My 7 Survival Skills
I thought that Wagner had really nailed them, but in the last chapter I was really drawn to the 8 ideals of Francis Parker Charter Schools. My 7 are a mashup of Francis Parker's and Tony Wagner's.
1. Inquiry and Problem Solving
One huge concept from Wagner's book was the notion that we no longer need to focus on content. Our role as educators is to teach students to make sense of material, to ask good questions about it, and to know where to find the information needed. That also means letting students take the wheel on their learning, in order to really experiencing meaningful inquiry, like Wagner describe with his son's experience with Minecraft. The Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School agrees that it's important students "show intellectual curiosity and wonder about the world" (Wagner, 244).
I experimented just a little in the transfer of control from teacher to students with a unit we just did on the play "The Crucible". We started with a KWL chart about colonial America and the Salem Witch trials. Each class came up with a list of questions they had about the time, and then I gave them time to research 5 questions that they had. The lesson was super engaging for them, as they created their own learning based on reviewing their own prior knowledge and choosing what to pursue. I could take it a step further and have them design project that responds to the accusations as if they were mayor, incorporating inquiry and problem solving. Even further could have them identify and research groups that may be singled out similarly in modern society.
As Wagner points out, most of our students today have only experienced leadership "that relies on obedience versus the kind of reasoning and persuasion that is the new leadership style demanded by business"(Wagner,26). Working as a team, perhaps without any distinct leadership at all, is a growing trend in all fields today, due to the successful models put forth by tech businesses in Silicon Valley. Collaboration becomes even more important as more schools go to blended or fully online courses, in which students lose some proximity to each other, as a way of maintaining a sense of community rather than isolation.
For my classroom, collaboration has to mean more than just group work. I like projects that teach students how to give and receive feedback on projects, as that is a real world skill they will definitely need to learn. I also like students working alone on parts of projects and then bringing the pieces together cohesively. The opposite idea is also worth exploring: students working together to collect resources and then producing separate individual projects. All of these scenarios can be seen in college courses or career paths.
3. Imagination and Creativity
I included this as an essential survival skill for emotional health. I didn't really find my own creativity until I was older, but I felt like it really helped me find "me". At a time when students are forming their own identities, it is counterproductive to their overall health to deny them artistic and creative outlets. Imagination helps develop the first survival skill, problem solving, by letting students explore far-fetched solutions even if they fail.
I'd like to incorporate more open ended projects in my class. I have learned so many tools in this program that allow for various way of expression, I'd like to hand that knowledge off to my students and allow them to choose mediums that best suit them. I need to explore ways of getting students to recognize their imagination and creativity. I find that many of my students actually shy away from creative projects because they want to easily complete assignments and move on. Projects that make them imagine and be creative take longer, and take more effort, especially if they have low self-esteem and don't think they are skilled enough.
4. Expression: Written, Oral and Emotional
The concept of teaching students various ways to express themselves. In the last decade the world has seen the rise of a new way of communicating, rather many new ways, thanks to the internet. Wagner found in his interviews that "it's hard for [teens] to create focus, energy, and passion around the points they want to make."(Wagner, 35). Knowing how to communicate effectively and choosing the most effective method of communication, is essential to survival in any path.
I think community involvement plays a big role in this survival skill. Students need an authentic audience to experience their expression, otherwise it's just busy work. Presenting work online, or as part of a contest or challenge, showcasing long term projects to the community, or involving internships are all ways that make their expression of their learning meaningful. I'm trying this out by having my class create projects for 2 contests with authentic audiences, the Start from Scratch animation project and the iVIE film festival in the PSA category.
Organization is an incredibly important skill today, in a world where students have all information from all of human existence basically at their fingertips at all times. Wagner claims that the "overwhelming amounts of information raises fundamental questions about the nature of the curriculum in our schools today" (Wagner, 38). Just like teachers used to do "binder checks", there should be a new way of teaching information management in the digital curriculum.
Not only is it important to learn organization at a micro level for resources, Francis Parker Charter believes setting goals and time management is also a part of the organization survival skill (Wagner, 245). For students to learn to manage their time, they need more freedom to make choices and manage their own learning. Our exploration into gamification in EDL 621 was an interesting approach that I could see replicating. That environment could incorporate the element of choice, goal setting, and time management into a system of level and rewards (or consequences).
6.Initiative and Entrepreneurship
When I taught career skills I would start our Entrepreneurship unit with an episode of the show "Shark Tank". Students were awe of these entrepreneurs and the millionaire investors and this whole world of venture capitalism. When students see that with a good idea and passion they could make a great life for themselves, they are inspired, and it's something you don't see often in other "core" classes. Entrepreneurship teaches kids to take chances, but also to research to minimize those risks. Encouraging entrepreneurship also encourages failure, in a positive way. In Wagner's book, Mark Chandler form Cisco says, "I say to my employees if you try five things and get all five of them right, you may be failing. If you try 10 things and get 8 of them right, you're a hero" (Wagner, 33)
Encouraging initiative is an important survival skill at a basic level, as Wagner points out that in the real world, "no one is going to tell them what to do" (Wagner, 33). Even at the most basic of jobs, the survivors are those who can improve conditions or efficiency. Again this is a skill that is hard to teach, but I think the idea of involving community really shows students models of this in action. Internships may allow them to get hands on with it.
I included this after I read Francis Parker Charter's belief that "in both school and daily life, you review and think about your actions and the work you produce" (Wagner, 245). No matter where their life takes them, the power of reflection is huge and can help them to make better decisions in every aspect of their lives. It also teaches that failure is a part of learning. To really dig deep into learning students have to take chances and risks, and may not always get it right. It's important that they can articulate what they got wrong and what they can improve.
I already try to include a lot of reflection in my class, but mostly about their relating their content learning to their lives and asking questions. After reading this, I'd like to find a way to incorporate more self reflection opportunities for students.
What can you commit to in your classroom/school this year?
I have always been interested in project based learning, but after switching subjects this year I haven't had much time to design robust projects like I had before. I will commit to more project based learning that incorporates these 7 survival skills in some way. I really liked the structure of the 3D Game Lab in EDL 621 and I feel like it would fit my class well. I'd like to design projects and units in that way, because there are ways to incorporate all of the skills in some facet.
How will you measure your success?
I understand that because of the constraints of life and completing this program, I may not be able to fully overhaul my classroom. The projects in the course and EDL621 have already been helping me, so my goal will to have at least 3-4 online, robust, modules of work that address all of these 7 skills by the end of the year, so that I can build on that next year.