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Monday, December 9, 2013

21st Century Skills Must Be Taught and Assessed

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It's been a while since I wrote a PBL post and the timing is right because I am creating a PD for our teachers on teaching and assessing school-wide learning outcomes (SWLO's). SWLO's are those things we want our students to know how to do outside of the content specific knowledge.

To many these are just the 21st Century Skills identified by business as important for all of their employees to possess.  These skills can be district specific, school specific, or even classroom specific. In Manor ISD, where I work and play, our school board has identified 5 that are part of our Graduate Profile. They are Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Digital Citizenship, Communication, and Work Ethic.

At Decker Middle School we have adopted the graduate profile as our SWLO's. And that means that within every project we want our teachers assessing one, or more, of the learning outcomes. But, as they always say, we shouldn't assess what we haven't taught. Therefore, if we are to assess collaboration we need to be teaching our students how to collaborate. And before we can have our teachers teach collaboration we need to make sure the teachers understand what collaboration looks like for a middle school student. And before that....

As you can see we can really dive down into the minutiae to ensure this is done properly. Where do we start then? Our first step is to make sure our teachers understand what we expect of them. What we expect of them is that they will schedule days that are specifically devoted to teaching one or more of the learning outcomes.

Our next two school PD's will encompass exploring these learning outcomes. We will look at what Manor New Tech High School uses for learning outcomes and what that school expects of their 9th graders for each of these. That level of expectation needs to be what we expect from our 8th graders as they leave us to head to 9th grade. Then we will break each one down to specifics that we will expect from our 6th graders and our 7th graders.

When students come to us (from their elementary schools) we will teach them what we expect our students to be able to do with the 21st Century skills. Then we will increase our expectations each year so that the average student entering high school will be at a level that our high schools can then hone as the students mature and become working members of society.

Once our students have been taught what they should be demonstrating it will be time for our teachers to assess how well our students are doing with these skills. Rubrics will need to be created. And teachers will want to create anchor charts or other visual aids for students to see every day.

We are focused on creating a culture of collaboration and reflection at DMS. Each of our learning outcomes is a part of this foundational culture. The difficulty is helping the teachers understand this so that they are able to build the culture within their students. We will be exploring how other New Tech Network schools teach and assess their learning outcomes.

This process will take time. We will put something in place this Spring and tweak it over the Summer. Reflection will lead to refinement and we will revisit these often over the years. Within a few years all of our current students will be populating our high schools. And when the class of 2020 graduates and heads to college, students from Manor will be well positioned to be leaders in the classroom and in the workforce.