As educators, our current focus on teaching the academic content students need to achieve state and national standards and standardized assessment is important. And understandable—mastery of core English, reading, math, science, and other core subjects is essential to a 21st century education. However, teachers are also responsible for ensuring children know how to keep learning and apply what they learn throughout their lives. The concern is that this laser vision on academic content can blind teachers to the fact that many students lack the skills they will need to succeed as citizens and workers.
No one knows for certain what jobs in the future will require of our students. Our students will be asked to perform in ways we could never have imagined. We do know our students will need to have mastered more than the three R’s. They’ll need to be able to think.
As educators, our challenge is twofold: Explicitly teaching these thinking skills alongside academics and continually honing them every day in every subject area.
Addressing the Other Skill Gap
What do educators and other key stakeholders think are the most important thinking skills students need to learn? Below are some of the significant skills identified as critical if students are to succeed at rigorous coursework, career challenges, and a global workforce.
- Observe. This seems like such a simple thing. So simple, it is frequently overlooked. This includes the ability to watch carefully, take mental notes, see details, and pay attention. Especially in the early grades, mastering observation is an incredible success booster.
- Classify and categorize. Every student would benefit from learning to develop classification and categorization as a skill. In every subject area, they need to be able to arrange objects in fixed, pre-determined groups according to criteria. They need also to sort objects into categories they create and that make sense to them. This gives them the opportunity to develop higher-level thinking skills—a skills that just may get them through the interview and into the job.
- Compare and contrast. This terminology—compare and contrast—appears throughout today’s curriculum. Students need to know it. Without the ability to identify similarities and differences, students may be handicapped in virtually every class and subject area.
- Patterning. This is a higher-level skill that plays out in the real world as repeated reasoning. Seeing patterns will boost students’ learning in algebra, their mastery of phonics, and their success in areas such as economics and scientific inquiry and experiments. Rather than shying away from identifying what’s next in a series of numbers or making predictions about what’s coming next, students should be taught how to think and figure it out.
Good teachers have always incorporated these skills into their instruction. The challenge today is to seamlessly infuse them skills is to explicitly teach them and infuse them throughout existing curriculums, and into classroom centers and all subject areas. By doing so, teachers will improve their students’ success in standardized assessment, STEM, 21st century, and the standards while equipping them with the skills to succeed in work and life, as well.
These skills barely touch the surface of all that today’s students need to prepare for tomorrow’s workforce. To delve deeper into this important area, check out SDE’s webinar 10 Essential Skills for Success (Gr. K–3) by educator, author, and National Board Certified Sandi Reyes.