by ideas and innovation, it is essential that students learn how to network and build relationships. Ideas flow and are created through social interactions and networks. Therefore giving students the social skills that foster relationships is more important than ever. “One of the most effective strategies to teach social skills in elementary school is to create a common social language that becomes part of the classroom culture. This language contains familiar, understandable ways to communicate with others, including how to listen, show gratitude, or apologize.” 1 If you are looking for a social-skills training program check out The Toolbox Project, Project Happiness, and Responsive Classroom.
Critical Thinking / Problem Solving
In the information age, students need to “develop and effectively apply critical thinking skills to their academic studies, to the complex problems that they will face, and to the critical choices they will be forced to make as a result of the information explosion and other rapid technological changes.” 2
An online article written by Allie Gross called, 3 Activities to Encourage Critical Thinking in the Classroom 3, describes creating a classroom setting that focuses on students gathering evidence to support their answers, versus simply focusing on if an answer is right or wrong. I found the way she structures her classroom debates to be quite interesting.
In the following classroom activity, I describe her debate approach and have added a few new suggestions as to how classroom response systems could further help drive discussions and critical thinking.
Allie details starting the debate with a written statement, like "Prisons are effective in stopping crime." Then she asks her students if they Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, Somewhat Agree, or Somewhat Disagree. She then breaks them into groups for discussion. What if she were to use classroom response systems to collect opinions and spark student-led debates? Students could submit their answers anonymously. Once they have submitted their answers, as she describes, each student would be given a minute or two to find a piece of evidence that supports their belief. Then to start the student-led debate, she could display the results to the group. Using a random ‘Pick’ feature, like the one found in the Qwizdom Connect software, she could call on a student and ask him/her why someone might disagree with the statement, no matter what their opinion may be. She could encourage other students to openly discuss the all answers for about 5-7 minutes. While students discuss, she transcribes the debate for everyone to see. Once the debate is concluded, she would ask the class, ‘Was the debate good or bad?’ and use the evidence gathered from the transcript to support their analysis. Using the response system she could have everyone submit their response, perhaps before showing the results graph call on a student or two to see their thoughts. Then after a short discussion pull the response graph.
- Price-Mitchell, Marilyn, PhD "3 Strategies to Foster Sociability" https://www.edutopia.org/blog/8-pathways-strategies-foster-sociability-marilyn-price-mitchell Published Mar. 2015, Edutopia. Oct. 2017
- UTC / Walker Center for Teaching and Learning, https://www.utc.edu/walker-center-teaching-learning/teaching-resources/ct-ps.php Oct. 2017
- Gross, Allie,"3 Activities to Encourage Critical Thinking in the Classroom" https://www.educationdive.com/news/3-activities-to-encourage-critical-thinking-in-the-classroom/250270/ Published April 2014, Education Dive. Oct. 2017